The end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq was declared Tuesday by President Obama at Fort Bliss, Texas.
That's where I did Army basic training from Jan. 13 to March 8, 1969. Bliss, a misnomer for anybody who did sit-ups, push-ups and leg-lifts on its gravel parking lots when it still trained recruits and draftees, has become a crucial base for the war in Iraq.
Some 200,000 soldiers from there have deployed to Iraq the past seven years, according to The Associated Press. Fifty-one soldiers from Bliss died in Iraq, and thousands more wounded. Forty-one years ago, I left Fort Bliss sporting the black mosquito wings of a private on my sleeve and spent three months at Fort Meade, Md. Then I was shipped to Vietnam for 13 months.
Fort Bliss represents some sort of symbol for me. I did two six-week tours in Iraq for McClatchy Newspapers last year and the year before. And I entered the country, without benefit of visa, in February 1991 during the ground invasion of the Persian Gulf War.
So Bliss and Iraq ... Iraq and Bliss.
The symbol may be a spawl, a word I learned from an NCO in Baghdad last year. It refers to the metal that explodes in all directions inside a rig that's been hit by a shaped charge. At the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, Americans may have suffered a spawl.
We know that more than 4,400 American troops have died there, including seven from our county, and tens of thousands were wounded. Several hundred thousand Iraqis were killed, and 2 million left the country.
What are we left with?
And was it worth it?
The easy answer is: too soon to tell.
Some 50,000 U.S. troops are still there until next year, supposedly to train Iraq's military and police forces. Plus some special forces snake-eaters to hunt and kill insurgents.
But Iraq is a failing state. It's not yet Somalia, but five months after an "election," its people still don't have a legitimate government. Sectarian violence is way down from 2006-2007, when Iraqis staggered to the brink of civil war, gazed into the abyss and lurched back.
The heralded "surge" helped. But after two tours, and two embeds -- with the 10th Mountain Division in Kirkuk and with the 1st Infantry Division in Baghdad -- I believe domestic forces played the pivotal role in reducing violence.
Especially if you count as "domestic" the payoff of hundreds of millions of U.S. government (taxpayer) dollars to Sunni insurgents to "awaken" and stop most of their ethnic cleansing of Shiites, Kurds and Christians.
Though Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has dropped dramatically, killing continues -- 295 civilian deaths in August, according to Reuters, down from 396 in July. And the clan and tribal loyalties and rivalries, once brutally controlled by Saddam Hussein, have flared again.
If the definition of a government is a system that protects borders and provides an environment for its citizens to conduct the daily deals of living and working, Iraq is further from that now than before the 2003 invasion. Take just two staples: gasoline and electricity. Iraqis must queue for hours to fill their cars' tanks when petrol is available; and electricity works for only a few hours a day countrywide, even in 130-degree heat.
Cui bono? The Latin legal phrase means "who benefits?"
Seven years after the invasion, it's not the Iraqi people who have benefited. "I want them to leave but without lies," says Jinan, a former reporter in the McClatchy Baghdad Bureau. "Just face the reality that says Americans do not care about Iraq. They (U.S. troops) just want to run away and leave the ruins behind them."