"The Bush Administration has claimed substantial success in significantly reducing violence in Iraq as a result of the 'troop surge' announced by President Bush on January 10, 2007 ('New Way Forward'). With the 28,500 'surge' forces withdrawn as of July 2008, Defense Department reports assess that overall violence is down as much as 80% since early 2007, to levels not seen since 2004. President-elect Obama has indicated that stabilizing Afghanistan should be a higher priority for the United States than Iraq, but U.S. commanders say that progress in Iraq is 'fragile and tenuous' and could be jeopardized by a too rapid draw-down. They recommend measured, incremental 'conditions-based' reductions in U.S. forces and continued building of Iraq's security forces, until further political progress produces a unified, democratic Iraq that can govern and defend itself and is an ally in the war on terror. A U.S.-Iraq status of forces agreement (SOFA), ratified by Iraq's parliament on November 27, 2008, mandates a U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011, although President-elect Obama has said a 'residual presence' of U.S. forces might be needed beyond that time. [...] The progress in 2008 came after several years of frustration that Operation Iraqi Freedom had overthrown Saddam Hussein's regime, only to see Iraq wracked by a violent Sunni Arab-led insurgency, resulting Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence, competition among Shiite groups, and the failure of Iraq's government to equitably administer justice or deliver services. Mounting U.S. casualties and financial costs--without clear movement toward national political reconciliation-- stimulated debate within the 110th Congress over whether a stable Iraq could ever be achieved, and at what cost. With a withdrawal timetable now set, there is growing U.S. support for compelling Iraq to fund key functions now funded by the United States."
CRS Report for Congress, RL31339