Tom Friedman’s recent NY Times op-ed highlights the need to keep our “eyes on the prize” in Iraq (read his article here). Despite the recent media (and political) focus on Afghanistan and the way ahead, we still have more than double the number of US troops serving in Iraq than we do in Afghanistan. And, with the 2010 national election looming, GEN Odierno has expressed his intent to maintain current troop levels until at least a few months after the elections in January.
While the security situation has improved significantly in the last few years (due to a range of complex, inter-related factors), we are far from being in the clear. Northern Iraq (my old stomping grounds) remains mired in ethnic conflict (mostly of the Arab-Kurd variety) and various reports have indicated a slight resurgence in the AQI network’s ability to conduct spectacular attacks (like the massive dual suicide bombing that occurred last Sunday in Baghdad) that have the potential to show the government's weakness in the security realm.
See the LWJ article here for more detail about the attack, including the claim of responsibility from AQI/ISI on a jihadist forum on 26 OCT. Also, see a great analysis of the larger context and long-term implications of the attack from LWJ's Bill Ardolino here.
Friedman’s article also highlights the important of the upcoming elections in Jan 2010, highlighting the need to maintain pressure on Iraq’s leaders to keep the elections on the scheduled timetable (there are already attempts by some politicians to delay them) and to ensure that there is an “open list” system (which will allow Iraqis to vote for individual candidates rather than just a party). He perfectly describes the precarious political situation in Iraq:
“Watching Iraqi politics is like watching a tightrope artist crossing a dangerous cavern. At every step it looks as though he is going to fall into the abyss, and yet, somehow, he continues to wobble forward. Nothing is easy when trying to transform a country brutalized by three decades of cruel dictatorship. It is one step, one election, one new law, at a time. Each is a struggle. Each is crucial.”
As we get closer to elections, expect AQI to ramp up these spectacular attacks in an effort to show the inability of the Iraqi government to provide security and services. We must continue to monitor this situation and ensure that GEN Odierno and MNC-I are properly resourced to finish the job properly in Iraq.
Also, expect a more detailed post from me this weekend that provides background and recommendations on the Arab-Kurd tensions in N. Iraq…