IN OTHER WORDS: High hopes

The UN mandate that allows American troops to operate in Iraq expires at the end of December. And for months, the Bush administration and Iraq’s government have been wrangling over a so-called status of forces agreement to replace it. The good news is that both Baghdad and the Americans have agreed that it is time to start planning for a withdrawal of US troops. The other good news is that Iraqis are increasingly eager to run their country.

Bush has now agreed to move US troops out of urban areas by June and to withdraw combat troops from the country by the end of 2011, leaving only military trainers and air traffic controllers behind. Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sent a letter to Obama congratulating him on his election.

It would be even more encouraging if Ahmadinejad signalled a willingness to work with the new administration on stabilising Iraq, instead of continuing to stir the sectarian furies that could yet tear the country apart.

When Obama takes office, he must come equipped not just with a strategy for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. He also needs a serious plan for engaging Iran and all of Iraq’s neighbours in a broader security dialogue. That is essential for both stabilising Iraq and for ensuring that Iraq’s troubles don’t spill further over its borders.