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Is the mission truly accomplished?
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Last Friday, President Obama stated that all American soldiers in Iraq would be out of the country by the end of the year, no ifs, ands or buts.

There had been talk that American forces may stay, in far fewer numbers, at the urging of the Iraqi government as its own security forces continue to try to handle matters on their own. President Obama closed that door Friday.

Major combat operations in Iraq were declared over in May 2003 and the U.S. combat role was declared finished last September. The 2008 status of forces agreement called for the last American soldier to leave by the end of this year. Now, after Friday’s announcement, the U.S. will be completely through in and out of Iraq.

The questions remain — are we really through there? Will Iran exert its influence in Iraq without American soldiers to deter it? Can the Iraqis handle their own security from Jan. 1, 2012 on?

Plans called for America to greatly reduce its military presence in Iraq. But was the zero sum spurred by results or was it a hangup in negotiations over whether U.S. troops would be protected with legal immunity?

Ostensibly, the U.S. and Brits invaded because Saddam Hussein was believed to be in possession of or attempting to produce weapons of mass destruction. There was also a purported link between Iraq and Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda, a flimsy accusation that was never substantiated.

No weapons of mass destruction were ever found, even though there was documented use previously, as Saddam Hussein had employed mustard gas in the bloody Iran-Iraq War and waged a campaign of genocide against ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq, killing almost 200,000 people, several thousands the victims of poison gas attacks carried out in 1988.

Israel also bombed and destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirik in 1981, and stopping their nuclear program that the Israelis claimed, despite Iraqi and French protestations to the contrary, would produce weapons-grade nuclear material.

He also waged two aggressive wars against his neighbors, invading Iran in 1980 and invading Kuwait in 1990.

Nine months after American forces crossed into Iraq from the Kuwaiti frontier, U.S. soldiers pulled Saddam Hussein from the aptly-named rathole where he was hiding after his regime was crushed. Three years later, he met his fate at the end of the hangman’s noose.

The world does not miss him. It is a safer place without him — his own people no longer live in fear of him and Iraq’s neighbors don’t have to worry about another armed conflict.

In the days of Saddam, satellite dishes and cell phones were hard to come by. The brutal dictator had a tight control on much of his country, including what his people knew and how they knew it. Once he was gone, satellite TV dishes began to sprout up and cell phones became hot items. Liberty and freedom are still new concepts to the Iraqis.

And for the last few years, Iraq has remained mostly quiet. Some of that is attributable to the “surge,” an initiative President Obama derided as a member of the U.S. Senate and as a presidential candidate — yet it’s a policy he’s copied for Afghanistan operations.

At Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn’s peak, there were 168,000 soldiers in Iraq, from September-November 2007. Now, there are about 40,000 American service members in Iraq. All future deployments there have been cancelled, including the planned departure of the 3rd Infantry Division’s headquarters later this year. According to the Department of Defense, more than 1 million Americans have served in Iraq — including our own Alpha Battery of the 148th Field Artillery Battalion.

Since the invasion eight and a half years ago, 4,482 soldiers have been killed. Sixty-one soldiers have died in the year since Operation Iraqi Freedom became Operation New Dawn more than a year ago. The mission in Iraq, which has been of an advisory and support nature, has faded from attention from the media and the public.

Over the years, I interviewed dozens of family members of soldiers killed in action in Iraq. Many supported their loved one joining the military; others had their share of trepidations about it, some rooted in questioning whether we as a nation were doing the right thing by invading Iraq.

But each one had the same sentiment in the end — they believed their soldier was serving and saving the world from Iraq.

Whatever their thoughts of the invasion and war before, they did not want to see the United States cut and run. They wanted the mission to succeed. They didn’t want their soldier who didn’t make it home to have died in vain.

Let’s hope, for their sake and the sakes of the families left behind, they have not.