When faced with a rising tide of violence, largely caused by their own policy mistakes, the U.S. occupation embarked on the reconstitution of an Iraqi military. The resultant Iraqi security forces, under the control of Nuri al-Maliki, are today on their way to occupying the same role as the armed forces of the Ba'athist regime, writes Toby Dodge.
On December 15, 2011, in a fortified compound at Baghdad International Airport, the US Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, oversaw the formal end of the American military presence in Iraq. The event marked the final departure of US troops, eight years and nine months after the invasion. Two weeks later, once the final US convoys had slipped across the border into Kuwait, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared December 31 'Iraq Day' and sent a celebratory text message to the population declaring the start of a new post-American era, "We are all for Iraq. Glory and honour to the people. I congratulate you and our proud Iraqi people for this historic day. With my love and respect to you and your family. Your brother Nuri al-Maliki".
Given the instability, insurgency and civil war that invasion and regime change wrought, the final departure of American troops was greeted with a sense of relief and release by the Iraqi population, once again unambiguously in control of their own destiny. However, the violent aftermath of regime change was in large part driven by America's ambitious attempts at re-engineering Iraqi politics after Ba'athist rule. The celebrations marking the final departure of the US were hence tinged with widespread concern about how the on-going political consolidation would turn out.