The Associated Press is reporting that President Obama is set to announce -- perhaps as early as Friday -- a plan for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq by August 2010, or in about 18 months. He expects to leave behind a residual force, according to the report, to continue training and advising the Iraqi security forces and to protect American interests. Those residual troops would leave by December 2011, in accord with the Status of Forces Agreement.
The two or three month gap between this and his 16 month campaign promise is insignificant. In all meaningful ways, this matches the position Obama laid out so clearly throughout the campaign. It would present a real time line for the drawdown and establish a credible commitment to significantly transforming the American presence in Iraq. It would send the clear message that is so desperately needed to Iraqis, Iraq's neighbors, Americans, and the world. I'm on the edge of seat waiting for it to be confirmed.
I'm absolutely delighted if this report turns out to be accurate (I think that it probably is, though I won't believe it until it's actually announced, all the same). It doesn't mean that the struggles are over. Iraqi conditions remain fragile and tense, and there are many challenges to be met. I expect Obama and his team to implement such a plan carefully and responsibly, with a close eye on developments on the ground, but also to be genuinely committed to the drawdown and all that it entails. And with luck, that will allow us all to move beyond the old arguments about whether or not to withdraw and to focus on effectively meeting those challenges in the context of the drawdown.
More later, I'm sure.
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.