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How This Can End

· A national oil law. Related to Kirkuk is the question of how Iraq's future oil resources will be developed and shared. Bills to accomplish this remain mired in debate and dispute in Parliament, even as Kurdish politicians sign deals with foreign oil firms to develop sites on Kurdish land. In theory, this matter could be cleared up at any time; in practice, it will probably take a few months and additional American prodding. Any deal will then need to be implemented in good faith, something we will need to help supervise at first.

· "Overwatch" of Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi army and police are much larger, better equipped and more proficient than ever. But they are still not a dependable force. Just last year, we had to ask Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to purge well over half the brigade and battalion commanders of each organization in the Baghdad area. Another round of purges, maybe two, may be necessary. American troops can evaluate Iraqi force performance only if we are on the streets with them, patrolling, tamping down violence when it arises and responding to crises when they become severe.

There is real hope for major progress on most of these matters in the coming two years. If this does not happen, or if backsliding occurs on other key political and strategic issues where progress has been made recently, the case for a continued American presence in Iraq will weaken. Either way, we can aspire to major additional reductions in U.S. force levels come 2010. But alas, probably not before.

Ann Gildroy, a captain in the Marine Corps Reserve, just completed her third tour in Iraq. Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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