Operation Iraqi Freedom: Officially over, but just beginning

The war in Iraq is coming to an end, says the US president, and the troops are leaving a sovereign and self-reliant Iraq. But Iraqis say after almost a decade of occupation, their country is simply being cast adrift.

US President Barack Obama on Monday heralded the end of the divisive Iraq War and warned the country's neighbors that the United States would remain a major player in the region, even as it brings its troops home.

Speaking after a morning of meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the White House, Obama said other nations must not interfere with Iraq's sovereignty.

As 2011 draws to an end, a historical chapter for Iraq and the US is finishing as well. The occupation is over. Meanwhile, despite all the efforts by the US there is doubt that anything significant has been accomplished in implementing a new form of democratic government.

Locals say they are glad that Americans are leaving their country. But “we are still concerned because after the troops leave we do not know what will happen next!” one resident, Shifah, told RT’s Sean Thomas.

Iraqi engineer, Muhanned, voices another problem: “I think that the US is right in destroying Saddam and the old system is finished, but the problem is they are not building a new system that is more than from Saddam system.”

For generations Iraq has been plagued by sectarian violence. Now, moving forward there is concern whether different parties can agree to work together for the benefit of the country. And now there is a fear that an ineffective government will leave the country vulnerable to outside influences.

However, the US forces are not the only problem for the future of Iraq. “For now the problem is the fighting between the political people. This is the real problem and this is why we suffer,” another local, Mohanned, told our correspondent.

Another obstacle to overcome in Iraq is the infrastructure. It was already crumbling when the war began, but then it was destroyed as the conflict progressed. Now the people living there say there is a lot of rhetoric about rebuilding, but that corruption and infighting is preventing real progress.

Moreover, beyond the political challenges, there has been an exodus of critical thinkers and educated talent in the country – a much-needed resource for any developing nation – leaving Iraqis in a position of continued reliance on American resources.

Political analyst Raed Jarrar says the US campaign in Iraq was a strategic failure, part of an agenda that has made Washington enemies in the Arab World.

“Now the US is leaving and what do we have in Iraq? We have a failed state that is run by political parties loyal to Iran. The current Iraqi political regime is not very friendly with the US, but is very friendly with Iran. So if a war erupts between the US and Iran, the current Iraqi regime will most definitely take Iran’s side,” he said.