“The start of 2009 marks a big change for the American role in Iraq,” said Keith Porter in About.com. Under a “status of forces” agreement that went into effect Jan. 1, the U.S. handed control of Iraqi airspace and the fortified Green Zone to the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki proposed that Jan. 1 be commemorated as a new national holiday, “Sovereignty Day.”

This “welcome restoration of sovereignty” is “a defining moment in the long and bloody struggle” to bring stability to Iraq, said The Times of London in an editorial. For Americans and “a skeptical Muslim world,” it is a “confirmation that democracy is, at last, taking root” in Iraq; for Iraqis it is “of huge psychological importance in restoring national pride.” Implausible as it may have seemed just two years ago, “the end of Iraq’s agony is now in sight.”

The war in Iraq as we know it “is indeed over,” said Anthony Shadid in The Washington Post, but that’s “not to say that there is peace in Iraq.” The daily death toll is as high as in 2003 and 2004, and any mention of “victory” to a local is met with “a dumbfounded look.” This handover feels most like the “lifting of a siege,” or “more truce than treaty.” And the key question—how strong is the central government?—is still to be decided in the upcoming political war.