Last week the war in Iraq ended. Or at least it ended for United States forces and their allies. Whether the Iraqis will keep the peace without outside help will be revealed over the coming months.
The US Congress authorized military action in Iraq back in 2002, but the war didn't begin until March of 2003. In my memory, it seemed like it took years to capture Saddam Hussein, but US forces found him by December 2003. However, the new Iraqi government didn't execute Saddam until 2006. A friend of mine always said that the day after Saddam died, we should have declared 'victory' and left. Perhaps he was right. Instead, the US and its allies stayed until December 2011, a total of almost nine years.
The human toll has been high, both for soldiers and civilians. You can find detailed accounts of soldiers killed or wounded, but with civilians, it gets murky. Estimates vary. And it's important to remember that many of the Iraqi dead were not the result of military operations, but rather terrorist bombings and civil strife.
It's natural to look at the war and wonder about its purpose and costs since it affected the lives of millions in physical, psychological, and economic terms. I think we can point to the fall of Saddam's regime as the biggest positive factor. His removal, plus the death of his sons in 2003, brought to an end a very evil tyrant's hold over his people.
We should never underestimate the importance of that. Saddam's own people were unable to overthrow him for decades, but the coalition forces did it in less than one month.
When we look back, the reasons for the war are hard to pin down. After 9/11, America was desperate to prevent future attacks, and there was evidence that Saddam had allowed terrorists to establish some training camps in Iraq. Still, that was not sufficient cause for an all-out ground invasion. Then the reason morphed into a hunt for weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but either our intelligence was faulty or our own government lied because we never located significant amounts of any WMDs.
Iraq was a dictatorship, and a brutal one. Now it is a fragile democracy, and the coalition can take credit for that, along with Iraqis who took the opportunity to build their country into something better. Unfortunately, there are still deep political and religious divisions in Iraq between Sunni and Shia Muslims, Kurds, and various minority groups. It's worth pointing out that despite the presence of thousands of troops, Iraqi Christians have suffered greatly over the last decade and many have fled the country.
The civil strife isn't all Iraqi centered, though. So many foreign terrorists flooded the country for a chance to fight US troops that they changed the makeup of Iraqi society. Fortunately, many of these terrorists died there, but their use of car bombs and improvised munitions have injured or killed thousands of Iraqi civilians and fellow Muslims. In fact, the first major car bombing took place all the way back in 2003 and was an attack on the Jordanian embassy. A few weeks later, a car bomb wrecked the United Nations building in Baghdad and killed 22 people. Throughout the war, many of the terrorist actions have been against civilian targets.
In 2006, US forces killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaida in Iraq. This was a major blow to the terrorists. And in 2007, additional US forces went to Iraq in the famous 'surge.' It is interesting to me that during the war, members of the US media constantly told us how badly it was going and how we couldn't win against an insurgency. They appeared to view all wars in terms of Viet Nam.
Dissatisfied with what I saw as biased reporting, I began to read military blogs--actual soldiers on the ground writing about their experiences. In their view, the surge was working and they were accomplishing their objectives. I concluded that the mainstream media is more concerned with their own political agenda than with the truth.
There were many other aspects to the war: the widespread use of contractors/mercenaries; the slow progress of the new Iraqi army and police to take over responsibility for their country; weapons smuggling from Syria; constant interference from Iran; massive amounts of money spent on the US military/industrial complex and how these companies benefited. Strangely, the constant cry about 'wars for oil' fell apart as an argument since the US and its allies did not see a sudden flood of new oil wealth or supply.
As the years rolled on, the Iraqi army became a more effective partner, which was essential since the various coalition members left to go home. In 2009, the last British combat troops departed, the staunch US ally having hung on despite political turmoil at home. The US ended official combat operations in August of 2010 and left on 15 December of this year.
Looking back, it's odd to see how the war seemed to drift from terrorism to WMDs to Saddam, and finally to a long, hard-fought nation building phase. It bothers me that the US is ending its major efforts in Iraq without really taking the time to recognize the sacrifices of our troops, and I wonder how the coalition troops were treated when they returned to their homes in Europe and elsewhere.
Perhaps the one thing the US and Iraqi people can share is a sense of relief, and a hope for the future. After all, Saddam and his killers are gone. If the Iraqis can put aside their hatred of each other, maybe they can build their country into a place they can be proud of.
Note 1: No matter what your feelings on the war and no matter where you live, if you see a service member, take a moment to thank them or pray for them.
Note 2: Wars are divisive. I respect your right to disagree with my opinions.