US concerns about Iraq's political stability stem in large part, as they have in the past, from unresolved tensions along ethnosectarian divides – between the majority Shiites and the minority Sunnis, but also now between the Kurds and the Shiites.
Last week, both Gen. David Petraeus – the US commander in Iraq during the "surge" of US troops who is about to assume the top spot in the US Central Command – and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that they see recent progress in Iraq as "fragile" and "reversible."
And Gen. Ray Odierno, the US commander in Iraq who replaced General Petraeus, is speaking publicly of his concern that power struggles exacerbated by the upcoming elections could undo recent political gains.
Another worry is the failure of US and Iraqi officials to reach an agreement that would allow American forces to remain and operate in Iraq past the end of this year. On Wednesday, Mr. Maliki said his security cabinet would this week take up a final draft of the agreement, which has been held up for months – primarily on the issue of legal jurisdiction over US soldiers committing crimes in Iraq.
All these concerns factor into a recent Pentagon assessment of Iraq, which cited a list of unresolved political issues and security question marks. The next National Intelligence Estimate, which will be published sometime after the US elections, is expected to echo the cautious sentiment.
Another troubling development in Iraq – one that has received less attention than the sectarian schisms – is the growing divide between a large and increasingly successful military, and a lagging and increasingly disdained civilian government, says Mr. White, now an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington.