The White House hailed on Tuesday the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops out of Iraq's cities but declined to qualify the benchmark as a victory, or even a success, in the six-year-long war.
"I will keep the banner printers from doing anything crazy," said spokesman Robert Gibbs, in reference to the infamous "Mission Accomplished" sign that adorned the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln during George W. Bush's 2003 combat flight stunt. "The way we look at this is, there is progress that is being made. Obviously the security situation has improved. I think President Obama talked about that throughout last year. And again, I think we are taking important steps on two fronts: our ability to get our own combat troops home, but also our ability to give the sovereign nation of Iraq more control and responsibility."
Gibbs hinted that a spike in violence could very well accompany the withdrawal of U.S. forces. "Despite whatever happens today," he said, "this situation bears constant monitoring. Because there may be rough patches ahead. We understand that. There are important elections that will happen over the course of this year and important steps that have to be taken on the path of reconciliation."
On Tuesday, United States forces pulled out the remaining combat troops from Iraq's cities, marking an important benchmark in a withdrawal strategy that had been negotiated between the two countries. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops will remain. But commanders on the ground say that the pieces have been put in place to continue the drawdown through the course of the next year. All combat troops are due out by August 31, 2010, and the Status of Forces Agreement aims for a final withdrawal by December 2011.
Asked if President Bush's surge policy was to credit for facilitating Tuesday's accomplishment, Gibbs drew a distinction between security improvements on the ground and political progress among Iraq's governing factions.
"The president would say, obviously increasing the number of troops in that country improved the security situation," he said. "But the surge was to improve the security situation so that the political reconciliation could take place. So while the security situation has improved, we still have a lot of work to do on the political side of this equation."