US troops go home - Sadly, ordeal is far from over for Iraq

NEARLY a decade after the US war on Iraq began with “shock and awe” and spectacular, televised missile attacks on Baghdad, US defence secretary and former CIA chief Leon Panetta yesterday presided at a ceremony marking the official end of America’s direct involvement in the hostilities.

Almost 4,500 American troops — and hundreds more British soldiers — died in the war, but that figure pales into insignificance when compared to the estimated 100,000 Iraqi lives lost since the campaign to remove Saddam Hussein began. Sadly, the Iraqi toll will continue to rise and the ongoing tragedy is unlikely to distinguish between innocent citizens or armed belligerents so Iraq’s ordeal is far from over.

Saddam has been removed and executed but millions of Iraqis still face an uncertain future. Murderous sectarianism is a daily feature of their lives and they must wonder what has been achieved by the intervention of the world’s superpower and its allies from over 20 countries.

Their terrible dilemma, like that of so many other societies unsupported by an effective and respected public administration but left to resolve its difficulties after a great imperial force withdraws, is exacerbated by the tensions created by the Arab Spring. The political crisis provoked by those unfinished and still uncertain revolutions is deepening as power struggles push ever closer to the edge of anarchy in Egypt and Syria.

However, President Obama will argue that the US emerges from the conflict unweakened and leaves behind an increasingly stable, democratic and prosperous Iraq. This interpretation is probably less accurate than President Obama might eventually concede when he comes to write an autobiography, but having made withdrawal an election promise he had little option, especially as his bid to win re-election begins in earnest. He and his allies might also wish that America’s inability to impose its will in Iraq or in Afghanistan too, where it faces little more than 30,000 untrained Taliban fighters, was not so evident.

Even if the West, and so many Libyans, rejoices that Muammar Gaddafi is gone and that Bashar al-Assad may soon follow him, massive military force and expenditure measured in trillions has produced meagre political dividends. America’s — the West’s really — influential position in Turkey and Egypt is slipping as military rulers are forced to cede to demands for democracy.

It is not always easy to recognise the relevance of these events to a small, uninvolved and bankrupt island off Europe’s western seaboard but as we all try to find a path away from the worst financial crisis in nearly a century no one can afford a conflict that might close the Strait of Hormuz and send oil prices soaring.

That is our selfish but unavoidable interest but it is hard not to think that the people of Iraq have endured more than enough. America may not have been able to secure an unquestioned victory but the people of Iraq still can by working together to build a prosperous, fair and peaceful future. It would be the ultimate victory. US troops go home - Sadly, ordeal is far from over for Iraq

NEARLY a decade after the US war on Iraq began with “shock and awe” and spectacular, televised missile attacks on Baghdad, US defence secretary and former CIA chief Leon Panetta yesterday presided at a ceremony marking the official end of America’s direct involvement in the hostilities.

Almost 4,500 American troops — and hundreds more British soldiers — died in the war, but that figure pales into insignificance when compared to the estimated 100,000 Iraqi lives lost since the campaign to remove Saddam Hussein began. Sadly, the Iraqi toll will continue to rise and the ongoing tragedy is unlikely to distinguish between innocent citizens or armed belligerents so Iraq’s ordeal is far from over.

Saddam has been removed and executed but millions of Iraqis still face an uncertain future. Murderous sectarianism is a daily feature of their lives and they must wonder what has been achieved by the intervention of the world’s superpower and its allies from over 20 countries.

Their terrible dilemma, like that of so many other societies unsupported by an effective and respected public administration but left to resolve its difficulties after a great imperial force withdraws, is exacerbated by the tensions created by the Arab Spring. The political crisis provoked by those unfinished and still uncertain revolutions is deepening as power struggles push ever closer to the edge of anarchy in Egypt and Syria.

However, President Obama will argue that the US emerges from the conflict unweakened and leaves behind an increasingly stable, democratic and prosperous Iraq. This interpretation is probably less accurate than President Obama might eventually concede when he comes to write an autobiography, but having made withdrawal an election promise he had little option, especially as his bid to win re-election begins in earnest. He and his allies might also wish that America’s inability to impose its will in Iraq or in Afghanistan too, where it faces little more than 30,000 untrained Taliban fighters, was not so evident.

Even if the West, and so many Libyans, rejoices that Muammar Gaddafi is gone and that Bashar al-Assad may soon follow him, massive military force and expenditure measured in trillions has produced meagre political dividends. America’s — the West’s really — influential position in Turkey and Egypt is slipping as military rulers are forced to cede to demands for democracy.

It is not always easy to recognise the relevance of these events to a small, uninvolved and bankrupt island off Europe’s western seaboard but as we all try to find a path away from the worst financial crisis in nearly a century no one can afford a conflict that might close the Strait of Hormuz and send oil prices soaring.

That is our selfish but unavoidable interest but it is hard not to think that the people of Iraq have endured more than enough. America may not have been able to secure an unquestioned victory but the people of Iraq still can by working together to build a prosperous, fair and peaceful future. It would be the ultimate victory.

More in this section