The Fund for Peace released its ninth report on Iraq in October 2009 entitled “A Viable Peace?” The group argues that the military gains of the Surge have not translated into sustainable political, economic, or social changes in Iraq that place the country on the road to peace and stability. The Fund believes that there’s still a chance to accomplish this in the future however.
The decline in deaths and violence was the major achievement of the Surge. Deaths are down to the hundreds today each month, when they were in the thousands during the sectarian war of 2006-2007. In January 2007 for example, Iraq Body Count recorded 2,806 deaths. By January 2008 that had dropped to 742, and 275 by January 2009. Despite this steady decline, the Fund does not think that Iraq is stable yet. It cites the United Nations and scholars who count 1,000 violent deaths per year as a sign of civil war, and Iraq still meets that criteria. The Iraq Body Count has found 3,567 deaths from January to September 2009, icasualties has 2,406 deaths, the Iraqi ministries have 2,593, and the Associated Press counts 2,880.
Even with so many casualties can Iraq be said to be moving towards a viable peace? That would mean the causes of violence have been reduced, the country is heading towards stability, and a tipping point has been reached. The Fund says no. It believes that there were positive steps taken during the Surge, but they were not enough. The Fund follows 12 criteria, and found progress in only half of them, with the rest either staying the same or getting worse. The group recorded improvements in external intervention, a state within a state, the criminalization of the state, uneven economic development, refuges/displacement, and demographic pressures due to events such as the impending U.S. withdrawal, Sadr’s cease-fire and the disbanding of the Mahdi Army, the 2009 provincial elections, and the return of refugees. Factors that have not improved are the legacy of vengeance and grievance with the lack of integration of the Sons of Iraq, Arab-Kurd tensions, and Shiite factionalism, human flight with many professionals still being refugees, economic decline with the reduction in oil prices, human rights with abuses by the security forces, deterioration of public services, and factionalized elites.
It also finds some pressing current issues. On the environmental and demographic front there is a three-year long drought, degradation of arable land, and two million refugees. Ninewa also remains unstable, and the status of Kirkuk has not been decided. The 2009 provincial elections also did not include the three governorates of Kurdistan and Tamim, nothing has been done to develop the economy or deal with corruption, and there has been a lack of reconciliation, and passage of some major legislation such as a new oil law.
The report does run into several serious problems. 1st it claims that sectarian tensions have increased since the Surge. That is definitely still an issue, but the political discourse in the country is changing due to Maliki embracing Iraqi nationalism, rather than religious identity, which is being taken up by more and more parties. Second, the Fund has bought into the claim that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is an autocrat. While he has centralized power, he is far from an authoritarian, and isn’t even assured of being re-elected after the 2010 vote. Some of the group’s scores in their twelve criteria are also questionable. For example, the numbers for human flight and displacement/refugees have hardly changed, yet the process of return has begun with improved security. The overall scores are also much the same from when the country was wracked by sectarian war, the government barley functioned, militias and insurgents controlled territory, and Iraq was considered a failed state, to today where there are still large divisions, but the situation is not half as dire as before.
The Fund for Peace however, finishes well with its conclusion. With all of the problems it notes and the mixed picture in its twelve indicators, it believes that Iraq still has too many issues for it to have passed any tipping point yet. It does not think it’s too late though. Instead, it suggests that Baghdad needs to focus upon building institutions, working towards reconciliation, and creating a transparent system of government. Those are the things that the Fund suggests people look at when viewing Iraq, not simply reductions in violence. This redeems the report from its shortcomings in analyzing the difficulties currently besetting Iraq.
Fund for Peace, “A Viable Peace?” October 2009