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Is Iraq Becoming Obama's Perfect Storm?

As the US looks towards presidential elections and violence goes stratospheric in Iraq, will Baghdad turn into Obama's perfect storm?
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 1/23/2012, 8:41 PM

Sunni insurgents in Iraq are threatening to split the country in the wake of US troops departing a month ago in a terror campaign that threatens to land on President Barack Obama's doorstep.

Obama, who campaigned on a pledge to get US troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, pushed for the final Iraq withdrawal by the end of 2012 despite clear indicators the security situation in the US occupied country was tenuous at best.

But with sharply spiking violence and a furious wave of bombings targeting Shiite pilgrims and police stations in Sunni areas, the government Obama left in Bagdhad may not survive the election season.

The deadly attacks have roots not only in the troops' departure but also in a domestic political crisis that erupted in its wake. Shiite and Sunni leaders have squared off in a power struggle the insurgents hope to turn into full-scale civil war.

"They are not arbitrary attacks. They are sending messages that security is not under control," Wathiq Al Hashimi, an analyst in Baghdad who leads the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies, told the Washington Post.

Should that happen Iraq may become an albatross around Obama's neck as Americans mull whether to return him to the White House.

Administration officials are already trying to do damage control as they seek to engage Taliban leaders in peace talks ahead of a planned withdrawal from Afghanistan slated for 2014.

"It's always a mistake to look at these things in the isolation of one or two weeks," an unnamed White House who described the attacks as "cyclical" told reporters last week.

Similar upticks in violence, he insisted, occurred when US forces exited Iraqi cities in 2009.

However, analysts say White House officials have misread the intentions of insurgents in Iraq and don't want to acknowledge that, in keeping his campaign pledge, Obama may have created a major strategic mess for the United States.

"What changed is a mind-set," Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has been a consultant to the Defense Department, told the Washington Post. "The US was now definitely gone. Therefore, all bets are off."

Knights noted that prior to their departure the presence of US troops was critical to keeping violence at a manageable level in Iraq. The scale of attacks rocking Iraq at present, he added, was completely unexpected.

"What amped everything up," Knights said, "was the eruption of a sectarian political crisis that generated both fear and opportunity among insurgents - It's like a perfect storm."