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As US troops pull out, what kind of Iraq has America left behind?

By Kim Sengupta

Not long after the "liberation" of 2003, the US-led coalition was preparing the Iraqi public for their ultimate departure.

A television advert showed a bunch of boys in an excited football match, while their parents looked on with fond smiles – the portrait of a happy and contented land. In a swirl of dust, came Western troops in their armoured cars; they stopped beside the young players for a brief exchange of greetings, and then the convoy disappeared into the desert.

As we all know now, the war did not end then. It took many years of violence unleashed by the invasion meant to nullify the threat of Saddam Hussein's non-existent WMD to allow for the latest departure. And there was no stopping yesterday beside smiling children. The long convoy of vehicles taking the last US forces across the border into Kuwait travelled at the dead of night to minimise opportunities for attack.

So what kind of united, stable Iraq are the Americans leaving behind? The Shia Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is reported to be about to order the arrest of the country's Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashimi, on terrorism charges in connection with bombings of government buildings in Baghdad. Mr Maliki had already ordered mass detentions of overwhelmingly Sunni "subversives", apparently following information from the new government in Libya, where officials claimed that Muammar Gaddafi was plotting a coup in Iraq. Sunni MPs have walked out of parliament in protest at what they see as sectarian persecution.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric with close ties to Iran, has declared that the representatives the occupiers have left behind – diplomats and aid workers with ties to the US government – were legitimate targets. Both the Shia and Sunni Iraqi Arabs are, meanwhile, furious with the Kurdistan government over deals with multinationals in oil-rich territories.

But it is not all doom and gloom after almost nine years of the Iraq adventure which costs tens of thousands of lives, most of them Iraqi. The level of violence has gone down hugely from the days when we would wake up to and go to bed in Baghdad to the sound of gunfire and bombs. The economy is taking steps, albeit faltering, towards recovery. And a non-theocratic government has been voted in. This last point is of particular importance as elections bring Muslim fundamentalists, of varying hues, into power in the region following the Arab Spring.

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