"As it leaves office, the Bush Administration claims it is handing off to President-elect Obama a security environment in Iraq that is vastly improved over that which prevailed during 2005-2007. It attributes that 'turnaround' to the 'troop surge' announced by President Bush on January 10, 2007 ('New Way Forward'). Defense Department reports assess that overall violence is down about 65% from late 2007 levels, to levels not seen since 2004. A major issue is that 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 the progress in Iraq is 'fragile' 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. U.S. officials are increasingly worried that the many political disputes that remain, and some of which are escalating, pose the greatest threat to the 2008 achievements. These disputes are playing out in the run-up to January 31, 2009 elections in fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces. There are growing tensions between the Shiite-dominated government and those Sunni leaders and fighters who have been key to stabilizing large parts of Iraq, as well as continued concerns over the degree to which the Shiite faction of Moqtada Al Sadr, although weakened, is integrating into the political process. Other Shiite parties that have been allied with Maliki -- concerned about his displays of political strength in 2008--are now competing with Maliki's party and reportedly assessing the possibility of trying to oust him politically. Tensions have increased significantly between the Iraqi Kurds and Prime Minister Maliki over Kurdish demands for control of disputed areas and local energy development. deterioration."
CRS Report for Congress, RL31339
U.S. Dept. of State, Foreign Press Centers: http://www.fpc.state.gov/