Nine years

The United States invaded Iraq nine years ago. On this anniversary, more violence.

A string of deadly car bombings rocked Iraq Tuesday. Forty-three people died; 206 others were injured. The dead included a pregnant woman in Fallujah when bombs exploded around a house belonging to a police officer.

Authorities blamed al Qaeda in Iraq, though no one claimed responsibility. The attacks came a week before an Arab League summit in Baghdad, the first such high-level diplomatic meeting since the United States made its exit in December.

Six years ago, on the third anniversary of the war, I was in Baghdad with a Georgia brigade about to return home after a grueling yearlong tour. They had seen the worst of the fighting and constantly wondered what they had accomplished. At night, they said, they lay in their cots and tried to think of tangible ways they had made a difference. Often, they came up empty.

That was the frustration of American soldiers who could not distinguish battle lines nor chalk up clear victories in their war.

The Iraqis I knew kept asking when it would get better. Why was the greatest nation on earth unable to provide basic security for Iraqis? Why did they invade if they could not make things better? 

By 2006, the frustrations had set in so deep that I even heard some Iraqis say they longed for the days of Saddam Hussein. At least they could send their children to school without worrying about a bomb exploding under their feet.

Now, it has been nine years. The bombings have not stopped.

Levels of violence are certainly down from the height of the near civil war following the 2003 invasion. But the dominance of the Shiites has left minority Sunnis feeling threatened and weak — and ripe for recruitment by terrorist groups.

The United States succeeded in regime change in Iraq but today I am not sure what the future looks like. The last American soldiers crossed the border into Kuwait last December, leaving behind them a nation in flux. There is still no formal government and plenty of ethnic tension. There is still no peace and an omnipresent threat of all-out civil war erupting.

Today, I think of the Iraqi people and wish them prosperity and peace. I also think of all the American men and women who served in uniform. I hope their efforts will not be in vain.

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