US intelligence officials do not see a reversal in security gains, but Iraqi political maneuvering could affect decisions to keep US troops in trouble spots.
US and Iraqi officials facing an increase in high-profile suicide bombs do not believe it signals a reversal of a trend of declining attacks. But they say political maneuvering by an Iraqi leadership preparing for national elections is likely to sway decisions that are key to bolstering security.
In a series of interviews, senior US and Iraqi officials and US intelligence officers say they expect gains made against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to continue to limit the group's ability to destabilize stronger Iraqi security forces and a more confident government.
But the outlook for progress in some of the country's most volatile cities is less certain. Iraqi security officials in Mosul and Diyala Province have consistently said that they need the assistance of US troops past a June 30 deadline for American forces to leave Iraqi cities. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki's recent statements that he will not ask US forces to stay in those cities, while domestically popular ahead of elections next year, has sent military planners scrambling.
"In many parts of the country, there is crystal-clear agreement among US and Iraqi military leaders," says a senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "The higher up you go, the more other factors are entered into the equation." At that level, he says, "campaigning has already begun for the national elections."
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