Weeks after the last U.S. soldier finally left the country, Iraq is on the road to becoming a failed state, with a deadlocked political system, an authoritarian leader, and a looming threat of disintegration. Baghdad can still pull itself together, but only if Washington starts applying the right kind of democratic pressure -- and fast.
MORNING IN MESOPOTAMIA
Antony J. Blinken
Ned Parker's article "The Iraq We Left Behind" (March/April 2012) gives the impression that Iraq is a hybrid of North Korea and Somalia, part ruthless dictatorship and part lawless wasteland: in short, "the world's next failed state." Leaving aside the inherent contradiction in describing a country as both authoritarian and anarchic, Iraq today bears little resemblance to the caricature portrayed in these pages.
The article glossed over, or ignored altogether, the clear, measurable progress Iraq has made in the few short years since it lurched to the brink of sectarian war. Since U.S. President Barack Obama took office with a commitment to end the war responsibly and initiated the drawdown of 144,000 troops, violence in Iraq has declined and remains at historic lows -- a trend that has continued since the last U.S. troops departed late last year. Weekly security incidents fell from an average of 1,600 in 2007-8 to fewer than 100 today. Meanwhile, since 2005, oil production, the lifeblood of Iraq's economy, is up 50 percent, to almost three million barrels per day, providing the revenue that enabled lawmakers to pass a $100 billion budget in mid-February. Recent months have also seen unprecedented steps toward Iraq's reintegration with the region, including the appointment of a Saudi ambassador to Baghdad for the first time since 1990, visits to Iraq by senior Emirati and Jordanian officials, the settlement of Iraq's dispute with Kuwait over Saddam Hussein's confiscation of Kuwaiti aircraft, and Baghdad's playing host to the Arab League summit. U.S. military forces were critical to setting the conditions for these achievements. They succeeded, at great cost, in restoring a measure of stability when all seemed lost and in training an Iraqi army that is now defying doubters and capably providing security for the country. These advances created the time and the space for what U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden sees as the most important development in Iraq in recent years: politics supplanting violence as the dominant means for the country's various factions to settle their disputes and advance their interests.
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