Last of the surge troops leave Iraq
Greetings from Iraq! I will be reporting -- and blogging -- from here for a couple of weeks. I have been here for a few days, and I have so many interesting things to tell you. Here is the quick summation. Iraq is definitely safer than when I was here six months ago, and yet there is a patina of angst over the city. People cannot see how the security gains will sustain.
In the meantime, the last of the five surge brigades has left, the U.S. military announced today. Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, left their base just southeast of Baghdad. They are scheduled to land back to Fort Stewart, Ga., later this month. So that means roughly 140,000 troops are left in Iraq, or 8,000 more than when the surge plan began in February 2007.
Does this mean the surge strategy is officially over? And if so, what is the new plan? In a strange way, I miss the idiosyncratic lexicon assigned to these strategies. No one has yet to brand this period, post-"The New Way Forward." From what I can tell, more responsibility will be handed over to the Iraqi troops. And their U.S. counterparts will stay in the foreground to figure out whether the Iraqi troops can handle the situation.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki suggested earlier this week that the U.S. and Iraq should agree on a withdrawal timeline as part of a status of forces agreement. That is, he is pushing for change even faster. Yet everyone here privately concedes that they donât think the Iraqi troops can handle a major attack by the militia or insurgents. Not yet anyway.
So you can imagine why Iraqis are so anxious. All signs are pointing to a safer Iraq, and yet it is not clear who will be in charge of keeping it secure from now onward. Or how?