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Ten Years Later, What Lessons Can We Take From the Iraq War?

Marines pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein in the centre of Baghdad, April 9, 2003. Photo by Mirrorpix/Getty Images.

PBS NewsHour is marking the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War with an online campaign. We’re collecting your experiences, impressions, and viewpoints on the war and all that came with it. Where were you when you learned of the invasion into Iraq? How would you describe these past ten years to someone else? Share your story here and join the @NewsHour discussion on Twitter with #Iraq10.

The first chords of the Iraq War struck on March 19, 2003, in the form of airstrikes on Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace in Baghdad. There was no formal “declaration” of war, but President George W. Bush had made clear two evenings earlier in an address to the nation; Saddam had to go.

“It is too late for Saddam Hussein to remain in power. It is not too late for the Iraqi military to act with honor and protect your country by permitting the peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. Our forces will give Iraqi military units clear instructions on actions they can take to avoid being attacked and destroyed. I urge every member of the Iraqi military and intelligence services, if war comes, do not fight for a dying regime that is not worth your own life.”

Invasion followed. Approximately 300,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines, along with British and other forces, fought through vigorous resistance from large groups of well-armed Iraqi troops and smaller groups of paramilitaries like the Fedayeen Saddam. The coalition raced to the capital and Baghdad fell April 9. The Iraqi leader, now dislodged from power after 24 years, had slipped into hiding. Marines toppled a statue of Hussein in Firdos Square, one of the iconic images of the war.

Set in motion was an eight-year commitment of military forces and billions of dollars to a cause many believed noble at the outset — but lost the heart for over time. As liberation became occupation, became insurgency and then a new front in the terror fight, Americans’ support for the war waned.

Underneath it all was the argument that remains today: was the Iraq War a “war of choice,” or a war of necessity? As the military buildup proceeded apace in the desert of Kuwait and other places, Congress, U.N. member countries and NATO, all debated that question and the justifications provided by the Bush administration at the time.

Sanctions long in place since the Gulf War had prevented Saddam Hussein from restarting a nuclear program. U.S. forces once in control of the country found only old and abandoned chemical weapons — not some stockpile ready for use by terrorists.

None of that mattered very much to the Iraqis I met when I covered the war for ABC News in June and July 2003. I found the people grateful for liberation and hopeful toward the future, but they were starting to tire of so many foreign troops on their streets, stopping cars at checkpoints and conducting night raids. President Bush had declared victory in May that year after landing a military plane himself on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The full-throated insurgency had not yet set in, and when it did, it consumed the Iraqi people. Sectarian violence roiled the country for years as Sunni and Shia Muslims fought each other for control of their country.

American forces came home in December 2011. 4,487 troops had given their lives and nearly 40,000 were wounded. Of the Iraqis, the surveys vary but agree that at least 100,000 civilians died in the war and strife. Iraqis have a government of their own choosing, and the rights afforded citizens in a democracy, but the struggle for safer, better lives goes on.

Share your viewpoint on the onset and aftermath of the Iraq War here and join the discussion with @NewsHour on Twitter using #Iraq10.

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