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Can Iraq's new calm hold?

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Only ten of 18 provincial governments hold lead responsibility for security, the report said. And, according to the Defense Department, less than 10 percent of Iraqi security forces were at the highest levels of readiness and therefore capable of conducting military operations without US support, the GAO report noted.

More than 75 percent of Iraqi battalions are "in the lead," according to Mr. Keane, but their ability to operate without the American military is still hamstrung by their inability to perform their own logistical operations.

While the government of Iraq has passed major legislation, the report notes that there is still disagreement over key issues such as sharing of Iraq's vast oil revenues, disarming militias, and holding provincial elections, scheduled for this fall.

The Iraqi government also still has a problem spending its money: the GAO said that it spent only 24 percent of the $27 billion it budgeted for reconstruction efforts between 2005 and 2007. But with increased security on the ground, defense officials say it has begun to spend more of its own money.

Ultimately, when it comes to handing security responsibilities over to Iraq, one of the biggest questions is what will become of the "Sons of Iraq" – the Sunni-dominated groups that form a neighborhood watch program for some of Iraq's most volatile areas and that number more than 103,000 individuals, each paid a daily wage by the US.

These groups are considered an important factor in the improved security situation in Iraq. But since the program was implemented along with the surge strategy last year, the fear has long been that when the US money runs out, those individuals will return to violence.

As many as 30 percent of the "Sons" are supposed to be professionally trained and folded into the Iraqi security forces. The rest are supposed to be given jobs. But the Iraqis have for months been wary of accepting them into the security forces. The Iraqis' failure to reach political accommodation on this could leave the program adrift and reverse security gains in some areas, experts say.

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