What the U.S. Leaves Behind: An Unstable, Vulnerable Iraq

Even as Washington remains the supreme military power in Iraq, Tehran has more influence over Iraqi politics.

When President Obama announced on Tuesday night that “Operation Iraqi Freedom is over and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country,” he was signaling an end to the U.S. military’s effort to remake Iraq — “nation building,” as it’s sometimes known. “As our military draws down,” he explained, “our dedicated civilians — diplomats, aid workers and advisers — are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war and builds ties with the region and the world.”

But the fact that no government in Iraq has been formed almost six months after national elections, despite the increasingly urgent cajoling of U.S. officials, is but the latest indication of just how limited U.S. political leverage in Iraq has become. Politically and geopolitically, Iraq is no longer a work in progress; Iraq is what it is. And that is a weak state beset by a long-term pattern of political crisis and vulnerable to the machinations of outsiders. The U.S. — whose remaining 50,000 troops are still by far the strongest armed force in the country — maintains a veto over military events in Iraq, but Washington’s political influence is marginal. Iran, however, retains effective political ve…

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