Stabilizing Iraq

Wading through all the Iraq five years on commentary plastered across op-ed pages this week? Make sure you don't inadvertently skip over Michele Flournoy's piece in today's Washington Times -- Stabilizing Iraq. Flournoy, president and co-founder of the Center for a New American Security and a former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense, offers up a fair and balanced assessment of where we're at in Iraq and what needs to be done to guard against a backslide in recent hard-won gains.

Where we're at:

... Security in many parts of the country has improved markedly due to a host of factors: the Sunni "Awakening," Moktada al-Sadr's ceasefire, the shift in U.S. strategy to protecting the Iraqi population, the surge of U.S. forces in Baghdad, increasingly effective operations against al Qaeda and greater professionalism among some (though not all) Iraqi military units. Having lived through the sectarian violence of 2006 and early 2007, many Iraqis now feel that Iraq has been given a second chance.

But increased security has also created rapidly rising expectations for essential services like electricity, for political reconciliation and open, free and fair elections, for equitable distribution of Iraq's vast oil wealth, and for jobs.These expectations must be met to consolidate recent security gains.

We are now in what U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine calls the "build" phase — certainly the hardest phase in which the primary objective is enhancing the legitimacy of the host-nation government in the eyes of the population. The problem is that, to date, improved security has increased our legitimacy, not that of the Iraqi government...

What needs to be done:

... Unless we succeed in pushing the Iraqi government to embrace political accommodation and invest in its own country in the coming months, the Bush administration risks not only losing hard-fought security gains but also bequeathing to the next president an Iraq in danger of sliding back into civil war.

Read it all and also check out Foreign Policy's graphic representation Iraq by the Numbers - five years on, key indicators paint a picture of a country trying to rise from the rubble.

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Every time an Iraqi bitches about the CG, they should be gently reminded, "You elected the sectarians." Maliki might not like it, but it could focus the Iraqis' minds on never making that particular mistake again, and on doing what they can to get through until they can undo the last time.