BAGHDAD - Winding up the most unpopular war since Vietnam, US military officially ended its war in Iraq on Thursday, December 15, leaving doubtful and fearful Iraqis tainted by sadness over lost relatives and memories of US violations during a lengthy nine-year invasion.
"The only images I have in my mind from these nine years are the deaths of my brother and his wife, of being forced from our homes, and the death of another brother in a bombing," Zahora Jasim, a Baghdad housewife, told Reuters.
Losing two brothers to bombs and gunmen in the years of turmoil and violence that followed the US invasion of Iraq, Jasim expects no change in the deteriorating security.
"I don't think anything will really change, she added.
There will still be bombings, we will still have assassinations, and the government will not be able to do anything."
Nine years after the invasion, the US military officially ended its war in Iraq on Thursday, packing up a military flag at a ceremony with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The last 4,000 American troops will withdraw by the end of the year across the Kuwaiti border as President Barack Obama winds up the most unpopular war since Vietnam.
"After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real," Panetta said at the ceremony.
The US invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple the Saddam Hussein regime on claims of possessing weapons of mass destruction, a claim never proved true.
Almost 4,500 US soldiers have died since 2003 and the war has cost US taxpayers over $700 billion in military spending alone.
As the US leaves Iraq, the country is still tackling a weakened but stubborn insurgency, sectarian tensions and political uncertainty.
Moreover, many Iraqis were still haunted by images of US abuse of inmates in Abu Ghraib prison.
The Abu Ghraib scandal first broke out in 2004 after American newspapers published shocking photos taken on mobile and digital cameras by US soldiers of Iraqi detainees.
Prisoners were subjected to severe physical and psychological abuse including the use of dogs to scare and bite prisoners, death threats and sexual abuse. It was also reported that prisoners were raped by American military personnel.
Adding salt to injury, the American troops are leaving a country with a fragile power-sharing deal that includes Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish parties. But for some Sunnis, there is no sharing.
"I think sectarianism will return, the struggle between Sunni and Shi'ite. It is clear from the struggle the government has," security guard Mohammed Ibrahim told Reuters.
"I feel marginalized as a Sunni, there are no jobs for us in the government."
From the Shi'ite-dominated south to western Sunni strongholds, sectarianism bubbles below the surface with repeated bombings and attacks.
Now, Iraq is only slowly getting to its feet after years of ferocious violence that shattered its society and killed tens of thousands of people.
Violence there is a far cry from the sectarian slaughter of 2006-07, but Iraq still suffers daily attacks from a stubborn insurgency and from Shiite militiamen.
A frail economy, scarce jobs and discontent with political leaders were all fueling uncertainty among Iraqis.
Yet, security remained a major worry.
"I am happy they are leaving. This is my country and they should leave," said Samer Saad, a soccer coach.
"But I am worried because we need to be safe. We are worried because all the militias will start to come back."
Celebrating the end of US invasion, thousands of Fallujah residents burned and stamped on US flags on Wednesday in celebration over the withdrawal. Others waved pictures of dead relatives.
"No one trusted their promises, but they said when they came to Iraq they would bring security, stability and would build our country," said Ahmed Aied, a Falluja grocer.
Now they are walking out, leaving behind killings, ruin and mess.