U.S. officials in Washington acknowledge that the Iraq mission is winding down, and often add that they expect the Obama administration to get credit for executing an orderly exit. A senior administration official said in an interview that the withdrawal should win favor in the Muslim world.
"As they see us coming out, this is going to give us a boost," the official said.
Embassy and military officials in Baghdad disputed the perception that the United States was not engaged in laying the groundwork for a close long-term relationship with Iraq. In a joint statement, they said they were "focused on achieving the vision of an enduring strategic partnership between the United States and a sovereign, stable, self-reliant Iraq."
They cited budding ties in areas such as healthcare and agriculture, and said they were fostering business relations as well.
But the senior U.S. military officer said he saw few signs that the embassy or military were concentrating on a long-term strategy.
"Personally, I think [the military] is adrift," the officer said. "Everyone is spending more time drawing down rather than executing policy…. People aren't thinking about new programs, policies or a legacy." Embassy officials were not reaching out to Iraqi leaders the way they once did, he said.
Senior Iraqi politicians say they feel that little actually has been done in developing the foundations of a relationship based on politics, business and cultural exchanges.
"We hear about the responsible withdrawal of Obama, but not a lot of things are happening with soft power, and that is creating a vacuum of Western presence, if you like," said former Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak Rubaie. "We were hoping to have relationships [in the field of] culture, education, economics, science, agriculture and industry with the U.S. and U.K. But it is not happening with the same speed that we are implementing the [withdrawal]."
Times staff writers Paul Richter and Peter Nicholas in Washington contributed to this report.