President Obama's announcement Oct. 21 that all U.S. troops still deployed in Iraq will come home by the end of 2011 is very welcome news.
Where once some 160,000 U.S. soldiers were in Iraq, now about 40,000 remain.
Since the Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003 based on a cluster of lies, a million U.S. troops have served there. Over 4,400 died and 32,000 were wounded, many with injuries they will suffer for a lifetime.
The war's costs so far to the U.S. are estimated at $1 trillion - a sum that could have kept thousands of public workers including teachers and health workers on the job, repaired vast amounts of crucial infrastructure, and more. Many of the costs are not yet calculated, including those for the future care of veterans.
The war's consequences for the Iraqi people have been catastrophic. Estimates are that over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died. Millions more have become refugees in neighboring countries. Countless communities have been destroyed; strife among Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds has intensified. Some Iraqi politicians blame the U.S. invasion for driving the country toward civil war.
Efforts by the Obama administration and some in Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's government to have several thousand U.S. troops remain after Dec. 31 reportedly foundered on U.S. insistence that its troops be immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.
The Iraqis' rejection of this condition would appear totally justified, given the record of abuse and murder of Iraqi civilians by both U.S. troops and contractors.
It is also worth noting that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is the largest embassy in the world. The State Department says some 5,000 security contractors will remain in the country to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities around the country.
As important as the troop withdrawal is what happens to them after they leave. Will they go now to Afghanistan? Will they serve in some other location abroad?
Or will they, and the funds needed to deploy and maintain them, come home, where funds and people can be employed instead to build a truly 21st century network of education, health care, child care, affordable homes and human services for all?
We hope withdrawal from Iraq will be a giant step toward full withdrawal of all troops and contractors from Afghanistan and adoption of a U.S. foreign policy based on cooperation and development aid, not on dispatching "military advisers," troops and military contractors to locations around the world.
The next step will require a vast movement of all who seek a world of peace, economic and social justice.
Photo: Father and soldier son reunited at a homecoming ceremony in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette/AP)