Lost amid the ongoing violence in Iraq last week was an anonymous quote from a senior Iraqi official that ought to make us all pause for a moment. In an interview in The New York Times, the Iraqi Interior Ministry official warned any significant U.S. troop withdrawal over the next decade would likely leave the country in chaos.
That warning hasn’t been repeated. It wasn’t widely reported, and it can’t be proven. But it offers a painful glimpse into a future most of us would rather ignore: U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for years to come, and the slow trickle of U.S. deaths will not stop anytime soon.
For most of us, this war could not be further away. Newspaper headlines no longer command the attention they did when troops first drove north from Kuwait. Most major news outlets diligently reported the recent operation in Fallujah, Iraq, but for most, the drama remained a peripheral concern at best.
For an unlucky few, events in Iraq hit close to home. Every day adds another name – often several – to a growing list of men and women who have given their lives in an unnecessary war. At the time of this writing, 1,268 U.S. soldiers have died. When that grim count will stop cannot be predicted.
The true costs of the war in Iraq are largely invisible. Photographs or film of returning coffins are prohibited. The names and faces of the dead are recognized only by the loved ones they leave behind. They come from places we’ve never heard of and likely will never see – Millstadt, Ill.; Maple Shade, N.J.; Whitesboro, Texas.
The Pentagon recently announced it will boost U.S. troop levels in Iraq to 150,000 – a 12,000-troop increase approximately 20 months after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The odds are some of those 12,000 will not come home alive.
One day, this country will build a memorial to the men and women who died in Iraq. Somber and dignified, it should stand alongside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, a testament to a foolish war and long list of young lives cut short. Perhaps then we’ll know the true costs of Iraq.