Yesterday's withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq from its cities was the first significant step in fulfilling President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to end the now six-year-long Iraq war.
It is generally considered that the pledge to end the war was the most important factor in Mr. Obama's victory in the 2008 elections over Republican Sen. John McCain, his party's candidate, firmly committed to carrying on the war for 100 years if necessary.
There is still some distance to go before the war is over and all of the some 134,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq have come home. Full U.S. withdrawal is scheduled to take place by the end of 2011. That is what the United States has agreed upon with Iraq's occupation authorities, the government of Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki.
It is also interesting to note that withdrawal is scheduled to be completed prior to the commencement of truly heavy lifting in the 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign. The beauty of it is that, based on withdrawal having been carried out or not, Americans will be able to judge Mr. Obama, presumably a candidate for re-election at that point, on the basis of whether he carried out his key 2008 pledge.
One hard part in Iraq will now commence as the reduced U.S. troop presence in the cities -- if not in the country -- begins to be appreciated by various armed Iraqi groups. For the relatively newly trained Iraqi government security forces it will be a test of their ability to retain order in the cities and the country in general with U.S. troops ostensibly on the sidelines.
For various Iraqi, more or less underground, insurgency groups, it will be a test of whether they will see wisdom in restraining themselves in order to obtain the total withdrawal of foreign troops from their country. It may be tempting for them to make things blow up, to embarrass the Maliki government, to embarrass the United States or simply to make an early effort to dominate the postwar Iraq scene.
For the United States, if disorder begins to spread in Iraq's cities with U.S. forces having moved into a more background role, it will be difficult to stand by and watch the order that the United States was theoretically creating in Iraq crumble in the face of renewed violence.
At the same time, it will be absolutely necessary for the United States to do just that. After six years, in the wake of an invasion that was pointless in the first place and which Americans are now thoroughly sick of, it is obligatory that the United States let the Iraqis cope with their own problems and stay out of the way.
The U.S. death toll in Iraq now stands at more than 4,300. The financial cost is uncountable, particularly if one includes the likely cost both of refitting our armed forces and of dealing with the severe physical and emotional wounds of the Americans who have fought there.
It is definitely time to wrap it up. Yesterday's withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq's cities is a very important, positive first step.