President Obama's announcement that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year is likely to heal at least some of his rift with anti-war Democrats and independents who are crucial to his re-election.
Obama said this afternoon that the remaining 39,000 U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. "After nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over," the president declared. At the height of the U.S. commitment, in 2008, the number of troops reached 165,000.
The pullout would fulfill one of Obama's key campaign promises--to end the war. This was key to his early victories in the Democratic caucuses and primaries in 2008. The announcement allows him to argue that he has kept faith with his original supporters who provided much of the enthusiasm, volunteer activism and financial backing for his campaign. Many of them had expressed disappointment in Obama because thousands of troops remained in Iraq and there was concern that Obama might leave a large residual force in place.
The president appeared to leave open the possibility that U.S. personnel could be assigned to training missions, but it appears that such a contingent would be very small. Here is a New York Times analysis of where the decision leaves Iraq,
The withdrawal would leave a fragile government behind in Baghdad, and it's unclear whether the regime will be able to prevent another escalation of violence or even civil war.
But the initial reaction on the American left was positive. MoveOn.org, a liberal activist group, said the war should never have happened and welcomed the pullout.
Richard Allen Smith, vice chairman of VoteVets.org, a self-described progressive group formed to oppose the Iraq war in 2006, said, "A complete drawdown from Iraq was the only move the president could make, given the Status of Forces agreement negotiated by President Bush, and the fact that insurgents promised increased attacks on Americans if we had stayed. We're extremely pleased that the president will honor that agreement and finally bring the war in Iraq to a close."