The US's preliminary agreement with Iraq to withdraw most combat troops by 2011 would have been unthinkable even a few months ago. Declining levels of violence, a ceasefire with the Mahdi Army, and the about-face of Sunni leaders have all helped, the Wall Street Journal reports, but for the administration, one factor trumps all others: the strengthening of the Iraqi army from ragtag force to legitimate operation.
In the first years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the heaviest fighting often fell to American forces as Iraqi soldiers fled the battlefield. But now the Iraqis are mounting large-scale maneuvers on their own, particularly in dangerous Diyala province. One US general praised the Iraqi effort, saying, "History is replete with armed forces having to get bloodied a little bit before they get better."