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As America's war ends, Iraq's begins

Gen. Odierno sees his troops out safely, leaving Iraqi counterparts to their complicated task.

“The problem with this war for, I think, many Americans is that the premise on which we justified going to war proved not to be valid – that is, Saddam having weapons of mass destruction,” he said during a visit this week to troops in Ramadi, once one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq and still far from a walk in the park.

Many of Ramadi’s problems are those of other cities as well – that seven years into the war there are still only a few hours of electricity a day, no new jobs and an Iraqi Army and police force that have made huge strides but are still under almost constant threat.

“I don't think you're going to be able to put a mark on the wall or a day on the calendar and say we won,” said Brig. Gen. Rob Baker, whose deployments to Baghdad in 2003 and again this year have book ended the war.

After emphasizing during the surge that there were no purely military solutions to Iraq’s problems, the remaining challenges – still euphemistically referred to as opportunities by a few U.S. officials – are even more complicated.

“Our goal is not only a secure Iraq but an economically prosperous, and stable one as well,” said Biden, in referring to the transition from a U.S. military presence here to a civilian one.

Seven years ago the idea of that stability was that toppling a dictator and instilling democracy would spread to the rest of the Middle East.

“The Americans gave us the opportunity to build a functioning decent democracy in the heart of the Islamic world,” said Barham Salih, prime minister of the Kurdish regional government. “At the end of the day it is up to us - we need to really live up to our responsibilities. What I see today five months after the election leaves a lot to be desired by the Iraqi political elite.”

It's now been almost six months since Iraqis took democracy for a test run by going out and voting. In what has become a series of small victories, one large but relatively modest one would be seeing a new Iraqi government take shape.