Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Triumphant parade as Iraqis celebrate withdrawal of American combat troops.

So now, finally, the US pulls it's troops out of Iraq's cities. Some on the right have bemoaned the fact that Iraqis are choosing to celebrate this moment by announcing a national holiday, but what else could anyone expect?

These people have lived under foreign occupation for six long years, it's only natural that they would wish to rejoice now that this particularly difficult period of their lives has come to an end, no matter what new difficulties might lie ahead.

In a triumphant speech on national television, Maliki said: "This day, which we consider a national celebration, is an achievement made by all Iraqis. Those who think that Iraqis are unable to defend their country are committing a fatal mistake."

He then moved to the makeshift parade ground, where a smattering of American military officials - partners and benefactors of his regime since 2006 - seemed already to have slipped into a supporting role.

"From now on, the war they started is ours," said Ibrahim al-Majid, a soldier on duty at the pageant. It took place in the shadows of the infamous stretch where Saddam would watch throughout the war with Iran as rigid rows of troops and scud missiles on lorries passed before him.

And that's the truth. The war the US started, the war which pitted Shia against Sunni, now becomes the responsibility of the government of Iraq.

I wish them well in the months ahead.

The pullout was largely characterised as a repulsion of an occupation, rather than an evolution in the capabilities of Iraqi forces. "Everyone is happy," said Thair Shafeek Saleh, 50, a retiree from the Baghdad suburb of al-Qadesiyeh.

"This is a moment in history for us and from now on we will be in control of everything, especially decisions."

US President Barack Obama said yesterday that while there is more work to be done, the US has made important progress toward a stable, sovereign Iraq. "Make no mistake. There will be difficult days ahead," he added.

Iraqis seem split on whether a security vacuum will emerge, with some expressing faith in the army and police forces and others worrying that militias will be allowed to re-emerge.

"Before 2003 the army was professional," said Saleh. "We cannot repeat that immediately. But they are my sons and brothers and if they are led by good leaders, then they will keep the country safe."

Another man, Iyad al-Duleimi offered a cautionary tone: "I am happy, but are the forces up to the job? The government must monitor them, because many are beholden to militias and foreign agendas."

So, Obama is right to warn of "difficult days ahead", but I am reminded of Gandhi's comments to the British when they warned him of problems if Britain ever left India. Gandhi replied, "There will be problems, but they will be our problems, not yours".

Obama has kept his election promise and has begun to return Iraq to the Iraqis. It is now for the Iraqis to sort out the mess which Bush created.

Baghdad's parklands were transformed into festival sites last night, with giant Iraqi flags shimmering amid an evening dust-storm, and television screens beaming live concerts with renowned singers - some of whom have recently returned from exile."I came tonight to celebrate," said Leila Hamood. "The departure of the foreign troops is the best thing for Iraqis who have endured tragedies for 40 years. We are optimistic now, because the Americans stuck to their commitment to leave. It is the best thing for everyone."

The American right might bemoan the fact that the Iraqis are celebrating the US departure, but they are forgetting that the Iraqis never asked for their intervention in the first place.

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