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What is a 'responsible' end to Iraq war? Obama must define it after this withdrawal.

Obama heralds the US success in meeting the August goal of withdrawing 90,000 US troops from Iraq, ending combat missions. But for the final pullout in 2011, will he also herald leaving behind a functioning democracy there -- which both Iraq and the region needs.

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Iraq’s young democracy still faces a shaky future and ongoing terrorist attacks, but President Obama said Monday he will meet his Aug. 31 deadline for finally pulling out all US combat troops.

The likelihood of a civil war erupting in Iraq again, as it did in 2006, remains remote. And Mr. Obama plans to stick to his second goal of removing the remaining 50,000 noncombat troops by the end of 2011 (although an elite Special Operations force that targets terrorists will remain).

He admits that the war that began with the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein may not yet be over. “The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq,” he told a convention of Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta today. And his withdrawal schedule is similar to one set by the Bush administration after it successfully quelled sectarian violence with a surge of US troops in 2007.

But Obama marks this milestone for two reasons: He needs to shore up support among antiwar liberals at home just months before an election for Congress. And the Iraqi military has made good progress in taking over key tasks from US forces, displaying a sense of national unity that has so far eluded the country’s elected politicians.

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