Nightly News   |  October 21, 2011

Can Iraq handle the challenges ahead?

President Obama announced Friday that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year. NBC’s Richard Engel has more, as he looks at how the country might cope with the challenges it faces.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

KATE SNOW, anchor: We want to turn next, though, to our chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel , who's covered the Iraq war , of course, since day one. He joins us tonight here in our studios. And this decision today, Richard , does bring some risk.

RICHARD ENGEL reporting: It certainly does and those risks are significant. The Iraqi government is weak, it is corrupt. The Iraqi state remains very unstable, but soon it will be up to Iraqis themselves and without US help to determine their fate. In just 10 weeks America 's war in Iraq will finally, truly be over, nearly nine years after it began with shock and awe.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The dangers to our country and the world will be overcome.

TOM BROKAW reporting: The Iraqi capitol city has been the target of two surgical strikes.

ENGEL: The 21-day assault on Baghdad and the hunt for weapons of mass destruction that weren't there.

Unidentified Man: We got him.

ENGEL: But a quick victory began a bloody insurgency and then a civil war . All along the way, US troops , 166,000 at the peak in 2007 , have been fighting, building and dying. Four thousand four-hundred sixty-nine US troops killed, 32,213 injured. Iraqi deaths, almost 150,000, but many Iraqis believe it's a million. The cost? At least $700 billion and perhaps a lot more. Then, a year ago, the US combat mission ended, but thens of thousands of American trainers stayed on. They were supposed to remain until the end of this year, but Iraq considered keeping two to 3,000 beyond that, a safeguard in case the civil war returned. But Iraqi politicians, especially Shiite hardliner Muqtada al Sadr , refused to grant the troops immunity, so they're not staying. So can Iraq handle the challenges ahead? Recent signs are troubling. Car bombings and ethnic violence both up. Iran , a long-time enemy, gaining influence. And this week, in Northern Iraq , Kurdish militants launched a raid into Turkey , killing 26 Turkish soldiers. Turkey responded with 10,000 troops and attacked Kurdish militants across the border in Iraq , all while American troops are still there.

Colonel JACK JACOBS, Retired (NBC News Military Analyst): I think Iraq is going to be more destabilized, but not necessarily because we're leaving. I think because we went there in the first place .

ENGEL: Once US troops are gone, Iraq will be more vulnerable, but also perhaps more responsible and self reliant. The training wheels off, Iraq will have to succeed or fail without American troops on the ground to guide the way. After today, we finally know, Kate , where the end parenthesis goes. When history is eventually written it will say ' Iraq war , 2003 - 2011 .'

SNOW: It seems so long ago. Richard Engel , thank you.