President Obama made good on one of his campaign promises Friday (October 21) when he announced that he plans to bring nearly all U.S. troops home from Iraq by year's end.
"After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over," Obama said during a press conference, according to CNN. "The coming months will be a season of homecomings. Our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays." By December 31, all but 150 of the 39,000 troops remaining in Iraq will be home, bringing an end to a lengthy battle that has taken 4,478 American lives, injured more than 32,000 and cost the nation more than $752 billion.
Ending the war in Iraq was one of the goals Obama set for himself when running for president in 2008, and Friday's announcement brought both relief and a twinge of nervousness to Middle East watchers. While the U.S. counterinsurgency policy has appeared to tamp down violence lately, allowing the majority of the once-peak 180,000 troops to come home, there is still anxiety about whether Iraqi forces are stable enough to provide for their own security.
The war was launched by former President George W. Bush on March 20, 2003, on the premise (later proven to be false) that late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was stockpiling and planning to use weapons of mass destruction. The U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group concluded that Iraq had ended its nuclear, chemical and biological warfare programs in 1991 and did not have an active program scheme at the time of the U.S. invasion.
While the war led to the toppling, capture and execution of Hussein, experts also later determined that the insufficient amount of troops and planning left the U.S. unprepared for the sectarian violence that gave rise to a deadly insurgency that bogged American troops down in a guerrilla-style war.
Iraq veteran Tom Tarantino told MTV News on Friday that he was elated by the announcement. "It's really excellent news for members of the military and their families around the country," he said. "Especially since it's happening around the holidays, which is a nice symbolic gesture."
Tarantino, a senior legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, served in Iraq in 2005-06 as a cavalry and mortar platoon leader with the 11th armored cavalry regiment, leading patrols through Baghdad and earning a Bronze Star for his service. Whatever you felt about the war, Tarantino said the news is a great opportunity to remind the American people about the several million young veterans who are in desperate need of good health care and who are coming home to record levels of suicide and unemployment.
Watching the attention paid to the demands of the Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York and around the globe, Tarantino, 33, said he hopes the movement will remind the nation of its responsibilities to a generation of warriors who logged time in Iraq and inspire similar protest. "We should let these men and women come home with honor and make sure the promises we made to them when they went off to war are kept," he said.
The decision to bring the troops home came after Obama spoke with Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki in a video conference Friday, and both men said they were comfortable with the plan. Obama promised that the new partnership with Iraq would be "strong and enduring. ... The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their head held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops."
The announcement of the end of the war in Iraq comes at a time of rapid, earthshaking change in the Middle East. In just the past six months, the U.S. and its allies have overseen efforts that have resulted in the killing of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Anwar al-Awlaki, and, on Thursday, the killing of feared Libyan dictator Muammar Kaddafi.
Those deaths came amid a summer of massive change in the Arab world (dubbed the "Arab Spring"), when protests and demonstrations -- many of them led by young revolutionaries -- in countries such as Yemen, Syria, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have led to the ouster of a number of repressive leaders.
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