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Will the War in Iraq Ever Go Away?

4 years ago
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The war in Iraq just isn't going gently into the night, is it?

Sunday's parliamentary election took place amid a backdrop of mortar, grenade and bomb attacks in Baghdad and other major cities. The good news is that the elections went ahead and people voted. But the extreme political fragmentation that characterizes the country -- with some 6,000 candidates, from more than 80 parties, chasing a mere 325 parliamentary seats -- means that whatever coalition government results will be necessarily fragile. And even as President Obama praised Iraqi voters for their bravery in casting their ballots, many back home wondered aloud whether U.S. troops will really get out on schedule.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, "The Hurt Locker" was being named Best Picture at the 2010 Academy Awards. This sober film about a bomb disposal unit in Iraq won plaudits for its intense and honest look at war and the addiction to danger. It is one of 30 films made so far about the Iraqi conflict, which began only eight years ago.

And it's not just in America where the Iraq war continues to be the gift that keeps on giving.

On Friday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown appeared before the Chilcot Inquiry, a government-appointed panel with the specific mandate of identifying the "lessons learned" from the U.K.'s involvement in Iraq. Brown's appearance was far less of a media circus than when his predecessor -- Tony Blair -- took the stand some six weeks ago. But with a general election looming some time in the next three months, British voters wanted to hear what Brown would say about his role in this deeply divisive conflict.

Turns out, not much. Or at least not much of anything new. Brown defended the war as just and correct, even while he criticized the Americans for not having sufficiently planned for post-war reconstruction. And yet -- no sooner had he left the Chilcot chambers -- he was on a plane to Afghanistan for a surprise visit to thank British troops. The Conservative opposition party was quick to deride this trip as a "cynically timed political stunt" to deflect criticism for Brown's having failed to adequately finance British troops during his 10 years as chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasury secretary equivalent) under the Blair government.

And so this war continues to serve as a political touchstone in both of the countries that led the invasion -- a deep cultural and psychological wound that just won't go away.

It's hard not to feel beaten down by all of this. Which is why I was heartened to finally see the film "In the Loop" over the weekend on DVD, a 2009 British comedy about the run-up to the war. The movie centers on a handful of political operatives and government officials on both sides of the Atlantic and their bungled attempts to fabricate intelligence and posture about Iraq prior to the U.N. vote. In the midst of their shenanigans, each one tries to one-up the other in a desperate bid to be out in front in shaping the course of this war. And no one comes away looking good, not even the alleged pacificists who -- turns out -- are just as narcissistic as everyone else.

I've always loved political satire and this film borders on farce. But it's a farce that bites. As film critic David Edelstein noted in his review for NPR's "Fresh Air," the film is "madcap on the surface, brutally sane beneath." And how.

I don't know about you. But at this point, seven years into this war -- and with at least 35 dead and 80 wounded yesterday just because some people wanted to vote -- I guess I'd rather laugh than cry.


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