As an Iraq War Veteran, I'm Furious U.S. Troops Are Still Dying There 17 Years Later | Opinion

On the night of January 7, my phone buzzed with news alerts that Americans in Iraq were under attack by Iranian missiles at Ain al-Asad air base—where I served as a Marine over 11 years ago. My stomach turned as I thought about what those on the receiving end of the barrage were experiencing. At first, I prayed the troops at the air base were able to take cover prior to the missiles hitting. But then I became angry—angry we still had Americans in harm's way as a result of an unnecessary war that began 17 years ago.

Those Americans at al-Asad were needlessly in danger because of our leaders' refusal to reckon with the fact the Iraq War was lost long ago and it is past time for the United States to withdraw from the country.

One of the many terrible results of U.S. troops being in Iraq is the over 100 service members at al-Asad who suffered traumatic brain injury during the missile attack. Thankfully, no one was killed, but some will likely suffer side effects from their serious injuries for many years. They join the more than 32,000 Americans wounded and 4,500 killed—including four U.S. service members who died last week—in a conflict that has cost the U.S. nearly $2 trillion.

The Iraq War was lost when the Marines pulled down Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad in April 2003. The overthrow of Saddam's regime, as ghoulish as it was, removed a check against Islamic radicalism and was a clear victory for Iran, Iraq's chief rival at the time.

The political realities of the region were ignored in favor of a misguided idealism imbued with the certainty the removal of Saddam would inspire democracy to flourish in the Middle East. As a result, everything we have done since 2003 has been an attempt to mitigate the consequences of the invasion.

While most foreign policy leaders and elected officials at least grudgingly acknowledge the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was a mistake, some still try to defend the war by making dubious historical claims. For example, there is the prevalent myth that we "won" in Iraq during the surge of American forces from 2007 to 2009 but squandered that victory when President Barack Obama withdrew American military forces in 2011.

This narrative ignores that while the surge yielded some tactical victories, it did not end the sectarian conflict unleashed by the invasion that empowered Sunni jihadis and Iran-backed Shiite militias. The deeply rooted tensions among different groups in Iraq, along with the civil war in neighboring Syria—not the withdrawal of American forces—enabled the rise of ISIS.

The "Obama lost" narrative also glosses over the fact that our withdrawal in 2011 was mandated by the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the Bush administration and Iraqi government in 2008. Keeping military forces in Iraq after December 2011 could have put us into conflict with the Iraqi government, which the United States created and supported. The Iraqi government agreed to let large numbers of American troops return to Iraq only after the rise of ISIS in 2014.

Iraq invasion
U.S. Marines of Task Force Tarawa listen to Lieutenant Colonel Rickey Grabowski the day before they move north in invade Iraq on March 19, 2003, in the northern desert of Kuwait at Camp Shoup. Joe Raedle/Getty

Today, American troops remain in Iraq with no clear purpose. ISIS' territorial caliphate is destroyed, and the remaining ISIS fighters pose a greater threat to Iranian interests than American ones. The Iraqi parliament recently called for our withdrawal. Our continued support of Iraqi security forces could lead to Iranian-aligned groups receiving American arms and equipment, including ones likely responsible for recent attacks against Americans.

Leaving our troops in Iraq only makes them easy targets for Sunni jihadis or Iranian proxies seeking to harm American forces. President Donald Trump should withdraw all our forces from the country, a move supported by nearly 70 percent of Americans.

I am proud of my service in Iraq, and regardless of the necessity of the war, we should honor the sacrifice of those who served admirably under difficult circumstances. But like most veterans of the conflict, I believe the Iraq War was a mistake with catastrophic implications for the country we swore to defend. Now, 17 years after the war began, it's time to finally correct this mistake and bring our troops home.

Dan Caldwell (@dandcaldwell) is senior adviser for Concerned Veterans for America and the foreign policy campaign manager for Stand Together.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.