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Yes, the Iraq drawdown is really happening

That the Obama administration has plans to drawn down to a tiny force in Iraq shouldn't be a surprise. The Iraqis haven't (yet) given America permission to stay.

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The Obama administration is clearly eager to deliver on a campaign promise to get America out of one of its wars, particularly given the weak US economy and calls for government spending cuts across the board.

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It's true that Iraq remains a dangerous place. Attacks by Sunni jihadis against civilians and Iraqi officials have been on the rise recently, and US officials have consistently claimed that Iranian-backed Shiite militias are also armed and ready for action inside the country. Special Inspector General for Iraq reconstruction Stuart Bowen wrote in his July report that Iraq was less safe than a year ago, and that "the situation continues to deteriorate."

But Iraq's fractured politics are going to be a major factor in deciding what happens from here. To ignore the wishes of the Iraqis in this matter would be tantamount to denying the sovereignty that was returned with so much fanfare more than five years ago. Maliki's cabinet has agreed to negotiate an extended US presence – but has insisted any possible deal be limited to training only. Maliki, as a politician whose own constituency is generally hostile to any extension of what many there still call the US "occupation," would be asking for serious political trouble by openly advocating a larger US presence.

Some American politicians appear blind, at least in their public statements, to a political reality that's been emerging in Iraq for years.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina issued a statement yesterday saying "reducing our troop presence down to 3,000 would put at risk all the United States has fought for in Iraq ... the biggest winner of a US decision to move to [3,000] troops in Iraq would the Iranian regime."

Graham, together with senators John McCain (R) of Arizona and Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut also issued a joint statement yesterday complaining that "this is dramatically lower than what our military leaders have consistently told us over the course of repeated visits to Iraq that they require... in particular, we are very concerned by the prospect that a follow-on force might lack the capabilities and authorities necessary to help Iraqis ensure stability across the disputed territories in northern Iraq, which we consider an essential mission."

That mention of "disputed territories" refers to Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdistan, where the US remains hugely popular and an extended troop presence – seen as guarantee against a loss of that autonomy to Iraq's majority Arab population – would be warmly welcomed. But they fail to propose or deal with the problem of keeping a larger presence in Iraq absent the Iraqi government's support.

There are almost four months left before the end of the year. That Iraq's political class, with US prodding, may come to an arrangement that allows a greater US presence, is still a possibility. But there are no signs of that yet.

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