A little over six years after U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad, American and allied forces Tuesday completed the first phase of an eventual total withdrawal from Iraq, withdrawing from basing and operations inside that troubled land's major cities.
U.S. forces won't be leaving Iraq completely, but Tuesday's deadline to withdraw from the cities, part of the deal negotiated by President Bush in the waning days of his administration, is a sign that the end is getting nearer.
This war, which was ill-conceived from the beginning and micro-managed from the top civilian leaders, often to the detriment of the military forces engaged, has cost 4,318 American lives (as of Monday) and tens of thousands of casualties, many of whom will be scarred for life. The success we are now seeing came about once the military finally was allowed to do its job unfettered from above.
The war also diverted valuable treasure from our nation at a time when our own infrastructure was starting to fall apart. Its cost, in men, material and money, has never been worth the price.
But no criticism of the political side of this war can ever take away the skill and bravery of the men and women who were tasked to actually fight it. As we approach the Fourth of July celebration of our independence this weekend, those Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen can stand proud knowing they met their nation's call and stood the test. When you run into one this weekend, take a moment to thank them for all the sacrifices they have made.
Tuesday's landmark withdrawal from the cities doesn't mean it is now safe for the troops still there. They will continue to operate in the more lawless rural areas, engaging insurgents there while the rebuilt Iraqi army and police forces focus on keeping the peace in the cities. And while the level of violence in Iraq is much less than it has been in a long time, recent bombings and other attacks have demonstrated that the insurgents intend to test the new arrangement. We can expect a spike in those incidents over the next few months, and continued tragedy for the innocent civilians of Iraq.
But the end is in sight, and when the last major American combat formations actually leave Iraq for good within the next 18 months, it will be an orderly withdrawal, with flags flying at the head of the columns, not people hanging from the rails of helicopters lifting off from an embassy roof.
There is still the increasingly bloody war in Afghanistan to deal with, but winding down the war in Iraq is a welcome sight for all Americans.
Tuesday's deadline was celebrated in Iraq.
It should be celebrated in the United States as well.
-- Kelly Everitt