It looks, finally, like U.S. troops will be leaving Iraq. According to President Barack Obama, the withdrawal means U.S. forces will be “home for the holidays,” fulfilling a campaign promise he made in 2008. No doubt the withdrawal will be a major plank in his re-election bid next year. However, the Status of Forces Agreement made with the Iraq government was signed by former President George W. Bush in November 2008.
We’re just happy that this long national nightmare appears to be over. The Iraq war has lasted more than eight years and is America’s second-longest conflict, after Afghanistan. From the beginning, we opposed the Iraq war. We never were convinced of the two original rationales for the war, that dictator Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” and ties to al-Qaida. Both rationales were disproved after the invasion, as even President Bush admitted in his autobiography published last year, “Decision Points.”
Although no one should lament Saddam’s demise, the cost of the war has been horrendous: 4,479 Americans killed and 33,169 wounded, according to official U.S. numbers; more than 100,000 Iraqis killed, according to U.S. government documents released by WikiLeaks in 2010; and a cost to U.S. taxpayers of from $1 trillion, according to the president, to $4 trillion, according to a recent Brown University study.
And yet Iraq remains riven with factionalism that could escalate into major killing once U.S. troops leave.
There’s still a possibility of a last-minute deal with the Iraqi government for some U.S. troops to remain, Ivan Eland told us; he’s the director of the Center for Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute. Moreover, he said, about 160 troops and about 5,000 security contractors will remain to guard the sprawling U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the world’s largest.
However, he believes all U.S. troops will leave “because the Iraqi people” are demanding it.
Left behind will be a vast infrastructure of roads, bases and other structures paid for by U.S. taxpayers. “The Bush administration wanted to put bases in the region, but didn’t count on the guerrilla and civil wars that started,” Eland explained. These and other war costs were paid for with borrowed money that has helped drive up U.S. debt to nearly $15 trillion.
Another problem will be with the Iraqi interpreters and other support personnel who could become targets once the U.S. forces leave. “The U.S. probably does owe those people visas to live here,” Eland said of the U.S.-connected Iraqis. “But the visa program for Iraq has been slow.”
As to Iraq, its inherent instabilities remain. The Kurdish ethnic minority in the north still wants independence. The Shia religious majority “wants to run Iraq,” Eland said, but has ties to the Iranians. And the Sunni religious minority, to which Saddam belonged, fears the Shia.
What a mess. But the Iraqis eventually had to be left to themselves. Now is as good as ever. We wish Godspeed to the people of Iraq. Let’s welcome our troops home with open arms and adequate veterans’ medical care where needed. And let’s hope our country never again engages in a war as mistaken as this one.