With Iraq war over, another mission begins

Posted Monday, Mar. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Operation Iraqi Freedom, launched 10 years ago today, had the stated goals of ridding a country of a vicious dictator, protecting the world from stockpiled weapons of mass destruction and bringing democracy to an oppressed people.

And it was all supposed to be done quickly and inexpensively, if those terms can be used in relation to war.

The dictator was captured, tried and executed. Weapons of mass destruction weren't found.

Iraq has a democratically elected government, but it can be argued that the Iraqi people are far from being free and aren't any safer than before the war.

The war was neither quick nor cheap, lasting nine years and costing more than $800 billion in direct expenditures, according to figures from the Congressional Research Service. Related spending pushes that figure into the trillions.

Going forward, the costs will be measured in more than dollars.

For Americans, who sent 1.5 million armed forces members to Iraq -- many serving multiple tours -- the effects will be long-lasting. The casualty figures are dramatic: 4,475 killed, 32,221 wounded, about 800 arms and legs amputated and tens of thousands of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, the Congressional Research Service says.

Divisions over whether the war was justified shouldn't prevent this country from committing to caring for the thousands of men and women who have come home with physical, mental and emotional scars.

Depending on the severity, lingering but unseen injuries can prevent an individual from successfully re-integrating into society or even functioning well within a family. The Iraq conflict has contributed to the highest rate of suicide among service members of any war in history.

There remains a national responsibility to those who served and their families.

For this country, the war ended in December 2011. But left behind in Iraq is a nation in conflict, divided along sectarian lines and with a government that is at times dysfunctional and unable to provide consistent basic services or protect its people from violence.

This instability can hardly serve to advance U.S. national security.

Iraq itself will be a troublesome foreign policy challenge long after the terribly painful and expensive experience of war.

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