Can Iraq's new calm hold?
Improved security has boosted optimism, but US commanders want to be assured it is "irreversible."
After more than a year of taking a wait-and-watch approach to the surge of US forces in Iraq, military commanders and independent experts now seem more confident that it could be the beginning of the end for the insurgency in Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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If this month's trend holds, July could see fewer American fatalities in Iraq than any other month since the war began in March 2003.
But elation about the improved security is tempered with lingering concerns about whether the relative calm in Iraq can become more permanent.
Top US commanders have said the surge of forces will have met their goals only if the improved security on the ground is "irreversible." The fear remains that the gains could all slip away if the Iraqi government doesn't cement the progress with political reconciliation on key issues and an increased level of governance.
The Government Accountability Office warned earlier last week that with the new- found security in Iraq, the US now needs a new strategy. The report noted that surge of forces, the last brigade of which returned home this month, is now over, and the war in Iraq is entering another phase.
Only ten of 18 provincial governments hold lead responsibility for security, the report said. And, according to the Defense Department, less than 10 percent of Iraqi security forces were at the highest levels of readiness and therefore capable of conducting military operations without US support, the GAO report noted.
More than 75 percent of Iraqi battalions are "in the lead," according to Mr. Keane, but their ability to operate without the American military is still hamstrung by their inability to perform their own logistical operations.
While the government of Iraq has passed major legislation, the report notes that there is still disagreement over key issues such as sharing of Iraq's vast oil revenues, disarming militias, and holding provincial elections, scheduled for this fall.
The Iraqi government also still has a problem spending its money: the GAO said that it spent only 24 percent of the $27 billion it budgeted for reconstruction efforts between 2005 and 2007. But with increased security on the ground, defense officials say it has begun to spend more of its own money.