Portion of the article written by Patrick Markey and Joseph Logan
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The last convoy of U.S. soldiers pulled out of Iraq on Sunday, ending nearly nine years of war that cost almost 4,500 American and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives and left a country grappling with political uncertainty.
For Iraqis, though, the U.S. departure brings a sense of sovereignty tempered by nagging fears their country may slide once again into the kind of sectarian violence that killed many thousands of people at its peak in 2006-2007.
The intensity of violence and suicide bombings has subsided. But a stubborn Sunni Islamist insurgency and rival Shi’ite militias remain a threat, carrying out almost daily attacks, often on Iraqi government and security officials.
NEIGHBOURS KEEP WATCH
Iran and Turkey, major investors in Iraq, will be watching with Gulf nations to see how their neighbor handles its sectarian and ethnic tensions, as the crisis in Syria threatens to spill over its borders.
The fall of Saddam allowed the long-suppressed Shi’ite majority to rise to power. The Shi’ite-led government has drawn the country closer to Iran and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who is struggling to put down a nine-month-old uprising.
Iraq’s Sunni minority is chafing under what it sees as the increasingly authoritarian control of Maliki’s Shi’ite coalition. Some local leaders are already pushing mainly Sunni provinces to demand more autonomy from Baghdad.
The main Sunni political bloc Iraqiya said on Saturday that it was temporarily suspending its participation in the parliament to protest against what it said was Maliki’s unwillingness to deliver on power-sharing.
A dispute between the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and Maliki’s central government over oil and territory is also brewing, and is a potential flashpoint after the buffer of the American military presence is gone.
“The perennial divisive issues that have become part of the fabric of Iraqi politics, such as divisions with Kurdistan and Sunni suspicions of the government, are also likely to persist.