Upcoming elections in March that will determine who will lead Iraq as American forces go home are of "enormous importance" to the country's future, the leading US general who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan said on Friday.
Gen. David Petraeus, who used to be the top American commander in Iraq, also warned during a visit to Baghdad that al-Qaida in Iraq as well as Iranian-backed militias will continue to be a threat as insurgents target government facilities in order to undermine Iraqis' confidence.
"Iraq will continue to be tested throughout the course of this year," Petraeus said.
Iraq is preparing to hold nationwide elections on March 7, but military commanders have warned that attacks could spike ahead of the vote.
Under a plan by President Barack Obama, US forces currently at about 110,000 will drop to about 50,000 by the end of August, and those remaining will be focused on non-combat missions such as training. They in turn, will leave by 2011.