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The Next Chapter in Iraq

The Obama administration has made no secret of its desire to move Iraq down its list of priorities, behind Afghanistan, Iran, and a host of domestic issues. President Barack Obama's latest meeting in Washington with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, occurring in the midst of a major push for health care reform legislation, signaled no major change in a U.S. policy intent on drawing down combat forces from the six-year-old theater. Obama, speaking briefly with reporters on July 22 after an hour-long meeting with Iraq's prime minister, urged reconciliation among Iraqi factions and reiterated a commitment to fully withdraw the last of the 130,000 U.S. troops by the end of 2011 (VOA). "We're in the midst of a full transition to Iraqi responsibility," the president said.

But Iraq still remains heavily dependent on U.S. support (TIME). U.S. military officials say Baghdad lacks the ability to turn information gathered on the battlefield into "targetable intelligence," a key tool to staying one step ahead of a still lethal insurgency. Dan Senor, a former coalition adviser in Iraq, says the Obama administration is also needed for nonmilitary mediation, particularly in resolving Kurdish-Arab tensions (WSJ) over oil and political control. (A test of Kurdish stability will come this weekend, when the region votes for members of the Kurdish regional parliament.) Obama, meanwhile, offered U.S. support for guiding Iraq out of UN sanctions that have been in place since the 1991 Gulf War.

For his part, Maliki faces a delicate balancing act (WashPost) in his relations with the United States--if he is perceived as too close to Washington, he could lose support at home, but he can't completely distance himself either. "Iraq continues to face some security and...

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