As violence ebbs, the next hurdle for Iraq is political progress
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has vowed to capitalize on security gains to revive the political process in the coming year.
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Al Qaeda-linked elements within the Sunni community have already unleashed a campaign of attacks against the CLCs. There are fears this will only escalate. In a Dec. 29 audiotape, Osama bin Laden warned Sunnis against joining the movement, and since the tape was released Iraq has seen an uptick in attacks against the councils.Skip to next paragraph
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On Monday, double suicide bombings in Baghdad's Sunni stronghold of Adhamiya killed at least six people outside the Sunni Endowment, a government office that cares for the city's mosques and shrines. One of the victims was reportedly a leader in one of the new US-backed groups.
Can the Iraqi Army do the job?
One key issue will be whether it can hold its ground and resist political, ethnic, and sectarian pressures as the US scales back. Despite great strides and massive investments in training and equipping Iraqi forces, the Pentagon said in December that these forces "remain constrained.
"Special problems ... include corruption and lack of professionalism, sectarian bias, leader shortfalls, logistics deficiencies and dependence on coalition forces for many combat support functions," said its report to Congress.
Will Iraq's citizens have a greater voice?
One of the most serious side effects of the conflict in Iraq is an unraveling social fabric, an erosion in basic rights, and a loss of faith by average Iraqis in government. Despite the return of some refugees, 2.2 million remain displaced outside Iraq and another 2.3 million inside. One of the key developments to watch next year is whether the improvement in security will spur Iraqis to resist intimidation and voice their aspirations.
"We have not yet heard the true voice of the Iraqi people," says Fakhri Karim, owner of the Baghdad-based Al Mada newspaper, who has been sponsoring cultural events aimed at promoting secular values and uniting Iraqis.
What will be the barometers of progress?
• Will Iraqis resolve their bitter differences on how to share oil resources and pass a much anticipated oil law? Kurdistan and Baghdad are increasingly at odds.
• Can agreement be forged regarding Kirkuk, the oil-rich and ethnically mixed city? Or will it be a trigger for more conflict? A referendum that was supposed to take place at the end of 2007 has been postponed for six months.
• Iraqis remain divided over what federalism means and how it will be applied. Will the promoters of a vision of Iraq that is divided into three main regions soften their approach in the face of greater controversy?
• Will power transition in the provinces peacefully or will Iraq see more violence as rivals jockey to position themselves favorably ahead of these elections?
• Can Iraqis resolve their differences over key aspects of their new Constitution?
• Will Iraq's political leaders agree to meaningful and sweeping concessions that could rally average Iraqis together? In the broadest sense, this refers to talked-about amnesty for former regime loyalists, insurgents, militiamen, and those implicated in sectarian violence.