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Anniversary of start of Iraq war passes quietly

RALEIGH, N.C. - It was a day like any other day - except that it was the seventh anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

And, for the most part, that was forgotten.

"Honestly, with everything that's going on in my personal life, it slipped my mind," said Chris Skidmore, 39, as he sipped a drink on the artificial lawn at Raleigh's North Hills Mall. "I've been out of work since August of last year."

It's not that the average American isn't aware that we still have tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, or that nearly 4,400 U.S. military personnel have died there since the war began. Scattered demonstrations were scheduled around the country to call for the troops' swift return.

But with so much else going on - a torpid economy, a climactic debate over health care reform, a mounting conflict in Afghanistan - it's easy to lose sight of the fact that Americans are still fighting and dying in Iraq.

Somewhat sheepishly, Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz acknowledged that the date's significance was lost on him. But he said he and other Americans can be forgiven for not having March 19 marked on their mental calendars.

"Unlike Sept. 11 or unlike Dec. 7, 1941, it was not a war that began with a traumatic event," Wilentz said. "There was a long buildup to it. . . . There wasn't quite the sense of drama, shall we say, of the event itself, even though there were lots of dramatic events that happened that night.

"But the date did not burn itself into one's memory the way the others did," he said.

Master Sgt. Normand Roy of Lewiston led a Maine National Guard platoon in Iraq, and three soldiers in his battalion were killed there. He figures he fought for his fellow Americans' freedom to forget about the war.

"That's what's so great about America," he said. "People have a right to their opinions. . . . Unless it's right there in front of you in plain sight, then you tend to forget."

Even in places like Oceanside, Calif., whose barber shops and dry cleaners cater to the Marines at nearby Camp Pendleton, the anniversary went largely unnoticed - as it has in years past. About a dozen people interviewed Friday said they were unaware of the milestone.

Troops and their families are much more focused on Afghanistan, where thousands of troops from the I Marine Expeditionary Force are headed. The White House made no comment Friday on the anniversary of the start of the war. The U.S. military said there were no ceremonies or special events to mark the day, which saw five Iraqis - but no Americans - die in violent incidents.

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