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The Iraq War Ten Years Later

CAMBRIDGE – This month marks the tenth anniversary of the controversial American-led invasion of Iraq. What has that decision wrought over the last decade? More important, was the decision to invade rightly made?

On the positive side, analysts point to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the creation of an elected government, and an economy growing at nearly 9% per year, with oil exports surpassing their pre-war level. Some, such as Nadim Shehadi of Chatham House, go further, arguing that, while “the US certainly bit off more than it could chew in Iraq,” America’s intervention “may have shaken the region out of [a] stagnation that has dominated the lives of at least two generations.”

Skeptics reply that it would be wrong to link the Iraq War to the “Arab Spring,” because events in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 had their own origins, while President George W. Bush’s actions and rhetoric discredited, rather than advanced, the cause of democracy in the region. Removing Saddam was important, but Iraq is now a violent place governed by a sectarian group, with one corruption index ranking it 169th out of 174 countries.

Whatever the benefits of the war, skeptics argue, they are too meager to justify the costs: more than 150,000 Iraqis and 4,488 American service members killed, and an estimated cost of nearly $1 trillion (not including long-term health and disability costs for some 32,000 wounded US soldiers.)