A coordinated bombing of five Shiite mosques in Baghdad killed at least 29 people on Friday, underscoring the fragility of Iraq's security gains and the persistent threat of sectarian tensions.The Associated Press points out US commanders are worried that Iraq violence could spike ahead of national elections scheduled for next year. Most of the attacks on Shiite mosques in the past have been carried out by Sunni Arabs seeking to draw the Shiites, the majority of Iraq's population, into a sectarian conflict. And insurgents may be testing the new security environment since US combat troops were withdrawn from Iraqi cities at the end of last month.
But Iraq today is not what it was just a few years ago, when an attack on the Askariya shrine in Samarra in February 2006 pushed the country into a civil war. That event sparked a round of thousands of reprisal killings across the country, the expulsion of Sunnis and Shiites from each other's neighborhoods, and resulted in the bloodiest days of the war. But the AP points out that, by its count, only 306 Iraqis have been killed this July – the third-smallest monthly death toll since it began tracking Iraqi deaths in 2005.
The numbers at Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a website that tracks both coalition and Iraqi deaths, appear to confirm the improvement. Their count is typically lower than APs, but the trend is the same. They count 200 Iraqi deaths in July, the third-lowest total for them since January 2006. Their data shows Iraqi deaths peaked at 3,500 in September of that year.
All of this – plus increasing Iraqi assertiveness in the security field – is convincing some US officers that it's time to leave. An internal memo written by Col. Timothy R. Reese – a US adviser to the Iraqi military – was leaked to various media outlets on Tuesday (the Washington Independent appears to have been first). In it, he urges a faster withdrawal from Iraq"
As the old saying goes, “guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. Today the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are good enough to keep the Government of Iraq (GOI) from being overthrown by the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Baathists, and the Shia violent extremists that might have toppled it a year or two ago. Iraq may well collapse into chaos of other causes, but we have made the ISF strong enough for the internal security mission. Perhaps it is one of those infamous paradoxes of counterinsurgency that while the ISF is not good in any objective sense, it is good enough for Iraq in 2009.
While more senior officers said Friday that a faster withdrawal for the US is not on the cards, the coalition America built to invade Iraq in 2003 is slowly being dismantled. The last 100 British military trainers in Iraq withdrew on Friday, ending a military presence that once numbered 45,000. Also Friday, the last 12 Australian soldiers in Iraq departed, fulfilling an election pledge of new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.