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Iraq: Past, Present & Future

Iraq 3 year anniversary
The third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq finds the U.S. desperately searching for a formula that will bring peace to the war-torn Mideast nation, and a strategy for withdrawing American military forces.

Words such as "victory" and "mission accomplished" are not heard much anymore as the United States gears up for a fourth year of war in Iraq.

The slogans now are "political process" and handing over "battle space" to Iraq's new army so that the Iraqis themselves can carry the fight to the insurgents and build their promised democracy.

All those plans are now under review in light of another ominous phrase — "civil war" — that has crept into the debate since the Feb. 22 bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque in Samarra, which ignited days of sectarian violence across Iraq in which more than 500 people died.

The shift from the upbeat slogans of 2003 represents an acknowledgment by the U.S. command that the war against an insurgency dominated by Iraq's Sunni Arab minority cannot be won by U.S. arms alone.

Instead, the best chance for peace is to encourage the insurgents to lay down their arms and join the political process, while building up an Iraqi force capable of dealing with those who refuse.

But slogans obscure the complexities at play. The rising tensions between Sunnis and Shiites raise the new question of whether building Iraq's army forces — the supposed solution — might instead set the stage for civil war.

How events play out in the coming months will determine how long U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and in what numbers. All signs point to a lengthy American commitment in Iraq, even if Washington draws down significant numbers of troops this year as expected.

At no time since the fall of Saddam Hussein have the words "Iraq stands at a crossroad" been truer. The next few months will determine whether Iraq stands at the threshold of recovery or at the brink of disaster.

Here are some third anniversary benchmarks:

  • More than 2,300 American troops have died in the campaign, with more than 17,000 wounded.

  • The bloodshed has worsened each year, pushing the Iraqi death toll into the tens of thousands. No one knows the exact toll. President Bush has said he thinks violence claimed at least 30,000 Iraqi dead, while some researchers have cited numbers of 50,000, 75,000 or beyond.

  • The Iraqis have successfully conducted two national elections and now have a democratically elected government. Nevertheless, Iraq teeters on the brink of civil war as the United States tries to fashion a ruling coalition that will bring rebellious Sunnis into the fold.

  • President Bush's approval rating has plummeted, largely because of popular unhappiness with the war. Continued GOP control of the White House and Congress could hinge on Mr. Bush's ability to bring peace and stability to Iraq.

    A recent CBS News poll found that the American public is increasingly convinced that the war in Iraq is going badly, and may not get any better. An overwhelming number say Iraq is currently in a civil war, and nearly half think the U.S. effort there will not succeed.

    Read CBS News poll: Iraq, three years and counting.
    Read CBS News' latest approval-rating poll.
    More than seven in 10 Americans — majorities of both Democrats and Republicans — say a civil war is currently going on in Iraq, while another 13 percent think civil war is likely to break out in the near future. Just 15 percent say the United States is very likely to succeed in Iraq, down from 21 percent in January.