Two days ahead of schedule and with little fanfare, civilian control of Iraq was handed over to a new government. This milestone is a big step for Iraq. Both U.S. and Iraqi officials can only hope that their efforts to avoid insurgents' attacks on the planned turnover date will help maintain some sense of order.
Iraq is a nation besieged by years of a despot's rule, a violent invasion to remove Saddam Hussein and weeks of deadly attacks from those who use terror to achieve their own selfish interests.
At the same time, Iraq is embarking on a new era of government with roots freshly transplanted in democracy. Like any tender plant, the Iraqi government still needs care and support.
Militarily, the Iraqi government is in the process of rebuilding an army capable of maintaining order and defending its borders. That process will take a considerable amount of time as more than 140 ,000 troops, mostly U.S. personnel, remain to keep order.
While the transfer of civilian authority in Iraq is an indication of moves in the right direction, there are other positive signs too. While most headlines have focused on terrorist attacks and religious infighting, the rebuilding process of a dictator-ravaged and war-torn nation has made significant advances.
Schools, highways, essential services, medical facilities and commerce are flourishing in most areas of Iraq, thanks to major reconstruction efforts. There are still major needs and shortcomings, but millions of Iraqis are beginning to enjoy a lifestyle that approaches normal.
The long process of making Iraq whole will require the continued commitment of nations founded on democratic principles that have the ability to provide support and funding. The U.S. effort to secure those commitments will be key to a swift return of complete Iraqi autonomy.