Evaluating Iraq: The Legacy of Invasion

By Thomas, Mark | Harvard International Review, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Evaluating Iraq: The Legacy of Invasion


Thomas, Mark, Harvard International Review


From 2003 to 2009, the war Iraq dominated headlines. Regular updates of bombings and death tolls, centerfolds depicting Baghdad residents picking their way through rubble, and a continuous debate over US motives for invading were the standard stock of media. Now, a decade has passed since the inception of Operation Iraqi Freedom and two years have passed since the withdrawal of US troops--it is time to abandon the question of the war's origin and begin examining its legacy.

The Iraq war was a remarkable event. A superpower invaded a country with the stated purpose of forcing regime change, and, successfully accomplishing that purpose, subsequently withdrew military forces. With hindsight as our vantage point, we can begin to evaluate the efficacy of the US invasion. Barring a collapse of Iraqi society over the next ten years, the US military appears to have accomplished its goal--a dictator was replaced by a functioning democratic government.

From its inception, the conflict engendered devastating violence. Random murders, suicide bombings, and scattered mortar shells became a part of Iraqi daily life. More than 100,000 civilian deaths have been recorded by independent monitoring agencies. Following a surge in sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007, the number of violent deaths in Iraq declined. It did not return to previous levels, as some predicted, after US troops returned home. The decline, however, has plateaued at 200 deaths per month with more and more of these deaths are coming from the police force. That insurgents have switched from targeting the general population through suicide bombing and are resorting to targeted assassinations of police highlights how the former now see the latter as a viable threat. The targeting of police is proof of the efficacy of their operations, and at least this targeted killing has reduced bystander casualties.

Though security forces have had some success, the upper echelons of government are far from effective. President Jalal Talabani has been an important dealmaker who built bridges between his fellow Kurds and the Arab Sunni and Shia parties before becoming functionally incapacitated by stroke since December. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki won a second term in office and formed a national government that includes the three major factions of Iraq: Shia (al-Maliki's), Sunni, and Kurdish, an arrangement that has proved as paralyzing as unifying.

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