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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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The uptick in violence has not significantly affected US troops, yet. The number of American military personnel killed in Iraq has stayed under 20 per month since last October, according to the website icasualties.org. There have been 14 fatalities so far this month, compared with nine in March, according to the site.

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The US has lost more than 4,200 troops in Iraq since 2003. Recently published numbers from the Associated Press put the Iraqis who've been killed in that time at about 87,000.

The 140,000-plus US forces currently in Iraq are supposed to leave by 2011, pending any new agreements with the government.

Resurgent violence is not the only reason to remain concerned about Iraq. Tensions among political parties, the return of displaced people, the release of detainees from American detention camps, and "new budget challenges," present additional factors for commanders on the ground, Petraeus told Friday's hearing.

At the same time, the US and Iraq are attempting to transition the so-called Sons of Iraq – the "neighborhood watch" groups of Sunnis and Shiites paid to provide security – from American to Iraqi control. Notwithstanding pledges from the government, it remains to be seen whether the largely Sunni group will be properly absorbed into Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government.

But some things are going well. Generally, violence is down compared with 2006 and 2007. And the growing Iraqi security forces are carrying out the "vast majority" of security operations, Petraeus said.

"Despite the many challenges, the progress in Iraq, especially the steady development of the Iraqi security forces, has enabled the continued transition of security responsibility to Iraqi elements further reductions of coalition forces, and the steady withdrawal of our units from urban areas," said Petraeus.

"Iraq, now, is more of a Lebanon-like model," says Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. He says it is a sectarian-based society still lacking in a unified national government, with a 50-50 chance of returning to a deeper conflict.

"Iraq remains a highly precarious society and, yes, violence has decreased," he says. "But all the elements are there for an escalation to a low-intensity conflict."

Monitor correspondent Tom A. Peter contributed to this report.

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