On the evening of Aug. 31, President Barack Obama addressed Americans to discuss the end of the combat mission in Iraq, the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The war lasted seven years and claimed, to date, 4,400 American lives, with 32,000 wounded, according to the Washington Post. During those seven years, 1.5 million troops served in Iraq and the war cost $740 billion. Going forward, the mission of the remaining 50,000 troops will be known as Operation New Dawn. The video for President Barack Obama’s speech can be seen here.
For the American men and women still in Iraq, it will doubtless not feel like the end of operations, nor of combat. All remaining U.S. forces are going to exit Iraq by the end of 2011, but before the end comes, they will continue to come under fire from insurgents.
Though bases have been handed over, units and soldiers have withdrawn, and millions of pieces of equipment have left the country, those who stay behind will be charged with training and helping to rebuild a country in an “advisory” capacity. They will be working in a country that has no functioning government due to a political crisis that has dragged on six months.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the New York Times that, in his view, the crisis can be seen in a somewhat positive light, and his overall tone while visiting Ramadi, Iraq, was hopeful:
“These guys are politicking – they’re not shooting at each other, and the efforts of Al Qaeda to reignite the sectarian violence we saw in 2006 and 2007 have not been successful. So I guess I would have to say I’m optimistic that these guys will get a coalition government and that they will continue to make progress.”
Gates oversaw both a general increase in troops under President George W. Bush and now a significant decrease under President Obama.
It needs to be pointed out that those still serving in Iraq will continue to receive hazard pay, and for good cause. Iraq remains dangerous, as the Washington Post reports that bloodshed is on the increase. Last week, 60 people were killed in coordinated attacks throughout the country, and it is possible, with major power sharing disputes left unsettled, for violence to reach great heights once more. In particular, if Shiites, Kurds, Sunnis, and secular groups can’t come to an agreement to forge a government, severe internal strife could reappear.
For America, it may seem like the war is coming to a close. But for those still serving and for the Iraqi people themselves, stability may yet be a long ways away. Americans at home cannot and should not look away from developments in Iraq just yet.
Jesse Lee, “President Obama’s Address on the End of the Combat Mission in Iraq” The White House Blog
Anne Kornblut, “Obama’s speech on August 31 declares combat in Iraq over” The Washington Post
Elisabeth Bumiller, “Gates, in Iraq, Takes the Long View” New York Times
Leila Fadel “As Obama declares end of combat in Iraq, its citizens move forward with uncertainty” Washington Post