2008 On January 12, the Iraqi Parliament passed a law making former members of the Ba'ath Party eligible again to hold public office. Ba'athists had been disenfranchised by the U.S. led Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 after which at least some joined the anti-American insurgency. It was hoped the change would ease sectarian divisions in Iraq, but worried that the new law ("Justice and Accountability Law") was so full of loopholes and conditions that it might actually have the opposite effect.
On February 24, 2008, a suicide bomber killed at least 40 Shiite pilgrims on their way to a religious festival in Karbala.
In late March, 2008, armed forces of the Shiite controlled central government of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki battled rival Shiite militias in Basra, Baghdad, and a number of other predominantly Shiite cities. The main rival Shiite parties were:
1. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (formerly known as SCIRI - Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution) and an associated militia, “The Badr Brigades.” They supported the central government.
2. The Sadr Party (and its “Mahdi Army”) controlled by anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
3. Fadhila Party (a splinter group from the Sadr Party), one of whose chief leaders was Muhammad al-Waeli, the governor of Basra.
On May 21, 2008, Iraqi army forces entered Sadr City without opposition, confirming (for the time) government sovereignty over this formerly resistant Shiite enclave, weakening the militias, and strengthening the hand of Iraqi P.M. Nuri al-Maliki. Similar government successes were tallied in Basra and other areas. The challenge for the government at this point was to solidify security by making good on its promises of economic development. By July, Sadr's Mahdi Army had been reduced to a spent force: its days of terror and extortion at the expense of its neighborhood strongholds largely over.
On July 28, 2008, attacks in Kirkuk and Baghdad carried out by female suicide bombers killed more than fifty people and wounded more than two hundred others. Kirkuk was a city riven by ethnic tensions between Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomans. The attack in Baghdad fell during the annual Shiite pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim. Both attacks came in the midst of claims that security throughout Iraq had been showing marked improvement. Later that year (December, 2008), a suicide bomb attack in a Kirkuk restaurant killed more than fifty.
In November, 2008, and after months of wrangling, Iraq's parliament took a step toward full sovereignty for Iraq by approving the "U.S. Status of Forces Agreement." The pact called for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009 and from the entire country by December 31, 2011. Levels of violence had declined markedly throughout the country as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki continued to strengthen his hold on power. Maliki's increased grip on the nation prompted some (including fellow Shiites) to observe that he had begun to look like a dictator.
2009 On January 1, 2009, the United States formally ceded control of Baghdad's "Green Zone" to the Iraqi government. On January 2, the first European commercial flight to Iraq in seventeen years landed at Baghdad's international airport.
In late January, 2009, provincial elections were held throughout Iraq solidifying Shiite Prime Minister al-Maliki's hold on power but also seeing gains for Sunnis. However, a new trend emerged: al-Maliki's Dawa Party campaigned as part of a group of parties calling itself the "State of Law Coalition" on a markedly secularist platform (law and order and national unity). Religious parties like the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council suffered losses this time around.
In early March, 2009, three bomb attacks killed scores of people in and around Baghdad. Violence had been in decline. The United States was planning to withdraw 12,000 troops by early the following fall.
April and May 2009 were deadly months with more than 300 killed in suicide bomb attacks. The U.S. was scheduled to withdraw from urban areas by June 30. The pullback took place on schedule, but, attacks continued throughout June, and, some had doubts the Iraqis were up to the challenge of maintaining their own security.
In August, 2009, at least 13 people died in a bomb attack in the holy city of Karbala targeting Shiites celebrating the birthday of the Twelfth ("Hidden") Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi.