20 March 2009

Six years on since the invasion of Iraq

With little fanfare today marks the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
Since the conflict began 4,259 American soldiers have been killed with at least 36,106 others wounded. 179 British troops have died in the country. More than 91,121 Iraqis have been killed since the war started according to the Iraq Body Count database, which tracks casualties of Iraqi civilians.

Currently there are around 138,000 American soldiers stationed in Iraq, down from the number in October 2007 when US troops in Iraq reached a high of 166,000.
On March 20th 2003 a total of 31 countries participated in the ‘coalition of the willing.’ Today only four - the United States, Britain, Australia and Romania – remain.

According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, the U.S. Congress has so far approved more than $657 billion for the Iraq war. It has been projected that additional war costs for the next 10 years could range from $440 billion to £865 billion. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz has estimated that the total bill of the war will reach $3 trillion.

All the while Afghanistan has spiraled deeper into insurgency just as Pakistan stumbles toward chaos. Iran’s power in the region has grown exponentially as they have emerged as the Muslim Middle East’s unrivaled power. Its nuclear ambitions appear undiminished, as does its patronage of Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

But it would be wrong to assume that the war had been an unmitigated disaster. Violence, though still common, is now at a record low, reports the AP. An Associated Press count recorded at least 288 Iraqi civilians and security forces killed in February 2009, a 63 percent reduction compared to 769 killed in the same month a year ago.

Iraq has received its first group of Western tourists since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry said on Thursday. The group of eight holidaymakers - five Britons, two Americans and a Canadian - arrived on March 8 and toured Iraq's landmark historic sites.

Fifteen million Iraqis voted in (largely) free and fair elections, emerging from their polling stations with their purple-stained fingers in an atmosphere that was (largely) free of intimidation or violence. What’s more, when the results were announced, it became clear that parties promising security and national unity, led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, had fared far better than exclusively sectarian (NY Times, 2009).

We all too often lose sight of the fact that a despotic ruler was deposed from Iraq and brought to justice. Of course there have been unforgiveable failures; but the future of Iraq today looks brighter than it would have if this year were to instead mark the 30th year of Saddam Hussein’s reign as President of Iraq.

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