A war that once seemed likely to end in a panic of helicopters fleeing the American Embassy now seems destined to conclude as the result of a parliamentary process. A landmark status-of-forces agreement (SOFA)-requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities by the end of June and from Iraq itself by the end of 2011-is headed for a final reading in the Iraqi parliament next week.
The approval of the SOFA would leave a chapter of history decorated with paradoxes. President Bush-who once called withdrawal timelines "arbitrary" and "unacceptable"-ends his term accepting them. President-elect Barack Obama will inherit a more peaceful Iraq because of policies he strongly opposed. And the Iraqi government-so often criticized by Americans as weak and ineffectual-is now asserting its sovereignty in a decisive manner, for good or ill.
The withdrawal deadlines contained in the SOFA seem like concessions from the Bush administration-and they are. Officials are careful to point out that the June withdrawal from Iraqi cities merely codifies the current process of transferring provincial control to Iraqi forces-and that both sides are free to renegotiate the agreement when it expires in three years. But the deadlines in the SOFA do limit the tactical flexibility of the next president in ways the current president would not have preferred.