The Iraq war officially drew to a close today, as US troops formally furled their campaign flag. The soothing speeches at the final ceremonies contrast sharply with the bitter debates surrounding the war even before the it began and long into the war's darkest hours.
Attending the ceremonial furling this morning in a ceremony in Baghdad, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told the troops, "You will leave with great pride — lasting pride," writes the Associated Press. "Secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside and to offer hope for prosperity and peace to this country's future generations."
Mr. Panetta's speech echoed similar sentiments expressed by President Barack Obama yesterday in a speech before soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Mark Mardell, BBC News' North America editor, noted the changed tone. While President Obama has been a longtime critic of the Iraq war — at one point calling it "dumb" — he appeared in his Fort Bragg speech to now embrace the belief that the war made the world a better place in a fashion Mr. Mardell called "more than a little awkward, intellectually."
Mr Obama comes close to agreeing with those who backed the invasion in the first place. That for all the fantasy about weapons of mass destruction, all the mistakes and lack of preparation, the world is a better place for the war.
But it is not politically awkward. Few will notice; few are talking about it.
It looks more like fair-minded generosity than hypocrisy.
The fact that US soldiers were a key part of the immediate audience for the two speeches is important. Most Americans are generally proud of their military, if not this specific mission. The war's closure is broadly welcomed by the American public: A Washington Post/ABC news poll last month put support for the withdrawal at 78 percent, with 62 percent saying that the war wasn't worth fighting.
The war was unpopular with Iraqis too.
Iraqi journalist Mina Al-Oraib, in a series of tweets highlighted by the Guardian's live blogging of the flag-furling ceremony, was reminded of President Bush's "'Mission Accomplished' fiasco" of May 2003 and commented about the ambiguity of the war's purpose.
"US is declaring success in Iraq - yet until today the goal was never clarified. If goal was to remove WMDs that was achieved in the 1990s," she tweeted. "If US goal was otherwise- to remove Saddam, that was achieved in 2003. If the goal was flourishing&prosperous democracy, hasnt been achieved."
"Iraqi citizens want the American occupation to end ... because during the American presence not much was gained, but much was lost," says [Hassan al-Jubori, a parliamentarian from the faction loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.]. He lists negative points – such as the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq now, when it was not visible before 2003 – and claims that the US invasion and occupation created as many as a million "martyrs."
"This is what will be remembered," says Jubori. "We believe the removal of Saddam was not undertaken for Iraqis' sake, but for American regional interests.... The democracy they brought us is a democracy of chaos."
Other Iraqis are just as happy to see the US leave, though for reasons more optimistic about the country's future, reports Al Jazeera English.
"I'm very happy because the occupier is leaving the nation ... the country will be ruled by its sons who will maintain it and keep its sovereignty," Salah al-Asadi, a tribal leader, told Al Jazeera.
"It's a joy for all Iraqis, not only for me. The US withdrawal from Iraq is something very big for us ... because the country’s security will be in the hands of our brothers at the police and the army, they are from us," said Abdelaziz Adel, a public servant.
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