Area residents still pay close attention to some military related activities in Iraq. Nearly 1,000 family members, for example, attended the send-off in Cleveland last Wednesday of the Tennessee Army National Guard's 52nd Military Company for a year-long deployment to help train Iraqi police units. But given the agreement with Iraq by the Bush and Obama administrations to withdraw U.S. combat troops over the next 14 months and to withdraw U.S. forces completely by the end of 2011, Americans are now largely in sync with the mindset expressed by American officer in Iraq the other day: "We are so out of here."
That's a fairly universal sentiment. As of yesterday, in fact, the "coalition of the willing" had decamped entirely, effectively dissolving what former President Bush had officially called the "Multi-National Force-Iraq." British forces and the handful of remaining Australian troops left Friday, and the tiny Romanian contingent departed Thursday.
Their withdrawals marked the end of the mostly symbolic coalition of what once counted deployments from 38 other nations. Aside from Britain, just a handful of countries had as many as several thousand troops in Iraq. Most coalition deployments were in the low hundreds (Iceland sent just two soldiers) and were mainly for short and furtive assignments.
Countries like Mongolia, Nicaragua, Latvia and the South Pacific island state of Tonga, typically devoid of what power-house nations would actually call an army, generally sent tiny contingents of several hundred. Their purpose wasn't to fight; they mostly had non-combat duties. Most were there just to get their names on the president's Iraq roll and shine their credentials, to appease Washington or to seek its good favor.
Aside from the British force that operated mostly in southern Iraq, the war has been an American campaign. Australian and Polish forces had just several thousand soldiers in Iraq at their peak, while the United States had around 180,000 during the surge -- and still has 130,000 troops there.
The casualty figures reflect most accurately which countries did the fighting. Icasualties.org, the authoritative Web site that keeps track of officially documented casualties among the Iraq coalition forces, showed 4,328 American troops' deaths as of Thursday. There were 179 British deaths and 139 for all of the other 37 nations that comprised the coalition forces.
The post-war analyses surely will conclude that the war in Iraq, a war never sanctioned by the United Nations, was chiefly an American war, and that is likely how the Iraqis will come to view it. They may, in time, call it what the Vietnamese call our Vietnam War: The American War.
Historians are also likely to place far more emphasis on another revealing aspect of the tragically costly war -- the recently revealed explanation offered by Saddam Hussein as to why he refused to confirm, in the last days before the U.S. invasion when he still had a chance, that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and why he allowed that claim to stand when three U.N. weapons inspectors had debunked it.
The reason, he told FBI agents who interrogated him in 2004 after his capture, was that he feared retaliation from Iran -- Iraq's nemesis after the eight-year war he waged against Iran from 1980 to 1988 -- more than he feared the United States, which he believed would not actually wage war against him.
His ploy, from his point of view, made some sense in the tough neighborhood of the Middle East. Following the Gulf War in the early 1990s to turn back Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, Iraq had been crippled by years of sanctions. Had Iran realized precisely how vulnerable Iraq was, and that it just had conventional forces, Saddam's fear of Iran might have been justified.
Saddam, aided by Washington in the 1980s in his war against Iran, had used chemical weapons against both Iran and Iraq's own Kurds. He knew Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons. His fear that Iran would take advantage of Iraq, if he openly cooperated with United Nations weapons inspectors and Iraq appeared free of weapons of mass destruction, would have seemed reasonable to him.
Ironically, the notes of his interviews with the FBI, taken by agent George Piro between February and June of 2004, were just released earlier this month as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute which has posted the notes on its Web site. Saddam, the FBI notes showed, also viewed Osama bin Laden as a "zealot." He said he never met him, and that he refused to cooperate with al Qaida and the terrorist group's fight against the United States.
Saddam's statements, made two years before his hanging in 2006, validate the findings by U.N. weapons inspectors, including the inspector hand-picked by the Bush administration, that Iraq, indeed, had no weapons of mass destruction -- contrary to the core rationale for the war that the Bush administration pushed throughout its tenure.
Had the FBI's findings been released in 2004, barely a year into the war, the bloody and costly occupation also might well have been shortened, countless lives might have been saved, the artificial "coalition of the willing" might well have dissolved sooner, and Tennessee's Guardsmen wouldn't be going off on another hazardous mission to Iraq. Such hard lessons of history and cold-blooded political maneuvering should not be obscured.