By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent
In a burst of fireworks that illuminated the Baghdad sky, jubilant Iraqis celebrated the pullout of US forces from their country this past Tuesday. It has been six long and bloody years with over 100,000 civilian lives having been lost since the Bush-era â€œshock and aweâ€ invasion of Iraq changed the country and, by extension the World, irrevocably. U.S. Forces handed over the reins of power to Iraqi security personnel. However, it will take at least two more years for the American armed forces to complete the withdrawal in 2011.
The long awaited pullout, which many political commentators believe helped President Obama win the Presidency, is a component of a security deal that was reached last year by Washington and Iraq. In a press interview, U.S. General General Ray Odierno said about Iraqi security forces, â€œI do believe they are ready. Theyâ€™ve been working towards this for a long time.â€
In a symbolic gesture, Iraqi security personnel retook the former Ministry of Defense building even though there are still more than 130,000 U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq. The remaining soldiers will continue to train and advise the 750,000 strong Iraqi army in a primarily â€˜back-seat driverâ€™ role. The Iraqi security forces remain on high alert as the government expects insurgents to do their best to spoil the transfer of power. Iraqi security personnel are visible on the city streets in a show of force against anyone attempting to disrupt the current calm. Security checkpoints remain in place and motorcycles have been banned from the streets, as they are often the mode of transport for suicide bombers.
The Americans may be leaving, but Iraq will never be the same. The country bears the scars of an unwelcome war and occupation. Lives have been lost, innocent civilians maimed and the course of history has been changed forever although it remains to be seen if it will be for the worse or better. Likewise, hearts and minds have also been changed. Many Iraqis are exercising more freedoms than under the reign of the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, which are in line with their American counterparts. The influence of the U.S. in Iraq can be seen as near as the local marketplace where western-inspired clothes are quickly scooped off the racks by customers eager to dress like the characters from their favorite American movies or sitcoms.
The stakes are high as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has promised his people that the Iraqi security personnel can effectively protect the country. If Maliki can keep that promise, the future looks very bright for Iraq. No less than 31 companies are vying for coveted oil-development contracts, which will make Iraq a force to be reckoned with in the global oil market. The plan is to develop six massive oil fields and two gas fields located in the Iraqi deserts. The Iraqi government wants to double production from 2.4 million barrels per day to a whopping 4 million barrels per day, which will give the Iraqi government an estimated 1.7 trillion dollars in revenue that can be used to rebuild the countryâ€™s beleaguered infrastructure. It has been almost 40 years since any oil company has been willing to do business with Iraq. And it could take another 40 years if the Iraqi government cannot maintain a high level of peace and stability to appease investors.