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Despite upsurge in violence, US says conditions for withdrawal from major cities have been met.
The changing relationship leaves the U.S. military in the unfamiliar role of no longer being in the driver’s seat. In the north of Iraq, particularly — with the Kurdish-Arab tensions that is one of the biggest fault lines threatening Iraq’s stability — withdrawal or no withdrawal, there is still a lot at stake.
“We’re going to have to learn how to maintain influence without those boots on the ground that would normally make a difference,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq.
Apart from diplomatic leverage, there is a blunter instrument — in the north, the $900 million the U.S. has spent on reconstruction projects.
“There has been a lot investment in the reconstruction to rebuild the essential services infrastructures and if there’s an Al Qaeda safe haven in a neighborhood and the Iraqi security forces are unwilling to go into that neighborhood, we’re going to say ‘listen, we’re not going to bring you essential services,’” Caslen said.
A lesson for anyone thinking that the June 30 withdrawal means that the U.S. isn’t still deeply involved in Iraq.
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