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US Holds Formal Ceremony Ending Iraq War

Casing the Colors (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

In a ceremony known as “Casing the Colors,” the US military formally ended their mission in Iraq, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on hand to make things official. The location of the ceremony gives away exactly how this war is ending, and it doesn’t read “triumphantly.”

In a fortified concrete courtyard at the airport in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta thanked the more than one million American service members who have served in Iraq for “the remarkable progress” made over the past nine years but acknowledged the severe challenges that face the struggling democracy.

“Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” Mr. Panetta said. “Challenges remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.”

The US still has around 4,000 troops in the country, all of whom are scheduled to leave by the end of the month. But then the US embassy will house over 16,000 American personnel undergoing diplomatic missions, guarded by a massive mercenary Army. And it’s likely that some number of military personnel will remain in Iraq to train the Iraqi security forces on new equipment they purchased from the US, as well as assisting in future arms sales. And you could see a negotiation open as early as next year on returning more trainers.

Incidentally, these troops are still being attacked every day, according to the military, so despite the rhetoric about leaving with our heads held high, we’re actually leaving under some duress. They had to stop holding formal ceremonies turning US bases over to the Iraqis because they were being attacked regularly. [cont’d.]

I want to look at Secretary Panetta’s claim of “remarkable progress.” As the allusion to daily attacks shows, Iraq remains a dangerous place. The monthly figures of those civilians dead from attacks resembles the monthly figures in the active war zone of Afghanistan. And on a host of other benchmarks, progress has been nonexistent for the Iraqi people. We can and should focus on the 4,487 American war dead, and 32,226 wounded. But we should also focus on the costs for the Iraqis. I tweeted a few of these figures from Juan Cole last night, so let me put them all here. He backs all of these statistics up with links:

Population of Iraq: 30 million.
Number of Iraqis killed in attacks in November 2011: 187
Average monthly civilian deaths in Afghanistan War, first half of 2011: 243
Percentage of Iraqis who lived in slum conditions in 2000: 17
Percentage of Iraqis who live in slum conditions in 2011: 50
Number of the 30 million Iraqis living below the poverty line: 7 million.
Number of Iraqis who died of violence 2003-2011: 150,000 to 400,000.
Orphans in Iraq: 4.5 million.
Orphans living in the streets: 600,000.
Number of women, mainly widows, who are primary breadwinners in family: 2 million.
Iraqi refugees displaced by the American war to Syria: 1 million
Internally displaced persons in Iraq: 1.3 million
Proportion of displaced persons who have returned home since 2008: 1/8
Rank of Iraq on Corruption Index among 182 countries: 175

This is the reality of Iraq in 2011. It’s a dangerous place in a low-level state of internal war, a desperately impoverished place where basic services still do not regularly get to those in need. It’s a place where society has been shattered and millions of lives upturned. It’s a tragedy by any metric. And most important, none of these consequences were truly necessary.

CommunityThe Bullpen

US Holds Formal Ceremony Ending Iraq War

In a ceremony known as “Casing the Colors,” the US military formally ended their mission in Iraq, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on hand to make things official. The location of the ceremony gives away exactly how this war is ending, and it doesn’t read “triumphantly.”

In a fortified concrete courtyard at the airport in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta thanked the more than one million American service members who have served in Iraq for “the remarkable progress” made over the past nine years but acknowledged the severe challenges that face the struggling democracy.

“Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” Mr. Panetta said. “Challenges remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.”

The US still has around 4,000 troops in the country, all of whom are scheduled to leave by the end of the month. But then the US embassy will house over 16,000 American personnel undergoing diplomatic missions, guarded by a massive mercenary Army. And it’s likely that some number of military personnel will remain in Iraq to train the Iraqi security forces on new equipment they purchased from the US, as well as assisting in future arms sales. And you could see a negotiation open as early as next year on returning more trainers.

Incidentally, these troops are still being attacked every day, according to the military, so despite the rhetoric about leaving with our heads held high, we’re actually leaving under some duress. They had to stop holding formal ceremonies turning US bases over to the Iraqis because they were being attacked regularly.

I want to look at Secretary Panetta’s claim of “remarkable progress.” As the allusion to daily attacks shows, Iraq remains a dangerous place. The monthly figures of those civilians dead from attacks resembles the monthly figures in the active war zone of Afghanistan. And on a host of other benchmarks, progress has been nonexistent for the Iraqi people. We can and should focus on the 4,487 American war dead, and 32,226 wounded. But we should also focus on the costs for the Iraqis. I tweeted a few of these figures from Juan Cole last night, so let me put them all here. He backs all of these statistics up with links:

Population of Iraq: 30 million.
Number of Iraqis killed in attacks in November 2011: 187
Average monthly civilian deaths in Afghanistan War, first half of 2011: 243
Percentage of Iraqis who lived in slum conditions in 2000: 17
Percentage of Iraqis who live in slum conditions in 2011: 50
Number of the 30 million Iraqis living below the poverty line: 7 million.
Number of Iraqis who died of violence 2003-2011: 150,000 to 400,000.
Orphans in Iraq: 4.5 million.
Orphans living in the streets: 600,000.
Number of women, mainly widows, who are primary breadwinners in family: 2 million.
Iraqi refugees displaced by the American war to Syria: 1 million
Internally displaced persons in Iraq: 1.3 million
Proportion of displaced persons who have returned home since 2008: 1/8
Rank of Iraq on Corruption Index among 182 countries: 175

This is the reality of Iraq in 2011. It’s a dangerous place in a low-level state of internal war, a desperately impoverished place where basic services still do not regularly get to those in need. It’s a place where society has been shattered and millions of lives upturned. It’s a tragedy by any metric. And most important, none of these consequences were truly necessary.

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David Dayen

David Dayen