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By declaring that “By Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end,” U.S. President Barack Obama has set in motion his strategy to end the Iraq war, which was started by the Bush administration on March 20, 2003. Of the more than 140,000 troops in Iraq, about 100,000 will be withdrawn by that date. The remaining 35,000 to 50,000 troops will be removed by the end of 2011.

The death toll for the Iraq War is more than 4,200 U.S. troops and an estimated 150,000 Iraqis, and the war has caused an estimated 2 million Iraqis to flee. As the U.S. forces continued to stay in Iraq even after the toppling of the Hussein administration, anti-U.S. terrorist attacks occurred and the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites spawned severe sectarian violence. Iraqi people’s anti-American feeling was also heightened.

The Iraq War, which became unpopular with both the Iraqi and American people, has dealt a heavy blow to the United States’ reputation. The recent improvement in the Iraqi situation has enabled Mr. Obama to announce his decision. Mr. Obama declared that the U.S. pursues no claim on Iraqi territory or resources and respects Iraq’s sovereignty. He should be praised for the decision that preserves the national interests of both the U.S. and Iraq.

Although Mr. Obama had promised to withdraw combat troops within 16 months of his inauguration, the withdrawal process will take three more months longer. He apparently has considered the requirements for ensuring security after Iraq holds parliamentary elections in December 2009.

It is hoped that the success of the January provincial elections, in which the moderate Shiite allies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came in first and the minority Sunnis gained some influence, will pave the way for a stable Iraq.

Mr. Obama’s declaration that the U.S. will pursue engagement with all nations in the region, including Iran and Syria, is welcome, but the hope raised by his words is offset by his decision to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. We hope that the U.S. will adopt an intelligent, comprehensive approach that ensures that the mistakes it made in Iraq are not repeated in Afghanistan.

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