Well it’s over. Australian combat troops have been withdrawn from Iraq. After 5 years and a cost of $2.3 billion the question still remains: has it been worth it?
About 14 000 Australian troops have served in Iraq, 110 will remain in Baghdad guarding the Australian Embassy, and the joint command headquarters is also in Baghdad until it moves to refocus on Afghanistan. Unlike the Americans and British, no Australians have been killed in battle.
There has been some discussion about the policy to keep Australian troops confined to low risk missions, and the feeling that perhaps their standing amongst allies had been diminished as a result. Of course, that ignores the high risk missions carried out by Australian S.A.S. teams, as well as the reality that Baghdad continues to be a dangerous place. If the policy has meant that Australian Mothers and Fathers have been spared the anguish of lost sons and daughters then it has been a good policy.
When Australia went to war in 2003 we were told that it was to disarm Saddam Hussein and make the world a safer place. Critics at the time have largely been proven right, as it turned out that the weapons of mass destruction existed only in the American administration’s imagination, and that the risk of terrorism is now seen by many as greater than it was before. The war has even been blamed for contributing to the high price of oil, which is impacting on us all.
So, was it worth it? For Australia, the benefits include operational experience which adds to the capabilities of our defence forces, along with the strengthening of our strategic alliance with the United States. The negatives are perhaps an increased profile as a terrorism target, and higher petrol prices. The relative merits will be debated for decades, but the most important thing at this time is that Australia’s troops have come home safely from Iraq. That has to be worth more than anything else.