A road out of Iraq

The U.S.-Iraq pact passed a key, and perhaps final, hurdle when Iraq’s three-member presidential council — a Kurd, a Sunni and a Shiite — signed the security agreement.

The parliament had approved it earlier. The agreement, at Sunni insistence, may have to be put to a referendum in late July. But U.S. forces will have withdrawn from Iraq’s cities a month earlier, so the American presence should be less onerous.

The pact calls for American troops — except for those the Iraqi government specifically asks to stay — to be out entirely by Jan. 1, 2012.

By one grim measure, the security situation has improved markedly. The 17 Americans killed in November were the fewest since the war started in 2003. Still, the day was marred by three suicide bombings — two in Fallujah and one in Mosul that killed two U.S. soldiers and at least 15 Iraqis.

Even so, al Qaeda in Iraq seems to have been pretty well crushed, although with a date certain for U.S. withdrawal there is the danger of radical jihadis trying to slip into the country to take credit for the Americans’ departure.

Should the Iraq war come to a satisfactory conclusion, we should not make the same mistake we did after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 — congratulate ourselves on a job well done and turn our backs on the country. We must stay engaged diplomatically, economically and culturally, and welcome young Iraqis into our universities.

Come 2012, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will have passed in duration the 100 months of our second-longest war, the American Revolution, and Afghanistan, assuming it is still going on, as seems likely, will be closing in on our longest, the 116 months of Vietnam.

To revive a discredited phrase from that war, in Iraq, at least, there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel.