Only “Success” in Iraq Is That US Troops Are Leaving

The U.S. occupation of Iraq is reportedly set to come to an end, with most of the roughly 40,000 soldiers currently stationed there set to be removed by year’s end. But let’s make no mistake: contrary to what you’re likely to hear from the political and media establishment, the only thing worth celebrating is this war’s end, not what it accomplished.

On October 21, President Obama announced, “After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” By the end of 2011, he said, “The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their head held high, proud over their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops.”

While the words may be intended to soothe – no one likes to know they have fought for an ignoble cause – the truth of the matter is that there is no “success” for any American to be gloating over. And though the president and his surrogates are selling the announcement as the fulfillment of an oft-repeated promise made on the campaign trail, the fact is it’s a promise the Obama administration made every effort to break.

While Obama pledged just this past August that he would have “all our folks … out of there by the end of the year,” Wired reports that a private army of 5,500 U.S. mercenaries will be staying on in Iraq to guard the 10,000 State Department employees – yes, 10,000 – who aren’t leaving Iraq anytime soon. And CNN reports 150 troops are set to remain though 2012 “to assist in arms sales.”

If Obama had his way, it’s fair to say the U.S. presence in Iraq would be even larger.

Over the summer, for instance, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared he had “every confidence” Iraq would request – “request” –  an extended U.S. presence beyond 2012. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, traveled to Iraq to urge leaders there to “make the decision absolutely as soon as possible,” with the Washington Post reporting that Mullen insisted any extension “include guarantees of legal immunity for American forces.”

In the end, President Obama did not decide the bulk of U.S. forces would leave Iraq, however much his partisan supporters – and partisan detractors like Mitt Romney and John McCain – might like to argue that to be the case. Rather, Iraqi leaders rejected his administration’s generous offer to extend the military occupation of their country, forcing him to abide by the agreement to withdrawal of most U.S. forces by the end of this year to which his predecessor, George W. Bush, had already agreed.

Considering what American forces did to their country, it’s not hard to see why.

Sold variously as a preemptive war of self-defense and an altruistic, humanitarian war of liberation, the 2003 invasion of Iraq tore apart a society that had already been wrecked by a decade of brutal U.S. sanctions that denied Iraqis everything from clean water to basic medical supplies, an embargo that left roughly a half-million children under the age of five dead – a catastrophic human toll that President Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the world was “worth it.”

The U.S. invasion of Iraq itself resulted in the violent deaths of no less than 100,000 Iraqi civilians, according to the most conservative estimate. A 2006 study by the British medical journal Lancet found that up to that point there had been more than 650,000 “excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war,” factoring in the lack of medical supplies and the civil war the invasion set off. Polling firm Opinion Research Business estimated in 2008 “that over 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens” died as a result of the conflict.

More than 4.7 million Iraqis were forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, with 2 million forced to leave the country entirely. Many Iraqi women, three million of whom are now widows according to their government, were forced into lives of prostitution, with one refugee telling the New York Times that if “they go back to Iraq they’ll be slaughtered, and this is the only work available.”

More than 4,400 U.S. soldiers also needlessly died in a war based on lies, from bogus tales of Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda to claims about non-existent weapons of mass destruction that were easily debunkable at the time – had anyone in a position of power been interested in doing so.

Today, Iraq is ruled by a new strong man who has used his security forces to ethnically cleanse Baghdad, gun down non-violent protesters and torture dissidents. According to Transparency International, only three other countries in the world are more corrupt than Iraq – Afghanistan, Myanmar and Somalia – and unemployment is rampant, with nearly one in three men between 15 and 29 out of work.

It might be comforting to think an immoral invasion can have a happy, heroic ending, but that’s a dangerous delusion. As Americans, we should wish nothing but the best for the people of Iraq – but we should also acknowledge that, if the country finds peace and prosperity, it will be in spite of what the U.S. government did to their country, not because of it.

Medea Benjamin ( is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange. Charles Davis has covered Congress for NPR and Pacifica stations and freelanced for the international news wire IPS. Read other articles by Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis.