In September, 2007, the administration released a much anticipated progress report on the surge in Iraq. The Government Accounting Office came out with its own, less optimistic, assessment. Both reports looked at the 18 benchmarks of progress Congress set earlier in the year.
Approving more cash for the war in Iraq is usually a bi-yearly event; Congress normally okays money for the the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as part of its yearly budget and then passes a second "supplemental" or "emergency" spending bill to top off the rest of the wars' spending needs.
The last infusion of cash for the wars came in December 2007, when Congress approved $70 billion as part of '08s budget. The administration is now asking for about $175 billion to top off '08s war bills and start paying for '08; in spite of minor political tussling in the House, Congress will likely okay the additional funding before summer '08. (WP)
While some folks continue to debate how we got into Iraq, Congress and the media have turned mostly to the question of when and how to get out. Americans are eager to bring the troops home, but politicians and pundits disagree about how quickly - or whether - we should be segueing out of Iraq.
On the side of quicker is better, folks say the Iraqi government and military will only step up to the plate and take charge if Uncle Sam is not around to lean on. They also argue America's presence, by ticking off the insurgency, makes it harder to stabilize the country. Those urging the US to take it slow, warn that a too early departure could leave the country with more bloodshed and even an all out civil war. They prefer sticking around 'til Iraq is more politically stable, with more fully trained Iraqi troops, a stronger infrastructure and less rampant chaos.
For more on the "should we stay or should we go" debate, see our issue brief.
An Issue Primer
In 2003, America was debating whether or not we should’ve gone into Iraq. 2004-2007 switched to discussions of how well/poorly regime change and troop surges were going.
Now, with most people agreeing Iraq is on the - still slow - path toward stability and a new administration promising a quick withdrawal, the big Iraq question is how how fast we can get out?
A look at the three main ethnic groups in Iraq and what they want.
Note: the facts below, particularly on political leadership, are a snapshot from 2006. Read this Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder for a look at the major political players in early 2009.
60% of the population
Basics: Under Saddam’s rule, the Shia were the low men on the totem pole (although not as low as the Kurds). Part of their disfavor came from the fact that they share the same faith as Iranians, Iraq’s main historical nemesis. With Saddam gone, they now rule the roost and are the group the US has bet on to keep things together in Iraq.
Building a body politic
Over the past four years, the Iraqi government has come pretty far; an interim government drafted a constitution that was accepted by the people (well, except almost all of the Sunnis) in October 2005; the first national election was held in December 2005; and after much horse trading a government was set up in June 2006 (unlike in the US, in a parliamentary system coalitions and leaders are selected after representatives are voted into office by the people). Regional elections in 2009, which were joined by Sunnis, was yet another promising sign that the democratic process just might be working (LAT, WP)
All three ethnic groups have representation among the leadership – Prime Minister Maliki is Shia, President Talibani is Kurdish and al-Hashemi, a Sunni, is one of two VPs – but there are considerable stumbling blocks and disagreements that make all three groups unhappy and on edge.
Who’s causing the security problem
The “insurgency” is made up of left-over Saddam supporters, known as Baathists, and other Sunnis who are bent on attacking the US presence. There’s no apparent insurgent leader. While the insurgents used to be the main source of violence, they’re increasingly becoming a smaller part of the picture.
While governance issues – providing the basic services of a government such as schools, roads, hospitals and energy infrastructure – may have been priorities in the first years of the war, they have since been overshadowed by the do-or-die security and political problems, so we won’t take up space talking about them here.