Iraqis jubilant for the end of the occupation
After nearly nine agonising years, the U.S. on Thursday formally ended military operations in Iraq, triggering a wave of celebrations inside the country that marked the end of a costly military occupation.
At a simple ceremony in Baghdad, called the “casing of colours,” the flag of the American forces in Iraq was lowered, a military tradition that symbolised the end of the war which began in March 2003. The war, which began on the illusionary pretext of eradicating non-existent stockpiles of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, ended up causing large-scale Iraqi deaths, estimated anywhere between 100,000 to a million.
The war also killed 4,487 Americans and wounded 32,226, according to Pentagon figures.
The closure of the war triggered raucous celebrations in Iraq, especially among residents of Fallujah, an agrarian town, not far from Baghdad, which became the epicentre of the resistance to the invasion.
Dubbed the first annual “festival to celebrate the role of the resistance,” it brought thousands into the streets to participate in high-pitched demonstrations.
Many held placards praising Fallujah as “the flame of the resistance,” while others proclaimed: “Now we are free.”
During the course of the noisy outpouring, some burned the U.S. and the Israeli flags, and others lofted pictures of slain American soldiers along with images of gutted military vehicles.
The town bore the brunt of two major U.S. intrusions in 2004, following the killing of the four American security contractors belonging to private security firm Blackwater. The company was subsequently re-named Xe, but still later assumed its current name, Academi.
The horrific war triggered a highly destructive sectarian conflict between the majority Shia and Sunni communities. It also led to the emergence of Iraq as a new haven for the al-Qaeda, with the Jordanian born Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the mastermind of a spate of sectarian killings, emerging as its icon.
Yet, on Thursday, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon E.Panettta, who presided over the ceremony in Baghdad, imparted a positive spin to the invasion. He said “the dream of an independent and sovereign Iraq is now a reality”.
On Wednesday, addressing troops who have just returned from Iraq in North Carolina, U.S. President Barack Obama praised soldiers for their role in Iraq.
“Everything that American troops have done in Iraq, all the fighting and dying, bleeding and building, training and partnering, has led us to this moment of success,” he observed.
In Iran, which borders Iraq and exercises substantial influence in that country, the closure of the American military presence has been reported with considerable restraint.
However, the semi-official Press TV in English said thousands of military advisers and diplomats are expected to remain in Iraq as part of U.S. embassy personnel in Baghdad.
The New York Times is reporting that a few hundred military personnel and Pentagon civilians will remain, working within the American embassy to assist in weapons sales and training.
The withdrawal of American forces may bolster Iranian influence in Iraq. But some analysts are of the view that now that they are freed from their mission in Iraq, Washington would be in a better position to mount fresh pressure on Iran with a far larger number of troops.