Could Iraq violence affect US withdrawal plan?
The recent spate of attacks have come as US troops are preparing to pull out of urban areas.
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On Friday, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up near the gates of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Baghdad, killing 60 people. The attack followed two suicide bombs Thursday that killed more than 80 people.
The wave of violence in recent weeks, coming as US troops have begun preparing for withdrawal, threatens to bring Iraq back to the front burner, after months of increased security coupled with Obama's focus on Afghanistan had pushed it back.
Gen. David Petraeus, formerly the top US commander in Iraq and who now oversees both the wars there and in Afghanistan, warned lawmakers Friday that despite "substantial progress" in Iraq there remain lingering concerns. Al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as other groups, continue to pose a threat, he said.
"Numerous challenges still confront its leaders and its people," General Petraeus told a House panel. He said an Al Qaeda network that provides foreign fighters from Tunisia through Syria to Iraq has been "reactivated." Four of the most recent suicides were carried out by Tunisians, he said.
US forces are preparing to withdraw from Iraq over the next year and a half, with troops pulling out of the cities as early as June. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is preparing to send more than 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan through this summer and fall.
While the Iraq withdrawal and the Afghanistan surge won't necessarily occur simultaneously, much of the deployment to Afghanistan is predicated on the draw down plan for Iraq. If Al Qaeda were to reemerge and pose a substantive challenge to Iraqi and US forces, Mr. Obama might have to reassess his thinking.
But some analysts also say there is no indication that the improved security in Iraq is being reversed.
"The enemy [insurgents] can't return to its former posture, nor is the situation likely to deteriorate quickly," says Kim Kagan, president of the Institute for the Study of War, an analysis group in Washington.
"But we need to remember that our forces are there for a reason," she adds.