The last convoy of 500 American troops have left Iraq, crossing over the Kuwaiti border early this morning.
As the last convoy left Iraq at daybreak Sunday, soldiers whooped, bumped fists and embraced each other in a burst of joy and relief, The Associated Press reported.
NBC News' Richard Engel tweeted from the border: "The gate to #iraq is closed. Soldier just told me, 'that's it, the war is over.'"
The final column of around 100 mostly U.S. military MRAP armored vehicles carrying 500 U.S. troops trundled through the night along an empty highway, across the southern Iraq desert to the Kuwaiti border.
"I just can't wait to call my wife and kids and let them know I am safe," Rodolfo Ruiz said as the border came into sight. Soon afterward, he told his men the mission was over: "Hey guys, you made it."
The war lasted 8 years, 9 months. It cost the lives of 4,484 Americans soldiers, over 200 American civilians (diplomats, contractors, aid workers, journalists) and 318 allied soldiers. Over 100,000 Iraqis died in the violence...no accurate figures yet exist for this horrific toll. Estimates for the cost to US taxpayers start at 800 Billion dollars.
Saddam Hussein, an incomparably brutal dictator, is dead. So are his sadistic rapist sons and most of his major confidantes. Also dead is Abu Musab al Zarqawi...who prior to the war was a middling jihadi thug, but quickly rose to become the decade's most murderous terrorist in the anarchy that ensued after our invasion. Most of the senior leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq and its allied organization Ansar al Islam have been captured or killed in the last three years.
No "reconstituted nuclear weapons program", Nigerien yellowcake Uranium, mobile biolabs, combat drones with aerosol sprayers, or stockpiles of Sarin, VX nerve gases, weaponized Anthrax, Botulinum Toxin, Ricin were ever recovered. These were the primary rationale for why America had to invade, unilaterally, just 18 months after 9/11 while Osama Bin Laden was still at large.
No operational ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were uncovered. No evidence that Saddam Hussein had any hand in 9/11. The sole source of the claim that Saddam was training Al Qaeda in the use of chemical weapons, Al Qaeda leader Ibn Shaykh al Libi, was determined to have made a false confession under torture in Egypt. The Bush administration later handed al-Libi over to the then allied regime of Muammar Gaddafi...whereal-Libi "committed suicide" in the notorious Abu Salim prison. Gaddafi incidentally now having been found to have kept hidden from the world a significant stockpile of nerve gas and blister agent.
After the invasion, the Bush administration announced that the large Sunni-dominated Iraqi army was to be disbanded, and that former members of the Baath party (including teachers, technocrats, electricians, college-educated elite) could no longer hold any job with the Iraqi government. Almost within hours of that announcement, the Sunni insurgency of IEDs and ambushes of American patrols began. American forces take casualties at the rate of one fatality per day. The Bush administration insisted it was the work of a few "dead-enders" and foreign terrorists.
So began four long years of 'stay the course' in which the Bush administration kept troop numbers where they were and never took any sort of initiative...as the insurgency grew and corruption took over within the new Iraqi governments. Over 2,800 Americans died in this period. Suicide bombings killing dozens or scores of civilians at a time became a daily occurrence. The administration became so aloof that Donald Rumsfeld was openly dismissive to an American soldier who questioned why he had to scavenge through scrapyards for armor to spotweld on his thin-skinned Humvee.
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|A Matter Of Physics|
By 2004 the Abu Ghraib prison scandal turned the country into a magnet for every anti-American militant in the region. One military interrogator saying that almost every foreign terrorist he questioned said they wanted to become a suicide bomber after seeing the Abu Ghraib abuse images. No senior officers were ever held accountable for the abuses.
In early 2006, militants believed aligned with Al Qaeda in Iraq infiltrated the Al-Askari mosque in Samarra...one of the holiest Sites in all of Shia Islam. Charges were set destroying the massive, iconic golden dome of the structure. The incident set off a firestorm of reprisal killings by Shia militias and their allies within the Iraqi security forces. NBC news officially labeled the Iraq conflict a "Civil War." Death squads roamed the streets. At one point and time over 30 bodies a day were showing up on the streets of Baghdad, many having been tortured with power tools.
In 2006, numerous American officers in Western Iraqi cities such as Tal Afar and Ramadi began to take matters into their own hands. Developing new strategies centered around engaging locals, rooting out torture in prisons and police forces, and protecting civilians at all times. The changes, combined with the growing brutality of Al Qaeda in Iraq towards Sunnis...led to whats now known as the Anbar Awakening. In which tens of thousands of Sunni insurgents joined forces with Americans in hunting down Al Qaeda and providing local security.
Whereas previous attempts by troops to engage ex-Baathist insurgents were quashed by Donald Rumsfeld and his neoconservative deputy Paul Wolfowitz, these tactics were embraced readily by new Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and the new top commander General David Petraeus. While the turnaround coincided with the Surge, it is still unclear just how much affect the extra 20,000 troops had, though it was during the opening months of the Surge that American casualties hit their peak of over 100 per month during the Spring and Summer of 2007.
In 2008, President Bush signed a new Status of Forces Agreement in which the US agreed to remove all troops from Iraq by December 31, 2011. A proposal which roughly mirrored the exit strategy for Iraq proposed before then by then-candidate Barack Obama. Bush's trip to sign the document is better known as the time when an angry Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at him.
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|Iraq: The First 5 Years|
Upon entering office...President Barack Obamalaid out a strategy for removing troops in the most safe but determined fashion possible. Being 'as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.' Missions to attack Al Qaeda in Iraq continued and were enormously successful, to include the killing Zarqawi's replacement Abu Ayyub al Masri and Zarqawi's boss Abu Omar al Baghdadi, head of the terrorist group 'Islamic State of Iraq.' Bases were steadily handed over to the Iraqis, and by August 2010 the last Americans deployed to combat missions in Iraq came home. Those remaining were there to train and advise Iraqis. American suffered fewer total casualties in Iraq on Obama's watch than died in Bush's last year in office.
At the same time we launched our invasion, North Korea was jump-starting its production of plutonium-based nuclear bombs, Sudan launched a genocidal war against the people of Darfur, and Al Qaeda rebuilt itself in the mountains of Pakistan.
Billions of dollars worth of aid to the Iraqi people and their fledgling government went unaccounted for.
32000 Americans were wounded in combat. Though this underestimates those suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries that result from surviving bomb explosions in close proximity (such as while inside armored vehicles.)
One American soldier, Sgt. Ahmed al Taie, remains missing in action after he was believed kidnapped by Shia insurgents in 2006.
1.5 million Americans...less than half of one percent of the US population...served in Iraq.
And now today. As both the Iraqi and American governments decided against leaving behind any significant residual force. On October 21, 2011, President Obama announced plans to withdraw the last 40,000 Americans from the country in time for the Holidays. Steadily and surely troops left country by truck and by plane. Today's convoy arrived without incident.
The last American fatality was Specialist David Emanuel Hickman, age 23, in an IED attack in Baghdad on November 14.
I wrote this as an act of closure for myself. Our soldiers were sent into an unjustified war based on fraudulent intelligence. With atrocious leadership at the helm and no clear mission in the wake of Saddam's fall. The result was a war bloodier than all the other conflicts we've engaged in since Vietnam from Grenada to Afghanistan combined. Yet Americans over there every day made the best of it. Finding honorable things to fight for. The building of a school. Protecting a polling station from suicide bombers. Hunting down mass murderers. Training Iraqis to defend their own country. All of that very good and very noble work belongs to them, should never be used as an excuse to justify the Bush Administration's deceit and incompetence.
Welcome Home. Merry Christmas. Job Well Done. Lets never do this again.