The nightmare scenario for Iraq is the Shia Arab majority (over 60 percent of the population) trying to use force to deal with troublemakers within the Kurd (20 percent) and Sunni Arab minority (15 percent, was 20 percent in 2003). Both Kurd and Shia are willing to see all Sunni Arabs killed or driven out of the country if Sunni Arab terrorists become a major problem again. The Shia and Sunni Arabs are not willing to allow the Kurds to have control over oil fields in the north (about a third of all Iraqi oil). While the Kurds are better fighters, they also have to face Turkish and Iranian troops who, along with the Iraqi Shia Arabs, will not allow the Iraqi Kurds to have a lot of oil money (to make the Kurds stronger and encourage all the Kurds in the region to fight for the creation of a Kurdish state.) While the Kurdish regional government understands the situation, many Kurds do not, and are willing to fight and die to create a Kurdish state.
The Sunni Arab terrorists seem to be concentrating on major (killing a dozen or more people) bombing attacks, and have been able to do 3-4 a month so far this year. These attacks continue to try and anger the Shia majority (or, in the north, the Turkoman minority) enough to trigger revenge attacks and chaos that the Sunni Arabs believe will allow them to take over again. There has been a spike in attacks during the last week of June and the first week of July. Army and police raids into Sunni Arab neighborhoods has sometimes produced gun battles with local militias (some of them on the government payroll.) There are a lot of Sunni Arabs who still believe only they can run the country. It will take a long time for this attitude to disappear. It will be a few more weeks before it's clear how well the government can cope with the terrorists and militias in the cities.
Pacifying the country is not only a political and humanitarian goal for the government, but a financial one as well. Only about half the nation's oil (in the far south) is considered safe enough for foreign oil companies to work. Iraq needs the foreign oil companies, because Iraqi oil production has been stuck at 2.5 million barrels a day for nearly two decades. Iraqi has 9 percent of the world's oil reserves, but decades of war and mismanagement have prevented necessary maintenance and construction in the oil fields. But to get the work done, the oil regions have to be safe for foreign oil production companies to bring in their experts, and cash, in to get the job done, so Iraq can export over five million barrels a day. In the north, the Kurds are adamant about having control of the oil fields near Kirkuk and Mosul. The Kurds won't let the Shia dominated government exploit those fields without a fight, or some heavy concessions. The Sunni Arab terrorists also threaten the northern oil and gas fields, and their violence is keeping the foreign oil companies out.
While Iraqi police and army commanders were glad to get the Americans out of the cities, they are discovering that the U.S. forces had a lot more than firepower going for them. It was the American intelligence effort that did a lot to identify and track terrorist and militia groups. The American tried to transfer a lot of this capability to the Iraqis, but found that the Iraqis had few people who could handle the American high-tech approach to intel work. So now the Iraqis are, compared to the Americans, fighting blind. Sure, the Iraqis know the language and culture. But sending Shia police or troops into a Kurdish or Sunni Arab neighborhood, gets you less cooperation than the Americans got. Some Iraqi commanders are improvising with their American advisors, and the intelligence units that are now outside the cities. Like calling in air strikes via American air controllers, Iraqis are trying to do the came to get intel analyzed and to the point where it shows where, and who, the enemy is. But some Iraqi commanders consider it a point of honor, and pride, to not call on the Americans. These guys will have to screw up big time before they call for help, or are replaced by the government.
July 6, 2009: The government made group visits to Saddam Hussein's grave illegal. Sunni Arabs have been visiting the grave in larger and larger numbers. Saddam is still seen as a symbol of Sunni Arab domination of Iraq.
July 4, 2009: While about ten percent of U.S. troops are still in the cities as advisors to Iraqi police and army units, the rest are in the countryside, mostly doing peacekeeping and humanitarian type work.
July 2, 2009: Iraqi terrorist related deaths were the highest last month (372 civilians, 45 police and 20 soldiers). U.S. deaths were down, to 15 in June, versus 25 in May. There are 500,000 Iraqi police, 250,000 Iraqi soldiers available, along with 130,000 U.S. troops, now based outside the cities. But about 20 percent of the Iraqi security forces are not present for one reason or another, and 25 percent of the remainder are Kurdish, and another 10 percent Sunni. That gives the government 390,000 Iraqi security forces they can rely on. There are also Shia militias, but some of these are as likely to fight the government, rather than fight for it. The U.S. troops could be called on to support the government, but the Americans are pulling most of their troops out over the next two years.
July 1, 2009: A car bomb went off in a Kurdish neighborhood of the northern city of Kirkuk, killing 33 and wounding nearly a hundred.
June 30, 2009: Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities. There is still terrorist violence, but much less than two years ago (an average of 14 incidents a day, compared to 160 in 2007). There are still U.S. troops in the cities, serving as advisors to Iraqi army and police. But that's less than ten percent of the U.S. troops that used to be there.