Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Iraq War Is Not Over

Today the last convoy of troops and equipment rolled out of Iraq into Kuwait. So we see a flurry of reports that say the Iraq War is over. It's not.

It's not over for the more than 32,200 American troops that were wounded or for the families of the 4,484 troops killed in action, or for families of the 318 coalition troops killed.

It's not over for the families of the 10,125 dead Iraqi troops and the estimated (approx.) 113,000 dead civilians. These are conservative estimates. A combined Bloomberg/Johns Hopkins/Al Mustansiriya University, Baghdad study put the figure at 654,965 “excess deaths”—fatalities above the pre-invasion death rate, with more than 601,000 of those classified as violent deaths.

It's not over for the 86,000 Iraqi war widows or the estimated 4.5-5 million Iraqi orphans (loss of a father or both parents constitutes orphanhood in Iraq).

It's not over for the 467,565 Iraqi displaced persons.

It's not over for every living Iraqi today.

It's not over because we don't know what the future holds for the Iraqi people. Only time will tell if the Sunni, Shia, and Kurds can live in peace. There are few reasons for high expectations, but there's no harm in hoping for the best. It's not unreasonable, though, to anticipate civil war.

Only time will tell. I remember during the war blogger Atrios pointed out that Tom Friedman of the New York Times would often declare that "the next six months are crucial." He did this so often that Atrios referred to this as a Friedman Unit, or an FU.

I'm sure someone in the media has at some point in the last few days declared that for Iraq the next six months will be crucial for avoiding a civil war. There may never be an end to FUs in Iraq.

There are a ever-receding number of American WWII veterans, as we're reminded each year on Veteran's Day. We can expect almost all of the rest to die off in the next decade. Having talked to quite a number of them, I know that the war never ended for them, as it most certainly hasn't for thousands of Vietnam vets.

Wars are never "over," they just enter a different phase. Hell, the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 still sticks in the craw of many a Serb today.

The only part of the Iraq War I can claim is the shame of having lived through it as an American citizen, knowing that I helped pay for it and knowing that it was as useless as any war can be: it was unnecessary, and we'll be paying for it beyond the memories of those alive today.

I have never forgotten meeting my great aunt Betsy Gibb Wallace, who lived in a one-room brick house in the tiny hamlet of Luthermuir, an hour or so north of Edinburgh in Scotland. She had lived there seemingly forever -- I had met her there as a "wee lad" in 1954 and then again in 1972.

In '72 when we showed up unexpectedly, she welcomed me and my girlfriend Suzanne in for tea. Betsy was in her eighties then. While she was brewing the tea, I looked around the room and spied a portrait above her bed. It was a photograph of Charles Wallace, a handsome, young soldier, who married young Betsy, and got her pregnant with Charles Jr. before going off to war in 1914, never to return.

She had slept in that bed alone under that portrait for more than sixty years.

Betsy Gibb Wallace had her son Charlie ("Aye, Chairlie, he bides doon the roodie in a wee hoosie, ya ken," she told me) and that was a blessing.

But for her, World War I was not over. For her, it was never over.

Just as, for countless human beings, the Iraq War is not over and may never be.

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