In 2003, George W. Bush famously declared victory in Iraq, just as the war was about to turn into a deadly and chaotic quagmire. Eighteen years later, an estimated half a million Iraqis and 6,840 U.S troops have perished in the conflict.
Today, the U.S. has 2,500 troops in Iraq, down from a peak of 168,000 in 2007. In July, the government claimed that American troops will no longer engage in combat; instead, they'll only train and assist Iraqi security forces in their fight against ISIS.
This is just diplomatic theater. Iraq's Parliament, which has voted for the U.S. to leave the country, points out that renaming combat troops "trainers and advisers" is deceptive. It also won't prevent the conflict from once again escalating into a cycle of violence and retaliation. The U.S. military is still engaging in airstrikes, and in April, after militias attacked five U.S. facilities, the Biden administration made good on its promise to hit back.
The U.S. should withdraw all troops from Iraq and finally end this disastrous war. Our presence in the country has done the opposite of its stated goal of providing safety and security in the region.
I was born in Iraq and lived through Saddam's regime, Operation Desert Storm, U.S. sanctions, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the Iraqi Civil War. I witnessed firsthand how U.S. actions that favored one group inevitably angered another, which is why the war has been an endless game of whack-a-mole.
In 2003, L. Paul Bremer, who was head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, disbanded the Iraqi army, which was the most disastrous decision in the course of the conflict. The 25-person Interim Governing Council Bremer created was designed to represent the diversity of Iraq's population, but all it did was augment the complexity of Iraq's ethnic and religious groups; the result was inflamed sectarian tensions, which led to a deadly civil war.
The region surrounding Iraq is even more complex. Numerous nations have competed for decades throughout the greater Middle East, from Iran to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and more. When the U.S. removed Saddam, it allowed these foreign interests to work through proxies within Iraq, much as they have in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Libya.
For the U.S. to bring stability to Iraq, it would need to establish peace in the entire region as well. First, all the Sunni majority nations would need to reconcile with themselves, then the Sunni nations with Iran and Iran's proxies. But as long as the U.S. remains in Iraq, it's destined to favor one side over another, and will only exacerbate the regional conflicts.
The decision by the U.S. to back the Kurds and the Iraqi mobilization forces in their battle against ISIS may appear successful, but changing the region's balance of power has caused new threats to emerge. This situation is analogous to the U.S. experience in Afghanistan: We supported the Mujahideen against the Soviets, only to see those same Mujahideen and their Pakistani backers take full control of the country and become new adversaries in the form of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Similarly, in Iraq, after the fall of ISIS, the Iranian-backed militias that had worked with the U.S., gained new influence within Iraq. And the U.S. presence in the region encouraged other nations to launch their own military operations. Turkey started bombing Syrian Kurds, Saudi Arabia and the UAE joined forces and attacked Yemen, and the Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah was caught using American-made equipment that the U.S. had given to the Iraqi military.
The result was to strengthen Iran, just as Operation Iraqi Freedom had done back in 2003.
So the U.S. switched its focus to containing Iranian influence, even assassinating Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, whose militia was largely responsible for the defeat of ISIS.
This nonsense won't end until there's a complete U.S. withdrawal from the country.
The U.S. says it's sticking around to support the Iraqi military and government, even though each has publicly stated that they want the Americans to leave.
There's nothing stopping Bush's disastrous war from going on for another 18 years in an endless loop of military actions, followed by unintended consequences, followed by a military response to deal with those unintended consequences, followed by more unintended consequences. After 18 years, it's time to give up on the hope that U.S. troops can bring peace and stability to Iraq. It's time to bring them all home.
Photos: Fabiano Sipa/Newscom, Helene C. Stikkel DOD/Newscom, Ako Rasheed/Reuters/Newscom, Damir Sagolj Reuters/Newscom, Hussain Ali ZUMA/Newscom, Chine Nouvelle Sipa/Newscom, Moore Mike Mirrorpix/Newscom, The U.S. National Archives.
Music: Yule by Ilan Pustopetski, Artlist
Produced and narrated by Noor Greene, audio by Ian Keyser, additional by graphics Isaac Reese.