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Violence in Iraq spikes. Are US security interests in jeopardy?

A recent rise in civilian deaths and injuries in Iraq is cause for concern, but Pentagon personnel say Iraqi security forces are proving to be 'very capable' in the year since US troops departed.

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Security personnel inspect the site of a car bomb attack in Kirkuk, 155 miles north of Baghdad, in November.

Ako Rasheed/Reuters

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Violence in Iraq from July to October hit its highest level in two years, a discouraging sign that – one year after the last US military vehicles exited the country – prompts questions about whether the situation on the ground in Iraq jeopardizes America's national security interests.

The question is one that defense analysts and Pentagon personnel are tracking, with particular attention to the response of US-trained Iraqi security forces to the rising numbers of deaths and injuries of civilians. So far, the assessment of both is guardedly positive.

“The levels of violence there are still extremely high – and lethal,” says Nora Bensahel, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), who notes that more people are dying in Iraq today than in Afghanistan, where America’s war is ongoing.

That said, “there were people who argued that the moment the last US troops left the country it would disintegrate into civil wars and the Iraqi security forces wouldn’t be able to stand,” adds Ms. Bensahel, who co-wrote a report released by CNAS this week, "Revitalizing the Partnership: The United States and Iraq a Year after Withdrawal." “That hasn’t happened yet. It’s clear that the [Iraqi] security forces were strong enough to be able to hold together and maintain certain levels of capabilities.” 

The violence in Iraq is marked by considerable brutality, including sectarian killing. From July to October 2012, 854 civilians were killed and 1,640 were wounded. 

“The Iraqi security forces are continuing to demonstrate themselves to be very capable in handling their country’s security,” says Navy Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman. “Obviously, today we no longer have a real military footprint inside the country that would make us an authority on the actual security situation there.”

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