Saturday's massive bomb in Kirkuk, combined with political gridlock, raises questions about how ready Iraq is for the withdrawal of US troops from cities by June 30.
Fresh concerns about the US-Iraq relationship are rising as the draw-down of US forces approaches. A suicide bombing in Kirkuk Saturday was the deadliest in Iraq in more than a year. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government continues to fail to approve crucial laws for administering the country.
With the 133,000 US troops in the country set to be withdrawn from Iraqi cities by June 30, demands on the diplomatic relationship between the two countries will only grow, some Iraq specialists warn.
Going further still, some of them worry that Iraq will be neglected as the US turns its focus to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. If that happens, Iraq could slip back into instability and violence, reemerging as a top American security issue.
"President Obama cannot afford to lose Iraq," says Kenneth Pollack, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "If nothing else, there's so much potential for spillover into Saudi Arabia, Syria, and elsewhere in the region."