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A milestone in Iraq as US ends combat phase. How to mark it?

It's premature to declare 'mission accomplished,' and many Americans didn't support the Iraq war. Yet it seems right to somehow honor these returning soldiers.

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Unless you were on vacation last week, it was hard to miss the media reports of the last US combat brigade leaving Iraq. It was a watershed moment, made poignant by interviews with departing soldiers, some brought to tears.

Shouldn’t the United States mark this end of seven years of combat somehow? Returning soldiers receive a hero’s welcome in countless communities. But what about the country as a whole honoring the troops that have served in Iraq?

More than 2 million service members have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, with more multiple deployments than at any time. In Iraq, at least 4,400 of them lost their lives, while nearly 32,000 were wounded. Must we wait until Veterans Day to acknowledge their sacrifice?

That’s as complex a question as the Iraq war itself. The American combat mission there is officially over as of Aug. 31. And yet it’s still premature to declare “mission accomplished.”

The US has 50,000 uniformed security personnel in the country to assist with training Iraqi security forces – and these American troops could be used for combat if needed. They are not scheduled to come home until the end of next year, though they could stay longer.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s government has still to work out its new leadership, despite a parliamentary election March 7. Since the toppling of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, citizens have the beginnings of a democracy. Mercifully, a brutal civil war is now largely behind them. But Iraqis are weighed down by unreliable basic services, corruption, a lack of jobs, and sporadic violence.

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