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Right time to leave Iraq

The Iraqis no longer want our troops,

and we've sacrificed enough over 9 years

Americans have argued since the war in Iraq began about when and under what circumstances we should declare the war over and leave. It has been difficult to find agreement on that subject, with many arguing that we should have left years ago (or never should have gone), while others insist that a premature departure would threaten the country's precarious stability.

But it's hard now for all but the most diehard supporters of the war to argue that that time hasn't arrived. Not only is Iraq anxious to find its own sense of "normal," but its leaders have flatly refused to grant American troops immunity from prosecution, which is as much a deal-breaker for President Obama as it would be for any American president.

Candidate Obama had campaigned to end the war in Iraq, and there was little doubt that the vast majority of troops would leave this year. The question was whether a contingent of troops would remain in the country to train Iraqis and as a hedge against renewed violence from within Iraq or from across its border in Iran.

At one point, the idea was to leave tens of thousands of troops in Iraq. The number was later scaled back to no more than 5,000, but even that was scuttled by Iraq's refusal to grant those troops immunity. The result: Virtually all of our troops will be out of Iraq by Christmas.

There are risks, to be sure, and not insignificant ones. Iraq's stability is theoretical. Its government is weak, corrupt and untested in crisis. Iran, the wolf at Iraq's door, covets dominance. Trouble could come from multiple directions.

But that would be true next year and the year after that and five years after that. At some point, our troops would need to come home and, given Iraq's position on immunity, that point has plainly arrived.

Obama's political adversaries are trying to score points on his decision to bring the troops home, but the criticisms are vapid. What would they do under similar circumstances? Leave Americans there without immunity? It's ludicrous, and a pointed comment on the wretched state of American politics.

In addition, Obama's withdrawal plan follows the lines of the agreement negotiated by the Bush administration to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq at the end of 2011.

It's a shame we couldn't leave Iraq a more secure plave, but we have spent enough blood and money there. More than 4,400 Americans have died. Iraq wouldn't be appreciably stronger if we allowed the tally to reach 5,000.

The administration is continuing to negotiate with Iraq on the question of providing training, but even if those talks fail, some Americans will remain, including about 200 Marines to guard the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, up to 5,000 private State Department security contractors and a significant contingent from the CIA.

But the war as we have known it for almost nine years is coming to an end. We overthrew a dictator, defeated a vicious insurgency and brought democracy to Iraq. While there are risks that these gains could come undone, by any reasonable standard, it's time for our sons and daughters to come home.

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