Obama faces early test in Iraq

Iraq will serve as an early test of Barack Obama’s skill in weighing options and measuring risks. The next few months should give an indication whether he can end the Iraq war without risking new violence that could threaten U.S. interests throughout the Middle East.

Ending the war, which the Congressional Budget Office says costs $145 billion a year, would fulfill an important campaign promise and free up military resources for the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Flag of Iraq

By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer

But can Iraq stand on its own without the U.S. presence?

After so many sacrifices, can the U.S. afford to watch a country of 27 million people, strategically located next to Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia and with one of the world’s major sources of oil, collapse into chaos?

The first signs of where Iraq is headed should come soon after the president-elect takes office Jan. 20, when Iraqis choose ruling councils in most of the country’s 18 provinces.

At the same time, the Iraqis will be assuming more control of Baghdad and integrating former Sunni insurgents into the security forces or civilian government jobs.

If those steps go smoothly, Iraqis will have a real chance of maintaining the security gains since the U.S. troop buildup of last year.

If they don’t, the new president would have to decide whether to slow the U.S. departure despite his promise to remove American combat troops within his first 16 months in office.

Provincial elections have been widely seen as a major step in forging power-sharing agreements among Iraq’s religious and ethnic communities that the U.S. believes are key to lasting peace.

Obama to Shift Away From Iraq, Toward Afghanistan, Pakistan

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