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March 23, 2013

Far-Reaching American Legacy in Iraq Debated

by Jeff Seldin

A decade after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, wartime assumptions about the extent of American influence in Iraq have waned. Now, as Iraq struggles in a fledgling democracy, some former U.S. officials say the country still needs American help.

Black smoke rises to the sky after a suicide bombing in Baghdad's Sadr City, one in a series of deadly attacks marking the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion.

At the scene of another blast, frustration. Some former U.S. officials see the violence as something bigger - a symbol of U.S. hopes for Iraq being dashed.

“I think we’ve gotten out of balance now, and we need to try to bring it back," said former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, He still sees Iraq as a crucial ally, especially as Iran has been using Washington's seeming absence after its troop withdrawal as a chance to extend its influence over the region.

"I think they are going to notice and respect, if not appreciate, an enhanced level of U.S. engagement. That was the case not only when we had troop levels on the ground, but a regular high-level diplomatic dialogue. It served as a counter balance to Iranian influence," said Crocker.

Iraq's former ambassador to the U.S., Samir Sumaida'ie, said that with renewed U.S. engagement and support, Iraq could do even more.

“A stable Iraq and a balanced Iraq would be an immensely important factor in stabilizing the whole region," said Sumaida'ie.

But some, like former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, warn against such false hopes.

“If the lesson to be drawn from it [the Iraq War] is that whenever there are, quote-unquote, murderous groups doing nasty things the United States has to go in militarily to deal with it, I think it’s a recommendation for a policy that will be ultimately suicidal,” he said.

Brzezinski argues that U.S. involvement in Iraq helped cause much of the regional instability that has allowed problems to escalate elsewhere in the region.

With America's attention now focused on Syria and Iran, Iraqis are left to pick up the pieces of the violence and uncertainty that continues to influence their day-to-day lives.