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Pentagon fears Iraq is becoming 'forgotten war'

Despite progress in Iraq, the Pentagon cautions that security in the country remains fragile. Military and civilian officials hint that the US could stay past 2011.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / February 4, 2011

Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona (r.) greets US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey (c.) and Gen. Lloyd James Austin III, commander of American forces in Iraq, on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday, prior to the start of the Senate Armed Services Committee's hearing on the situation in Iraq.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Iraq is in danger of becoming a “forgotten war,” much as Afghanistan was earlier in the decade, according to senior US officials. Testifying on Capitol Hill this week, they further warned that US neglect of the country – where security remains “fragile” – could create a “Charlie Wilson’s War” moment for America.

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At the same time, in the face of ongoing instability on the ground, officials offered one of the first hints that the American military could stay in Iraq beyond this year. US troops must pull out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011 under the current security agreement.

“It would have been unthinkable even two years ago to say that we would reach a point at which most Americans and, indeed, some people in Washington, would increasingly be forgetting about Iraq,” Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday. “But that point has largely come. And as much as it reflects the dividends of success, especially the success of the surge, we disregard Iraq at great peril.”

On this point, there was agreement among Iraqi-based US officials, too. The US ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, said that there remain “substantial risks of what some people call a ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ moment in Iraq," referring to the book and film that depicted how the US intervention in and then abandonment of Afghanistan in the 1980s left a vacuum that was eventually filled by the Taliban, which gave safe haven to Al Qaeda.

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