The second anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq is Saturday March 19 and the date arrives as a new government is being formed in Baghdad. U.S. military officials and Middle East analysts say although progress is being made against a stubborn insurgency, it may take years before the security situation and the political process in Iraq are completely stabilized.
After millions of Iraqis went to the polls earlier this year, U.S. and Iraqi leaders reported a boost in civic pride across the country.
While the violent insurgency continues in some parts of the nation, interim leaders are hoping the creation of a government will weaken support for militants responsible for attacks on coalition troops and Iraqi security forces and civilians.
The transitional assembly has until August 15 to draft a new constitution that is to be voted on in a nationwide referendum by October 15.
Elections for a permanent government are to be held in December, with elected officials to take office by the end of this year.
President Bush says he is encouraged by the political process in Iraq.
"The recent elections have begun a process of debate and coalition building unique in Iraqi history and inspiring to see," said George W. Bush. "Iraq's leaders are forming a government that will oversee the next and critical state in Iraq's political transition, the writing of a permanent constitution. This process must take place without external influence. The shape of Iraq's democracy must be determined by the Iraqis themselves."
While explosions are nearly a daily part of life in some parts of Iraq, U.S. military officials say coalition forces are having success against insurgents. There are about 50 to 60 attacks per day, but the Pentagon says that is down from about 300 attempted attacks on Election Day, January 30.
U.S. military officials say while insurgents are capable of launching devastating attacks, many of their leaders have been killed or captured in the past year.
"We're actually a little further along than I thought we would be at this point," said General George Casey.
U.S. General George Casey is the commander of multinational forces in Iraq. He says while his men are making progress, military action alone will not defeat the insurgency.
"That is not something that we're ultimately going to defeat militarily," he said. "The people that are supporting and doing these attacks are going to be drawn into, hopefully, drawn into the political process, and that will take some air out of the insurgency."
Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow for foreign policy studies at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
Mr. O'Hanlon says while the insurgency gained strength since the first anniversary of the Iraq war, it is now showing signs of weakening.
"The last year in particular has seen, first, a great intensification of the insurgency but, at the very end of it, perhaps a slight reduction in its strength and its lethality," said Michael O'Hanlon. "And of course, then, the preparation for the elections, which took place in early 2005 and, essentially, commemorated the end of the second year and finished it on a much more positive political note. So we see an economy that is still struggling, although gradually improving. We see Iraqi security forces that are still in their very fledgling state, although at least starting to get better. And we see a political process that is far from resolved, but at least hopeful."
Mr. O'Hanlon says a key measure of success for the rest of this year is the acceleration of training of Iraqi troops and security services which, he says, should allow the gradual withdrawal of some coalition forces in 2006.
Pentagon officials say about 140,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained so far, although most are not yet capable of conducting independent operations.
While some reconstruction plans have been slowed because of the insurgency, U.S. defense officials say there has been a significant increase in the number of projects and amount of money being spent in Iraq.
In June of last year about 200 projects valued at about $1 billion were underway.
Currently, Pentagon officials say, there is work on about two-thousand projects worth about $5 billion.
Anthony Cordesman is a senior military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
He is the author of two recent books on Iraq and is the former director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Mr. Cordesman says it will take years to stabilize the security and political process in Iraq.
"So what we watch is a year or two years in which this government will either become effective or it won't," said Anthony Cordesman. "Iraqi forces will emerge that can take over much of the mission, if not most of it, or they won't. And if we are not patient enough to understand it is going to take that much time, and we keep looking for some kind of magic indicator that can't possibly exist, we are going to live in a fantasy world of self-inflicted illusions."
Mr. Cordesman says among the positive developments in Iraq is that within the Iraqi political structure various factions have generally held together, and are showing a willingness to cooperate.
He says if the different ethnic groups continue along this path, an effective and credible government should begin to emerge.