After nearly seven months the last of the United States combat troops are finally leaving Iraq. MSNBC obtained exclusive coverage of the last convoy of combat troops to leave the country. The departure came two weeks earlier than expected, possibly to avoid any attacks from insurgents who wanted to make a statement in what is a very symbolic moment.
The initial invasion of Iraq went very well with coalition troops reaching Baghdad in just three weeks after the mission began on March 20th, 2003. As everyone soon found out, the most difficult task was maintaining control over the very volatile country. President Bush would be haunted by a “Mission Accomplished” banner which hung over his head as he delivered a speech on May 1st, 2003. Instead, the United States struggled to eliminate a strong insurgency within the country and the mission was only truly “accomplished” just yesterday. At one point U.S. forces were largely constrained to staying within their bases as the insurgency gained a grip over much of the country. Many commentators had lost all hope of ending the war under any definition of success.
Instead a change of strategy along with “the surge” of U.S. troops helped to turn the tide in the war. Of crucial importance was the so-called “Sunni awakening,” which allowed the United States to team up with local Iraqis to fight against the insurgency. Eventually democratic elections would be held and a substantial domestic police force was built up within the country. United States forces have largely played a support role over the last year, letting Iraqi forces complete most operations. Still, as the photo above demonstrates, United States troops were still at risk from attacks.
50,000 U.S. troops and civilian personnel will remain in Iraq, but there they will simply be serving in an advisory role. The remaining soldiers will not be engaged in fighting unless they are fired upon themselves. The risk to these soldiers will be dramatically lower given their role.
The cost of the Iraq War was tremendous. 4,415 United States soldiers lost their lives in the conflict. Another 32,000 were wounded. Approximately 100,000 Iraqi civilians were killed and around 5,000 Iraqi combatants died. Over $700 billion was spent on the war, and that figure does not include the interest which will accumulate on the debt taken on for the conflict.
Whether those costs were worth it will ultimately be determined by history. If Iraq is able to establish a stable democracy in the area, and provide the United States with a steady source of oil these will certainly be seen as benefits. However, there will also always be critics who argue Iraq posed no threat since it had no weapons of mass destruction, and no connection to al-Queda existed before the war. While the war itself will remain a point of contention, the service of of the troops seems to be universally respected.