Iraqi police officers danced atop their vehicles on Tuesday as their convoys moved across the streets of Baghdad, jubilant over the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq's cities. Most Americans share the sentiment because it means the day when the troops come home is closer. But don't celebrate yet.
As that famous military strategist, Yogi Berra, once observed, It ain't over 'til it's over.
American troop strength today stands at 130,000 and is scheduled to stay at that level until September. The withdrawal from the cities is only the first of many hurdles the United States will face in order to meet the deadline for total withdrawal at the end of 2011. The horrible increase in violence in the last few weeks is a painful reminder that meeting that deadline is no sure thing.
But even though the U.S. exit strategy remains a gamble, the deadline remains attainable – as long as all parties with a stake in a peaceful, sovereign Iraq do their part to make it happen.
The most important actors in this struggle will be the Iraqi people themselves. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and the ruling Shia faction have done remarkably well so far to refrain from using revenge tactics against suspected Sunni terrorists who stepped up the violence as the withdrawal from the cities neared.
Iraqi forces also have shown restraint. They've trained for this moment for years. "I do believe they're ready," said Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq who is a principal architect of the exit strategy.
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