The Bottom Line on Iraq

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 | Iraq

In Baghdad's Green Zone, an Iraqi flag and military-themed murals adorn a blast wall.
A week after I returned home from Iraq, I read about a recent survey examining quality of life in cities around the world. I tracked down the report, resigned to what I would find. Sure enough, Baghdad was dead last—planet Earth's least livable city.

That Iraq has a long way to go before it attains a livable measure of stability is undeniable. After years of hearing (read: tuning out) stories of the atrocities which Baghdad's residents suffer every day, I found that conditions in the city were even worse than I had expected.

Nonetheless, the Iraqis I interviewed, or those with whom I worked, were coping. After seven years of tragedies, what else was there to do but head out to work, to school, or to the market each morning and hope for the best?

Since returning to Washington, I have been asked by dozens of friends and family members what I
thought of Iraq's prospects. My response is this:

A country is only as strong as its citizens, and the Iraqis I met—while perhaps not a representative sample—were highly educated, skilled, and savvy. So while I recognize that moments of political, economic, and military stability remain rare today, there is still considerable hope. Kurdistan is proof of that.

By ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein, the US unleashed forces that have set the country back decades. But today, we are on our way out, and the people of Iraq are finally regaining authority. It may take two to three generations, but if left alone, Iraqis will eventually build something better than what they had before we arrived, and better than what they will have when we leave.

As great as that day will be, sadly it will never justify the costs paid by all involved in this war.

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