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|What have we learned from Iraq?
THIS MONTH, after nearly nine years, the American war in Iraq is finally drawing to a close. At its peak, 170,000 Americans were stationed in more than 500 military bases across the country. In total, more than 2 million US troops have served in Iraq; now we are down to the last 18,000, with hundreds leaving every day.
With the end of the war looming, we can say for certain that the total cost will be at least $4 trillion. This figure could climb much higher, depending on the number of veterans who require long-term care, the cost of replacing equipment, and the full social and economic impact of the war. The human toll has been equally high: 4,486 Americans have been killed in Iraq, 32,000 wounded in action, and tens of thousands seriously injured. More than one-third of recent veterans report having a service-connected disability.
Despite a concerted effort to train Iraqi forces and help reconstruct the country, Iraq remains insecure and politically unstable, with constant threats from Shi’ite militias loyal to Iran, as well as Sunni militants such as Al Qaeda. Millions of Iraqis are still displaced from their homes, either living in exile outside the country or unable to return to their old neighborhoods after the sectarian violence of 2005 to 2007. Meanwhile, the balance of power in the region, which President Bush hoped to tip in favor of the West, is precarious and depends on many factors outside US control. Amid this gloomy picture it is timely to ask what lessons the war should hold for America.