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Is Iraq Safe Yet?

WASHINGTON, DC – The Obama administration’s decision to withdraw the bulk of United Sates troops from Iraq over the next 19 months has sparked fears that Iraq will once again plunge into the wide-scale and debilitating violence that it endured from 2004 to 2007. Those fears are, for the most part, overblown. There are good reasons to believe that the level of stability achieved in Iraq can be maintained even without a large-scale US presence.

To understand why, it is important to know what else was going on inside Iraq in 2007, when President George W. Bush ordered the “surge” of 20,000 additional troops and General David H. Petraeus shifted US forces to a more aggressive strategy. For, although the surge was important, two other factors played a critical role in bringing Iraq back from the brink.

First, Baghdad had been transformed into a Shiite-dominated city. Although exact statistics are hard to come by, in 2003 approximately 35% of Baghdad’s population was Sunni. Today, based upon the results of the recently held regional election, Baghdad is only 10% to 15% Sunni. This means that between one million and 1.5 million Sunnis have fled the capital. Most now are refugees in Jordan and Syria, and they are unlikely to be welcomed home anytime soon by the new Shiite elite running the country.

The ethnic cleansing of many Baghdad neighborhoods in 2006 and 2007 was deplorable. But it made it difficult for Sunni insurgents to hide or blend in with the population, and deprived them of logistical and financial support.�It also provided a degree of safety and security for the Shiite-led government, which was largely the purpose of the well-organized campaign in the first place.