Meeting a deadline in Iraq

MEETING A DEADLINE IN IRAQ…. For months, there were plenty of concerns that the U.S. commitment of withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities by June 30 was ambitious, and perhaps unrealistic.

And yet, here we are. The deadline is tomorrow, and the schedule is very much on track. There will still be U.S. troops in the cities, and conditions will still be dangerous, but the American servicemen and women will take on “support” roles, rather than “combat” roles.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called on his countrymen to revel Monday to mark the ostensible departure of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities by the end of the month — a turning point he calls a “major victory.” […]

American troops have been thinning out across Baghdad and other restive cities in recent months. Since Jan. 1, the U.S. military has shut down more than 150 bases and outposts.

In deference to the security agreement that set the pullout deadlines, American troops in and near urban areas have begun avoiding nonessential outings during the daytime and will be on virtual lockdown during the first days of July. But they expect to continue conducting patrols in urban areas alongside Iraqi security forces in the months ahead.

“On 1 July, we’re not going to see this big puff of smoke, everyone leaving the cities,” Brig. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, a spokesman for the U.S. military, said recently.

Nonetheless, some Iraqis see the date as an independence day of sorts.

“The 30th of June will be like a wedding,” said Maj. Gen. Abdel Amir al-Zaidi, commander of the Iraqi army’s 11th Division, currently in the northern city of Kirkuk. “It is a victory for all Iraqis, a national holiday.”

What’s more, Gen. Ray Odierno told CNN over the weekend that he believes Iraq’s security forces are ready: “They’ve been working towards this for a long time. Security remains good…. I believe this is the time for us to move out of the cities and for them to take ultimate responsibility.”

Of course, the excitement and optimism are not universal, and plenty of people throughout Iraq fear an increase in violence as Americans continue to pull back — a sentiment that has grown in the face of deadly bombings over the last week or so.

Are conditions likely to deteriorate? Slate‘s Fred Kaplan ponders the possibilities, but concludes that the weight has shifted to Maliki: “For better or for worse, there isn’t much we can do about this situation, however it develops…. [F]ormally and practically, it’s out of our control.”