Regional observers: Iraq unlikely to slide back into sectarian civil war

O’Sullivan was Bush’s deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004 to 2007. Before that White House stint, she was a top aide to L. Paul Bremer from 2003 to 2004 while he was Washington’s top civilian ambassador to Baghdad in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

While Parker and O’Sullivan left open the possibility that Iraq could descend into chaos, both said it is unlikely U.S. troops would be sent back in to quell any fighting.

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Both regional observers said it is unlikely current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki will become a Saddam-like strongman.

Parker and O’Sullivan said there are signs that Baghdad is losing its sway over areas outside the Iraqi capital. O’Sullivan said Baghdad might lose control of both Kurdish-populated and Arab-populated areas.

Among the most pressing issues Iraqi officials must tackle as soon as possible, O’Sullivan said, are pacts on power sharing and oil revenue sharing.

Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders have been inching toward an oil revenue-sharing agreement for years, but have yet to strike a permanent deal.

Both observers poured cold water on speculation that Iran will meddle — or even control — Baghdad’s actions. GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates have hit President Obama on this issue, saying his removal of all American troops this year will embolden Iran.