Significantly the military troop surge ordered by President George W. Bush in 2007 turned the tide of battle in Iraq allowing for enhanced stability. Despite what critics warned, the center held and both the Iraqi government and its somewhat more competent security forces were able to assume control inside the country.
Still as the UN report advisees, “While significant progress has been made to improve the security situation in Iraq, the recent spate of assassinations and bombing highlights the threat armed opposition groups still pose to the country’s stability.” There seems little doubt that the terrorism spike could be related to the withdrawal of American forces.
While Iraq now has a quasi-democratic if fractious government, the country’s social and economic situation could pull the country back to conflict. School enrollment rates have dramatically decreased; enrollment at the secondary level is only 21 percent. Illiteracy rates among the poor hit 29 percent; and youth unemployment stands at 57 percent.
Such numbers of undereducated and jobless youth can provide recruits for gangs, sectarian militias, and terrorist groups.
The UN report stresses that 1.75 million Iraqis are either refugees in neighboring countries (especially Jordan) or internally displaced in Iraq, “constituting one of the largest displaced populations in the world.”
Moreover essential services such as water, sanitation and electric still face the traditional shortages. About a quarter of Baghdad residents remain disconnected from water supply; outside the capital the situation is far worse. Iraq’s traditional electric power shortages remain endemic with the Ministry of Electricity able to meet less than half the summer peak demand.
According to Ad Melkert, the UN’s top envoy for Iraq, “Reconstruction, institution building and bringing back knowledge all take time.” He told the Security Council, “there are also setbacks as armed opposition groups continue to try to undo positive developments, most notably by waves of kidnappings and assassinations.”
On a more positive side, Mr. Melkert told the Council that “Iraq’s economy continues to grow at a rate over 10 percent, with oil revenues at a higher level than projected and updates on proven reserves reconfirming Iraq’s prominence in global oil production for a long time to come.” He added foreign investment was up by almost 50 percent last year to $42 billion.
Given the high petroleum prices, Iraq certainly has the capacity to rebuild its infrastructure, pay its bills, and shift many cost burdens away from the USA.
The UN’s envoy added, “Looking inside Iraq I have been privileged to witness the genuine progress that has been made to replace a horrific past of ethnic confrontation by a future where coexistence and common interests define the interaction between Arabs and Kurds.” Healing ethnic rifts remains a work in progress. Equally protecting the country’s small and embattled Christian community has not been a high priority for the Baghdad government. Because of systemic violence 500,000 Iraqi Christians have fled to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon since 2003.
“Real progress has also been achieved in replacing a ruthless dictatorship by institutions and representatives mandated by constitutional principles and practices,” advises the UN’s envoy. This is true but can and will the fractions political center hold in Baghdad after the withdrawal of U.S. forces at the end of the year?
After eight years of spilling blood (more than 4,400 U.S. troops killed) and treasure, it’s no longer America’s job, nor responsibility, to sort things out in Iraq; it’s the task of the Iraqi people themselves to make their country work.
John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense
issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com.