The last U.S. convoy rode out of Iraq yesterday in the early morning hours, marking the final moment of the Iraq War. The war was officially declared over last Thursday during a ceremony attended by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at a terminal in the Baghdad airport. The statement and withdrawal were more than two weeks ahead of the end of year deadline for ending U.S. combat in Iraq. Panetta told troops, "You will leave with great pride, lasting pride, secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people begin a new chapter in history free from tyranny and full of hope for prosperity and peace."
More than 1 million U.S. troops have served in the almost 9 year war, of which 4,474 were killed and roughly 30,000 were wounded. The U.S. spent more than $800 billion on the war that cost more than 100,000 Iraqis their lives. The war does little to change day-to-day life of the Iraqis, as U.S. troops withdrew from most cities last year to focus on training Iraqi military forces.
Despite the official end of U.S. combat operations, the U.S. is expanding diplomatic relations in Iraq. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad is expected to have between 1,500 and 1,600 employees, making it the largest U.S. embassy abroad. The Pentagon will also leave a few hundred military personnel and civilians to work at the Office of Security Cooperation at the embassy. President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met Monday to discuss future partnerships on security, trade, energy, and education partnerships, beginning with the sale of 18 U.S. F-16 fighter jets to Iraq.
Obama also gave a speech at Fort Bragg, North Carolina last Wednesday to honor the service of our troops and welcome them home. Obama applauded the efforts of U.S. soldiers, saying "The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and your service belongs to the ages." He added, "For all of the challenges that our nation faces, you remind us that there's nothing that we Americans can't do when we stick together."
Obama administration officials remarked that U.S. foreign policy can now focus more strongly on our counter-terrorism efforts against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, which will make the nation safer and more secure in the long run. It will also allow us to shift our resources and attention to our economic challenges at home, the most important issue of the upcoming presidential election.
Senior officials have widely refrained from discussing the controversial nature of a war that has seen its public support plummet over its nine-year tenure. The war was initiated on the premise that Iraq had an active program to develop weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein had committed crimes against humanity. While the latter may have been true, the former was proved to be based entirely on false claims. The U.S.- and U.K.-led invasion, which had little international support, is widely blamed for causing sectarian violence within Iraq and actually helping Islamic terrorists recruit and motivate supporters. As of 2008, the war had displaced almost 5 million Iraqis and has created a humanitarian crisis throughout much of the nation.
While it is always positive to welcome troops home, it is difficult to celebrate a war marred by so much debate and negativity. The challenges still facing an Iraq that must now rebuild their nation are real and serious. The U.S. has a responsibility to aid that development in whatever way we can. The withdrawal of U.S. combat troops is an end to an important chapter in both our history and Iraq's. However, the mission is far from accomplished. Indeed, it is only just beginning.
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