Operation Iraqi Freedom at 20: Americans and the Iraq War

Mar 15, 2023
  • Description

The Iraq War changed America and the world, yet its fingerprints appear barely visible in the minds and memories of most Americans. Twenty years after the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, only 1 in 4 Americans "often" or "sometimes" think about the Iraq War and only 1 in 5 say the war changed their life. Further, when asked about major events from the war, few Americans are familiar with much beyond the invasion, capture of Saddam Hussein, and the withdrawal in 2011. These findings are stark considering the enormous costs of the war. Over 4,440 service members gave their lives and over 32,000 were wounded during the Iraq War (2003-2011), and the cost to the US Treasury was approximately $800 billion.

The picture is more complex, however. While the Iraq War appears remote and invisible for most Americans, they want to learn about it. 77 percent of Americans – with little variation across demographics or ideology – feel it is important, as individuals, to learn about the Iraq War. But Americans are hesitant about whether such learning should be done at the national level. Only 41 percent feel the country needs to do more to publicly learn from the Iraq War and 32 percent say it's better for the country to put the Iraq War behind us and move on. Embedded in this hesitation are likely concerns that any public effort to grapple with the war will devolve into political battles to relitigate blame.