End finally in sight in Iraq

President Obama made it official Friday: U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by New Year’s Eve.

“... I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year,” Obama said Friday. “After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.

“Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq — tens of thousands of them — will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home. The last American soldier(s) will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops. That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.”

The war in Iraq has been costly, especially in lives. Since the allied invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Americans have lost more than 4,400 military personnel in a protracted battle that also has cost billions and billions of dollars. Candidate Obama had promised to have all U.S. troops home with 16 months of taking office in January 2010, which was something President Obama discovered wasn’t doable. The Dec. 31, 2011, withdrawal of the final troop count of a little less than 40,000 fulfills an agreement the Bush administration made with Iraq’s government in 2008.

There had been a chance that the U.S. would keep several thousand military personnel in the country to continue training Iraqi forces and, perhaps more importantly, to dissuade neighboring Iran from getting too involved in Iraq. That possibility, however, went out the window when Iraqi officials refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. Under that circumstance, the White House certainly made the right call to bring our men and women home.

What will become of the place they leave will be up to the Iraqis. There’s little doubt the Iraqi government will be challenged, and that it could be targeted by Iran or other neighboring nations. But at some point, the Iraqi government had to take charge of its own fate and succeed or fail. Our hope should be that a taste of democracy is intoxicating and that falling back into old ways will not be accepted by the citizens. In the end, however, it is their call. The president made it clear that the United States recognizes that.

“But even as we mark this important milestone, we’re also moving into a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Iraq,” Obama said. “As of January 1st, and in keeping with our Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq, it will be a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”

Events half a world away, as we have come to learn, can have great impact in our country, but we will have to wait and see what those will be. We do know that in the short term, Americans have something to celebrate.

“Here at home, the coming months will be another season of homecomings,” Obama said. “Across America, our servicemen and women will be reunited with their families. Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays.

And it will be good to have them home.