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Violence in Iraq rises as U.S. is distracted by other conflicts

| Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, 7:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Security crises in Egypt, Syria and other countries are overshadowing rising death tolls and new fears of civil war in Iraq, once the top U.S. priority in the Mideast. However, the prospect that sectarian violence could fuel instability beyond Iraq's borders remains a concern for the Obama administration.

Officials and experts say the White House's attention is focused elsewhere — even as more than 1,000 people were killed in Iraq in July, the deadliest month since 2008. At a meeting on Thursday between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, one of the main topics was flights of weapons from Iran across Iraqi airspace into Syria and back, as well as the threat from al-Qaida fighters along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Surveys show a majority of Americans favor President Obama's hands-off approach toward Iraq since withdrawing the U.S. military from the country in 2011 after nearly nine years of war, at least $767 billion spent in taxpayer funds and nearly 4,500 U.S. troops killed.

But after hitting a low, if grim, level of violence immediately before the U.S. troops left, attacks have resurged in Iraq at a rate reminiscent of its darkest days.

Distracted by a civil war in Syria, a policy pivot to Asia, growing extremism in North Africa and Iran's nuclear ambitions, the White House turned its attention elsewhere.

Egypt, once reliably stable, has disintegrated over deadly street riots and attacks that killed more than 600 people on Wednesday during protests over the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. Jordan, a key U.S. ally, is threatening to collapse under financial strain caused, in large part, by more than 1 million refugees who have crossed into the country from Syria. In addition, the United States is leading peace talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities, and watching a growing threat from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen.

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