In March 2003, acting upon erroneous intelligence reports that stated that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. began an invasion of Iraq with the ultimate goal of regime change. As with any war, there have been both beneficial and negative results from this nearly nine-year conflict. A decade later, the debate over our reasons for going to war continues, and the war's lasting effects remain unclear.
A Brief History of the Iraq War
On Sept. 11, 2001, America was attacked on its own soil by terrorists affiliated with the group Al-Qaeda. Immediate suspicions were raised that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks or had in some way supported the terrorist regime responsible, though this turned out not to be the case; the terrorist plot originated Afghanistan, which the U.S. invaded in the fall of 2001. In October 2002, a National Intelligence Estimate stated that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction,” or WMD. On March 19, 2003, with the support of Congress and the majority of Americans, the U.S. military began bombing Baghdad in a campaign titled “Shock and Awe.” Shortly after the bombing, President Bush addressed the nation, stating that the reasons for the invasion were "to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger." In January 2004, after going to Iraq to search for WMD, Iraq Survey Group leader David Kay reported that there were no stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and there never had been. The U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq was not completed until Dec. 18, 2011.
Because this has been a long, costly, unpopular war and there has been no decidedly positive outcome, pros are difficult to ascertain, but perhaps America's single best action in the Iraq war was the removal of a ruthless dictator. Many people throughout the world (though not all) are in agreement that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. In losing Hussein, the Iraqis gained freedom of expression. Also, Iraq now has a connectedness to the world through the Internet, cell phones and satellite TV. Another plus is that, although it has not been without complications, democracy is slowly being established in Iraq. Iraq could eventually serve as an example of democratic transition for other nations in the Middle East. However, it’s too soon to measure the benefits of the Iraq war. It remains to be seen how history will judge America’s involvement in Iraq.
After it was revealed that there were no WMDs in Iraq, the majority of public opinion in the U.S. turned sharply against our involvement there. It was a long war with tremendous fiscal and human cost. More than a trillion dollars were expended. More than 4,400 American lives were lost, and tens of thousands more wounded. According to a 2012 article in the "Christian Science Monitor," more than 162,000 deaths have occurred as a result of this war. Of those deaths, 114,000 were innocent civilians, and over 9,000 were Iraqi police. The "Monitor" reports that according to the group Iraq Body Count, "14,705 (13%) of all documented civilian deaths were reported as being directly caused by the US-led coalition." Perhaps the biggest con of the war in Iraq is that we may have created more of what we set out to curtail. In 2006, an assessment was made by America’s 16 intelligence agencies. The partially declassified National Intelligence Estimate states that America’s actions in Iraq actually strengthened radical Islam and fueled the growth of terrorism across the globe. In addition, scandals surrounding Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo caused worldwide outrage.
Though the Iraq War is over, we cannot claim a definitive victory, nor do we know what the eventual outcome will be. We don’t know what Iraq will become under Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki. The country is in ruins after more than 20 years of bombing that started with the Gulf War. There is widespread corruption. Sectarian conflict between the Sunni and Shiites is escalating, with 2,000 people killed just in the months of May and June of 2013. Because of the extensive damage to infrastructure, jobs and production are scarce and 25 percent of Iraqi children are undernourished. Yet there is hope that democracy will continue to grow and eventually flourish in this war-ravaged country.
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- NY Times: Study of Iraq War and Terror Stirs Strong Political Response
- CBS News: 10 years later: The Iraq war's lasting impact on U.S. politics
- Christian Science Monitor: The Iraq War Death Toll
- Council on Foreign Relations: Was the Iraq War Worth It?
- Time: Shock and Awe
- PBS Frontline: The Iraq War Is Over
- Salon.com: Weapons of Mass Destruction
- Getty Images/Getty Images News/Getty Images