BAGHDAD - The United States set the tone for its new relationship with Iraq a decade ago with a bombing campaign dubbed "shock and awe," and spoke with a booming voice during the ensuing years as
it shaped the country's future.
Today, America's voice here has been reduced to a whimper.
With no troops on the ground to project force and little money to throw around, the United States has become an increasingly powerless stakeholder in the new Iraq. It has failed to substantively rein in what it sees as government abuses that have the potential to spark a new sectarian war.
It also has had little success in persuading Baghdad to stop tacitly supporting Iran's lethal aid to Damascus, an important accelerant in the neighboring conflict.
The disengagement from Iraq after a war that cost Americans an estimated $1.7 trillion offers sobering lessons as the United States continues to wind down its war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a process that looms as potentially more complex.
"No one thinks America has influence now in Iraq," Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, the most senior Sunni in the coalition government, said in an interview.
"America could still do a lot if they wanted to. But I think because Obama chose a line that he is taking care of interior matters rather than taking care of outside problems, that made America weak - at least in Iraq."
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The United States is dismantling the vestiges of a police training program once envisioned as its signature contribution to postwar Iraq, having come to terms with the fact that Iraqis had no interest in a multibillion-dollar investment designed to bolster the country's troubled judicial system.
Plans to keep a robust diplomatic presence along a disputed frontier in northern Iraq that has kept Arabs and Kurds on a war footing were also abandoned, in large part because officials in Baghdad didn't want the Americans there. Manpower at the fortresslike U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is dropping rapidly. The mission and its three consulates now have 10,500 people, most of them contractors, down from over 16,000 based in Iraq a year ago. By the end of the year, the number will fall to 5,500.
American officials acknowledged in interviews that they have lost sway in Iraq but said that the United States maintains considerable influence, in large part because Washington remains Iraq's main defense supplier. When political crises erupt, they said, Iraqis usually call the embassy first.
"The fact that they run to us indicates that they do see us as having some influence, some leverage," said a senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the American role in Iraq.
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In some ways, two senior U.S. officials said, having a smaller mission in Baghdad, with no U.S. troops, has set the tone for a healthier relationship. They noted, for instance, that once American troops withdrew at the end of 2011, Shiite militias stopped lobbing rockets at the embassy.
"The smaller our presence, the more strategic our presence, the more effective we can be," said another senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy, adding that American officials routinely deliver tough messages to the Iraqi government in private.