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After the Troops

During the long presidential campaign that ended with a victory for Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) on November 4, few issues defined the candidates as much as the war in Iraq. President-elect Obama vowed to end the war and redeploy troops within sixteen months of taking office; his counterpart, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), said he planned to stay in the fight. With the war for the White House now over, however, politics and policy are headed for a collision course. On Iraq, that means coming to terms with diminishing U.S. influence in Baghdad, experts say.

The immediate focus for Washington war planners will be the terms under which U.S. troops in Iraq operate. A UN Security Council resolution authorizing the presence of foreign forces expires at the end of 2008, and the Bush administration is negotiating with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government for an extension. The status of that agreement has been a political football for months; Iraqi officials say they expect action on a draft plan within days (AP), though a string of prickly issues continues to divide the governments. One interim solution might be an extension of the Security Council resolution; some have called this plan the Bush administration's "fallback option" (WashTimes).

Even if the two sides ink a deal on troop and contractor issues before the first of the year, other changes may weaken Washington's influence. On financial issues, for instance, international auditors have enjoyed open access to Iraq's government spending data courtesy of a 2003 UN measure which, like the troop mandate, expires on January 1. These auditors already have announced plan to relinquish oversight of Iraq's books, causing consternation among observers troubled by accounting irregularities such as hundreds...

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