After almost nine years, the war in Iraq is officially over, at least for American troops.

For Iraqis, the departure of our military is both welcome and nerve-racking. The country has been freed from the brutality of Saddam Hussein, but its security infrastructure remains weak and its nascent democracy is susceptible to control by the anti-American theocracy in Iran.

Still, it was time to leave. The only point in staying would be if this nation were prepared for an indefinite stay in a country whose government wanted us to go. Even the Bush administration wasn’t prepared for that. It was President George W. Bush who agreed to 2011 as the year for troops to come home.

It’s not a perfect departure, given the uncertainties Iraq faces. In the end, this was a war that didn’t need to be fought. Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, in whose shadow the invasion took place. Despite the belief of the Bush administration and much of Congress, there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Yet we undertook an optional war at an eventual cost of 4,487 American lives, 32,226 Americans wounded in action and more than 1 trillion American dollars. And that says nothing of the loss of Iraqi lives and treasure or the cost of lengthening the necessary war in Afghanistan. That unwise loss of focus allowed the Taliban to regroup and for Osama bin Laden to remain healthy years longer than he should have.

The outcome of the Iraq war may not become clear for years or even decades. But here’s what is indisputable. The war is over and American troops are on their way home, where they belong.

Welcome back.

— The Buffalo (N.Y.) News, Dec. 16

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