However, signs of economic recovery are now visible throughout Iraq, buoyed by the improvements in security that have stemmed from Washington’s controversial ‘surge’ in troops earlier this year.

In the four years since the invasion, US ambitions for the country have been dramatically scaled back. The White House had promised to sweep away all traces of the old regime, but a new law in 2008 will bring back moderates from Saddam Hussein’s party to fill the political and commercial vacuum in Baghdad.

In economic terms, the US has also been forced to bow to the realpolitik of post-conflict Iraq. The expansive goal of free-market reform has given way to the more prosaic task of resuscitating the shattered infrastructure.

Ultimately, Iraqis will be left to fend for themselves, and US officials concede that the best that can be hoped for is to equip them with the tools to make educated policy decisions. Outside the oil sector, the notion that Iraq could compete in a global market looks fanciful.

This is not to dismiss the positive signs in the Iraqi economy today, or the work of reconstruction teams, which has made it possible to take advantage of the reduction in violence. Economic redevelopment is assisting the country’s security situation, giving cause for optimism that the process can continue when the surge winds down, even if Moqtadr al-Sadr’s ceasefire is not renewed next year.

The gulf between the US’ initial hopes for a market-driven economy and today’s hesitant signs of progress merely underlines its earlier mistakes. But while it is too late for many, the more realistic economic policy and the apparently successful troop surge mean the US has at last found a way forward for the country.