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2 years after U.S. invasion, jury still out on Iraq's future

On March 19, 2003, U.S. troops stormed into Iraq after President Bush declared the Iraqi dictator, President Saddam Hussein, a threat to the world. Bush concluded that Saddam had evaded United Nations efforts to uncover and eliminate Iraq's programs to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and had ties to international terrorist groups such as al-Qaida.

The invasion, which some traditional allies such as France and Germany refused to join, was swift and decisive. Troops from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division took Baghdad in 22 days, as the Iraqi military seemed to collapse.

Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, 2003. Saddam was captured on Dec. 15, 2003, and he and many of his lieutenants are in jail awaiting trial. On Jan. 30 this year, Iraq held its first democratic elections in more than 30 years.

The sight of millions of Iraqis braving bombs and bullets to vote for the National Assembly seemed to vindicate Bush's vision of Iraq as the heart of a new democratic movement in the Middle East.

Yet the jury is still out on whether that vote will lead to a stable democracy. A Sunni Muslim boycott of the election left the minority ethnic group that long ruled Iraq and occupies its heartland vastly underrepresented in the assembly. Six weeks after the elections, leaders from the Shiite Muslim majority and the Kurdish minority have yet to form a government or agree on a host of divisive issues.

The war is far from over, and while many Iraqis are reveling in their new freedom, they remain bedeviled by violence and plagued by erratic electrical power, water and other services.

More than 1,500 U.S. service members have died in Iraq since the war started, and attacks on the 150,000 American troops who remain in the country continue at a high rate. An insurgency backed mainly by the Sunni population has become entrenched, and Iraqis now are bearing the brunt of its attacks.

The training and deployment of Iraqi security forces—which President Bush says must precede any withdrawal of U.S. forces—proceeds at a halting pace.

American investigators never found weapons of mass destruction or active programs to develop them, nor did they find evidence that Iraq collaborated with al-Qaida on terrorist attacks.

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(Compiled by Steven Butler.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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