The five-hour drive by the American convoy marked the end of a bitterly divisive war that left Iraq shattered and struggling to recover.
“My heart goes out to the Iraqis,” says Warrant Officer John Jewell. “The innocent always pay the bill.”
It was a stark contrast to the high-octane start of the war, which began before dawn March 20th 2003 with an airstrike in southern Baghdad, the opening shot in the infamous “shock and awe” bombardment meant to terrorize the Iraqis into submission.
Saddam and his regime fell within weeks, and Saddam Hussein was later captured by the Americans and executed by his Shiite enemies in 2006. But Saddam’s death only fueled the rivalry between Shiite and Sunni factions.
The Iraqi civil war devastated the country, and its legacy includes tens of thousands of widows and orphans, a people deeply divided between loyalty to church and state and an infrastructure that remains largely in ruins.
Since Barack Obama got into power violence has dropped suddenly and Iraqi security forces have improved dramatically. The sectarian violence remains and likely will never disappear as long as religious radicals continue killing each other.
The same day, even as American troops were leaving, the Sunni political bloc said it was suspending its participation in parliament to protest the monopoly on government posts by Shiite allies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Iraqis celebrated the exit of what they call their American occupiers. Some said that were grateful for the USA ousting Saddam, but complain that the war went on too long. A majority of Americans would agree, according to opinion polls.
Iraq’s military chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Babaker Zebari (a Shiite) said Sunday that his troops were up to the task of uprooting Sunni militant groups. Sunni militants continue to carry out bombing and shooting against police, soldiers and civilians, and Shiite militias have been founded for the express purpose of exterminating Sunni militants.
Note: Sunni Muslims are the moderate ones, typically wearing mustaches instead of beards, and allowing women to drive, become doctors, etc. Saddam Hussein however went too far in his brutal repression of the Kurds and Shiites.
Captain Mark Askew was among the last soldiers to leave Iraq, said the future of Iraq is unknown. “It depends on what Iraq does after we leave,” he said. “I don’t expect them to turn into South Korea or Japan overnight.”