As David Letterman pointed out, we might tell the last American troops leaving Iraq this month to turn out the lights, but that isn’t necessary since there’s no electricity.
Today, President Obama meets Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to ceremonially mark the end of the war. After eight and half years, the United States is leaving behind a nation and a society that has been utterly devastated by the misguided and illegal war. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead, and an entire generation of children is scarred and traumatized. Iraq’s infrastructure and its industry were destroyed. And in place of Saddam Hussein is Maliki, a religious Shiite fundamentalist with close ties to Iran who is fast building an authoritarian regime.
But that’s not good enough for neoconservatives and many Republicans, who want to expand and continue the war and the American presence.
As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, Iraqis don’t exactly have fond feelings for the United States. The legacy of sectarian and ethnic massacres and mass killings by US forces lingers. The Post’s article, “Civilian killings created insurmountable hurdle to extended U.S. troop presence in Iraq,” highlighted the horrific massacre at Haditha, where US Marines shot and killed nineteen civilians, including ten women and children, in a frenzy of savagery. Reports the Post:
On those facts, U.S. and Iraqi accounts agree. On just about everything else—why it happened, whether it was justified and how it was resolved—they do not.
And in those dueling perceptions, over the killings in Haditha and others nationwide, lay the undoing of the U.S. military’s hopes of maintaining a long-term presence here. When it came to deciding the future of American troops in Iraq, the irreconcilable difference that stood in the way of an agreement was a demand by Iraqi politicians for an end to the grant of immunity that has protected on-duty U.S. soldiers from Iraqi courts.
In the Christian Science Monitor, describing the experiences of the Khafaji family, Scott Peterson reminds us of the almost unimaginable losses suffered by Iraqis, many of whom blame the United States for their trauma even if some of the deaths were caused by Iraqis, including the resistance:
Iraq’s fragile social fabric has been shredded by the kinds of bombings, killings, torture, and upheavals that afflicted so many like the Khafaji family—whether at the hands of Sunni extremists like Al Qaeda, Shiite militias, or US and Iraqi forces. While the US lost more than 4,500 soldiers—and spent nearly $1 trillion—the human toll on the Iraqi side is virtually unquantifiable and unimaginable, with estimates of the number of people who perished in the years of insurgency and sectarian civil war reaching into the hundreds of thousands.