Almost nine years after it began, in March 2003, the Iraq war’s official end is slated for Dec. 31 — less than three weeks from today — when the final American troops are expected to have departed from Iraq.
They will leave a country that is undoubtedly freer than it was under dictator Saddam Hussein. Saddam’s use of chemical weapons to kill his own people and fears that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction with which to menace other nations led to the war. U.S. leaders of both political parties believed that Saddam had WMD, though such weapons were not found after the invasion.
Saddam was eventually captured and justly executed for his murderous acts, and today Iraq has far freer elections than it had under his rule.
Still, there are huge uncertainties about what lies ahead for Iraq. The biggest question is how much its terrorism-sponsoring neighbor Iran will try to influence Iraqi affairs. There are already ugly signs of that influence.
It is also an open question whether Iraqi military and police forces are adequately prepared to confront what likely will be continued attacks on civilians by al-Qaida and other terrorists.
We naturally rejoice at the prospect of U.S. troops coming home after their valiant service in Iraq. All told, roughly 1 million American troops have served in Iraq at one point or another during the war.
But we will have to wait to see whether genuine freedom and representative government have sufficiently taken root in Iraq — and whether Iraq can fend off the threat posed by meddlesome Iran.