Birth pangs: Iraq emerges from years of occupation

The withdrawal of US troops from Iraq has left a wave of sectarian violence in its wake. The US says it left a stable country. But it seems that even the largest oil reserves in the world are not enough to purchase the peace Iraqis crave.

­RT's Sean Thomas has travelled to Iraq to see for himself what the troops, whose stated aim was to bring democracy and peace, are actually leaving behind as they pack up to head home.

It has been shockingly easy for the world to overlook the total costs of this war – at least 114,000 Iraqi civilians killed, as well as 4,500 American soldiers.

Millions displaced from their homes, not to mention a one trillion US dollar financial burden.

Yet the former occupiers persist in talking up the benefits of their operation, sketching out its legacy in glowing and optimistic terms.

“I can say with confidence that in the next 20 or 50 years Iraq will be a leader that rivals any country in the Gulf region. I can say that right now Iraq is a safe and secure environment. It is not as safe and secure as it should be or it will be, but it is progressing very well, ” Major Shaw, Brigade operation officer of the 1st brigade, 1st cavalry division of the US  Army told RT.

The American occupation of Iraq saw the fall of the Ba'athist regime, the capture and execution of its deposed leader, Saddam Hussein, and the establishment of a democratic government. But now, nearly nine years later, is the country any better off?

"The US troop invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the grave mistakes they committed made the situation here worse. There are so many mistakes committed by the US military leadership, especially in managing the civilian aspects here. This had a negative effect," Major General Hassan Salman of Iraq’s army, acknowledged in an interview with RT.

In fact, there is a current of opinion here which says it was the American mismanagement of Iraq that led to the rise of sectarian violence in the country.

"All people, if you ask them who brings the terrorists to Iraq, would say – the USA. Who damaged the infrastructure? They would say – the USA. So I think we and America must cooperate in order to rub out this culture of hate between two peoples," Iraqi political analyst Viktor Aziz Rashael explained to RT.

The date for the US troop withdrawal was set in 2008. And while the Obama administration initially tried to extend the deadline, the official transfer of power came 16 days ahead of schedule – on December 16th, 2011.

"We hope that the future will bring us many good things if the Americans look to the Iraqis in equal balance, not by the view that sees Iraq following the Americans or depending for everything on the Americans,” Viktor Aziz Rashael believes. “Iraq has good natural resources, good minds and many people who can develop our country.

Right now, the US and Iraqi governments are working on a new type of diplomatic relations – building a new type of trust, if you will. But the next step is in the hands of the Iraqi government to move the country forward.

As America's influence has waned, political infighting and sectarian divisions in the Iraqi parliament have diminished as well, giving Iraqis hope for a strong future.

 “As regards other aspects – civil life, the political and parliamentary aspects as well as the economic aspect – let me say that Iraq has good capabilities that enable it to become one of the developed states,” Major General Hassan Salman assured RT.  

But as Iraq prepares to move past this dark chapter, its people have a message for their former occupiers.

"To our friends, the Americans: Please do not make another mistake in the world, because your mistake is a grave mistake and it affects your prestige and also your future relations," says Viktor Aziz Rashael.

And friends are desperately few in a region where America’s reputation now lies in shreds in the eyes of millions.