The war in Iraq lasted nearly nine years and as the remaining U.S. troops pull out of the country, Middle East analysts continue to disagree over the success or failure of the mission.
As military convoys roll across the border from Iraq to Kuwait and the American flag comes down at bases across the country, a recent CBS News poll shows 77 percent of Americans surveyed approve of the decision to withdraw U.S. troops by the end of the year.
Sergeant Fred Fox agreed, saying “We did as much as we can to help them out and they are taking the lead on everything. So honestly, it is time for us to go home and let them take care of their own.”
It is too early to know how future historians will view the war, but most analysts agree on one accomplishment.
Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute said, “Well we eliminated Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and that was a very important success.”
But others question whether broad U.S. goals for the conflict have been accomplished.
Author Peter Van Buren is an American diplomat. In his recent book, We Meant Well, he is highly critical of the war. “Two presidents told us that our job in Iraq was to create a stable democracy that was going to be an ally to the United States and bulwark against terrorism in the Middle East. It would be difficult to say that we succeeded on those goals," he said.
By the end of 2006, violence was raging in Iraq and analysts say the country was on the brink of a sectarian civil war.
Then President George W. Bush ordered a surge of additional U.S. troops, which led to a significant reduction in the fighting.
Frederick Kagan said, “So I think the surge of forces and the change of strategy in 2007 and 2008 was one of the most remarkable accomplishments in the history of counterinsurgency warfare.”
Although the U.S. spent more than $60 billion on development projects in Iraq, critics say only a small percentage was actually spent on reconstruction.
“The rest of it was siphoned off by security costs, by waste, fraud and mismanagement, corruption, various forms of money disappearing, including profit margins, such that very little was spent on the ground," said author and diplomat Peter Van Buren
The decision to pull U.S. troops from Iraq has raised questions about continuing violence there and the threat of Iranian intervention.
Adam Mausner of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The troop pullout definitely creates a major power vacuum in the region, and the Middle East abhors a vacuum, so the withdrawal of U.S. troops creates major leverage for Iran to influence Iraq," he said.
Iraq and the United States are now entering a new relationship, says U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey. "We support diplomatically, we support financially, we support through trade and we support through our general security presence in the region, which tends to keep military situations under control," he said.
Nearly 4,500 U.S. troops died in Iraq, in a war that so far has cost more than $800 billion.
Now home for the holidays, with a hero’s welcome, Mike Williams and other soldiers call the U.S. military role a great accomplishment. “And, I think, in the long run I think it has saved a lot of soldiers and a lot of civilians in our country from having to make the ultimate sacrifice and having another [September 11, 2001 terrorist attack]," he said.
For U.S. soldiers the war in Iraq has come to an end. For millions of Iraqis, a new and uncertain future is just beginning.