It has been 25 years — January 1991 — since the United States began the bombing attacks that marked the first shots of Operation Desert Storm to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
The shooting stopped a few weeks later but the belligerence did not and the United States, claiming a threat from Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction”, in March 2003 initiated Operation Iraqi Freedom, a military campaign, perhaps changed in name, that has not truly ceased to this day and that is not likely to end anytime soon.
Mainstream media did obligatory recaps of the last quarter century of US-Iraqi relations, think-tanks put together a white paper or a video marking the anniversary and the satirical the Onion published an article noting how America’s political leaders were holding a gala in celebration. The reality is that the anniversary passed barely noticed.
The conflict in Iraq, which cost thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and trillions of US dollars, is disappearing from the American mindset.
US media, obsessed with the Republican and Democratic campaigns for the presidency, seem to report on little else these days besides the daily musings of Donald Trump.
While suicide bombings and the territorial gains and losses of the Islamic State (ISIS) occasionally merit a 150- or 200-word article on a news website or a brief mention during a TV or radio newscast, Americans and their media have turned their attention to other issues. While they may be vaguely aware of the crisis in Iraq, it doesn’t feel important to them anymore.
Recently a friend who works for a well-known broadcaster produced an in-depth look at life in Ramadi, weeks after it was recaptured by Iraqi forces.
He received so few views of this well-researched and reported story that he was reduced on Facebook to jokingly note that of the 80 odd views of the report on his organisation’s website, 70 of them had come from his cameraman and him.
While it can be said that ISIS-inspired terrorism is very much on the American radar, there is no real connection made to Iraq. Instead it is the domestic terrorist, the lone wolf inspired by ISIS, who is to be feared the most.
Isolated events in Iraq might bubble to the surface and dominate the American news cycle for a brief time. If the Mosul dam was to burst, an event that the US government advised Iraqi citizens to prepare for, the resulting death and destruction would be hard to ignore even in the midst of a US presidential campaign.
But anything below an event of that magnitude will rise only briefly and then sink beneath the waves of the American political campaign.
This does not mean that Iraq is being forgotten about by the government. US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter recently confirmed that the US Army’s elite Delta Force units were operating again in Iraq with the express purpose to kill or capture top ISIS operatives.
It’s not likely, however, that events in Iraq will return to the importance they once held for the average American for many years, if ever.
Iraq has become like a distant second cousin to most Americans — barely thought about and, when briefly remembered, soon forgotten.