As the last convoy of US troops trickled over the desertous southern-Iraqi border, the move was met with contrasting emotions, much like the overall US experience little shy of 9 years.
For many in Iraq, the image of seeing their “occupiers” leave became a long-time nationalist dream. Fast forward 9 years, 4500 lost lives and an expenditure fast approaching trillion dollar that has crippled the US foreign policy image and dented the US economy, the US were arguably as keen to leave as they were to enter.
Many placed direct blame on much of the unfolding crisis over the years in Iraq on America but as the future will prove the US is not responsible for every Iraqi misfortune and that perhaps America did well to stave off so many obstacles.
The downfall of Saddam and subsequent invasion of Iraq only opened a hornets nest, the nest was placated many decades before with the artificial creation of Iraq. The lid was simply held firm by the iron grip of Saddam and once opened, the Americans struggled relentlessly to keep grip whilst under immense international spotlight.
It is time for the Iraqi political actors to take accountability and responsibility for the current situation in Iraq. Iraq has had a sovereign government for many years, has now held two national elections, implemented a national constitution and has a large security force at its disposal that has been in practical control of the streets long before the US withdrawal.
History will prove that America never really got the credit it deserved. It made huge sacrifices whilst Iraqi politicians have constantly failed to deliver. It pulled Iraq from the brink of all-out sectarian war in 2007 with the promise of thousands of more troops as part of the surge strategy but the Iraqi leaders again failed to keep their promises and their end of the bargain.
It is by no means to say that the US adventure in Iraq should be marked as a shining glory. The two Washington administrations, particularly that of George W. Bush, will be the first to admit that Iraq was an achilles heel and in the case of Bush the hammer blow to the credibility of the his tenure. In hindsight, the US is more than likely to have done things differently and will have a bitter taste in their mouths as some events backfired.
However, as the old saying goes, you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. Iraq has had many historical milestones and achievements but has successfully failed to capitalise on any positive motions created.
The bottom line is that deep sectarianism, a clear ethnic divide and above all profound historical mistrust and animosity have severely handicapped any chance of national reconciliation and genuine progression in Iraq.
As soon as the US forces formally withdrew, fierce debate ensued about the legacy that they left behind. One thing for sure is that the positive picture of the current climate in Iraq that the US was hoping to promote did not take long to shatter.
A day later, Iraq become embroiled in a new sectarian and political crisis as an arrest warrant was issued for Iraq”s Sunni Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi and a number of other Sunni figures, on terror related charges. This is in addition to controversy around Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak whose criticism of Maliki”s dictatorial tendencies left him clinging on to his position as Maliki sought a vote of no confidence against him.
People have warned about the fragility of the current coalition, however, the coalition has been anything but stable and harmonious since its much delayed inception. Over a year later and key ministries still remain in so-called temporary hands. Iyyad Allawi, the head of al-Iraqiya, has had an ongoing political rift and escalating war of words with Maliki accusing him of monopolisation of power and reneging on the Erbil agreement.
As the current crisis has escalated, an already bewildered al-Iraqiya decided to boycott parliament. Renew sectarian bloodshed coupled with a collapse of the current government may place Iraq in a point of no return and without a bail-out from the US this time around.
It is easy to overlook that Sunni Sahwa councils were a significant factor in the decline of violence and they still remain a localised Sunni tool rather than a national possession. Without a balanced security apparatus, Iraq will have three different armies guarding each of the major factions of Iraq.
The Sunni-Shiite power struggle is also exhibited in the increasing ploy of largely Sunni provinces to manipulate constitutional clauses and seek regional autonomy to place Maliki in a difficult bargaining corner and to safeguard their powerbases.
While much of Iraq has been stuck in a rut, Kurdistan has enjoyed unprecedented progression much to the regular dismay than applaud from Baghdad. More than any other group, the Kurds were most disappointed by the US exit and left them feeling anxious at hostile parties around them.
Renewed sectarianism and friction in Baghdad will see the Kurds embroiled in a fresh nightmare that will only blight the attraction and evolvement of the region. Furthermore, the Kurds have been so busy helping construct successive governments in Baghdad and then help papering over the cracks that they have seemingly overlooked that Baghdad has seldom kept their end of the bargain and has gotten away without any real political repercussions.
Kurdistan has waited for almost a decade for the return of Kirkuk and disputed territories and has waited many years for key laws such as a national hydrocarbon law to be adopted. In reality, unless Kurdistan takes matters into their own hands and pushes Baghdad in no uncertain terms, they will wait yet another decade for the return of their lands.
As kingmakers, Kurds have taken a tough-line position in negotiations over successive government formations, while Baghdad has dragged their heels in the commitments they have agreed to as part of the initial wooing of Kurdish blocs.
Just as the jostling of power between Sunni and Shiites will come to the boil at some point, especially if the proviso of parliament and politics is seen as an insufficient forum, then the increasing bitter relationship between Erbil and Baghdad will take similar suit if it indefinitely becomes stuck in a detrimental cycle.
While much of how the proceedings play out is in the hands of the Iraqi leaders, the difficulties already inherent are only exasperated by the influence of neighbouring countries. As the US formally withdraws, the battle for influence in Iraq will only heighten.
The Shiite-led government of al-Maliki openly sways towards Tehran and has defended the Allawite and fellow Shiite Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, while most of the Arab world has turned increasingly against him. All the while, Sunni neighbours such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia looks anxiously at the alliances formed by Baghdad.
As the Middle East has evolved greatly as a result of the Arab Spring, Iraq will need to greatly alter the relations with its neighbours.
At the same time, Kurdistan which is already under great constraints due to the weary eye of its neighbours, strives for good relations with all sides and must not rely on the sentiments of Baghdad in achieving its nationalist ambitions.