Seven years and five months after the U.S. invaded Iraq, seven years and three months after President George W. Bush declared mission accomplished, and three years and eight months after Saddam Hussein was killed by hanging, the final officially designated U.S. combat brigade has left Iraq. Though this officially ends Operation Iraqi Freedom, 56,000 U.S. troops will remain, many in a de facto combat role. They will oversee an Iraq where sectarian deaths have dropped dramatically but brutal terrorist bombings persist, and where worsening political deadlock could endanger the country's fragile democracy or finally yield to a functioning parliament. Here's how the U.S. is leaving Iraq today--to the extent it is at all--and what it means for both nations.
- A Transition, Not an End The Washington Post's Ernesto Londono writes, "There might never be an acknowledged end to the Iraq war -- a moment where it ceases being America's conflict. U.S. commanders acknowledge that the months-long political impasse over the disputed March 7 elections and a flurry of other unresolved disputes in Iraq have the potential to erode hard-won security gains. But U.S. commanders also seem to be stressing that this is no longer America's war to lose."
- Small But Important Victory The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen beams, "there's ample reason to be pleased with a milestone that, for a long while, seemed like it would never arrive. ... anyone who thinks this is 'over' is mistaken. But it's hard not to feel some satisfaction about today's milestone anyway. ... In, say, 2006, this point seemed all but unreachable."
- Big Missions for Remaining Soldiers, Civilian Contractors The New York Times' Michael Gordon writes, "The array of tasks for which American troops are likely to be needed, military experts and some Iraqi officials say, include training Iraqi forces to operate and logistically support new M-1 tanks, artillery and F-16s they intend to acquire from the Americans; protecting Iraq's airspace until the country can rebuild its air force; and perhaps assisting Iraq's special operations units in carrying out counterterrorism operations. ... The preparations for the civilian mission have been under way for months. One American official said that more than 1,200 specific tasks carried out by the American military in Iraq had been identified to be handed over to the civilians, transferred to the Iraqis or phased out."
- New Day for U.S. Strategy in Muslim World Blogger and professor Juan Cole explains the good and the bad. The remaining forces "include special operations units, helicopter gunship crews, and other war fighters who are still going to be engaged in combat but will not be categorized as being in Iraq for that purpose. Iraq has no air force to speak of, and the US will be providing the air support until at least 2018. But it would be wrong to see Thursday's landmark as meaningless. It is a little bit immature to demand an all or nothing military situation. What Obama has done is stay true to US commitment to get combat units out by September 1. That should reassure Iraqis- and Arabs and Muslims in general -- about US intentions. That consideration is the true significance of Thursday's last convoy. It is a symbol of a turnaround in US policy, a repudiation of the Bush administration doctrine of preemptive war."
- Onion Lampoons Quasi-Victory Satirizing the vague and ambiguous nature of this moment, the Onion gave it the mock headline, "Obama Declares Victory, Sort Of, Depending On How You Look At It, In Iraq"