The Bush administration, which has adamantly opposed timetables and a date for withdrawal from Iraq, has reached tentative agreement with Baghdad on both.
The deal calls for U.S. forces to be withdrawn from Iraq’s cities by next June and to leave the country by 2011, nearly eight years after the invasion to oust Saddam Hussein. The U.S. went in to disable an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and, when that proved nonexistent, was forced to stay because of the threat a precipitous departure would pose to regional stability and security and American prestige.
Reports out of Baghdad stress that the agreement must still be ratified by the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Bush administration, which in the latter case seems a formality since Bush’s longtime adviser Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Baghdad to announce the proposed deal.
A public announced date for withdrawal was made possible by the success of the "surge," a beefed up U.S. military presence and the deployment of troops out of large, fixed bases and into the neighborhoods. By chance, the U.S.-Iraq agreement comes as the architect of the surge, Gen. David Petraeus, who has served a total of 48 months in Iraq, prepares to leave to become the top commander of all U.S. forces in the Mideast, North Africa and Afghanistan.
In interviews as he prepares to leave, Petreaus was guardedly optimistic about the security situation and the ability of the Iraqi army to take over from the Americans but, he told one reporter, no one yet is "giving each other high fives."
Except for the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party, Iraq has steadily receded as a political issue as the violence there declined. Democrat Barack Obama says he would begin withdrawing U.S. troops on becoming president with the last of them out in 18 months; that would be June, 2010, only six months sooner than the newly agreed-on withdrawal date. Republican John McCain says he would keep U.S. troops there as long as necessary for Iraq to become stable, secure and prosperous, which, in light of this latest turnabout by the Bush administration, makes him more hawkish than the president.
In the past, the Bush administration had opposed timetables and a departure date, saying it would only embolden the Sunni insurgents, the Shiite militias and al-Qaeda in Iraq and encourage Iranian meddling.
Over the next two years and three months, we’ll find out.