Although the war may be ending, military work in Iraq is far from over. Straddling the line between occupation and abandonment, some military service members will stay on in Iraq to support security and safety for the Iraqi civilians.
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A Defining Moment: US Military Forces Leave Iraq

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The 4th Stryker Brigade 2nd Infantry Division made history as the last combat brigade to leave Iraq for Obama's Aug. 31 2010 deadline to end combat operations. There were mixed emotions as the Stryker Brigade convoy crossed dangerous territory, heavily armed, from Iraq to the border of Kuwait.

This bittersweet celebration mixed with tension and uncertainty is a perfect reflection the larger issues surrounding the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, and the hesitation to declare "mission accomplished." Given the fragile timing, will a U.S. military withdrawal create an immediate political and security deficiency in Iraq?

WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR MILITARY SERVICE MEMBERS IN IRAQ?

In the past 18 months, over 90,000 U.S. troops have come home from Iraq, according to the Huffington Post. Fulfilling his promise when taking office, Obama plans to pull out all U.S. military operations troops by 2011.

Although the war may be ending, military work in Iraq is far from over. Straddling the line between occupation and abandonment, some military service members will stay on in Iraq to support security and safety for the Iraqi civilians. From August 31st 2010 to December of 2011, 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq operating under a non-combat role.

Non-combat military duties include assisting in operating Iraqi checkpoints along borders, participating in counterinsurgency operations on a per-request basis, and continue training Iraqi civilians in their police-security force. Military personnel will carry weapons, but only for self-defense.

U.S. PLAN FOR MOVING FORWARD IN IRAQ: OPERATION NEW DAWN

On August 31 2010, what was once known as Operation Iraqi Freedom will change its name to Operation New Dawn. Operation New Dawn represents a shift from a seven-year U.S. military operation to an Iraqi civilian-led security operation, supported by the State Department and Iraqi government.

The goal of U.S. military withdrawal in Iraq is to foster a long-term relationship between Iraq and the U.S., the tone put forth by the Obama administration is not one of abandonment, but one of building a secure partnership.

However, there are many unresolved issues regarding the stability of Iraq and the U.S. military presence, and there is a long road ahead before a successful partnership is established.

POLITICAL AND FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY IN IRAQ

Although the plan is optimistic, the future of Iraq and the U.S. military legacy remains uncertain. The civilian-led security system would rely heavily on a functioning government, which Iraq still does not have, five months after the March elections.

The State Department is ready to take on a leading role in securing Iraq's political future, continuing the U.S. nation building efforts in Iraq. However, there are concerns about whether an Iraqi government is equipped, motivated, or conditioned to run a U.S. experiment.

The Iraqi government is in a fragile state, uprooted from its more traditional model of military involvement in domestic affairs. According to Ken Pollack, Director of Brooking Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy, there are cultural and historical barriers to imposing this foreign system on Iraqi politics.

Another alarming issue is a financial budget cut. Operation New Dawn will be operating under the tenuous $1 billion State Department budget to train an entire civilian army, compared to the $16 billion invested by the Pentagon during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

CLOSING A FRAGILE MILITARY OPERATION

The seven and a half-year Iraq War sustained many changes, controversies, and legal criticisms. The Iraq war became increasingly unpopular with the rise of civilian and troop casualties, ambiguous motivations, astronomical costs, questions regarding the legality of the conflict, and a growing sectarian battle in Iraq.

Throughout these controversies, however, the men and women in the U.S. military completed their jobs with professionalism and courage - and no matter what the outcome of the rocky future ahead, military service members deserve the highest honor and respect for protecting the rights of their country.



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