BEIJING, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- Seven years and five months after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the last U.S. combat brigade started on Thursday its departure from the restive country.
The withdrawal, well ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline U.S. President Barack Obama has set for ending U.S. combat operations, marked a symbolic moment for the highly controversial U.S. military presence in Iraq.
Beside the heavy losses and great miseries inflicted on the Iraqis, the protracted warfare has also taken a tremendous toll on the United States, both on the military front and in the political, economic and diplomatic domains.
One month and 10 days after the United States waged the Iraq War with large-scale assaults on March 20, 2003, then U.S. President George W. Bush announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq, with former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein already toppled and U.S. military casualties standing at merely 138.
However, the following years saw U.S. troops under frequent attacks by anti-American militants and their casualties on a steady rise. Till Monday, the death toll of U.S. troops in Iraq reached 4,415, and some 32,000 others were injured.
Meanwhile, the casualties might further increase as around 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for another year, although they will only "advise and assist" Iraqi forces in their counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.
The loss of lives was accompanied by enormous military spending, which climbed to 742.3 billion U.S. dollars by Thursday, exceeding that of the Vietnam War and the Korean War.
In order to foot the immense defense bills, the Bush administration had to squeeze the expenditures on health care, education, housing and other domestic programs.
But the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul approach failed to prevent the fiscal burden upon the U.S. government from ballooning. Further worsened by the massive economic stimulus package in the wake of the global financial crisis and the significant decrease in tax revenues, the U.S. fiscal deficit surpassed the 1 trillion dollar mark in mid-2009.
The picture of homeland security is also gloomy. U.S. analysts cautioned that as the Iraq War consumed a large portion of the country's financial, military, intelligence and other resources, the nation's homeland defense and counter-terrorism capabilities had actually been waning.
Also on the decline is the U.S. "soft power," as the Iraq War has seriously damaged the country's international image. The United States staged a war against another country without UN authorization, and the alleged casus belli, namely the Hussein regime developing weapons of mass destruction and colluding with terrorist groups, still cannot be substantiated.
These highly disputed moves, plus a series of notorious scandals involving prisoner abuses and civilian deaths at the hands of
U.S. troops, have pushed the United States further away from its imagined status as a repository of honorable actions.
Against such a tainted backdrop, the U.S. Department of State has admitted that Washington would face a long-running challenge to restore its image on the world stage.
The ongoing U.S. pullout from Iraq will not relieve the U.S. government and public of the burdens of the Iraq War, as the fallout of the over seven-year-long war is doomed to haunt the economic, political, social, military and cultural spheres of the invader country.