US military exit from Iraq was well timed

The Iraqis, at some point, had to be given control of their country. Iraq is now as stable as it is going to be.

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Last week's official exit of U.S. troops from Iraq is the right move for the U.S. and Iraq.

Little would have been gained by keeping U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq. That nation is as stable as it's going to be.

If American troops stayed beyond this year they would simply be targets for those trying to undermine the new Iraq government. A vast U.S. presence in that country gives a political advantage to those trying to topple Iraqi's current leaders.

At some point the Iraqis will have to take control of their country -- now seems to be an opportune time.

The nine-year war in Iraq has cost the United States almost 4,500 American lives and $800 billion. In addition, 32,000 U.S. forces were injured.

But the U.S. did have to fight this war. When the U.S. military wrested control of Iraq from Saddam Hussein, it had to immediately put a huge army on the ground to keep another despotic, brutal regime from taking control.

Time was needed to give the Iraqis an opportunity to take the military and political actions necessary to establish a new government that represents the majority of the Iraqi people.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta believes the U.S. achieved its goal as Iraq is on a path to democracy.

"You will leave with great pride -- lasting pride," Panetta told the troops at last week's ceremony officially ending U.S. military involvement. "Secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside and to offer hope for prosperity and peace to this country's future generations."

Even with the official exit, there are still two U.S. bases and about 4,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. But this is only a small fraction of the U.S. presence when the war was at its peak. At one time the U.S. had about 500 military installations with 170,000 troops.

Yes, leaving the Iraqis essentially on their own is a risk for Iraq and for the United States. Iraq and that entire region of the world remain relatively unstable. If the new Iraqi government can't maintain control another group will battle to fill the power vacuum.

However, this scenario would occur whether the U.S. pulled out this year or 10 years from now.

President Obama had a tough call to make, but we believe he has made the correct one.

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