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A big part of the 2007 troop surge was an emphasis on intelligence collection to locate and then kill or capture insurgent leaders.

“Challenges are substantial, and I suspected they will increase,” said Bart Bechtel, a former CIA operations officer in the region.

Mr. Bechtel said that if CIA officers lack protection from the U.S. military, it will be more difficult to find human intelligence sources.

“As we draw down our troops, one effect will be fewer eyes and ears on the ground and out in the countryside,” Mr. Bechtel said. “I fear that [recruited spies and informants] will suffer greatly, if our intel collectors are significantly confined within the Green Zone. Already, there are substantial threats to any asset cooperating with the U.S. Those threats can only increase. Validating intelligence from human sources becomes more difficult if our officers are unable to get out amongst the population obtaining ground truth directly themselves.”

He added that “a great deal will depend on how unstable the country becomes as we withdraw. Increasing instability means less freedom of operating. It is not impossible to operate in very hostile environments, it is just very limiting. I only hope that management [at CIA headquarters] in Langley, Va., and in the field do not become risk-averse to the extent that it is unwilling to do what is needed to succeed in our missions.”

The State Department is taking steps to make sure its contingent of some 5,000 diplomats and staff is protected. It plans to hire more private-security bodyguards to replace its military protectors, in effect creating its own army of protectors.

And there is a second enemy: Iran.

Gen. Odierno said that Iran’s intelligence and special operations agents continue to help insurgent Shiites launch attacks.

“I would just say they continue to be involved in violence specifically directed at U.S. forces, in direct-fire attacks, things like that,” he said. “In some areas where there are some intra-Shia issues, I believe they’re … influencing some action by intimidation. So they are behind this. They are training people. They are supplying people with weapons. They continue to be involved in this.”

John Pike, who directs Globalsecurity.org, said the challenges remain daunting, as they did before the surge.

Iraq faces pretty much the same challenges post 31 August as it has for the past couple of years,” he said. “Al Qaeda has not been suppressed, corruption is rampant, the political system is deadlocked, Iran has significant political influence, high levels of violence persist, their military remains incapable of either operating without U.S. support or defending the country against external enemies.”

But Baghdad can persevere.

“Belgium’s government is also deadlocked,” Mr. Pike said. “Caracas has violence comparable to Baghdad, and yet the sun still comes up in the east every day. Seriously dysfunctional countries can muddle through somehow, even if they are not attractive vacation destinations.”