A quarterly Pentagon report on the situation in Iraq cites significant progress in recent months on security issues, but also says the progress is still "fragile" and "uneven," and challenges remain in the effort to settle tough political issues and achieve national reconciliation. The document says the security situation in Iraq continued to improve during the reporting period, from December to February. But it says that has allowed some long-standing disputes among national and regional leaders to re-emerge and become a concern for the long term.
The report says more and more Iraqi military units are taking the lead in fighting insurgents, but they continue to need help from the United States and other coalition countries for air support, logistics, intelligence and related capabilities.
"We continue to see more Iraqis choosing the political process over violence. That's demonstrated by provincial elections being held in 14 of 18 provinces. Despite some of these positive developments, national reconciliation continues to be hindered by the pursuit of ethno-sectarian agendas and disagreement over the distribution of power and resources at all levels," said Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman.
The report says violence is at about the same level it was in 2004, after the U.S.-led invasion but before the escalation of violence and sectarian murders that peaked in 2006 and 2007. Overall, it says insurgent attacks fell to 12 per day from 22 per day during the previous three months, while Iraqi civilian casualties fell 35 per cent. It also says there are generally positive trends on economic development, the rule of law, the provision of government services and Iraq's effort to expand its regional diplomatic contacts.
Whitman notes that the report says violent groups have been weakened, but are still capable of conducting large attacks. "High profile attacks involving personnel- and vehicle-borne explosive devices [suicide bombers and car bombs] continue. The number of these attacks and the resulting casualties remained at the 2004 levels though, and as of yet have not rekindled a cycle of ethno-sectarian type violence," he said.
The document also says "Iran continues to pose a significant challenge to Iraq's long-term stability and political independence." It says "Iran continues to host, train, fund, arm and guide militant groups" that oppose the Iraqi government. But the report says the number of attacks with high-powered roadside bombs provided by Iranian forces declined in recent months, and many leaders of Iraqi groups allied with Iran have been killed, captured or exiled, or have gone into hiding.
The Pentagon report also says the global economic crisis and the fall in the price of oil may affect the Iraqi government's ability to provide funding for defense and economic development. It says the projected Iraqi budget deficit of $20 billion this year may rise.