The last official combat units of American troops had already left Iraq earlier this month, but the formal end of Operation Iraqi Freedom (the Liberation of Iraq) is taking place now. Fifty-thousand United States soldiers will remain in Iraq to continue training the Iraqi security forces and for contingencies as Iraq becomes ever more capable of defending itself from the militant Islamist insurgency and Iranian machinations.
The fact that the current debate is whether or not President Barak Obama will give credit for the success in Iraq to his predecessor, George W. Bush, demonstrates the progress U.S. troops have made in Iraq. Obama had opposed the troop surge, which was the centerpiece of the Bush Administration’s counterinsurgency strategy, and predicted its failure. But Obama continued Bush’s policy in Iraq and copied it in Afghanistan, even putting General David Petraeus, the hero of the Iraqi troop surge, in charge of the Afghan War. Obama telephoned Bush and his administration is claiming credit for the victory in Iraq, but regardless of whether Obama gives credit to his predecessor, his actions vindicate Bush. Obama had opposed the Liberation of Iraq in the first place. He still refuses to use the word “victory” and has set artificial deadlines in both Iraq and Afghanistan for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Nevertheless, his continuance thus far, for the most part, of Bush’s policies have led to the dramatic success that is underscored by the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Before the war began in 2003, public opinion polls indicated that Americans would support the Liberation of Iraq, as long as there were no more than an equal number of American troops killed as Americans who were killed in the September 11 Attacks (nearly 3,000). After seven years, despite the additional task of defeating al-Qaeda and other foreign jihadis who joined the Iraqi insurgency, American combat deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom totaled over 3,400, with all U.S. deaths totaling over 4,000, yet public opinion had turned against the war long, long beforehand. Many people by then had forgotten the Iraqi sponsorship of terrorism and Iraq’s daily attacks on U.S.-led Coalition aircraft, its refusal to prove it had eliminated its weapons of mass destruction, as required by UN resolutions and the fear the serial agressor caused its neighbors. To some degree, the U.S. was a victim of its own success, as it had swiftly removed the Baathist regime led by Saddam Hussein with an unexpectedly low number of casualties, which raised the expectations of Americans for a quick, relatively painless victory, as the Afghan War had appeared to be at the time. But the U.S. troops then had to slog through the long Iraqi insurgency sparked by the Baathists that was joined by the other militant Muslims. At times, politicians like Obama declared the war unwinnable or not even worth trying, as if they would have preferred to have let Hussein remain in power; some, like Vice President Joe Biden, insisted that a united Iraq could never govern itself in freedom. The American soldiers who participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Iraqi people themselves proved them wrong.
The achievements of the U.S. soldiers who participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom must be acknowledged: they removed a regime from power that had harbored and financed terrorists who targeted and killed Americans, defeated al-Qaeda and other jihadi terrorists in Iraq, ended the oppression of a brutal tyrant and allowed the Iraqi people to freely choose their own representative government – one that is now an ally in the War on Terrorism, brought Iraqi war criminals to justice, enforced United Nations resolutions, captured and destroyed the hundreds of known Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and removed a security threat to the region with a history of aggression which allowed the U.S. to withdraw its soldiers from Saudi Arabia, where al-Qaeda and other jihadis had been attacking them. As a bonus, Libya renounced terrorism and destroyed its WMD and ended its production program.
Congratulations to the soldiers of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Let us remember those who sacrificed their lives for this just cause and thank all the soldiers who served in it.