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In Iraq, Americans have one foot out the door

As US forces head for Afghanistan, real security remains elusive in Iraq.

On the security front, U.S. and Iraqi forces say they have arrested or killed more than 100 Al Qaeda in Iraq members so far this year, including its two top leaders. The arrests seem to have made serious inroads into the insurgent network but the organization and its allies are far from dead.

Just this week, a series of bombings in the south of Iraq and attacks in Baghdad killed more than 100 people in the deadliest day so far this year. The top U.S. military commander in the south said he believed inter-Shiite fighting was more likely to blame than AQI.

Whoever is to blame, the real fear is that Iraqis will again lose faith in the ability of security forces to protect them and turn to Shiite militias and Sunni extremists to protect them — the genesis of the civil war four years ago.

So far, Iraqi security forces have managed to maintain a veneer of security and the Sadrist’s Mehdi Army remains waiting in the wings rather than openly out in the streets. But that threat is being held in reserve.

“They are committed to restraint,” said al-Araji, who says many of the dozens of injured in bombings last month were shot when Iraqi soldiers, despised by local residents, began firing randomly. “After the explosions it was possible for them to do anything. They could have stripped the army of their vehicles and their weapons in one hour. ”

In the U.S., most Americans have put this war behind them. But the most burning issues here are far from resolved. In this broken country, the issues that the U.S. grappled with and now faces in Afghanistan are still looming. Endemic corruption has replaced insurgent violence as one of the biggest threats to stability. In many places, crime and intimidation overrule the rule of law.

And with Iraqi political parties deeply divided, even the long-term existence of a country that encompasses the Shiite south and the Kurdish north could eventually be in doubt.

“Can we live together? That’s the question,” said a senior Kurdish official.