Obama called the men and women who fought in Iraq "the patriots who served in our name." He went on to say that "after nearly nine years in Iraq, tonight is an opportunity to express our gratitude and to say once more, welcome home."
But the stated purposes that war was fought – to remove Saddam Hussein from power and bring democracy to Iraq – is far from fulfilled. Sure, Mr. Hussein is gone, hung by his own people after being captured by US troops. But a flourishing democracy, Iraq is not.
Take Kurdistan, the pro-American ethnic enclave that was protected by a NATO no-fly zone from Hussein's troops in the '90s and has often been held up as a model by US policy makers about what all of Iraq could become. On Feb. 17, a few hundred democracy protesters sought to gather in Sulaymaniyah. Here's what happened next, according to Human Rights Watch:
"Within 10 minutes, hundreds more security forces surrounded and filled the square, and dozens of men in civilian clothing approached the protesters and began to punch, kick, and strike them with wooden batons, protesters and journalists told Human Rights Watch. The men forced many of the protesters to one side of the square, next to a former police station that was used as a temporary security headquarters for the protests. There, security forces detained protesters inside the building."
A gathering of Arab Iraqis in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on Feb. 25 were received with only a slightly less thuggish show of force.
"As protesters approached the multiple checkpoints surrounding Tahrir Square set up that morning, security forces informed them that they had a long list of protesters whom they had orders to arrest and that they would check this list against the identification cards of anyone wishing to pass through. A young activist who did not want his name used for fear of government reprisal told Human Rights Watch that one smiling soldier told him and other protesters, 'We may have your name. Why don’t you step forward and see if you get arrested?'"