Violence Grows in Iraq as American Troops Withdraw

BAGHDAD -- Violence is on the rise in Iraq as American troops withdraw. A ground-level look at the handover provides one explanation: The Iraqi government is neglecting many of the successful counterinsurgency initiatives it is inheriting from the U.S. military.

In the Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad, once an Al Qaeda stronghold, contractor Hossam Hadi used to send 1,000 military-aged men out on U.S.-funded jobs to pick up trash and repair bullet-riddled store fronts. That work pacified potential troublemakers, but now he's down to 60 workers.

In Baghdad's Shaab district, residents say that when the constant patrols of U.S. troops gave way recently to Iraqis who manned static posts, kidnappings and robberies rose. And just south of the capital, a former Sunni insurgent hired by the U.S. to keep the peace says his 145 militiamen are angry because they've received only a month's pay since Baghdad took over their program in January.

Many Iraqis fear a security gap just as the U.S. military hands the reins to the Iraqi government. American soldiers are already fading from Iraq's streets ahead of this summer's deadline for the withdrawal of forces from Iraqi cities. The Iraqi government, meanwhile, has been slammed by dwindling oil receipts -- leaving it tens of billions of dollars short in its budget for security and other bills.

All that has coincided uncomfortably with a wave of attacks since late March. Iraqis worry that insurgents and sectarian militias may be regrouping and appraising an Iraqi force that lacks the money and will to replicate tactics the U.S. used to quell violence.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised recent budget cuts won't affect security. "The militias and the criminals believe there will be a security vacuum as the U.S. withdraws, and they're testing the Iraqi forces," said government spokesman Tahseen Sheikhly. "But we will show them."

The U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, implemented by Gen. David H. Petraeus in early 2007, called for soldiers to live in bases among the population and run constant foot patrols. It also called for reconciliation with enemies who were willing to negotiate, and encouraged buttressing the economy with jobs for locals.

U.S. officials say job-creation programs like the one Hadi oversaw in Adhamiya yielded big counterinsurgency gains. Many are now being abandoned.

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