PRESIDENT Obama's difficulties in Afghanistan need no emphasising. But it could be argued that they are less troubling than those he faces in Iraq which was described this week by its incumbent prime minister as “still the most violent country in the world”. If that is correct, it does rather beg the question of whether Barack Obama can really contemplate keeping to his decision to begin the withdrawal of US forces in three months time and completing it next year. Surely the United States and Britain did not take military action in Iraq in 2003 only to leave it in a worse condition than it was then seven years later?

Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki put the problem this way: “Why did you invest so much of your blood and treasure over the years and then walk away now? It doesn't make sense.”

Iraq held a much-postponed general election in March of this year. The result was close and to this day there is no new government or any sign that one is likely to be formed in the near future. Nouri al-Maliki's party lost by one parliamentary seat to a former prime minister Ayad Allawi who told a Times reporter this week, “I won the election; now they are trying to assassinate me.” Both these men have axes to grind but even so it is difficult to think that it would be right for America to withdraw so soon.