As Iraqis mark the liberation of their country on April 9th, they celebrate amid major security and political achievements that citizens and security officials say represent a turning point in Iraq's history.
"Today, we are celebrating this occasion in a year that is different from the previous year," said Maj. Gen. Jassim al-Shuali of the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. "This year saw the killing of some of al-Qaeda's leading figures and the destruction of their training camps, as well as the seizure of weapons and explosives."
This year's celebration comes as Iraq is witnessing noticeable security improvements.
"Many cities, residential neighbourhoods, and streets have been secured, cement blocs have been removed, and military manifestations in streets have been reduced," he told mawtani.com. "We feel all of this every day."
Al-Shuali said Iraqi security forces have also made important improvements.
"Iraqi forces are now prepared and trained to take out any security threat within a short period of time, unlike last year and previous years when they needed the support of US army," he said.
"Today we can say that Iraqi forces have become ready to take responsibility for the security file, and there is no fear or worry about the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq."
In the last few years, US forces handed over a number of important military bases to the Iraqi government, including Imam Ali Air Base in Nasiriyah, al-Shirqat Joint Co-operation Base and Mamoun Palace Base in Salah al-Din, Scania Base in Babil, and the military compound in Abu Ghraib in Baghdad province.
"This year is different than the previous year because Iraqis are remembering April 9th in a time in which they look forward to winning the battle against the terrorist groups which have reached their end," said Iraqi Army commander Lt. Gen. Abdul Aziz al-Obaidi.
"Iraqi forces reached the self-sufficiency stage in training, as new military trainers and experts in combating terrorism, street fighting and chasing terror cells have graduated. We can say that the Iraqi army has become capable of protecting all of Iraq from the terrorists," he said.
Government officials and members of parliament said consecutive parliamentary elections in Iraq demonstrate the significant political achievements made since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
"The democratic system in Iraq has become the strongest in the Middle East region," said Iraqi government official spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh. "We now have freedom of opinion, multiple parties, and peaceful rotation of power. In addition, Iraq is becoming increasingly stronger and more solid unlike the dictatorial systems that are becoming weaker and more confused."
He said that this year's April 9th celebration "represents the start of a new era in which there is no difference between Iraqis and there are no second-class citizens. Rather, there is the law and system that guarantee the same rights and duties for everyone."
Ziad al-Qabbani, a member of Rafidain Sons Movement in Baghdad, said the political process is "more mature this year".
"We have found responsiveness, understanding and a solid foundation on which the different factions in Iraq agree," he said. "The Iraqi parliament in its current session has become representative of all Iraqis of all sects and religions."
Lawmaker Nadhum al-Hasani of the State of Law Coalition said, "The people of Iraq consider this day to be a day of joy, happiness, salvation from dictatorship, and a great victory for democracy."
But he acknowledged that Iraqis continue to face challenges.
"A few sick people, extremists, and enemies of freedom and democracy tried to spoil this change and new life," al-Hasani said. "Therefore, we have to continue to fight them and we should not consider April 9th a day of complete salvation. Instead, we as Iraqis must complete our victory with our own hands and continue with what has been done for us by other friendly countries that have agreed to help us."
Khalid Abdullah, a member of parliament's Security and Defence Committee, said Iraqi forces are becoming more independent.
"For a year, Iraqi forces have been leading the battle against terrorism alone," he said. "US forces provide them with support, training and advice when needed, which is what contributes to improving the performance of the Iraqi forces."
Lawmaker Hameed al-Hayes of the Iraqi National Coalition described April 9th as "a day for not only getting rid of Saddam's regime, but also for changing politics in Iraq to another state characterised by democracy, transparency and freedom".
"This day represents the birth of a new Iraq and removal of Baath regime, one-party system and domination," he said. "Everyone knows that terrorism has found a chance to hit democracy in Iraq at its birth, and that it is still trying to do that. However, it has failed, and will fail."
Mahmoud Othman a lawmaker representing the Kurdish Alliance said April 9th is "the day of change in Iraq for the better".
"April 9th was the day on which Iraqis became united against injustice, mass graves and human massacres," he said.
Iraqi citizens stressed the need to preserve the young democratic process and make it a success to prevent terrorism from destabilising country.
"April 9th is a day of happiness, joy, survival and smiles that were put on Iraqi lips," said Soumia Jassim, 55, a resident of Fallujah. "We will not allow terrorism, proponents of extremism, or enemies of democracy to hide that day or make us forget it."
Kamal Ali, a 47-year-old taxi driver in Baghdad, said he has noticed that security has improved.
"A year ago, I could not enter certain areas or neighbourhoods in Baghdad," he said. "However, today, I can go around in any area to take orders and passengers to any place in Iraq."
"This celebration will be a distinguished one and will feature spontaneous popular joy for a simple reason, which is that Iraqis have become free of the domination of terrorism that was prohibiting and banning any celebration of National Day," Ali said. "It is a wonderful achievement, and we are making progress year after year."
Saad Jabbar, 30, a resident of Baghdad, said April 9th "represents the first step in getting rid of dictatorship and slavery".
"We have to continue with the second step, which is getting rid of terrorism and establishing democracy on firm ground in Iraq," he said.