Text size

The festive ceremonies, the folding of the American flag (and the burning of one in Fallujah ), memorial days and the emotional return home of U.S. soldiers end a tragic chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq.

Almost nine years after George W. Bush sent his forces to find weapons of mass destruction - the official reason for the war - more than 100,000 Iraqis have been killed and some 4,500 American soldiers have returned home in coffins amid an enormous financial outlay - about $1 trillion. The time has come for soul-searching and a reckoning of the cost in blood and lucre.

Iraq has not become more secure. Its democracy is also in dispute. It is one of the most corrupt countries on earth (number 175 out of 178 ). It has the world's fourth largest oil reserves and yet is unable to provide uninterrupted electric power to its citizens. Public services and personal security are on a par with the worst countries.

The war in Iraq gave that country an important role as a buffer against the spread of Iranian influence in the region. Iraq was supposed to become economically independent and - strong and democratic - it was to join the Arab wall against Iran.

The opposite has happened. Iraq is Iran's most important ally in the region from an economic and political standpoint. It is still considered suspect in the Arab League, and its internal struggles do not ensure a future alliance with the United States.

Still, Iraq after the removal of the dictator Saddam Hussein is not a "lost country." It has a huge economic potential and has been successful in forging compromises between tribal and ethnic politics on one side and the central government on the other - an enormous challenge in a country where minorities wield political and military power of their own.

Beyond the issue of Iraq's future, the war taught the United States and region a harsh strategic lesson. Iraq and Afghanistan became the military trauma after Vietnam. That trauma should be at the front of the mind of anyone seeking a war against Iran.