The military has dubbed tomorrow as the beginning of stability operations, and the end of combat. They are buzzwords that have been met with scepticism – and fear – throughout Iraq. There are many who doubt the invasion force is actually leaving, yet many more who hope the announcement doesn't mean that the troops will actually leave.
Around the country though, the signs of a military on the way out are unmistakable. Over the past two years US forces have closed down 411 bases. They will maintain 94 bases nationwide, at least in the weeks immediately following tomorrow's ceremony. Many, however, will be outposts where a small number of US forces will train and mentor Iraqi soldiers. They may occasionally patrol with them or join in on raids, but the US mission is designed from now on to be very much in the background.
At least 12 large bases will remain initially; Camp Victory at Baghdad airport, the nearby Camp Liberty, two bases inside the Green Zone, Taji and Balad bases north of Baghdad, bases in Mosul, Kirkuk and Ramadi, as well as al-Assad to the west, and forward vases in Nasireyah and Basra.
There are now just over 49,000 US soldiers scattered throughout all of them, around 1,000 less than commanders had foreshadowed for the 1 September handover date. A total of 92,000 have left since the peak of the troop surge in 2007 – and their absence is obvious everywhere.
It has been rare in the 14 months since the Status of Forces Agreement signed on 30 June last year that set prescribed limits for the US role in Iraq to see an American convoy on the streets of the capital. The giant, crustacean-like convoys are now so few and far between, that their presence makes the news.
At a staging yard in one of the US military's main camps in southern Iraq columns of armour and reinforced trucks are lined up to be driven out of Iraq. More than 860,000 items have now left Iraq. Any truck marked with an A is off to fight another war. Those left unmarked are going home.