WASHINGTON -- They are coming home. For the first time since March 19, 2003, there are no U.S. combat or combat support troops in Iraq. There is still a contingent of U.S. Marines guarding the biggest American embassy in the world and the largest military attache's office at any diplomatic mission. But there is no doubt in anyone's mind -- ally or enemy -- that the war in Iraq is over. The only uncertainty now: Who won?
Short answer: America's soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines -- and the American people whose sons and daughters served in Iraq. Though our commander in chief cannot utter the word "victory," it is. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta -- in Baghdad for a ceremonial "casing of the colors" for U.S. Forces-Iraq -- came close when he said of all who served during eight years and eight months of war: "You came to this 'Land Between the Rivers' again and again and again. You did not know whether you'd return to your loved ones. ... Your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside and to offer hope for prosperity and peace to this country's future generations."
All that is true. Young Americans wearing flak jackets, helmets, flight suits and combat boots not only vanquished Saddam Hussein's brutal, repressive army and defeated radical Islamist insurgents -- both Sunni and Shiite -- but also became the protectors of Muslim women and children. Over the course of Operation Iraqi Freedom, nearly 1.5 million American volunteers donned a uniform and served in one of the most difficult and dangerous places on earth. More than 4,480 of our finest died, and more than 32,000 were wounded, in the long process of liberating and securing Iraq. It was the courage, tenacity, skill and compassion of U.S. troops that motivated more than 750,000 Iraqis to volunteer for their own army, navy, air force, police and intelligence services.
Today's Iraqi security forces are the most effective pro-American institution in Mesopotamia. They have been trained and equipped by Americans to protect their country from internal threats while respecting the human rights of their countrymen. They are fast becoming a valued counterpoise to radical Islamist extremism and are essential allies in a part of the world where we need friends. Of equal importance, none of Iraq's military leaders wants to become part of a new Persian empire.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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