The partial withdrawal of US troops from Iraq late last month was the first significant step in fulfilling President Obama's promise to end the six-year long war. It is generally considered that the pledge to end the misbegotten conflict in Iraq was the most important for Obama's victory in 2008 election over Republican Senator McCain, who was firmly committed to carrying on the war indefinitely. There is still a long distance to go before the war is actually over and all of the some 134,000 US troops there go back to their country. Full withdrawal is scheduled to take place by the end of 2011. That is what the US has agreed upon with Iraq's occupation authority, the government of PM Nouri Kamal al-Maliki. That withdrawal is scheduled to be completed prior to the commencement of truly heavy lifting in the 2012 US presidential election campaign. The significance is that, based on withdrawal having been carried out or not, Americans will be able to judge Mr Obama, presumably a candidate for re-election at that point, on the basis of whether or not he carried out his key 2008 pledges. One hard part in Iraq will commence as the reduced US troop presence in the cities - if not in the country at large - begins to be appreciated by various armed Iraqi groups. For the relatively newly trained Iraqi government security forces, it will be a test of their ability to maintain order in both the cities and the countryside, with US troops ostensibly on the sidelines. For various Iraqi insurgency groups, it will be a test of whether they can see the wisdom in restraining themselves in order to obtain the total withdrawal of the foreign troops. It may be tempting for them to try to blow things up to embarrass the Maliki government and the US, or simply to make an early effort to dominate the post-war power struggle. If disorder begins to spread in Iraq's cities with US forces in a more background role, it will be difficult for the America to stand by and watch the order created - theoretically, at least - crumble in the face of the renewed violence. At the same time, it will be absolutely necessary for the United States to do just that. After six years, in the wake of an invasion that was pointless in the first place and which Americans are now thoroughly sick of, it is obligatory that the Iraqis cope with their own problems and the US stays out of the way. The American death toll in Iraq stands at more than 4,300. The financial cost is virtually incalculable, particularly if one includes the likely cost both of refitting the armed forces and of dealing with the severe physical and emotional wounds of the Americans who have fought there. Ironically, in a series of interviews with FBI agents before his execution, Saddam Hussain disclosed that on the eve of the 2003 US invasion, Iraq was trapped between the UN orders to demonstrate that it had disarmed and a fear that appearing too weak would invite attack from its powerful neighbour and foe, Iran. The ousted Iraqi president was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq's weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions of the US for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq, according to a summary of the interrogation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "The inspectors," he feared, "would have directly identified to the Iranians where to inflict maximum damage to Iraq." Saddam told the FBI that if UN sanctions against his country had been lifted, Iraq would have sought a security agreement with the United States to protect it from Iran. The summaries of 20 formal interviews and five additional "casual conversations" as his captors called them, all between February and June, 2004, were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive, a private research group at George Washington University. The interviews contain few major revelations, but they underscore once again both Saddam's striking miscalculation of the risks he faced and the United States' mistaken estimate of the threat. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam stayed in Baghdad until he saw "the city was about to fall." Months later, he was caught hiding at the same farm where he had fled in 1959 after taking part in an attempt to kill the country's prime minister. Saddam said he was never in the neighbourhood on the outskirts of Baghdad that was bombed on March 19, 2003, in an attempt to kill the Iraqi leader at the start of the war. The US military had received a tip that he was hiding there. He made his last public appearance in Azamiyah on April 9, 2003, the day his statue was brought down in a central Baghdad square what later became the defining image of his overthrow however he said that he stayed in Baghdad until April 10/11 when "it appeared that the city was about to fall." He held a final meeting with leaders from his inner circle and told them: "We will struggle in secret." Obsessed with Iran, with which Iraq had fought a devastating eight-year war in the 1980s, Saddam did not take seriously the demands from President Bush and he proved that Iraq did not possess unconventional weapons. In the interviews, Saddam described Osama bin Laden as a "zealot" and denied that Iraq had any substantive ties to Al-Qaeda. Both that claim and assertion that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, were later confirmed by American intelligence agencies. The writer is former director news, PTV. E-mail: burhanhasan@hotmail.com