Iraq, seven years later

Now that President Barack Obama has formally declared the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, experts will debate for decades just what we accomplished with our seven-year effort in that country.

There’s no glossing over some facts related to the war, such as these from the Associated Press:

✔ More than 4,400 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq, and more than 30,000 wounded as a result of hostile actions.

✔ The exact number of Iraqis killed will never be known, but Iraq Body Count puts the figure at over 97,000.

✔ The United States has spent over $744 billion on the war.

But, as Obama told troops in Fort Bliss, Texas, Tuesday, the war also gave Iraq “an opportunity to create a better future for itself.”

That opportunity continues to be demonstrated in the country’s tumultuous political process.

Iraqis voted in large numbers last March, despite roadside bombs and grenade attacks by Islamic terrorists. That election didn’t result in a clear winner for the nation’s political leadership, but the continued jockeying and negotiating for that leadership has been conducted without resort to violence.

Occasional bombings in public places still occur, but they are the work of Muslim fanatics trying to halt the democratic political process, not the work of those engaged in it.

Boisterous political debate, with many groups offering widely different views, was impossible under Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, in which untold numbers of Iraqis died.

Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction didn’t materialize after the 2003 invasion. But, since virtually every intelligence agency in the Western world — including the CIA — believed they existed, it’s hard to fault the Bush administration for believing the same thing. Whether that was sufficient justification for invading Iraq will also be debated for a long time to come.

Beyond the situation in Iraq, countries throughout the region that once were threatened by Saddam Hussein’s regime and others are now safer. The United States was able to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia because Iraq is no longer a danger to that country. And Libya voluntarily abandoned its weapons of mass destruction following our invasion of Iraq.

Finally, as the president said Tuesday, the war has made the United States more secure. In addition to lending stability to that region, for much of the past seven years, the war focused the resources of al-Qaida on Iraq and restricted its ability to conduct terrorist attacks in this country.

Obama didn’t mention the 2007 surge in U.S. troops and change in combat activities, pushed by President George W. Bush and Gen. David Petraeus. But it’s clear that without that surge — which Obama and many others opposed — the situation in Iraq would be far worse today.

Regardless of one’s views on the war in Iraq, every American should be pleased that our combat effort has ended in Iraq and should hope for the continued democracy and stability of that nation.

We must also recognize our military personnel, who put their lives at risk in Iraq, especially those killed and wounded. And we should remember that 90,000 more are still in harm’s way in Afghanistan, where the prospect of a stable democracy looks far less certain than in Iraq today.


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