Today, many Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal of most American forces from their major cities. This is a tremendous milestone on the road to Iraq’s complete sovereignty and Iraq’s citizens have every right to be thankful and happy that this day has finally come. Another strong step towards an Iraq governed by its people has been made, and there are more to come as Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi people step forward to choose their own destiny.
The political justification offered to the American people for invading Iraq was, as we now know, based on poor or “cherry picked” intelligence and overly rosy views of the occupation to come.
Personally, I believe that the removal of Saddam Hussein, his corrupt and evil sons, and the Bath Party from power in Iraq provided an opportunity for a democratic process to take root; rather than continue to permit the perpetuation of a depraved dictator’s rule and the brutalization and exploitation of 31.2 million people and their national resources. Women in Baghdad need no more fear Saddam’s son’s choosing one or more of them off the street for rape and perhaps death. Saddam, his family and his political party will no longer plunder his nation’s resources for personal profit and aggrandizement.
The conquering of Iraq (the actual War) was won quickly and decisively. The occupation of Iraq was mismanaged in same haphazard manner our own government usually operates here at home. Decisions were made by senior leaders with apparently incomplete facts; or worse yet, with an American-ized view of the situation, not understanding the culture of the nation we just invaded. One such example was the complete disbanding of the Iraqi Army. Instead of removing only the senior army leadership loyal to Saddam, or excising specific divisions like the Republican Guard who were intensely loyal to him, leaving us a corps of Iraqis willing to protect their country in cooperation with their liberators; we created an instant pool of unemployed young men, disgraced by summary discharge, unable to feed their families. They became a perfect group of willing recruits for the insurgent leaders willing to pay them, or who told the more anti-western leaning among them that the western “crusaders” had returned and they must defend the Arab world against them.
We all know our poor effort at nation building suffered greatly in the initial years, as the insurgency gathered momentum and spiraled nearly out of control; then improved as coalition forces learned to respect Iraqi and Islamic cultural norms and adapt their occupation and counter-insurgency efforts to the objective realities on the ground. I laud our troops and their commanders for their courage, fortitude, and cunning in adapting and overcoming on the battlefield and the city with their Iraqi partners.
As is the case in every war, there have been casualties on all sides. Innocent Iraqis caught in the wrong place, at the wrong time, when a coalition missile or bomb obliterated a target; Iraqi military members who died in service to their nation, coalition troops who answered their nation’s call, and people in all three categories who were killed during the insurgency. While a full accounting of the death and suffering may never be accurately determined, that suffering and those deaths will not be forgotten.
No democracy is every born bloodlessly. Our own freedom cost the lives of 25,000 Americans during the Revolutionary War. The Civil War ravaged our land and cost another 646,000 American lives, World War I and II cost more than 1.3 million American lives.
While we now know that the threat to the U.S. from Iraq was effectively non-existent, 4,300 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have given their lives in what I hope has been the birth of Iraqi freedom after a long dictatorship. The Iraqis, by one estimate, have also lost more the 110,000 people to the war.
The next major step comes in January of 2010, the next major Iraqi election. The Iraqis must provide fully for their own internal security between now and then as the U.S. readies a major draw down in troops in 2010. If the Iraqis do not seize this opportunity, step forward boldly, and continue the progress made since the U.S. troop surge through to the end of 2010 to secure their new liberty; then they will have rendered the deaths of those 114,300 people and the suffering of tens of thousands of American and Iraqi wounded meaningless.