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Why Iraq troop drawdown is likely to stop in July

Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will describe Iraq's fragile state this week on Capitol Hill.

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The two top US officials in IraqGen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker – are on Capitol Hill this week to report on the Iraq war, but expectations are low that US policy will change much before the end of the year and the arrival of America's next president.

That's not just because General Petraeus has indicated he will recommend against a further drawdown of US forces beyond the level they are programmed to hit at midsummer. It is also the case because, despite security gains of the past year, Iraq is expected to remain in a fragile state for the rest of President Bush's term.

Several factors could contribute in coming months to unstable conditions on the ground:

•Sunni disappointment with the US and the Shiite-dominated government over the rate at which Sunnis are being integrated into the Iraqi Army or being provided with other jobs.

•Power struggles among Iraq's dominant Shiite groups and militias, particularly in the south. Recent fighting in Basra is a case in point.

•Evidence that Iraqi security forces are not ready to take over military operations from the US and coalition forces.

•Intensifying political jockeying in the run-up to provincial elections set for fall.

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