By Doug Bandow
The U.S. is not yet out of Iraq, but American forces have pulled back from Iraqi cities. Iraq’s future increasingly is in the hands of Iraqis. And most Iraqis appear to be celebrating.
This is no longer America’s war.
Iraqis danced in the streets and set off fireworks Monday in impromptu celebrations of a pivotal moment in their nation’s troubled history: Six years and three months after the March 2003 invasion, the United States on Tuesday is withdrawing its remaining combat troops from Iraq’s cities and turning over security to Iraqi police and soldiers.
While more than 130,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, patrols by heavily armed soldiers in hulking vehicles as of Wednesday will largely disappear from Baghdad, Mosul and Iraq’s other urban centers.
“The Army of the U.S. is out of my country,” said Ibrahim Algurabi, 34, a dual U.S.-Iraqi citizen now living in Arizona who attended a concert of celebration in Baghdad’s Zawra Park. “People are ready for this change. There are a lot of opportunities to rebuild our country, to forget the past and think about the future.”
On Monday, as the withdrawal deadline loomed, four U.S. troops were killed in the Iraqi capital, the military announced Tuesday. No details about the deaths were provided. Another soldier was killed Sunday in a separate attack.
The Bush administration never should have invaded Iraq. The costs have been high: more than 4,000 dead American military personnel. Tens of thousands more have been injured, many maimed for life. Hundreds more military contractors and coalition soldiers have died. And tens of thousands of Iraqis — certainly more than 100,000, though estimates above that diverge wildly.
The U.S. has squandered hundreds of billions of dollars and the ultimate cost is likely to run $2 trillion or more, as the government cares for seriously injured veterans for the rest of their lives. America’s fine fighting men and women have been stretched thin and America’s adversaries, most notably Iran, have been strengthened. Yet another cause has been added to the recruiting pitch of hateful extremists seeking to do Americans and others harm.
Nevertheless, let us hope that Iraqis take advantage of the opportunity they now enjoy. It will take enormous statesmanship and restraint to accommodate those of different faiths and ethnicities, forgive past crimes committed by Sunni and Shia forces, eschew violence for retaliation and revenge, resolve even bitter disagreements peacefully, and accept political defeat without resort to arms.
Other peoples who have suffered less have failed to surmount similar difficulties. But it is no one’s interest, and especially that of the Iraqis, to lapse back into sectarian conflict and political tyranny. Let us hope — and dare I suggest, pray? — that they prove up to the challenge.