US withdraws from Iraq after nine years
Baghdad, December 18, 2011
The last convoy of US soldiers pulled out of Iraq on Sunday, ending their withdrawal after nearly nine years of war and military intervention that cost almost 4,500 American and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.
The war launched in March 2003 with missiles striking Baghdad to oust Dictator Saddam Hussein is leaving behind a fragile democracy still facing insurgents, sectarian tensions and a struggle to define its place in the Arab region.
The final column of around 100 mostly US military MRAP armoured vehicles carrying 500 US troops trundled across the southern Iraq desert through the night along an empty highway to the Kuwaiti border.
'It's good to see this thing coming to a close. I was here when it started,' Staff Sgt Christian Schultz said just before leaving Contingency Operating Base Adder, 300 km (185 miles) south of Baghdad, for the border. 'I saw a lot of good changes, a lot of progress, and a lot of bad things too.'
For President Barack Obama, the military pullout is the fulfilment of an election promise to bring troops home from a conflict inherited from his predecessor that tainted America's standing worldwide.
For Iraqis, it brings a sense of sovereignty but fuels worries their country may slide once again into the kind of sectarian violence that killed thousands of people at its peak in 2006-2007.
For many Iraqis security remains a worry - but no more than jobs and getting access to power in a country whose national grid provides only a few hours of electricity a day.
'We don't think about America... We think about electricity, jobs, our oil, our daily problems,' said Abbas Jaber, a government employee in Baghdad. 'They left chaos.'
After Obama announced in October that troops would come home by the end of the year as scheduled, the number of US military bases was whittled down quickly as hundreds of troops and trucks carrying equipment headed south to the Kuwaiti border.
US forces, which had ended combat missions in 2010, paid $100,000 a month to tribal sheikhs to secure different parts of highways leading south to reduce the risk of roadside bombings and attacks.
At the height of the war, more than 170,000 US troops were in Iraq at more than 500 bases. By Saturday, there were fewer than 3,000 troops, and one base.
US and foreign companies are already helping Opec member Iraq develop the vast potential of the world's fourth-largest oil reserves, but Iraq's economy needs investment in all sectors, from hospitals to infrastructure.
Iran and Turkey, major investors in Iraq, will be watching with Gulf nations to see how it handles its sectarian and ethnic tensions, as the crisis in neighbouring Syria threatens to spill over its borders. – Reuters