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'Gamble' Author: Iraq War Only Halfway Over

The Obama administration announced Friday that it would draw down U.S. troops in Iraq, ending combat missions by August 2010. Fifty thousand troops will remain through the end of 2011.

Thomas Ricks, a former Pentagon correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, spent time studying America's war in Iraq and has written a book called The Gamble, about the surge and how America reversed its course in Iraq.

"I think we may just be half way through this war," Ricks tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "I know President Obama thinks he's going to get all troops out by 2011 — I don't know anybody in Baghdad who thinks that's going to happen. I think Iraq is going to change Obama more than Obama changes Iraq."

Ricks says the plans in Baghdad last summer were for about 35,000 troops to remain in the country for several years. Ricks says that Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of the Multinational Forces in Iraq, would like to see 35,000 troops there in the year 2015.

"The point is as long as you have American troops in Iraq, no matter what you call them, they are going to be fighting and dying," Ricks says. "The surge worked tactically — it improved security enormously. But it didn't succeed strategically, politically. And that was its larger goal."

Ricks argues that the Iraq war "was the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy," adding that "we don't yet understand how big a mistake this is."

He paints a bleak long-term picture for Iraq, where the country is no longer an American ally.

"It's not going to be a democracy, it's going to have a surprising level of violence, it's probably going to be an ally of Iran and it's probably going to be ruled by some sort of dictator, some sort of little Saddam," Ricks says.

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