KHABARI CROSSING, Kuwait – The last U.S. soldiers rolled out of Iraq across the border into neighboring Kuwait at daybreak today, whooping, fist bumping and hugging each other in a burst of joy and relief. Their convoy’s exit marked the end of a bitterly divisive war that raged for nearly nine years and left Iraq shattered, with troubling questions lingering over whether the Arab nation will remain a steadfast U.S. ally.
The mission cost nearly 4,500 American and well more than 100,000 Iraqi lives and $800 billion from the U.S. Treasury. The question of whether it was worth it all is yet unanswered.
The last convoy of MRAPs, heavily armored personnel carriers, made a largely uneventful journey out except for a few equipment malfunctions along the way. It was dark and little was visible through the MRAP windows as they cruised through the southern Iraqi desert.
When the convoy crossed into Kuwait around 7:45 a.m. local time, the atmosphere was subdued inside one of the vehicles, with no shouting or yelling. Along the road, a small group of Iraqi soldiers waved to the departing American troops.
“My heart goes out to the Iraqis,” said Warrant Officer John Jewell, acknowledging the challenges ahead. “The innocent always pay the bill.”
Soldiers standing just inside the crossing on the Kuwaiti side of the border waved and snapped photos as the final trucks crossed over. Soldiers slid shut the gate behind the final truck.
“I’m pretty excited,” said Sgt. Ashley Vorhees. “I’m out of Iraq. It’s all smooth sailing from here.”
The war that began in a blaze of aerial bombardment meant to shock and awe the dictator Saddam Hussein and his loyalists ended quietly and with minimal fanfare.
U.S. officials acknowledged the cost in blood and dollars was high, but tried to paint a picture of victory – for both the troops and the Iraqi people now freed of a dictator and on a path to democracy. But gnawing questions remain: Will Iraqis be able to forge their new government amid the still stubborn sectarian clashes? And will Iraq be able to defend itself and remain independent in a region fraught with turmoil?
Some Iraqis celebrated the exit of what they called American occupiers, neither invited nor welcome in a proud country.
Others said that while grateful for U.S. help ousting Saddam, the war went on too long. A majority of Americans would agree, according to opinion polls.