The Political Environment
The most marked progress has come in political developments. The interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was slow to start, and had to delay the convening of an Iraqi National Conference to elect an interim National Assembly for two weeks in the summer of 2004.
Once off the ground, the government took pains to keep to deadlines imposed on it by the CPA. Allawi also dispatched a delegation to Syria in mid-July to initiate security agreements with its western neighbor on border control. Iraq regained its right to vote in the UN General Assembly in October and dispatched its first ambassador to the UN in more than a year that month.
Political parties hit the ground running in early fall in an effort to organize their efforts ahead of the January elections. Two Shi'ite parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, initiated talks in September aimed at forming a coalition. The coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, was launched on 10 December.
Other parties also sought to form coalitions, the most notable being the two major Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), who campaigned in the Iraqi National Assembly election under the Kurdistan Coalition List and in Kurdistan's parliamentary elections under the name Kurdistan Democratic List.
The election season was brief and campaigning was limited to those groups who had the financial wherewithal to campaign through the media. The process, however, was overshadowed by a Sunni boycott of the elections, a decision many Sunni political leaders would later voice regret over.
Nevertheless, the governorate, national, and Kurdish elections can be seen as an achievement. The elections were carried out under incredibly difficult circumstances in a very short period of time, and with little violence. Iraq's Shi'a and Kurds assumed a majority in parliament following 25 years of repression at the hands of the Sunni-dominated Hussein regime.
The ensuing political environment was, however, slow-moving as political groups jockeyed for positions in the transitional government. Islamic Al-Da'wah Party leader Ibrahim al-Ja'fari was named prime minister and PUK leader Jalal Talabani was named president. The al-Ja'fari cabinet was not named until 28 April, and a number of key posts were left vacant for several more days. The Kurdish parliament faced even greater delays, and did not convene until June, as groups negotiated the presidential post and leadership of a planned unified Kurdish administration that could take many more months to unify.
The fracture within the Sunni Arab community has worsened in recent months, leaving Sunnis unable to present a common viewpoint on even the simplest of issues. Sunnis did agree to join the constitutional drafting committee on 13 June after weeks of talks with Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders.
Meanwhile, talks are under way between U.S. officials and supposed insurgent leaders in an effort to negotiate a laying down of arms in exchange for their participation in the political process. The talks, first initiated by Allawi in 2004, have sparked controversy among members of the Shi'ite community, some of whom are opposed to any dealings with terrorists.
The past year has also been marked by ongoing tit-for-tat attacks on community leaders by opposing groups. Nearly every major community in Iraq blames another community -- and in some cases the government -- of targeting its leaders through arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, or assassinations.
The most marked sign of political development can be seen in the media, where lively debates representing all political viewpoints can be seen on the pages of many Iraqi dailies. Despite all the hardships suffered under a despotic regime, war, and insurgency, Iraqis continue to push forward on the political front, exhibiting political acumen far above what many might have expected of them.
Still, the political arena is fraught with the problems typically associated with developing democracies. Political parties split and regroup, rifts are exposed, and backdoor dealings overshadow the democratic process. Corruption remains an enormous challenge in the local and national governments.
The insurgency appears worse than it did a year ago, though some claim it has lessened. There is no doubt it is more sophisticated, and Islamist groups, most notably Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn and the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, appear to be leading the attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians.
Insurgents have wreaked havoc on infrastructure, driven out most of the limited numbers of foreign aid workers in Iraq, and largely strangled the media's ability to get out and report. Foreign journalists are at such great risk of kidnappings and attacks that they now rely on Iraqi stringers as they sit confined to their hotel rooms. Arab journalists have also been attacked by insurgents as part of the insurgents' campaign of intimidation.
As Iraqi forces continue to grow in skill and numbers, they will assume much of the responsibility for dealing with the insurgency. Much of the insurgency's strength, however, lies in its ability to replenish its numbers, and adapt to accommodate circumstances on the ground. Moreover, the flexibility of insurgent groups in their alliances has aided their ability to function militarily and move throughout the country.
Some Iraqi leaders have speculated in recent weeks that the insurgency will only end once multinational forces withdraw from Iraq. That supposition, however, is highly unlikely. Iraqi and U.S. leaders argued a year ago that the insurgency would dwindle after Iraqi forces took power in June. The argument was made again before January elections, while the insurgency rages on. Why? Because insurgents in Iraq do not represent one single agenda. Hence, there is not one single solution to dealing with the insurgency that will quell it across the board.
The world community and the Arab world in particular has been slow to respond to Iraq's needs in terms of financial aid, offering more promises than action. In the nearly two years since Iraq's first donor conference, the insurgency has obstructed the delivery of much of the aid pledged. Iraq will push for more pledges next month, when donors meet again in Amman, Jordan.
For the latest news and analysis on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".