The United States invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003. Less than three months later, the war ended. Standing on an aircraft carrier before a giant “mission accomplished” banner, then-President George W. Bush declared an end to major U.S. combat operations in Iraq.
Of course, he was wrong. The war in Iraq was just beginning.
In 2010, the war in Iraq ended again. Then-President Obama missed his original 2009 deadline for withdrawal, but in August of 2010, he declared “the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.”
Turns out Obama’s version of Iraqi self responsibility involved leaving 50,000 American troops in Iraq.
In 2011, the war ended a third time! “Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq — tens of thousands of them — will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home,” Obama declared. “The last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq — with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops. That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.”
Now, 15 years and three presidential administrations later, the Associated Press reports the war in Iraq has reached another “end” — but I wouldn’t get your hopes up. Per the AP report, U.S. presence in Iraq will be “reduced” but not eliminated. It won’t be a fast process, and it’s unlikely to be permanent.
And most of the troops don’t even get to come home. Many are getting shipped straight to Afghanistan, to fight our other forever war. Some aren’t leaving at all. And some who do leave will probably find themselves back in Iraq sooner than later.
“Continued coalition presence in Iraq,” said coalition spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon, “will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq.”
Translation: This war isn’t ending any time soon, especially if — or perhaps, when — a new terrorist group arises to fill the power vacuum the decline of the Islamic State will create. If recent history is any indication, that’s all it would take for Washington to rush right back in.