On Dec. 18, 2011, the last remaining U.S. soldiers in Iraq boarded a plane and flew home, ending the nearly decade-long occupation of the Middle Eastern country. While the “War on Terror” is still being fought around the globe, the official withdrawal from Iraq is symbolically significant for many who oppose U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. It also represents the fulfillment of President Barack Obama’s promise to end the war in Iraq.
Despite the U.S.’s attempts to install a democratic government in Iraq, the political environment there remains tense. The country’s three main ethnic groups, the Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds, have been grappling for power ever since the country gained independence. The current power-sharing structure is precarious and insurgent military factions still carry out attacks nearly every day. In that sense, the goal of fostering a democracy is far from achieved. However, many are simply happy to have the troops back on American soil.
One of the last soldiers to leave expressed concern that he will only be home for a short time before being sent to another battlefield. “I spent 31 months in this country. It almost seems I can have a life now, though I know I am probably going to Afghanistan in 2013,” Sgt. Steven Schirmer told a Reuters reporter.
Even if some servicemen and -women are worried about being deployed elsewhere, the final wave of departure from Iraq could not have been timed better. In the week leading up to Christmas, YouTube was overrun with videos of soldiers creatively surprising their wives, husbands, and young children just in time for the holidays. Politics aside, withdrawal from Iraq was a definitive victory for thousands of families across the country.