When the first American bombs began falling on Iraq on March 19th 2003, President George W. Bush predicted a hard slog. “A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict,” he warned. “And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment.” Yet even he might not have imagined that American combat soldiers would remain in Iraq 18 years later, fathers and sons serving in the same war.
That era is now drawing to a symbolic close. On July 26th President Joe Biden said that the American combat mission in Iraq would conclude by the end of the year. The wind-down—just as American is also withdrawing from Afghanistan—comes nearly a decade after Barack Obama withdrew troops from Iraq, only to rush them back in 2014 after the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS) group blitzed through Iraqi cities, relishing in especially gory acts. In the years that followed, American intelligence, special forces and air strikes enabled Iraqi troops, Kurdish fighters and Iran-backed militia to dismantle the border-straddling “caliphate” that IS had created in Iraq and Syria.
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