Today -- June 30, 2009 -- is a holiday, if you live in Iraq. It is National Sovereignty Day, the day United States troops are officially gone from the cities of Iraq. From this point on, Iraqi cities will be policed and protected by Iraqi troops.
Today by no means marks the end of the Iraq war. The troop withdrawal from the cities is part of a bilateral security pact that was put in place during the Bush administration. Our troops -- all 131,000 of them -- are still in Iraq. They are now moving to bases in rural areas, although several bases on the outskirts of large cities, such as Fallujah, will remain in operation.
So what does National Sovereignty Day really mean? It means that Iraqis who woke up in a city today will not see American soldiers on the streets. That will frighten and worry some citizens, and it will make some citizens feel happy and proud. It is a step toward a new Iraq. As the BBC News reported, Christopher Hill, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, referred to the withdrawal by saying that "we think Iraq is ready and Iraq thinks Iraq is ready."
One could argue that National Sovereignty Day means that George W. Bush achieved the goal he stated on May 24, 2004, when he said, "I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free . . ." One could also argue that it means we are beginning the process of extricating our country from the mess we created by invading Iraq under false pretenses. Remember, freeing the Iraqis was not the original reason given for starting this war.
According to a CNN poll, seventy-three percent of Americans support the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities. On the negative side, former Vice-President Dick Cheney told The Washington Times morning radio show that "insurgents are waiting as soon as they get an opportunity to launch more attacks. I hope Iraqis can deal with it."
Iraq has 750,000 soldiers and police. If you tend to think of the Iraq war as an adoption story -- powerful nation adopts small country oppressed by evil leader and cares for said country until it can stand on its own two feet -- then today just might mark the beginning of a happy ending.
If you tend to think of the Iraq war as a crime story -- powerful nation invades small country that happens to have an evil leader -- then today marks the beginning of the healing process for the victimized country: a more bittersweet ending.
The real truth lies somewhere in between the two stories above. And the story is not over. U.S. soldiers in Iraq will conduct "war operations" until August 31, 2010. After that, according to President Obama's plan, up to 50,000 American troops will remain in Iraq to train, advise, and support Iraqi forces and Americans in the country. Those soldiers will stay until the end of 2011, at which time all United States forces must leave Iraq.
Today is National Sovereignty Day, but we won't know what it really means for a long time to come.