Out of Iraq
The Iraq War inspired social unrest not seen since the 1960s. Image: NCinDC/Flickr/CC BY-ND

The nine-year war between the U.S. and Iraq officially came to an end on Thursday. A subdued ceremony was held in Baghdad. Most troops  have already shipped home. Meanwhile, both nations remain divided from within.

Mechanics of withdrawal

All American troops have to be out of Iraq by the end of the month. Washington and Baghdad had been discussing terms by which some of the troops could have stayed longer. But those talks broke down over provisions giving U.S. soldiers immunity from Iraqi prosecution.

A quiet ceremony was held in Baghdad Thursday. U.S. troops lowered the flag of command that has flown over the capital city.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke:

“To be sure, the cost was high — in blood and treasure for the United States and also for the Iraqi people. But those lives have not been lost in vain.”

The Iraq War

President George W. Bush pushed for an invasion of Iraq almost immediately after the terrorist attack on the World Trade center on Sept. 11, 2001. But the war began for real in March, 2003, with the night-time “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad. In 2007, at the height of the conflict, the U.S. had 500 bases scattered across the country, housing more than 170,000 troops. Nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers, as well as tens of thousands of Iraqis, lost their lives in the war. In the end, the war cost the American taxpayers more than $800 billion.

The original justification for the invasion of Iraq was to stop Saddam Hussein from developing “weapons of mass destruction.” When it became apparent there were no WMDs, the war became about freeing the Iraqi people and bringing them democracy.

A nation divided

The toppling of the Iraqi government shattered the populace into sectarian loyalties. U.S. troops have since been charged with quelling the ever-increasing sectarian violence. The country continues to struggle with insurgency, and its fragile power-sharing government often finds itself deadlocked with bickering divided along sectarian lines.

In the U.S., the conflict inspired social unrest and anti-war sentiments unseen since the 1960s. Political divisions became all the more acute between the right and the left.

Presidential reaction

President Obama said to the troops on Thursday:

“Because of you — because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met, Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny.”

A nation divided

The U.S. remains very divided in its opinion of the war and its goals. According to a recent CNN/ORG poll, 68 percent are opposed to the Iraq war. Only about half of those polled felt the U.S. had met its goals in the country, yet 61 percent supported withdrawal of the troops by year’s end.

The Iraq War has left a mark on the nation that will not be easily erased. For many, the conflict tested and blurred our loyalties. Now, political divisions seem wider than ever, and social unrest continues to rise.

Sources

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/15/world/meast/iraq-us-ceremony/index.html?iref=allsearch
Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/15/iraq-war-ends_n_1150252.html?icid=maing-grid7|maing9|dl1|sec1_lnk2%26pLid%3D120302
USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/story/2011-12-15/Iraq-war/51945028/1?csp=34news

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