At present I’m in Baghdad. The agreement to withdraw US troops from Iraq by the end 2011, and severely curtail their powers from the beginning of next year, is hugely symbolic for the Iraqi government. Instead of the US forces being here under a United Nations mandate, they are deployed under a bi-lateral agreement between two sovereign powers. The last minute negotiations that delayed the vote for a day also symbolised that Iraq is becoming a working democracy with issues being decided by elected parliamentarians and not by gunmen on the streets.
The first months of next year, then, will be the beginning of a test run as to ho much the US forces can hold back and how much the newly-trained Iraqi forces can take over the job of stabilising Iraq and ending the violence. Large swathes of the country have already been handed over to Iraqi control, although the US continues to provide crucial intelligence and logistics support, and in many cases special forces teams are embedded with the Iraqi troops as advisers and mentors. But their presence is almost invisible.
Although violence has dropped, the war here is far from over.