BAGHDAD — President Barack Obama's decision to shift the U.S. military chief for the Middle East, Gen. David Petraeus, to focus exclusively on Afghanistan highlights what politicians, analysts and some U.S. military officers say is a serious drift in policy toward Iraq.
Iraqi officials said they detected a lack of direction even before Obama tapped Petraeus to replace his commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who stepped down last week after he and his team made disparaging comments about U.S. civilian leaders.
The Iraqi officials describe U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad as obsessed with bringing an end to the large-scale U.S. troop presence in Iraq. U.S. military officers and Western analysts have also criticized what they see as a failure to think beyond the planned drawdown to 50,000 troops by the end of August.
Iraq policy is under the domain of Vice President Joe Biden. White House officials say Biden chairs monthly meetings on Iraq in the White House situation room, and that both he and Obama receive regular reports.
But Obama has not chaired a meeting on Iraq since last year, and according to one Iraqi political figure, many Iraqis are worried that Biden does not have the clout to coordinate U.S. policy.
"We don't have a feeling for Mr. Obama, honestly. We don't know him," said Mithal Alusi, a lawmaker in the outgoing parliament who has advocated close ties with America.
Some analysts see risks in a reduced U.S. role.
"The pressure to shift resources to Afghanistan is so great that Washington's Iraq strategy seems to be based on a song and a prayer," said Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq expert with the International Crisis Group think tank.
U.S. Embassy and military officials in Baghdad dispute the perception that the United States is not engaged in a long-term relationship with Iraq.
In a joint statement, they said they are "focused on achieving the vision of an enduring strategic partnership between the United States and a sovereign, stable, self-reliant Iraq."