Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It may not be “Mission accomplished,” but we are getting closer. Yesterday, the United States completed the process of withdrawing from Iraq’s cities. American forces closed or turned over to Iraqi authorities 150 bases and facilities. The Iraqis are happy to see us go, and we are glad to be leaving.

The pullout is more proof of the effectiveness of the surge strategy adopted in early 2007 over vociferous Democratic objections, particularly from then-Sen. Barack Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who now ironically direct our foreign policy.

The timeline for the urban withdrawal was codified in the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the George W. Bush administration in November 2008. It committed “all U.S. combat forces” to “withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages and towns … no later than June 30, 2009” and all forces whatever to be out of the country by Dec. 31, 2011. This makes the Obama pullout plan seem somewhat redundant, but in any case, the departure was made possible because the surge succeeded in reducing violence in the country. Had we left precipitously in 2007, as the Democrats demanded, the debate would be whether Iraq was an American victory or a Vietnam-style defeat.

Most press reports on the turnover have focused on a recent uptick of violence as groups in Iraq with an interest in spreading disorder test the new system. These include the remnants of foreign fighters such as al Qaeda, some political oppositionists and the Iranians, who continue to fuel violence inside Iraq. Nevertheless, the broader trends have been looking up.

As Army Spc. Dominic Mlinar explains on the facing page, the Iraqi police no longer wear bulletproof vests or black masks, which is a key indication that the security situation has improved dramatically. A February 2009 poll commissioned by a news consortium including ABC and the BBC found that the number of Iraqis who rated their personal conditions as very good or quite good has increased from 39 percent at the advent of the surge to 65 percent early this year. Those Iraqis giving good ratings to local security conditions rose from 47 percent to 85 percent. Confidence levels in the Iraqi army and police are up. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s approval rating soared from 33 percent to 55 percent.

Yesterday’s other significant milestone was the return of international oil companies to Iraq for the first time since the Ba’ath Party nationalized the oil industry in 1973. The government has begun to auction rights to develop eight oil and natural-gas fields, and it came to terms on three of the fields after the first day. This marks a major step toward reintegrating Iraq into the global economy and also shows that corporations are confident enough of the future stability of the country to make major investments.

This development comes despite the fact that Iraq’s Parliament has not settled on a comprehensive energy law, a condition the United States imposed on Baghdad as a metric for progress. But as we have argued in these pages, this was a flawed measure, one more suited to American perceptions than Iraqi reality. A more sensible metric is how much oil is produced, not the legislative framework that governs production.

Whether these stable conditions will hold remains to be seen, but in any case, it is up to the Iraqi people now, which was the whole point of the war. Iraqis can dance in the streets at our departure, but it’s important to remember that those streets were made safe courtesy of American armed forces.

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