The last of the US' combat troops left Iraq this week, once again raising the question: was it all worth it?
For some, the answer remains yes. Toppling Saddam and ending his cruel, murderous and draconian regime has given Iraqis the 'freedom to choose,' said General Sir Graeme Lamb in The Times last week. And he's obviously not talking about abortion. The now retired military man's position is that the war was fought, and all those lives were lost or irrevocably damaged, so that the people of Iraq could determine their own future.
It's an altruistic argument that conveniently skirts around the grimier issues of revenge, religion and oil. But it's not Sir Graeme's refusal to broach these over debated points of contention that cause my eyebrows to rise and my core temperature to force up the mercury. The problem I have is that he thinks that the enforcement of our collective ideals and this consequent new decision making power within these parameters is what Iraq needed.
To me, this position feels arrogant bordering on ethnocentric - and a bit of a cop out. I've always hated bullies, and one of the many major issues I've had with this war is the over arching belief that we in the West know best - and we'll make the change for you, one bloody way or another. And you'll like it. The question that keeps tumbling through my mind is: who on earth do we think we are? And, why haven't we learnt from our past imperialist mistakes?
While there's little doubt that back in 2003, lots of Iraqis were ready to give Saddam the boot, I'm less certain that a foreign invasion would've been everybody's cup of tea. Particularly looking at it now, seven years later, with the gift of 20-20 hindsight. The statistics speak for themselves: the documented number of Iraqi civilians killed since 2003 now numbers 106,339.
All for what? Democracy? A system that is no longer thought of as the be all and end all of effective governance - to see that we just have to look at what it's done to developing nations the world over. And it's not working too well for us at the moment either - the current British government was cobbled together following an indecisive election in May and Australia is currently going through the same irritating process.
Perhaps I'd feel more at peace with the whole thing if I actually thought Iraqis were better off, but unfortunately it doesn't appear to be the case. In addition to the monstrously high death toll, more than 2m people have been displaced. And the ravages of war have decimated much of the country's infrastructure and the pledged essential services, such as functioning electricity and sewerage systems, are nonexistent.
Ironically these services worked much better when Saddam was in control - back then food was kept fresh and air conditioners worked during the scorching summer months and the streets were clean of festering effluent. It's the legacy on Iraq's security, however, that remains the most dangerous - the number of attacks perpetrated by al Qaeda continues to rise, not to mention the ongoing sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.
"We've broken so many of our promises," a female friend and former soldier who served in Iraq told me. "Removing Saddam was generally welcomed, but looking at the country now, I do wonder if we could have done it another way. There could have been a different plan."
For this supposed new freedom to choose, Iraqis have paid a far too high a price. Particularly when what's left of their country now has hamstrung them from the get go. What are these choices exactly, and where are they expected to go from here?
In the end, was it worth it? I know which side of the fence I fall on. Do you? Cast your vote and leave us a comment below.
By: Kate McAuley