Eight years after the President George W. Bush stood on an aircraft carrier deck, amid much hoopla and fanfare, under a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished” in the Iraq war, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke to a much more subdued ceremony at the U.S. military mission in Baghdad and declared the American role finally at an end.
The nine-year war cost more than 4,500 Americans and at least 100,000 Iraqis their lives and the U.S. flag is lowered over a country turn by internal strife, divided by religious differences and rocked by bombings and attacks.
The quiet end to a war launched on a lie about weapons of mass destruction marks a divisive period in American history and leaves behind an undetermined legacy of government-sanctioned misinformation, bureaucratic bungling and squandered opportunities.
While the Iraq that America leaves behind is far different than the country Bush ordered invaded in 2003, debate continues over whether or not the nation is better off after nine years of war and billions of dollars spent by the American government in a conflict with no clear mission and an even less-clear conclusion.
“After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real,” Panetta said.”Iraq will be tested in the days ahead, by terrorism, by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues. Challenges remain, but the United States will be there to stand by the Iraqi people.”
More than a million military men and women served in Iraq during the long, bloody conflict. The last 4,000 are scheduled to be out of Iraq and in Kuwait by the end of next week.