Iraqi violence sparks lawmakers’ fears about stability of post-war Afghanistan

A steadily deteriorating security situation in Iraq, punctuated by internal squabbles among the country's leaders and a resurgent al Qaeda, is creating concern on Capitol Hill. 

The rising instability in Iraq comes as the U.S. begins preparations to draw down its remaining troops in Afghanistan, renewing fears among lawmakers the same post-war scenario could play out in that country. 

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On Tuesday, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was the latest lawmaker to express worry over Iraq's volatile security environment, saying the United States could ill-afford to make the same postwar mistakes in Afghanistan as were made in Iraq. 

Washington’s decision to virtually abandon Iraq without any residual U.S. presence to support the country’s fledgling security forces has resulted in rampant violence that threatens to tear the nation apart, Lieberman told The Hill. 

“That ended up being a mistake,” he said. “We don’t want Afghanistan to suffer the same way.” 

All American combat troops are set to pull out of Afghanistan over the next year and a half, as part of the White House's plan to end the war by 2014. 

More than 32,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines have already been withdrawn from the country. Gen. John Allen, head of all American forces in Afghanistan, is set to turn his recommendations for the drawdown of the remaining 68,000 American personnel in country to the Obama administration within weeks. 

Lieberman's concerns over postwar Afghanistan devolving into an Iraq-like scenario mirror those by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in September. 

At that time, the South Carolina Republican noted Iraq was in the midst of "unraveling," adding the instability within the country had left Iraq "really ripe for [sectarian] violence." 

Since American forces withdrew from Iraq a year ago, the country has been engulfed in a rising wave of bloodshed, leaving hundreds of Iraqi citizens wounded or dead in its wake. 

In June, Stuart Bowen, the Pentagon's Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, told House lawmakers the spike in violence within the country had created a "volatile situation" for American officials.

However, U.S. officials are now looking to address that situation via a new, long-term security co-operation pact with Baghdad, signed last week. 

DOD policy chief James N. Miller, acting Undersecretary of State for International Security Rose Gottemoeller and acting Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dlimi signed the agreement, which dictates the U.S. security role in Iraq for the next five years, according to recent reports. 

Details of the pact included joint U.S.-Iraqi military operations and counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing capabilities, as well as military-to-military exchanges between senior leaders from both countries. 

The deal was reached during a meeting of the U.S. and Iraqi Defense and Security Joint Coordination Committee in Iraq last Thursday, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from the country.

The violence in Iraq, spawned in part by increased aggression by al Qaeda's terror cell in the country, has created significant cracks in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's already tenuous hold on power. 

Nearly 400 Iraqis were injured or killed in a particularly deadly string of terrorist bombings and shootings across the country in July. Sunni militants set off a string of car bombs and attempted to overrun various military and government installations in 15 different cities across the country over a week-long period in late July, according to news reports at the time. 

The most devastating attack took place in Taji, north of Baghdad, where insurgents set off two massive bombs that killed 41 people. The second of the two blasts was timed to go off just as Iraqi security forces were arriving to the scene of the first attack.

The ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria is also adding to American concerns over the situation in Iraq. 

The July attack bore the hallmarks of terrorist operations carried out by al Qaeda's cell in the country, known as al Qaeda in Iraq, which is looking to leverage its growing foothold in neighboring Syria into strategic gains. 

Syria was a common thoroughfare for al Qaeda insurgents heading to Iraq during the bloodiest days of the war.

Three months after U.S. forces departed Iraq, the Army's top officer warned Congress that al Qaeda's Iraqi cell was drawing strength from the group's operations supporting rebel forces fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in March that the ongoing rebellion in Syria was “adding a difficult piece” to efforts to maintain peace in Iraq, amid a surge in al Qaeda-directed violence.