It was a year of military milestones for the U.S. and trepidation for Iraqis, as American troops started withdrawing en masse and insurgents used a steady campaign of bombings to remind the world they are not yet defeated.
The U.S. military presence has dwindled to 50,000, and most troops are limited to advisory roles. As the military campaign winds down, the scars from the war linger in both countries, with a generation of maimed troops, widows and sectarian tensions.
Iraq had nearly violence-free elections in March, but has teetered without a government for more than eight months. A recent power-sharing deal that largely excludes the country’s Sunni minority and strengthens the position of firebrand cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr has many worried about renewed sectarian violence.
Insurgents exploited the uncertainty with many high-profile deadly bombings across the country this year and as disillusioned as most Iraqis are with the U.S. war effort, many are equally concerned a full American withdrawal will lead to more bloodletting.
In the U.S., tens of thousands of young servicemembers will be dealing with the visible and invisible scars of war for years to come. For the families of the more than 4,400 fallen troops, there will be a permanent void.
Even the U.S. withdrawal, scheduled to be completed by the end of 2011, is in doubt. It is clear that Iraq’s military will not be able to defend its borders by that deadline and there is a rising clamor for the U.S. to reach a deal with Iraq to extend a limited troop presence.
Nearly eight years after the start of a divisive, controversial war, its legacy may not be known for years or decades to come.