Outside Voices: Iraq enters a new phase
Los Angeles Times, July 1: As the United States prepared to invade Iraq in 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell famously warned that “if you break it, you own it.” In many ways, the U.S. did break Iraq, ousting Saddam Hussein’s quarter-century regime without ensuring that a stable government would take its place. That ushered in a bloody, six-year occupation that cost the lives of more than 4,300 U.S. troops and nearly $700 billion. Americans will always bear responsibility for this misbegotten war of choice, but now, at last, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities marks the beginning of the country’s return to its rightful owners: Iraqis.
Although U.S. combat troops have been moving to bases for months, Iraqis sang and set off fireworks to celebrate an end to foreign tanks in their streets and uninvited soldiers in their homes. Some Americans will remain as trainers and advisers, but President Obama has committed to withdrawing all combat troops by 2011. We opposed the invasion of Iraq, then supported a surge of U.S. troops to stabilize the country and allow our forces to leave. Now it is time to close this shameful chapter.
Washington Post, July 1: Iraq boisterously celebrated a new national holiday – National Sovereignty Day – to mark the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from their cities this week. Two and a half years ago, when fresh American forces deployed across Baghdad, Iraq appeared to be spiraling toward sectarian war and possibly splitting into pieces. Today it is as peaceful and prosperous as it has been in decades, and far freer.
This extraordinary change represents a major achievement for the United States and its military forces, as well as for Iraq; that there have been no celebrations here is a reflection of the current administration’s continuing ambivalence toward a “surge” campaign and a war that President Obama opposed. We’ll readily forgive this absence of hosannas: “Mission accomplished” has been declared too many times, prematurely, in Iraq. What’s more troubling are the indications that the administration is not devoting sufficient attention to the daunting political, military and diplomatic challenges that remain – and to the danger that everything that has been accomplished in the past several years could come undone.