On Dec. 31, the U.S. will formally withdraw the last of its 40,000 remaining troops in Iraq, effectively bringing to an end a war that started in March 2003. President Barack Obama's October announcement of the withdrawal elicited derisive statements from GOP presidential candidates, keen to depict Obama as weak. But the American departure had already been sealed in 2008, when President George W. Bush signed a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqis. The leadership in Baghdad, echoing popular Iraqi sentiment, stood firm on the stipulations of the agreement; the U.S. contingent that will remain is likely to be comprised mostly of a few thousand private contractors. After more than eight years in Iraq, the U.S. leaves behind a fledgling democracy still scarred by the horrific internecine strife that took place during the occupation. By some estimates, well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians died in the years that followed the U.S. invasion, millions fled as refugees. More than 4,400 U.S. soldiers have returned home from Iraq in coffins.