President Obama's confirmation Friday that U.S. troops will withdraw entirely from Iraq by the end of the year is welcome, if only mildly surprising.
Former President Bush's departing "status of forces" agreement with Iraq's government in 2008 had set the Dec. 31 deadline for bringing U.S. troops home. It left room for a supplementary arrangement to keep a small force of Army trainers in Iraq subject to a mutual agreement. When Iraq refused to allow continued immunity from Iraqi law for a proposed smallish unit of 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. Army trainers, President Obama cut the cord. Though he left the door for further talks with Iraq's government, he announced his decision Friday.
"As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year," he said. "After nearly nine years, America's war will be over."
To which we can only say, hallelujah. It's past time for their homecoming. This war should never have been waged.
Since the Pentagon's "shock and awe" campaign in March, 2003, to launch the invasion of Iraq, the United States has squandered a trillion dollars on the war, lost the lives of 4,400 brave U.S. troops and borne the often-grievous wounds to nearly 32,000 more.
Iraq has suffered much worse. Though harder to track, its casualties -- the dead and the wounded in war and in related sectarian violence in what resembled a civil war in 2006-07 -- is estimated at more than 1 million. That toll remains aggravated by the displacement of some 4 million Iraqis from their homes and towns due to the vicious sectarian strife between Shia, Sunnis and Kurds. Iraq's infrastructure, housing stock and built-environment, moreover, remains devastated.
Iraqis still wrestle with high levels of sectarian violence and crime, extraordinarily high unemployment, government corruption, and routine loss -- or outright lack -- of sewers, drinking water, electricity and cooking oil.
This immense and tragic destruction came as the result of an American war for which, it turned out, there was no credible justification. As critics uniformly claimed before the war, there were no weapons of mass destruction, no linkages to al-Qaida, no plots against America, no involvement in 9/11.
Beyond that, America now has precious little influence in Baghdad. The thin veneer of democracy is vanishing. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is influenced more by its radical Sadrist Muslims and by Iran and Teheran's mullahs, than by American envoys and Washington. And its multi-party government remains at loggerheads in distrust.
Perhaps the supreme irony of the moment is that just as Washington has confirmed the planned departure of all U.S. troops in 70 days, the news seems unimportant. The Arab world is focused instead on the demise of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi -- a Saddam-like brutal tyrant -- at the hands of his own people.
The juxtaposition of the two events begs the question: Might Saddam Hussein have been toppled by an Arab Spring uprising had George W. Bush quietly aided Iraq's beleaguered Shiite majority, its reform-minded secular Sunnis and the Iraqi exile community, rather than soliciting the now-documented fabrications of "Curveball" about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction and the non-existent link to al Qaida to justify making war on Iraq.
In retrospect, it was clear all along that the Washington's neo-con clique that found its Iraq warrior in Dick Cheney fostered the fabrications and skewed intelligence to shift America's attention from Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden, to Iraq. The neo-cons' weird hope was to erect an oil-ally in Iraq to replace Saudi Arabia, which was ousting its U.S. garrison to appease its Saudi extremists -- who, in fact, actually comprised 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks.
American forces can't leave Iraq fast enough. Iraq's main problem now -- the division between Sunnis and Shiites that was aggravated by the Bush administration's decision to strip all Sunnis of rank in the post-invasion era -- can only be addressed by Iraqis themselves. When American troops are gone, that will be Baghdad's challenge.