Iraq coalition ceased to exist long time ago

BAGHDAD — The British said cheerio back in July, around the same time the Romanians cleared out "Camp Dracula," their compound on a U.S. base in southern Iraq. Tonga and Kazakhstan left ages ago, and no one seems to remember if any Icelandic forces ever made it to Iraq.

It doesn't matter now, anyway, because as of today, former President George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing" formally ceases to exist, leaving only the U.S. military's 130,000 or so forces to shepherd their Iraqi counterparts through a volatile election season before a full American troop withdrawal that's expected by the end of 2011.

U.S. commanders will officially disband the Multinational Force Iraq, or MNF-I, and introduce the USF-I, or U.S. Force Iraq, at a ceremony today in Baghdad. American soldiers and officers said the transition is largely a formality because they've been going it alone since the summer.

Iraqis also said the change barely registers. To them, there's never been a question that Americans were in charge for these past six years.

American officials spin the disbanding of the coalition differently, saying the end of the MNF-I brings Iraqis one step closer to regaining real sovereignty, "a new era in Operation Iraqi Freedom," as one news release put it. On the lack of sovereignty, Iraqis agree. The name change is another matter.

In street interviews, Iraqis of different backgrounds were asked how many members of the coalition they could name besides the U.S. and Britain. Some correctly identified the Italians (3,200 troops) and the Australians (2,000 troops). Others confidently named France, which refused to join.

"Coalition? Well, truthfully, we always called them the occupation forces," said Yousra Abdul Zahra.