7,000 miles away from home, over 4 million Iraqi troops have passed a main part of their prime age in Iraq during a two-decade process; a war of contentious cause whose necessity, at least in the first phase, has never been comprehended by the American society and millions of families whose lives have been touched by the repercussions of separation and war. The United States started a $2-trillion war alleging Iraq of holding weapon of mass destruction while failing to detect any reservoir of such kind.
Apart from the 4,000 soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and thousands of others who’ve been injured physically or mentally, the United States inflicted major blows to its reputation as a world power following failure to contain the post-occupation tumult. The war turned out to be the first and main strategic catastrophe of American foreign policy in the 21st century. Washington and its allies won the battle in process of a few weeks, but lost the extensive war during their long-time presence in the country.
The shrapnel of the Gaza war exposed the American troops in Iraq into a fresh round of challenges by local groups leading them to hail a negotiation process with Iraqi government to evacuate the country. If realized, it will be the third evacuation operation of US troops from Iraq in less than two decades. The evacuation, though, might take long months or years, but the condition of the remaining 2,500 American troops who remained in Iraq as part of an advisory program are reminiscent of the recurrent failure of US policy-makers in overhauling the Iraqi society, military, and governance system.
The US mission in Iraq broke down before its early invasion into the country when the policymakers focused their lens on military breakthrough. Rather than coming up with a grand strategy to win the war, Washington and its allies set their first and utmost priority on winning the battle in Iraq. George W. Bush administration had no strategy for post-occupation era, facing the Iraqi backlash few months after instituting their governance structures in Baghdad.
The negligence exposed itself against the early achievement leading the alliance to increase the number of troops in Iraq four years after the takeover of the country. The surge in troops number contained the security challenges, but the Iraqi society remained unsatisfied with the governance system and service delivery, alleging the alliance of regressing the economic and administrative structures of the country. Washington remained heedless about the religious and cultural aspects of involvement in a society already living in an oppressed condition.
In effect, the American troops were successful in winning the war in Iraq, something that no observer or analyzer staggered referring to before of after the start of the invasion. Notwithstanding the acknowledgment, the United States failed to secure a peace in Iraq from early years after the occupation until two decades later. Washington withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011, having no security concerns, while the miscalculation served the extremist groups in the region who surged in a couple of years leading to the American return to the country three years later. Far from failing to overhaul the economic and cultural settings in Iraq, the American military backed the wrong horse in training and advising a strong army in Baghdad.
The US military’s redeployment in 2014 seemed inevitable due to the ISIS emergence and takeover of large parts of the country, including Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. The United States and other western countries were prey to ISIS attacks in their own soils and the expansion of the group’s power and reinforcement of their recruitment and financial wings proved a threat to all nations across the world. Following the 2017 annihilation of ISIS, the US troops faced similar challenges as in their first phase of presence in Iraq leading to cutting down on the number troops in 2021.
Washington maintained 2,500 troops in Iraq as advisors and assistants while holding its air bases across the country. The disengagement of Iraqi society with American troops intensified following the 2019 protests exposing the massive dissatisfaction with governing system. Iran-backed militias grew the anti-US sentiments stronger recurring their opposition to the detrimental involvement of American military forces in the country.
The US involvement in Iraq was fundamentally a setback for Iraqi society and a breakdown for US politics. Washington failed to touch the Iraqi society leading an Iranian-affiliated prime minister to take power after two decades. Iran-backed militias are now an official section of Iraqi military and shape the dynamic of the country’s security developments. That might be taken as the repercussion of Washington’s security policies during the 2000s that led to the formation of ISIS in the next decade.
The strategic misadventure of the United States in Iraq, and also in Afghanistan. reshaped the worldwide attitudes towards the United States. It brought about a local and global mistrust with the American policies colliding with future stratagem culminating in Trump era and Coronavirus outbreak during which the American leadership role was undermined. The disbelief, along with security challenges that the troops have faced during the long years, have led a large group of soldiers to suffer form mental disorders. The war has put the strain on mental well-being of the troops with 38.8% of Centcom evacuations in 2022 comprising those with mental issues, showing a 5% spike compared to the previous year.
The outbreak of war in Gaza after the October 7 attacks has put the already-stricken troops in Iraq at stake. American troops were targeted by Iran-backed militias due to their unreserved support for Israeli campaign in Gaza which led to the death of thousands and displacement of over half of its population. The disputes climaxed when US military responded to the assaults striking positions of the militias. The popular protests in support for Gazan people across the Middle East has further undermined the security of US personnel in the region. Iraqi Parliament’s vote to expel the US troops was the last blow to the credit of these forces in the region. The United States miscalculations and wrong policies during the years led to a state in which any fresh strategy, whether to withdraw troops or to keep them in Iraq, amounts to a military retreat and a political failure.