Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
Some $800 billion, 4,500 American and an untold number of Iraqi dead later, the 9-year Iraq War effectively ended Sunday, with the final U.S. combat troop convoy moving into Kuwait under the cover of darkness for fear of insurgent attacks.
The last 500 soldiers to leave Camp Adder and the country didn’t tell their Iraqi counterparts as they headed out in the wee hours of the morning, according to the Associated Press, because the information might turn into an attack on the journey out of the country. As the long convoy of trucks made the 5-hour trip, a formidable group of helicopters and planes flew overhead, on alert and ready to respond to any unforeseen hostility.
Once the convoy passed into neighboring Kuwait, many of the soldiers celebrated, congratulating each other with chest bumps and hugs.
“I just can’t wait to call my wife and kids and let them know I am safe,” Sgt. First Class Rodolfo Ruiz told The New York Times. “I am really feeling it now.”
The war was started in 2003 by President George W. Bush with the help of evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction--evidence that turned out to be exaggerated and largely false. The same year the war started, President Bush made a now-infamous speech declaring "mission accomplished."
Nine years later, President Obama stopped short of claiming victory. In an interview on ABC with Barbara Walters, he said:
"I would describe our troops as having succeeded in the mission of giving the Iraqis their country in a way that gives them a chance for a succesful future," he said, according to AP.
Some 4,000 troops will remain in Kuwait for several months, available to Iraqi military as a quick reaction force. And the U.S. embassy in Iraq — the largest in the world — will boast 16,000 people, including a security force of about 200 to protect the embassy itself, according to The New York Times.
What will also remain in the country after American troops have left: a mottled history of occupation with an uncertain impact. From the Times:
“It will be forever tainted by the early missteps and miscalculations, the faulty intelligence over Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs and his supposed links to terrorists, and a litany of American abuses, from the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal to a public shootout involving Blackwater mercenaries that left civilians dead — a sum of agonizing factors that diminished America’s standing in the Muslim world and its power to shape events around the globe.”
The country’s sectarian violence, though reduced from its worst levels in 2007, still threatens to tear Iraq’s fragile government apart. And while a large civilian U.S. presence remains in the country, many are unsure of what the absence of American forces will bring.
“My heart goes out to the Iraqis,” Warrant Officer John Jewell told AP in an armored vehicle leaving the Iraqi desert. “The innocent always pay the bill.”