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Iraq then and now: Reflections from NBC's Richard Engel | GZERO World

Iraq then and now: Reflections from NBC's Richard Engel

As a young freelance journalist, Richard Engel was one of the only US TV journalists to broadcast from Baghdad throughout the US-led invasion of Iraq. On the 20th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, Engel, NBC's chief foreign correspondent, shares the story of how he ended up reporting on the ground and what he saw after troops arrived.

Despite limited access for journalists, Engel was able to get into Iraq by applying "human shield" visa and entered the country under the guise of a peace activist. What he found upon arrival was a population beaten down by years of dictatorship, and a choatic, disorganized government. As the invasion began, more and more people came out of the shadows, and expressed their joy that “ Americans were coming in and getting rid of Saddam,” according to Engel.

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Iraq War's legacy: Loss of lives, rise of ISIS, & political turmoil | GZERO World with Ian Bremmer

Iraq War's legacy: Loss of lives, rise of ISIS, & political turmoil

On the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, US Senator Tammy Duckworth and NBC's Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel sit down with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World to reflect on the legacy of a war that reshaped the Middle East and continues to reverberate around the world.

Senator Duckworth, a former helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in the Iraq War and now sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. She emphasizes the importance of honoring the promises made to veterans and the impact it has military readiness. "The cost of going to war isn't just the tanks, the guns, the helicopters, and the ammunition during the period of actual conflict," Duckworth says, "The cost of war goes on for many decades."

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Thomas P. Susdorf from the film “Gunner Palace."

Michael Tucker

“In war, everything matters.” An interview with filmmaker Mike Tucker

Twenty years ago today, the US invaded Iraq. Just weeks later, the American filmmaker — and frequent GZERO contributor — Mike Tucker embedded with a group of fresh-faced US troops in Iraq, to make the film “Gunner Palace.”

It was the first great documentary about the war – a gripping, chaotic, and occasionally darkly humorous portrait of what was, basically, a group of kids sent to kill in a country that they knew little about. One of those soldiers, Specialist Thomas P. Susdorf, is pictured above.

“To be a combat veteran is awesome, it’ll be great to look back on,” says one of Susdorf's fellow gunners partway through the film, “I’m just trying to get to the point where I can look back on it.”

That point is now. During the pandemic, Mike and co-director Petra Epperlein crisscrossed the United States, tracking down the Gunner Palace kids to learn how the war has shaped their lives ever since.

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From combat pilot to Senator: Tammy Duckworth's reflections on the Iraq War | GZERO World

From combat pilot to Senator: Tammy Duckworth's reflections on the Iraq War

Reflecting on the 20-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, Senator Tammy Duckworth on GZERO World shares her personal experience as a combat pilot and how losing both her legs during the war pushed her to keep serving her country through government. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she stresses the importance of keeping the promises made to veterans, saying that "breaking those promises impacts military readiness."

Senator Duckworth acknowledges the progress made in Iraq, noting that "people are significantly better off than they were under Saddam Hussein." However, she believes that Iraq "is somewhat unfinished business" due to the high unemployment rates faced by young people, and hopes it can become a "friend and ally" to the United States.

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Senator Tammy Duckworth discusses unfinished business in Iraq & the true cost of war | GZERO World

Senator Tammy Duckworth discusses unfinished business in Iraq & the true cost of war

US Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a combat pilot who lost both her legs in Iraq, joins GZERO World to reflect on the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion. In her conversation with Ian Bremmer, Duckworth says that the first thing people need to understand is that the "cost of war" goes on far longer than the period of actual conflict. She emphasizes the importance of “fulfilling promises made to veterans,” and says it's "non-negotiable."

While acknowledging the progress made in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was removed from power, Duckworth believes that the country "is somewhat unfinished business," and worries about high unemployment rates for young people, concerns about Iranian influence, and negative oversight of the Kurdistan region. She hopes Iraq can become “a friend and ally to the United States.”

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- YouTube

From Iraq to Ukraine: Reflections on "wars of choice"

In their discussion on GZERO World, Ian Bremmer and NBC's chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, delve into the lessons that can be gleaned from the Iraq war in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Engel's key takeaway is to avoid “a war of choice,” as resistance from the invaded people can make the situation worse.

Drawing parallels with Iraq, he notes that “Ukraine is also a war of choice for Russia,” despite the perception of an existential crisis. Unlike Iraq, the situation in Ukraine has a clear narrative of one country trying to occupy another.

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Podcast: The costs of invading Iraq: Sen. Tammy Duckworth & Richard Engel assess war's lasting effects, 20 years later

Listen: It's been 20 years since the US-led invasion of Iraq began. Can we say the world is any better off? Despite its official end over a decade ago, the war still casts a long shadow––the loss of countless Iraqi lives, the emergence of ISIS, and continued political turmoil and sectarian violence in the region. Moreover, the war significantly damaged the United States' credibility, making it difficult to gather global support against current threats such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

On the GZERO World podcast, Ian Bremmer interviews US Senator Tammy Duckworth and NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel. Their firsthand experiences and perspectives offer a more profound comprehension of the intricate legacy of the Iraq War and its implications for international politics.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform, to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

A U.S. soldier watches as a statue of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein fall in central Baghdad, Iraq, in April 2003.

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Was Iraq a success or failure?

On a visit to Iraq in the spring of 2021, I was chatting with a group of Iraqi and western friends – all current or former advisors to the Iraqi, US, or UK governments – when the conversation turned to whether the 2003 US-led war to depose Saddam Hussein’s regime had been worthwhile. The dogmatism, divisiveness, and emotion that characterized the debate in the run-up to the war were still evident. For some, ending the murderous brutality and atrocities of Saddam’s rule superseded any other concern. Others were more equivocal, pointing to the corruption, violence, and misrule of the US-bequeathed, post-2003 political order and the toll it has taken on the country.

On the 20th anniversary of the war, the question of whether Iraq is better or worse off and whether the cost in coalition lives and money was worth it is, almost inevitably, being revisited. But it is a feckless one. The reality of Iraq’s experience since 2003 cannot be captured by a simplistic dichotomy; the country is — as it always was — more complicated than that.

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