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Juan Cole provides a quick update on how things are going in Iraq:

Al-Hayat [Life] is reporting in Arabic that Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby now says that the US military withdrawal from Iraq is on schedule and that only 50,000 US troops will be in the country by the end of August. He also affirmed that the Iraqi military and police are now capable of keeping order in Iraq, saying that the role they played in providing security during the March 7 elections shows that they have made a big advance in their capabilities.

….The parliamentary election has also not developed into an obstacle to withdrawal. Indeed, it is likely to produce a government that looks somewhat like that of summer, 2006, with Nuri al-Maliki again prime minister….That al-Maliki is likely to get a second term has pros and cons for Washington. The pros are that there will be continuity in Iraqi politics, that al-Maliki has gotten control of the armed forces and will remain in control, and that while he has good relations with Iran, he is not as close to Tehran as some of the fundamentalist Shiite parties in the Iraqi National Alliance. The cons are that al-Maliki has shown little interest in reconciliation with secular, Arab nationalist Sunnis, that he has cultivated tribal militias loyal to himself, and that he has not shown very much interest in or capacity for starting and speeding along projects key to Iraq’s economic infrastructure. Washington would no doubt prefer to have an anti-Iran prime minister like Allawi, and one less hostile to Israel.

On the troop question, this jibes with various reports out of the region, including one highlighted by Marc Lynch a few days ago. As for Maliki, my instinct is that the election might actually have gone as well as we could have hoped. A Maliki win provides some stability, which Iraq needs, but a close Maliki win means he still has to pay some attention to the Sunni bloc. There were plenty of worse outcomes possible.

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