For most of the last decade, Iraq occupied center stage in the Arab world, as it was swiftly invaded and occupied by American forces in March 2003 before being wracked by the insurgency that sprang up in opposition and then by waves of sectarian killing that grew into something close to a civil war.
Since the bloodshed peaked in 2006, order was gradually restored, though violence remained high by any but wartime standards. The fairest elections in the country’s history in March 2010 led to the creation of a government of national unity, although after eight months of political stalemate that played out mostly along sectarian lines.
On Dec. 15, 2011, the American military formally ended its mission in Iraq, one that cost the lives of 4,487 service members, with another 32,226 wounded in action; more than one million service members served in Iraq during the course of the conflict. Tens of thousands of Iraqis died in the fighting that followed, although there are no firm estimates.
The closing ceremony in Baghdad sounded an uncertain trumpet for a war that was started to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction it did not have. It ended without the sizable, enduring American military presence for which many officers had hoped, and with the country facing a political crisis.
Even after the formal withdrawal, the military still has two bases in Iraq and roughly 4,000 troops. At the height of the war in 2007, there were 505 bases and more than 170,000 troops. More than one million service members served in Iraq during the course of the conflict.
The end of America’s military involvement reflected the messy, sectarian state of Iraqi politics — both in terms of the political forces that led to America’s withdrawal and in the sectarian political strains that boiled over as soon as the last troops had left.
Violence and political instability have escalated across Iraq since the withdrawal of American forces, as political and sectarian factions have fought for power and influence in a struggle that, within weeks, threatened to undo the stability that allowed the pullout in the first place.
In January 2012, a Shiite governor threatened to blockade an important commercial arterial road from Baghdad to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north if Kurdish officials did not hand over Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi to government authorities. The Shiite-led national government has accused Mr. Hashimi, a Sunni, of running a sectarian death squad.
On Jan. 22, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said the Americans had left behind a “budding police state,” with the country’s Shiite leadership increasingly ruling by force and fear. Insurgent attacks have surged across the country, and security forces loyal to the Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, have pressed a campaign against Sunni politicians.
The turmoil has come at a time when Iraqis had hoped their leaders would be emboldened by their new independence to tackle the nation’s multitude of problems — finally confronting the social, economic and religious divisions that were papered over by the presence of American troops.
But while there remains hope that Iraqis can still unite, the country is far from the “sovereign, stable and self-reliant” place that President Obama described at the time of the American military withdrawal.
The criticisms from Human Rights Watch were released in their annual report on human rights in various countries. The group said that the Iraqi government had significantly restricted freedom of expression in the nation over the past year and that security forces had intimidated, beaten and detained activists, demonstrators and journalists.
“After the formal withdrawal last month, the political clampdown has intensified, and Maliki has threatened his political opponents with jail,” the group’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said in an interview.
At the same time, Al Qaeda has increased its attacks. On three different days in the month since the withdrawal, the daily death toll rose past 60, and on more than a dozen days the toll was more than 10. Without the help of American Special Operations forces, the Iraqi military and police forces have appeared unable to curb attacks on religious pilgrims, civilians and security officers.
As problems have persisted inside Iraq, its leaders have struggled to deal with neighbors, including Turkey, one of the largest foreign investors.
According to members of Mr. Maliki’s bloc, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called Iraqi politicians in mid-January and told them that they should peacefully deal with one another as they try to resolve their differences.
Around the same time, Mr. Erdogan called Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to express his concern about the tensions between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, warning that the crisis could lead to a sectarian war.
The calls angered Mr. Maliki because he felt that Mr. Erdogan, a Sunni, was criticizing how he was dealing with the country’s affairs. In a television interview, Mr. Maliki said that Mr. Erdogan was acting as though he controlled Iraq, and said that Mr. Erdogan should stop meddling.
The issue has lingered. Soon after, the head of Iran’s Quds Force was reported to have said that Iraq and southern Lebanon were under Iranian control. In response, top Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite politicians in Iraq called on Mr. Maliki to reprimand the Iranians as he had the Turks.
Within days of the departure of the last American convoy, the country was in political turmoil that was extreme even by its own standards. The Shiite-dominated government issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, one of the country’s most prominent Sunni leaders, accusing him of running a personal death squad that assassinated security officials and government bureaucrats. Mr. Hashimi denied the charges and accused Mr. Maliki’s government of using the country’s security forces to persecute political opponents, specifically Sunnis.
Almost as significant as what Mr. Hashimi said was where he said it: in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan. Because of the region’s autonomy, Mr. Maliki’s security forces cannot easily act on the warrant. Mr. Hashimi said he would not return to Baghdad, effectively making him an internal exile
The following day Mr. Maliki threatened to abandon the American-backed power sharing government created a year previously, and ward Kurdish leaders that there would be “problems’’ if they did not hand over Mr. Hashimi.
On Dec. 26, 2011, a powerful political group led by the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr called for Parliament to be dissolved and early elections to be held, the first open challenge to Mr. Maliki from within his Shiite coalition. The move by the Sadr bloc is not enough to immediately bring down the Maliki government. But even the prospect of a new vote adds more uncertainty to Iraq’s fragile political landscape, possibly setting the country’s main factions — Shiites, Sunnis and ethnic Kurds — and its byzantine networks of political allies scrambling for turf, influence, money and votes.
Less than two weeks later, Mr. Maliki’s government indicated that it was welcoming an Iranian-backed militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, into Iraq’s political system. The Shiite-led government’s support for the militia, which had only just sworn off violence, opened new sectarian fault lines in Iraq’s political crisis while potentially empowering Iran at a moment of rising military and economic tensions between Tehran and Washington. It could also tilt the nation’s center of gravity closer to Iran.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq — the name translates as League of the Righteous — broke away from the militia commanded by Moktada al-Sadr. The American military has long maintained that the group, led by a former spokesman for Mr. Sadr, Qais al-Khazali, was trained and financed by Iran’s elite Quds Force — something that Iran denies.
One of the deadliest insurgent groups operating in Iraq, Asaib Ahl al-Haq bombed American military convoys and bases, assassinated dozens of Iraqi officials and tried to kidnap Americans even as the last soldiers withdrew. Military officials said the group was responsible for the last American combat death in Iraq, a November 2011 roadside bomb attack in Baghdad.
Thousands of other militants, both Sunni and Shiite, cut deals with the government to stop fighting, and few officials see a meaningful peace in Iraq that does not include reconciling with armed groups. Yet critics worry that Mr. Maliki, facing fierce challenges to his leadership from Sunnis and even his fellow Shiites, may be making a cynical and shortsighted play for Asaib’s support. They say Mr. Maliki may use the group’s credentials as Shiite resistance fighters to divide challengers in his own Shiite coalition and weaken Mr. Sadr’s powerful bloc, which draws its political lifeblood from the Shiite underclass.
By doing so, Iraq’s government could embolden a militia with an almost nonexistent track record of peace while potentially handing Tehran greater influence in a country where the United States spent billions of dollars and lost nearly 4,500 American soldiers in nearly nine years of war.
Moreover, some American and Iraqi officials are leery about whether Asaib Ahl al-Haq is truly ready to forswear violence, especially with thousands of American diplomats and security contractors still in the country. Mr. Maliki’s attempts to marginalize the country’s Sunni minority and consolidate power have amplified their fears and, not coincidentally, precipitated a political crisis.
The arrest warrant for Mr. Hashimi that ignited the first spark of the the political crisis followed a near breakdown of relations between Mr. Maliki, a religious Shiite, and his adversaries in the Iraqiya coalition, a large political bloc that holds some 90 seats in Parliament and is supported by many Sunni Iraqis. Members of the Iraqiya coalition walked away from Parliament, accusing Mr. Maliki of seizing power and thwarting democratic procedures through a wave of politically tinged arrests.
In calling for the Kurds to turn over Mr. Hashemi, Mr. Maliki risked alienating a powerful minority that operates in its own semi-autonomous region and whose support he would need to form a new government without the support of the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya. While in the north, Mr. Hashemi is largely out of reach of Mr. Maliki’s security forces, and from there could easily flee the country.
After the American military withdrawal, a fierce string of attacks occurred at the end of 2011 and continued into the new year, adding a new level of violence to the political and sectarian feuds.
In late December, the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq killed more than 63 people in a series of explosions that ripped through Baghdad, transforming the morning commute into a bloodbath. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been accused of trying to plunge the country back into a sectarian conflict by pitting Sunnis and Shiites against one another.
On Jan. 5, 2012, insurgents launched a series of bombings against Shiite pilgrims making their way to the holy city of Karbala for Arbaeen, one of the holiest Shiite holidays. According to security officials, 68 people were killed in the attacks and more than 100 wounded.
On Jan. 14, insurgents mounted another attack against Shiites, as an explosion in the southern city of Basra killed 64 pilgrims traveling to a mosque in the city of Zubayr, just west of Basra, to commemorate the last day of Arbaeen.
The next day, in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, insurgents detonated car bombs, and gunmen dressed as police officers wearing vests filled with explosives attacked a police compound where a top insurgent leader was being held, security officials said. Nine people, including five police officers, were killed; six insurgents, including three who detonated their explosives, also died.
No group claimed responsibility for the Jan. 14 or Jan. 15 attack, which appeared similar to others carried out by Al Qaeda in Iraq.
In the weeks following the military withdrawal, Iraqi authorities detained a few hundred foreign contractors, including many Americans who work for the United States Embassy, in one of the first major signs of the Iraqi government’s asserting its sovereignty since American troops pulled out of the country in December 2011.
The detentions occurred largely at the airport in Baghdad and at checkpoints around the capital after the Iraqi authorities raised questions about the contractors’ documents, including visas, weapons permits and authorizations to drive certain routes. Although no formal charges were filed, the detentions have lasted from a few hours to nearly three weeks.
The crackdown came amid other moves by the Iraqi government to take over functions that had been performed by the U.S. military and to claim areas of the country it had controlled. In the final weeks of the military withdrawal, the son of Iraq’s prime minister began evicting Western companies and contractors from the heavily fortified Green Zone, which had been the heart of U.S. military operations for much of the war.
Just after the last American troops left in December, the Iraqis stopped issuing and renewing many weapons licenses and other authorizations. The restrictions created a sequence of events in which contractors were being detained for having expired documents that the government would not renew.
The Iraqi authorities have also imposed new limitations on visas. In some recent cases, contractors have been told they have 10 days to leave Iraq or face arrest in what some industry officials call a form of controlled harassment.
In 2008, Iraq and the United States signed a status of forces agreement, negotiated in the last days of the Bush administration, that called for the withdrawal of all American troops by the end of 2011. But the agreement was reached with a wink-and-nod understanding that a politically palatable way would be found to keep a substantial American troop presence in the country after that date.
But a number of Iraqi political factions publicly resisted the idea of a continued American military presence — notably the Sadrists, led by Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite cleric who has called on his followers to attack American forces if they remain after the deadline. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had gained a second term only when Mr. Sadr through his support behind him after indecisive parliamentary elections in 2010.
The departure of American troops had coincided with rising concerns — in Iraq and in Washington — over Mr. Maliki’s increasingly aggressive use of power. Frequent raids in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and the arrest of 600 former Baathists in November 2011, purportedly to head off a coup, fanned fears that Mr. Maliki will use the threat of terrorism and unrest as a pretext to strike political foes — and over whether Iraq’s fragile democracy will slide into a return to one-man rule.
Negotiations regarding American troops will continue. Possibilities being discussed are for some troops to come back in 2012, an option preferred by some Iraqi politicians who want to claim credit for ending what many here still call an occupation, even though legally it ended years ago. Other scenarios being discussed include training in the United States, in a neighboring country such as Kuwait or having some American troops come back under the auspices of NATO.
In the meantime, an agreement is in place to keep more than 150 Defense Department personnel, both military and civilian, in Iraq to secure the American Embassy, manage military sales and carry out standard duties of a defense attaché and office of security cooperation. They will operate under the authority of the State Department, which will be taking the leading role in Iraq.
Leaders among the Kurds and Sunnis would like some American troops to stay as a buffer against what they fear will be Shiite political dominance, coupled in turn with the rising influence of neighboring Iran. And the senior American commander in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, had proposed keeping as many as 14,000 to 18,000 troops there.
Even as the military reduces its troop strength in Iraq, the C.I.A. will continue to have a major presence in the country, as will security contractors working for the State Department.
The one kind of turmoil Iraq has seen little of is the pro-democracy movement that sprang to life in early 2011 across the region, the so-called Arab spring. In February, demonstrators turned out, not seeking to topple their leaders but demanding better government services after years of war and deprivation. But security forces responded with a heavy hand.
In a country where the demographics skew even younger than in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the wave of political change in the region has laid bare a generation gap split by old resentments nurtured by dictatorship and war and a youthful grasping for a stake in the new Iraq. But the forces of youth are blunted by the same forces that have robbed Iraqi society of so much for so long — violence, a stagnant economy, zero-sum politics and sectarianism — and that have prevented a new political class from emerging to take Iraq into a new democratic future.
History of the Invasion of Iraq:
Almost immediately after ousting the Taliban from power in Afghanistan following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — some argue, even before — President George W. Bush began to press the case for an American-led invasion of Iraq. He cited the possibility that Saddam Hussein still sought nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in defiance of United Nations restrictions and sanctions. Mr. Bush and other senior American officials also sought to link Iraq to Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. Both claims have since been largely discredited, though some officials and analysts continue to argue otherwise, saying that Mr. Hussein’s Iraq posed a real and imminent threat to the region and to the United States.
In his State of the Union address in 2002 , Mr. Bush linked Iraq with Iran and North Korea as an ” axis of evil. ” In his 2003 address , Mr. Bush made it clear the United States would use force to disarm Mr. Hussein, despite the continuing work of United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq, and despite growing international protests, even from some allies. A week later Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made the administration’s case before the United Nations Security Council with photographs, intercepted messages and other props, including a vial that, he said, could hold enough anthrax to shut down the United States Senate.
The invasion of Iraq began on March 19, 2003 — the early hours of March 20 in Iraq — when Mr. Bush ordered missiles fired at a bunker in Baghdad where he believed that Saddam Hussein was hiding. Within weeks, with a “coalition of the willing” and disputed legal authority , the United States quickly toppled Mr. Hussein’s government, despite fierce fighting by some paramilitary groups. The Iraqi leader himself reportedly narrowly avoided being killed in the war’s first air strikes. The Army’s Third Infantry Division entered Baghdad on April 5, seizing what was once called Saddam Hussein International Airport. On April 9, a statue of Mr. Hussein in Firdos Square was pulled down with the help of the Marines. That effectively sealed the capture of Baghdad, but began a new war.
Chaos and Insurgency:
The fall of Iraq’s brutal, powerful dictator unleashed a wave of celebration, then chaos, looting, violence and ultimately insurgency. Rather than quickly return power to the Iraqis, including political and religious leaders returning from exile, the United States created an occupation authority that took steps widely blamed for alienating many Iraqis and igniting Sunni-led resistance. They included disbanding the Iraqi Army and purging members of the former ruling Baath Party from government and public life, both with consequences felt to this day. On May 1, 2003, Mr. Bush appeared on an American aircraft carrier that carried a banner declaring ” Mission Accomplished ,” a theatrical touch that even the president years later acknowledged sent the wrong message.
In the security and political vacuum that followed the invasion, violence erupted against the American-led occupation forces and against the United Nations headquarters, which was bombed in August 2003, killing the body’s special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003 — the former leader was found unshaven and disheveled in a spider hole north of Baghdad — did nothing to halt the bloodshed. Nor did the formal transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people in June 2004, which took place a few months after the publication of photographs showing the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had further fueled anger and anti-American sentiment.
In January 2005, the Americans orchestrated Iraq’s first multi-party elections in five decades, a moment symbolized by Iraqis waving fingers marked in purple ink after they voted. The elections for a Transitional National Assembly reversed the historic political domination of the Sunnis, who had largely boycotted the vote. A Shiite coalition supported by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful Shiite cleric, won a plurality, and put Shiites in power, along with the Kurds. Saddam Hussein stood trial, remaining defiant and unrepentant as he faced charges of massacring Shiites in Dujail in 1982.
A new constitution followed by the end of the year, and new elections in January 2006 cemented the new balance of power, but also exposed simmering sectarian tensions, as many Sunnis boycotted. In February 2006, the bombing of the Askariya Mosque in Samarra, one of the most revered Shiite shrines, set off a convulsion of violence against both Sunnis and Shiites that amounted to a civil war. In Baghdad, it soon was not unusual for 30 bodies or more to be found on the streets every day, as Shiite death squads operated without hindrance and Sunnis retaliated. That steady toll was punctuated by spikes from bomb blasts, usually aimed at Shiites. Even more families fled, as neighborhoods and entire cities were ethnically cleansed. Ultimately, more than 2 million people were displaced in Iraq, and many of them are still abroad to this day, unable or too afraid to return.
Arab and Kurdish tensions also ran high. In Mosul, a disputed city in the north, Sunni militants attacked Kurdish and Christian enclaves. The fate of Kirkuk, populated by Arabs, Kurds and smaller minority groups, remains disputed territory, punctured routinely by killings and bombings. After a political impasse that reflected the chaos in the country, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a little-known Shiite politician previously known as Jawad al-Maliki, became Iraq’s first permanent prime minister in April 2006.
The messy aftermath of a swift military victory made the war in Iraq increasingly unpopular at home, but not enough to derail Mr. Bush’s re-election in November 2004. Almost immediately afterwards, though, his approval rating dropped as the war dragged on. It never recovered. By 2006, Democrats regained control of Congress. Their victory rested in large part on the growing sentiment against the war, which rose with the toll of American deaths, which reached 3,000 by the end of the year, and its ever spiraling costs. Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death just before the Congressional elections, and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld resigned the day after the vote, widely blamed for having mismanaged the war.
In the face of rising unpopularity and against the advice of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group of prominent Americans, Mr. Bush ordered a large increase in American forces, then totaling roughly 130,000 troops.
The “surge,” as the increase became known, eventually raised the number of troops to more than 170,000. It coincided with a new counterinsurgency strategy that had been introduced by a new American commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the flowering of a once-unlikely alliance with Sunnis in Anbar province and elsewhere. Moktada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American Shiite cleric, whose followers in the Mahdi Army militia had been responsible for some of the worst brutality in Baghdad, declared a cease-fire in September. These factors came together in the fall of 2007 to produce a sharp decline in violence.
Political progress and ethnic reconciliation were halting, though, fueling calls by Democrats to begin a withdrawal of American forces, though they lacked sufficient votes in Congress to force one. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, an early opponent of the war, rose to prominence in the Democratic race for the nomination in large part by capitalizing on the war’s unpopularity. But by the time Mr. Obama defeated Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for the nomination in 2008 and then the Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, Iraq hardly loomed as an issue as it once had, both because of the drop in violence there and because of the rising economic turmoil in the United States and later the world.
Bush Reaches for an Agreement:
At the end of 2007, Mr. Bush and General Petraeus had succeeded in maintaining the level of American forces in Iraq above what it was before the “surge” began. Mr. Maliki’s government, increasingly confident of its growing military might, expanded operations against insurgents and other militants that had once been the exclusive fight of the Americans. The militias loyal to Mr. Sadr, who had gone into exile, were routed in a government-led offensive in southern Iraq, though significant assistance from American forces and firepower was needed for the Iraqis to succeed. By May, the offensive extended to Sadr City in Baghdad, a densely populated neighborhood that had been largely outside of the government’s control.
American and Iraqi officials spent most of 2008 negotiating a new security agreement to replace the United Nations mandate authorizing the presence of foreign troops. Negotiations proceeded haltingly for months, but Mr. Bush, who for years railed against those calling for timetables for withdrawal, agreed in July 2008 to a “general time horizon.” That ultimately became a firm pledge to remove all American combat forces from Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009 and from the whole country by 2011. He also agreed to give Iraq significant control over combat operations, detentions of prisoners and even prosecutions of American soldiers for grave crimes, though with enough caveats to make charges unlikely.
Plans for Withdrawal:
The American military returned control of military operations to Iraq’s military and police on Jan. 1, 2009. The American combat mission — Operation Iraqi Freedom, in the Pentagon’s argot — officially ended on Aug. 31, 2010.
President Obama marked the date with a prime-time address from the Oval Office, saying that the United States had met its responsibility to Iraq and that it was time to turn to pressing problems at home.
The mission’s name changed from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn, and the 50,000 remaining transitional troops were scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.
At the end of June 2009, also in keeping with the security agreement, the vast majority of American troops withdrew from Iraq’s cities, garrisoning themselves on vast bases outside. Mr. Maliki declared June 30 a national holiday, positioning himself as a proud leader who ended the foreign occupation of Iraq. But Mr. Maliki’s fanfare about ending the occupation rang hollow for Iraqis who feared that their country’s security forces were not yet ready to stand alone. A series of catastrophic attacks in August, October, December and January 2010 — striking government ministries, universities, hotels — only heightened anxiety and suspicion among Iraqis.
Iraq’s Fractious Postwar Politics:
Iraq’s latest parliamentary election was originally scheduled for December 2009, but was delayed for months by political bickering. A parliamentary commission with disputed legal standing disqualified more than 500 candidates on the grounds they were former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party or remained sympathetic to it.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, hoping to build on his success in the 2009 provincial elections, sought to form a broader, cross-sectarian coalition that would include Sunnis, Kurds and other minority groups. Other parties followed suit, appealing for “national unity” in a country where it has rarely before existed, and only then a unity ruled by an iron hand.
They faced a formidable challenge from a coalition led by Ayad Allawi, a Shiite who served as interim prime minister before the 2005 elections. Mr. Allawi’s alliance, called Iraqiya, drew broader support across the country’s sectarian lines.
The pre-election turmoil unfolded against a backdrop of violence and intimidation, and a steady withdrawal of American troops. On Feb. 12, 2010, the Islamic State of Iraq, the insurgent group that now includes the remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, vowed to disrupt the elections. While the level of violence plunged from the shocking carnage of 2006 and 2007, suicide bombers continued to attack, seemingly at will, plunging Baghdad into chaos on a regular basis and undercutting Mr. Maliki’s claims to have restored security. Political disputes between Arabs and Kurds in the north continued to fester, prompting the Americans to intervene. Mr. Maliki’s use of the military and security forces to settle political disputes also raised alarms, and put the Americans in the awkward middle.
Election Day in March 2010 was marked by violence that left at least 38 dead, but that did not dissuade voters from turning out in large numbers. The vote counting process proved to be more chaotic than expected, with accusations of fraud by leading parties, divisions among highly politicized electoral officials and chaos in disclosing the results.
The initial results showed the coalition led by Mr. Allawi taking a slim lead over the slate of Mr. Maliki. Mr. Allawi, although himself a Shiite, benefited from a surge in voting by Sunnis, many of whom boycotted earlier elections.
Mr. Maliki vigorously challenged the results, but Mr. Allawi’s narrow lead survived a recount. Mr. Maliki also forged an alliance between his coalition and the other major Shiite bloc, a move that cleared the way for a Shiite-dominated government for the next four years. Together they were only four votes short of a majority, leading many in Iraq to expect that a deal could be reached with Kurdish parties, once the Kurds extract new promises of expanded autonomy.
But as weeks dragged on, the Shiite alliance had not agreed on a candidate for prime minister, as many of its members strongly oppose giving Mr. Maliki a second term. The leader of one Shiite faction, Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric, even met with Mr. Allawi in an apparent effort to increase pressure on Mr. Maliki to step aside. American efforts to have the two men share power also failed to resolve the issue.
On October 1 it was announced that Mr. Maliki’s party, State of Law, and another Shiite party with ties to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr shut out a third, the Iraqi National Alliance, and its contender, Adel Abdelmehdi, in negotiations within the Shiite bloc.
The Kurds, with 57 seats in the new 325-member Parliament, emerged as powerbrokers in the final talks, throwing their support behind Mr. Maliki in exchange for holding onto the presidency.
The Obama administration had for months urged Iraq’s quarreling factions to create a government that included all major ethnic and sectarian groups, lest the country descend into the chaos that consumed it in the worst years after the invasion of 2003.
Under the new pact, the county’s current president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, remaiedn as president, solidifying the role of Iraq’s Kurds. The new government that will oversee the withdrawal of American troops on paper looked much like the one that has governed in the past four tumultuous years. But Mr. Allawi’s role in the new government was ill-defined.
Mr. Maliki was formally granted a second term on Dec. 21, when Parliament unanimously voted to accept the cabinet he had painstakingly assembled.
By the following summer, feuding between the two men had brought the government into a state of paralysis. Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi, who still refused to speak to each other, had not even been able to agree on choices for the two most important ministries, defense and interior.
Deadly attacks in August 2011 heightened political tensions as Mr. Maliki appointed a member of his governing coalition as acting defense minister. Sunni leaders criticized the appointment as reneging on the earlier political deal.
The protracted election turmoil, and the strengthened position of the fiercely anti-American Mr. Sadr, cast doubt on establishing any enduring American military role in Iraq after the last of nearly 50,000 troops withdraw. Given Iraq’s military shortcomings, especially in air power, intelligence coordination and logistics, American and Iraqi officials had long expected that some American military presence, even if only in an advisory role, would continue beyond 2011.
But strong opposition, especially from Mr. Sadr, complicated the question. Militias linked to Mr. Sadr produced a burst of violence against American forces in the spring of 2011, and he gave hints that he might renew such attacks if troops stayed on past the deadline.
Military experts and some Iraqi officials had said that U.S. forces should stay to help with tasks that included training Iraqi forces to operate and logistically support new M-1 tanks, artillery and F-16s they intend to acquire from the Americans; protecting Iraq’s airspace until the country can rebuild its air force; and perhaps assisting Iraq’s special operations units in carrying out counterterrorism operations.
But with the year-end deadline looming large because of the lead time the Pentagon needs to withdraw forces from Iraq, the combination of the political and logistical questions led to Mr. Panetta’s proposal for a 3,000-member training force, which analysts called a bare-bones approach.
But even that foundered in the face of the Iraqi decision to revoke legal immunity.
The departure of the soldiers is by no means the end of a large American presence. The administration had already drawn up plans for an extensive expansion of the American Embassy and its operations, bolstered by thousands of paramilitary security contractors. It also created an Office of Security Cooperation that, like similar ones in countries like Egypt, would be staffed by civilians and military personnel overseeing the training and equipping of Iraq’s security forces.
And the State Department was to assume responsibility for training the Iraqi police, a task that will largely be carried out by contractors. With no American soldiers to defuse sectarian tensions in northern Iraq, it will be up to American diplomats in two new $100 million outposts to head off potential confrontations between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish pesh merga forces.