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As US Mission Ends, American Soldiers, Iraqis Reflect on Pain of War

In a few days the U.S. military will end its presence in Iraq after almost nine years. American soldiers and Iraqis view the withdrawal with a mixture of emotions. Our correspondent reports from Camp Adder near the southern Iraqi town of Nasriyah.

By the end of the year, American flags will be lowered in this base in southern Iraq. It will mark the end of almost nine years of American military presence in Iraq.

Command Sgt. Maj. Butler Kendrick Jr. of the 20th Engineer Brigade was one of the first into Iraq in the initial invasion of 2003. He served multiple tours, and returned again this year, making him one of the last to leave.

He's anticipating a new life at home.

“I look forward to spending time with my daughter and my wife, and just being able to enjoy the simple things in life," said Sgt. Maj. Kendrick.

But Sgt. Maj. Kendrick is taking some hard memories home with him. The loss of his company commander Major James Ahearn four years ago, killed by a bomb in the summer of 2007, is something he cannot forget.

“Uhhh … He was hit with an IED. And I wasn't on the patrol with him, and that's who, out of all the fallen comrades, that's the one I remember the most, because he was my battle buddy," he said.

More than 4,400 Americans died in Iraq. Many more were injured. The U.S. says it was a fight to replace a dictatorship with democracy.

General Jeffrey Buchanan says there has been progress, but the future is now up to the Iraqis.

“As somebody who has served here for many of those eight years, it's been very inspirational to watch the progress, but at the the same time I never forget the cost and the sacrifice," said General Buchanan. "I think that the Iraqi people now have a tremendous set of opportunities that they never had before. My greatest hope is that take advantage of the opportunities that they have.”

Some Iraqis are not so sure the U.S. invasion that left tens of thousands of Iraqis dead was worth the cost.

Heba Hisham's older sister was one of the ones who died. She died at the age of 22 in a Baghdad hospital. Doctors there were unable to save her because they had run out of proper supplies.

“It doesn't matter how tough life was before Saddam, before the war," said Heba Hisham. "But I think was it worth killing that many people, was it worth young people dying? I don't think it was worth it. I really, really don't. And the problem is, we don't see any change. It's like, there are still explosions, there are still bombings, people are still dying.”

Eight and half years of war has left deep scars on the Americans who served and the Iraqis who endured it.

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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.