Experts say the pullout of US combat troops from Iraq will be quicker than some American commanders on the ground had hoped. The new timetable is also faster than that drawn up in a previous bilateral security pact. Some 140,000 US troops are currently in Iraq, with many already acting more like peacekeepers than a combat force.
But a quicker withdrawal raises questions about the threat of flashpoints in the future. For example, towns near the border of the largely autonomous northern Kurdistan region are still disputed by Kurds and the central government. There are also ongoing insurgencies in the city of Mosul, and Al Qaeda is active in provinces such as Diyala.
Avoiding a slide back into sectarian violence will be key. US forces say they have made progress in averting tension between Iraqi forces loyal to the Shi’ite Muslim-led government and Kurdish fighters. The Americans have also been encouraging the government to pay more attention to the concerns of minority groups.
Washington says the 600,000 Iraqi police and soldiers have made enormous progress in the past year, but they are still not up to speed in many areas.