This report for Congress examines the current political situation in Iraq, and how U.S. withdrawal has substantially worsened "relations among major political factions," and is "threatening Iraq's stability and the legacy of the U.S. intervention. Sunni Arabs, always fearful that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would seek unchallenged power for Shiite factions allied with him, accuse him of an outright power grab as he seeks to purge the two highest ranking Sunni Arabs from government. The Sunnis have sought to enlist the help of the Kurds to curb Maliki's perceived ambitions; the Kurds also distrust Maliki over territorial, political, and economic issues. The political crisis threatens to undo the relatively peaceful competition and formation of cross-sectarian alliances that had emerged since 2007 following years of sectarian conflict." The divisions in the country's government "have called into question many of the assumptions underpinning the decision to complete the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. U.S. negotiations during most of 2011 with Iraqi leaders--eager to assert sovereignty after eight years of U.S. tutelage--failed to extend the agreement to allow for the presence of 3,000-5,000 U.S. forces after 2011. The U.S. offer to retain troops was based on lingering U.S. doubts over the ability of Iraqi leaders and security forces to preserve the earlier gains. [...] The view of the Administration and others is that Iraqi factions, with U.S. and other help, will also be willing and able to resist increased Iranian influence in Iraq. [...] Perhaps because Iraqi leaders are asserting increasing independence from U.S. mentorship, the State Department said in February 2012 that it is considering a significant reduction in U.S. personnel in Iraq. Continuing the security relationship in the absence of U.S. troops in Iraq, and developing the civilian bilateral relationship, was the focus of the U.S. visit of Prime Minister Maliki on December 12, 2011."
CRS Report for Congress, RS21968