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Iraq's Lingering Perils

From flower shows (AFP) to ribbon cuttings, hints of normalcy are returning to Iraq. And yet, even as the United States turns its military focus to Afghanistan, experts in Iraqi politics warn that unresolved governance issues and mounting sectarian tensions could test Washington's exit strategy. As one Iraqi recently told National Public Radio, violence may be at historic lows, but few Iraqis see the calm lasting.

A return to rampant violence in Iraq, where roughly 140,000 U.S. troops remain deployed, could have serious implications for the Obama administration's plan to ramp up deployments and training in the newly prioritized Afghanistan-Pakistan theater of war. Janet St. Laurent, a defense analyst with the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency, told lawmakers in February 2009 that the Pentagon's planned ramp-up of forces in Afghanistan is largely contingent on a drawdown in Iraq (PDF). U.S. President Barack Obama echoed this when announcing his new strategy for the Afghan war a month later.

From CFR Experts:
“The primary military purpose of the United States presence in Iraq right now is not training and advising. And it is not primarily counterterrorism. It is primarily peacekeeping to stabilize the system of negotiated peace that the United States played a major role in achieving.”

A number of experts have warned of the consequences of a premature U.S. withdrawal of sizeable forces from Iraq. CFR Senior Fellow Stephen Biddle, writing in Foreign Affairs with Michael E. O'Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack of the Brookings Institution, notes that a precipitous U.S. pullout could lead to a possible Iraqi military coup or an emboldened Iran. Walid Phares, director of...

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