November 30, 2011: Only 13,000 U.S. troops remain, and all will be gone by the end of the year. About 800 civilian (former military) contractors will provide training services for Iraqi security forces. Nearly 30,000 American troops have left since September. So far this month, two American troops have been killed in combat.
Iran has not been able to influence the Iraqi government as much as it hoped to. Iran has been much more successful in exporting goods, pilgrims renewed personal relationships. The most important Shia shrines are in southern Iraq, and devout Iranians have been barred from the shrines since 1980. The pilgrims bring business to the areas around the holy places, but they also create personal relationships and more exposure to Iranians than Iraqis have had in three decades. While Arabs, even Shia Arabs, dislike Iranians (who are not Arab and generally look down on Arabs), there are many strong personnel and business relationships between Arabs and Iranians when contact is possible. This takes the edge off the general hostility between the two groups. Many Shia Iraqis were dismayed when Saddam ordered the Iraqi Army to invade Iran in 1980. But once Iran began killing a lot of Iraqi Shia soldiers, that changed. Now it is changing again.
Iraqi support for the Assad dictatorship in Syria is less about following Iran's lead and more about hunger and the economy. A lot of food is imported from Syria, and the Assad government is still able to stop those exports. There is a lot of trade between Iraq and Syria, and most Iraqi Sunni Arabs living along the Syrian border don't want to lose the business. But just to be sure, Iran has told senior Iraqi officials that if Iraq did not at least remain neutral on Syria, there would be unspecified, but certainly unpleasant, consequences. Iran still controls a number of Shia extremist militias in Iraq.
As U.S. forces pull out of mixed Kurd/Sunni Arab areas in the north, Iraqi forces have taken over security. Iraqis believe they can handle the terrorists up there. But as long as these terrorists have lots of cash backing from Saudis who still want the Sunni Arab minority running Iraq, there will be enough cash to occasionally bribe Iraqi security troops and their commanders. This was not a problem with the Americans, and that makes a difference. Despite the increased danger of bribery, the Iraqi security forces continue to hunt down and catch or kill terrorists. While money still comes in from Saudi donors (and others in the oil-rich Sunni Arab states), the Iraqi Sunni terrorists get most of their funding from criminal activities (robbery, extortion, kidnapping.) Thus even most Iraqi Sunni Arabs see the terrorists as a bunch of gangsters.
As many Iraqis watch the Arab Spring uprisings this year, they realize that the problems of the Arab world really are internal. Despite having one of the few real democracies in the region, Iraqis are dismayed at the corruption and incompetence of their elected officials. Then there is the crime and petty corruption encountered everywhere. Despite all these problems, there were no Arab Spring uprisings in Iraq. There has been enough violence in Iraq, and Iraqis are trying to deal with the fact that they got their freedom, but are having a hard time making something good out of it.
November 28, 2011: For the first time in four years, a suicide car bomb went off in the very well protected Green Zone of Baghdad. The explosion, in front of the Parliament building, killed or wounded five people. This incident caused consternation among government officials, who see the Green Zone as a refuge from the terrorist violence that still plagues Baghdad (killing a hundred people so far this month, up from 65 last month.) The likely cause of this bombing was someone in the security forces taking a large bribe, or being seriously threatened (as in having a family member kidnapped).
North of Baghdad, a terror bomb hit a military base, killing 19.
November 24, 2011: Sixteen convicted al Qaeda terrorists were executed for murders committed four and five years ago. The police do track down and capture many of the terrorists responsible for killing civilians, especially terrorists involved in the most horrific attacks. Many of those hung today had participated in an attack on a wedding party, where many women and children were killed, and many of the women raped first.
In the southern city of Basra, three bombs went off in a major market, killing 19. These attacks, usually by Sunni terrorists attempting to regain control of the government, simply increase Shia animosity towards the Sunni Arab minority.
November 21, 2011: Turkish warplanes again hit Kurdish terrorist bases in northern Iraq.
November 14, 2011: The U.S. revealed that some of the Predator UAVs withdrawn from Iraq were sent to Turkey, where they will be used to keep an eye on Kurdish separatists, at the request of the Turkish government.
November 13, 2011: Turkish warplanes again hit Kurdish terrorist bases in northern Iraq.