NEWS, ANALYSIS & INTERVIEW: America’s attention shifting away from Iraq

On campaign trail, domestic issues now outweigh Iraq

The Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are navigating a far different set of issues as they approach the Iowa caucuses on Thursday than when they first started campaigning here a year ago, and that is likely to change even more as the campaigns move to New Hampshire and across the country.

Even though polls show that Iowa Democrats still consider the war in Iraq the top issue facing the country, the war is becoming a less defining issue among Democrats nationally, and it has moved to the back of the stage in the rush of campaign rallies, town hall meetings and speeches that are bringing the caucus competition to an end. Instead, candidates are being asked about, and are increasingly talking about, the mortgage crisis, rising gas costs, health care, immigration, the environment and taxes.

The shift suggests that economic anxiety may be at least matching national security as a factor driving the 2008 presidential contest as the voting begins. [complete article]

Edwards calls for quick end to Iraq training

John Edwards says that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.

Mr. Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina who is waging a populist campaign for the Democratic nomination, said that extending the American training effort in Iraq into the next presidency would require the deployment of tens of thousands of troops to provide logistical support and protect the advisers.

“To me, that is a continuation of the occupation of Iraq,” he said in a 40-minute interview on Sunday aboard his campaign bus as it rumbled through western Iowa. [complete article]

Attacker bombs pro-U.S. Sunnis in Iraq

A suicide bomber in turbulent Diyala Province detonated an explosive vest on Wednesday at a checkpoint operated by armed Sunni Arab tribesmen who have turned against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and pledged support to the United States military.

The bomber emerged from behind a fruit stand near the checkpoint in downtown Baquba, leapt onto the hood of a BMW and detonated the explosives, killing Abu Sadjat, a local tribal chief who had just left a meeting with American military officials. The Iraqi police said the blast killed at least six Iraqis and wounded 22 others. [complete article]

Seven questions: Gen. David Petraeus on winding down the surge

Foreign Policy: These days when you speak about the surge, you always highlight positive developments but you also appear very cautious. What are your concerns?

Gen. David Petraeus: We are trying to be cautious as we describe the progress that is taking place in Iraq. It has been substantial. We have seen a consistent reduction in the level of violence—a reduction of 60 percent since June, really to a level not seen since the spring of 2005. There has been a corresponding reduction in the loss of civilian lives, Iraqi, and coalition force casualties. Having said all that, it is a fragile achievement, and there are a number of concerns that we do have. We feel as if we’ve knocked al Qaeda to the canvas, but we know that, like any boxer, they can come back up off that canvas and lend a big, right-hand punch. We also have concerns about the militias and the elements of the [Mahdi Army] militia that have not been honoring Moqtada al-Sadr’s cease-fire pledge.

FP: Based on the experience of the British, who as they draw down are leaving a lot of instability behind them in southern Iraq, how can you can be confident going forward as U.S. forces withdraw?

DP: We have already begun a reduction, and we’ll reduce another number over the course of the next seven months. We do that with a reasonable degree of confidence because our surge is taking place and the Iraqi surge is taking place as well, and it amplifies what we have done. In fact, the Iraqis have formed 160,000 police, soldiers, border police, and other security force elements during the past year. To be sure, there’s an uneven nature to their quality, to their capability, and to their level of training and equipping, but they’re significant in quantity. And quantity does mean quality in counterinsurgency operations, because you’ve got to secure so many infrastructures against the terrorist and insurgent and militia elements. We think that what we have been handing over has been winnowed down in terms of the nature of the problem in a way that they can handle it. And only when they can handle it we will have this transfer. [complete article]

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