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Editorial: Iraq must shape its own future

Kurdish security forces deploy outside of the oil-rich

Kurdish security forces deploy outside of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, June 12, 2014. Credit: AP

What President Barack Obama told the nation Thursday is that determining Iraq's future is no longer our problem.

While he will send 300 military advisers to Iraq, in addition to the 275 troops he deployed earlier this week to safeguard the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, there will be no U.S. airstrikes or combat troops.

Obama also made it clear that time has run out for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia leader of the Dawa Party who became prime minister in 2006. Since U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq in 2011, al-Maliki has shown himself to be a vindictive, authoritarian leader with no inclination to include Sunnis and Kurds in a unity government.

His intransigence may have sparked the sectarian violence now roiling the country and threatening to cleave it into three autonomous regions. It already might be too late, but removing al-Maliki would provide the best hope for ending the fighting and avoiding all out civil war.

It's frustrating to watch territory hard won by U.S. troops fall to extremists fighting as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- and infuriating to see U.S.-trained and equipped Iraqi troops drop their weapons and flee in the face of the onslaught.

But extricating the United States from Iraq after a decade of war was both what the American public wanted and the right thing to do. It meant relinquishing the power to direct events there, but we left behind a relatively peaceful country and a democratically elected government.

Our only remaining national interest there is to make sure Iraq doesn't become a safe haven for terrorists to plan and launch attacks against the United States. Increasing our intelligence and special operations capabilities on the ground there, as Obama is doing, is the best way to keep that from happening.

Beyond that, what happens in Iraq is up to the Iraqis.