Eight years later, Britain leaves Iraq

When the first images of bombs lighting up Baghdad were broadcast, I was eight years old. That, to me, is an astonishing fact. Since 2003, 179 British soldiers have died in the operation that brought down Saddam Hussein. Countless American and NATO troops have also been killed. Some 100,000 Iraqis have been killed in the fight against insurgants. And now, weirdly, it is over.

British combat operations actually ended in 2009 when troops pulled out of Basra – the UK’s main base – which explains the lack of media coverage. However, since then, navy personnel have remained in the country to train their Iraqi counterparts. The last British navel officer left Iraq at midnight this morning.

The operation has left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Ministry of Defence. The British public never supported the war – indeed, most disagreed with it – and the whole thing is generally viewed as a huge mistake. The anger felt over Tony Blair’s decision to join the American-lead forces probably cost him his job.

So how did the coalition fail and how did it succeed? It accomplished its main goal quite early on when the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein was ousted from power. It did, kind of, set up a democratically elected government – but it is riddled with corruption and the elections were disasterous. The security situation remains perilous. Crucially, Iraqis do not appear to believe that the mission was worth it. Life for them is often only vaguely better, if not worse, than it was in the days of Saddam. It will be interesting to see how things turn out in light of 2011’s Arab spring.

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