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Iraq withdrawal: With US troops set to exit, 9-year war draws to close

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The end of the Iraq war – a campaign pledge Obama made in 2008 – allowed the US to mark what the president called “a larger transition” in US foreign policy. "The tide of war is receding," Obama said, noting that US forces are beginning to draw down in Afghanistan as well.

But Obama’s Iraq statement will inevitably lead to questions – and certainly to political debates, especially with the advent of a presidential campaign –ranging from “Was it worth it?” to “Did the war set back or advance the hegemonic goals of Iraq’s neighbor, Iran?”

A war that former President George W. Bush set in motion in March 2003 cost the lives of more than 4,400 American troops and rang up a tab of nearly $1 trillion. The war ended the reign of Saddam Hussein – a tyrant akin to Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, killed Thursday at the hands of his own people – but it also set off a gruesome sectarian conflict that plunged Iraq into violence and economic collapse.

In all, the violence claimed more than 112,000 documented civilian deaths, according to Iraq Body Count. Some organizations, though, place total Iraqi civilian and combatant deaths at more than 1 million.

Middle East experts have long debated the impact of the war on Iran and its designs for expanded regional influence. Some have argued that the US presence in Iraq was a deterrent to Iran, while others held that the war and stationing of American troops in Iraq not only opened the door to Iran – as some Iraqi Shiite factions sought to counterbalance the US presence – but also to Al Qaeda-affiliated militant groups opposed to any "infidel” presence on Muslim soil.

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