The mid-December pullout of US combat troops raises the serious question of Iraq's probable future. Perhaps, it will be that expressed by President Barack Obama, when he stated: “History will decide the origins of the war.” But it is clear that historians will also judge the consequences of the war and its continuing aftermath, not just for the US but for Iraq, the Middle East and Southwest Asia as well.

Given its near nine-year occupancy of Iraq and the little that was accomplished for America or for Iraq, historians' judgments will be harsh: 4,500 US troops killed; 60,000 wounded, mentally handicapped and/or traumatised. Then there is the expense of the war: $1 trillion in direct costs and, according to the most recent statistics, an estimated $4 trillion in long-term, mostly medical, costs.

The historians must also consider the damage to Iraq and its people. Phebe Marr, the doyenne of American scholars of Iraq, in the just published The Modern History of Iraq, estimated that around one million people died in the war. She maintains: “Civilian deaths through 2010 would total at least 100,000 and possibly twice as much, with wounded probably double those killed.” The higher figure would put the number of wounded at 200,000. But the damage was much greater than just killed and wounded: 1.7 to 2.3 million Iraqis, mostly Arabs, were driven into Syria and Jordan. There are an estimated 300,000 widows; two million women are now the main breadwinners in extended families. Some 300,000 have taken up prostitution. There may be as many as two million or more orphans; some 600,000 people living on the streets.

The physical infrastructure is in shambles. Electricity, sewage, water, telephone and fiber-optic grids only function sporadically. The medical facilities are in very poor shape. In the course of the war, it is estimated that of the 34,000 doctors in 2003, only 17,000 remain, most lightly trained. An estimated 800 doctors and professors, mostly Sunnis, were killed in the course of the war. Many Arab doctors fled to the Kurdish-controlled Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the north. Analysts think it will take two generations or more for medical and educational systems to recuperate. Even then, with teachers facing traumatised and handicapped students, education and progress will be set back yet another generation. In 2003, at the start of the war, 17 percent of Iraqis, mostly Arabs, lived in slum-like conditions; at the end of 2011, that figure stood at 50 percent.

Even as living conditions worsened in Iraq throughout the nine years of war, the changed geopolitical situation also confronted Iraqis with new realities. Two such changes are bound to be of continuing historical significance. For the first time in history, except in Iran, Shiites have come to State power with the invasion of Iraq by the US. This incurred hostility not just from Arabs, but from many Muslims, 90 percent of whom are Sunni. Moreover, they were brought to power by a Christian power for its own hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East. Not only did the US policies lead to Shiites coming to power, but they also led to the division of the country between Kurds and Arabs. It is difficult for all Arabs - not just the Arabs of Iraq - to understand why a country like the US that fought a civil war in which four million people died to save the “union” would so nonchalantly destroy another sovereign country. The US policies resulted not just in the division of Iraq into two separate entities, but also its strong support of the 2005 Constitution ensuring that the KRG would obtain control over oil and gas resources. The KRG would also be able to contest and maybe obtain the oil and gas resources in the “disputed territories”, which lie between the KRG and Sunni Arab provinces, comprising eight percent of Iraq's total land mass. If it turns out that such territories hold 50 billion or more barrels of oil and extensive gas fields, then the KRG's independent status, if not international recognition, will be assured. This will also be the end of any hope for a strong central government, let alone a nationalist-federal one; America's unraveling of Iraq will be sustained.

After the 2010 parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Nur Al-Maliki was compelled to rely on Shiite factions to retain power, putting an end to any hope of a Shiite-led but Sunni participative coalition. Iraq unraveled with little hope of an un-authoritarian government being in power. Washington saw the writing on the barricades; it was time to leave. Then, too, presidential elections are to be held in November 2012. Better now to declare victory than to wait for historians to make their judgments - knowing they would not be good.

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    The writer is a Middle East analyst and author of The Management of Kurdish Nationalism in Turkey: 2007-2009. He writes for the Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman, with which TheNation has a unique content sharing agreement.