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Iraq's realities (whoever is president)

This week saw a serious inquiry in the US on which barriers remain to a withdrawal.

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President Bush all but admitted Thursday that the US has hit another wall in Iraq. This time it's Army overstretch. He cut future tours for soldiers from 15 to 12 months. And the troop surge? It's over this summer, despite fragile security in Iraq. So what other walls still remain?

Many. And they're not all in Iraq. They range from war fatigue in the US to weak Iraqi government to the rogue militias of Muqtada al-Sadr.

The difficult task of picking which "walls" to ignore and which to break through in order to achieve a US withdrawal was the broad topic this week in Congress over two days of grilling the top US military commander and senior US diplomat in Iraq.

Most of the lawmakers' questions (including those from the three presidential candidates) simply reinforced campaign positions. Indeed, voters have crisp choices on Iraq between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain. But unlike the last grilling of Army Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker six months ago, this one had an undertone of serious inquiry as the Bush era in Iraq draws to a close.

With prospects of their party's candidate being president in nine months, lawmakers and the three candidates know they must soon shift from politicking to governing, or facing Iraq's realities as they are. A new president will enter the Oval Office and then define the type of "success" at the time that could allow a withdrawal that both corrects the war's mistakes but doesn't harm broad US interests.

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