SAN DIEGO – American military members who fought in the Iraq war are reacting to the increasing violence there since the U.S. military withdrawal in December.
Hundreds of people have died in Iraq in recent weeks in bombings and shootings, some claimed by al-Qaida insurgents.
Associated Press reporters who cover military communities in the U.S. asked some of those who fought the nearly nine-year war what they think of the violence and what it means for the legacy of their missions. Here are their voices:
Former Marine Lance Cpl. Andrew Rothlein fought in Fallujah in 2004, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Iraq's unrest this year leaves him questioning the loss of nearly 4,500 American lives in the war. "What did we lose our lives for? We never really saw justice. Sure we took out Saddam but none of the other lives needed to be lost. Iraq's not free. Afghanistan is not free. They're still basically at the same stage as they were when we went in ... If they (Iraqis) were starting to flourish in a democratic way, it would be like 'Mission accomplished. We went over there and it made a difference. We helped the people of Iraq. We made history.' But we didn't make history. We're going to be in the history books for the bloodiest battle in Iraq. But for what?"
Former Air Force Capt. Brian Castner led Explosive Ordnance Disposal units that hunted and defused roadside bombs in Iraq during two tours. He says he doesn't feel any successes are threatened now because he never felt much headway was made during his deployments in 2005 and 2006. "We didn't have a plan to win and we didn't know what a win looked like and the surge hadn't started yet. So much of what we did was fruitless."
Former Marine 1st Sgt. Todd Kennedy served two tours in Iraq. He no longer follows the news there, focusing instead on studying history and anthropology at San Diego State University. "In any war there are lessons learned. Any war has its skeletons. Any war has its debates, repercussions, its conspiracies. Regardless of whether it was right or wrong to go in to there, for me personally, it's not something I did a lot of dwelling on ... The nation called on me, so it was something I had to do."
Former Army Reserve civil affairs officer Rory Carolan worked mainly with Iraqi civilians south of Baghdad in 2007 and 2008. He saw violence decline as coalition forces surged, allowing a population wracked by war to return to everyday life. So the new violence is disappointing. "But, you know, is it unexpected? Not by me. You've kind of got to figure it's going to be an ugly process. It's a new government, a new country, proud people looking for their way by themselves, doing it their own way — and it's not always going to be pretty ... The end of that story is not written."
Air Force Col. Sal M. Nodjomian commanded Joint Base Ballad, one of the biggest coalition military bases in Iraq, in 2008 and 2009. He says most Iraqis he met just wanted a good life for their families and he hopes they will be able to achieve stability. "It is very fragile over there. We tried to set the groundwork for a successful, thriving economy, but that is all there is, just ground work. I honestly don't know if the roots have gotten deep enough for them to sustain that. I don't comment on the political side of things, because I did what my chain of command told me to do, but I'm thankful I was able to go over and try to set some conditions for success."