Nightly News   |  March 19, 2013

Sunnis, Shiites blame US for Iraq’s unrest

Ten years after the US launched a “shock and awe” campaign toppling Saddam Hussein, the cost of the Iraq War is now estimated to be about $2 trillion -- but the region is far from stable. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>>> unleashed shock and awe. a massive assault that lit up the night sky in baghdad . we were told it would be a quick war. it was about finding and stopping weapons of mass destruction and we would be greeted as liberator. that did not turn out to be the case. now a decade later a clear majority of americans say the iraq war wasn't worth it. the cost in american lives or dollars. our chief foreign correspondent richard engel spent the better part of the last decade covering the war. he has our report tonight.

>> reporter: today, baghdad looked like the place many american troops will remember. more than a dozen bombings, dozens dead. ten years after president bush launched shock and awe and toppled saddam hussein , the iraq war has started again. sunnis versus shiites. it's their fight now. but both sides blame the united states for blundering in, looking for weapons of mass destruction that weren't there, undoing iraq 's delicate religious balance. ardly the stability desired after more than a million u.s. troops deployed to iraq . nearly 4,500 of them killed. 32,000 wounded. 130,000 iraqi civilians killed. and the cost, according to a new study, around $2 trillion. perhaps much more. back in 2003 , the american people were told the war would be quick and cheap, maybe even paid for by iraqi oil money.

>> there is a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be u.s. taxpayer money. it starts with the assets of the iraqi people .

>> reporter: it didn't work out that way. u.s. forces stayed for nine years. captain a.j. boys is now stationed in virginia, married with a six-week-old daughter.

>> three buildings down from the building you engaged --

>> reporter: we first met him in 2008 under fire building a wall in baghdad 's satar city. he knows iraq has problems now but thinks his unit's sacrifice was worth it.

>> the price of freedom is amazing. our unit lost soldiers. we lost friends -- both iraqi and american. it was a very tough sacrifice. but i think in the end, i think it will be okay.

>> reporter: what did the u.s. accomplish in iraq ? saddam hussein was removed from power. free elections were held and hundreds, maybe thousands of al qaeda -inspired militants were killed. but the war also created thousands more. iraq didn't become a stable u.s.-friendly democracy, but a shiite-led state with close ties to iran, still at war with itself. a big legacy of the iraq war is that extreme reluctance by the white house to become more involved in other foreign conflicts, especially the one in syria right now. here in jerusalem, the president is expected to arrive tomorrow. syria is just next door. it will be on the agenda as that conflict gets even more violent. today there are reports in syria of a chemical weapons attack. they are still not confirmed. both sides, the rebels and the government are trading accusations. u.s. officials are trying to determine if chemical weapons were even used. if they were, it could be a tipping point and trigger deeper u.s. involvement. brian?

>> richard engel in israel prior to the president's arrival there. richard, thanks.