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While President Obama called on the nation last night to “move beyond our differences” on the disastrous US Iraq policy, the Congressional Republican leadership – John Boehner in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate- were delivering high-octane speeches attacking the president for opposing the military surge of US forces in 2007 that they claim turned the tide in the Iraq war.

In fact a surge did turn out to be a key to changing direction in the catastrophe that followed the US invasion and military occupation in Iraq. But, it wasn’t the surge of military forces that Boehner, McConnell and their fellow Iraq war apologists talk about, but the surge in anti-war sentiment in both the United States and Iraq.

Public outrage and opposition to the war drove the mid-term US elections in November 2006 and led to the ouster of the President’s party from control of Congress the following January. As Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress pointed out this week on the PBS’ News Hour, it was after Americans sent a clear signal that the days of the US military occupation of Iraq were numbered that the Sunni “Anbar Awakening” turned against al Qaeda. “The thing that motivated them,” Katulis said, “was the sense that the US would not be there forever.”

What motivated US politicians in Washington was public sentiment against the war. Bipartisan coalitions in Congress and a bipartisan study group began calling for a change of course. Meanwhile, growing opposition to the American military occupation among Iraqi citizens began to drive politicians in Baghdad. Negotiations with the Americans over a Status of Forces Agreement became more contentious as the Iraqi government position hardened and demanded that a date certain be set for the removal of all US forces. Nothing short would be acceptable to an occupation-weary Iraqi public.

Facing strong and growing opposition both at home and in Iraq, the Bush administration reluctantly signed the Status of Forces Agreement requiring a complete withdrawal of US forces by the end of 2011.

As Katulis and Lawrence Korb argued yesterday in Foreign Policy, establishing a firm deadline for the removal of US troops from Iraq – that was demanded by a determined public – was key to making the redeployment of US combat forces out of Iraq possible. It will also be a key to ending US combat operations in Afghanistan.

The good news is that 72% of Americans believe that the invasion of Iraq was not worth it and a majority now support ending the US combat role in Afghanistan.

The bad news is that pressure is building inside the Washington beltway to eliminate the deadline for the removal of US forces from Iraq and the date to start removing troops from Afghanistan.

Increasing numbers of news stories about Iraq now include ominous references to a “growing consensus” among many “experts” and “officials” that after a new Iraqi government is finally formed in Iraq, it is likely that a new Status of Forces Agreement will be negotiated that will include an extension of the presence of US combat forces.

Congressional Republicans are pushing hard against the July 2011 date to begin the removal of combat forces from Afghanistan and Obama administration officials are in retreat, defensively arguing that the deadline actually means little to nothing as they assert that the removal of US combat forces will be “conditions based.” Troops could, in fact, remain in Afghanistan for a very long time.

The great American baseball sage Yogi Berra was right when he once famously noted: “It aint over ‘till it’s over!” No one knows that more about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than our soldiers who remain in harm’s way and their families, regardless of whether or not a president declares an end to combat operations.  

Once again, the American public – and anti-war activists both in and out of Congress – will play an important role in determining whether or not all US combat forces are in fact removed from Iraq on schedule and if the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan next July really is the beginning of the end of combat operations there.

A surge in anti-war public sentiment, anti-war activism and Congressional opposition played a decisive role in setting the stage for the milestone declared by President Obama last night about combat operations in Iraq. It will very likely take a similar surge to overcome the fierce opposition that stands in the way of finally getting all of our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan once and for all.

Originally posted to TOM ANDREWS on Wed Sep 01, 2010 at 01:42 PM PDT.

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