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U.S. Army armored vehicles are seen lined up as they wait to be shipped to their next destination after they exited from Iraq on December 14, 2011 at Camp Virginia, near Kuwait City, Kuwait.
President Obama is in Fort Bragg, North Carolina today heralding the end of the Iraq War. The deadline to pull out the last several thousand troops comes New Year's Eve. While it's too soon to tie a bow on the intervention, the milestone has Iraqis and Americans looking back at what was lost and gained through Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Some are indeed grateful. While they concede progress has been slow, they believe the U.S. and coalition forces accomplished something amazing in providing an opportunity for millions of people to be free from tyranny and injustice. They see stability increasing and democracy taking root. There is a growing economy and Iraqis are learning to co-exist … somewhat.
Violence against civilians continues – more than 350 killed in October. Basic infrastructure is still lacking; Iraqis don't have consistent electricity or medical services. Governance in Baghdad is a fragile work-in-progress.
Uncertainty is compounded by the instability throughout the Middle East. So the next stage includes a continued massive American diplomatic presence. Fifteen thousand Americans, including 5,000 contractors, will press on. What will their role be in Iraq? How ready are Iraq's security forces to lose American and NATO support? When can Iraq be a stable and sovereign country?
Ray Chakmakchi, an Iraqi –American, Chakmakchi was hired (as a civilian) to serve as a cultural advisor to the U.S. Army in Iraq, 2003 – 2011; he advised four-star generals in theater.
Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress