US flag ceremony marks formal end of Iraq war role


US Defences Secretary, Leon Panetta: "To all of the men and women in uniform today your nation is deeply indebted to you."

The flag of American forces in Iraq has been lowered in Baghdad, bringing nearly nine years of US military operations in Iraq to a formal end.

The US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, told troops the mission had been worth the cost in blood and dollars.

He said the years of war in Iraq had yielded to an era of opportunity in which the US was a committed partner.

Only about 4,000 US soldiers now remain in Iraq, but they are due to leave in the next two weeks.

At the peak of the operation, US forces there numbered 170,000.


For 40 years, Iraq has been one of the most damaged countries on earth.

The American-led invasion and overthrow of Saddam led to a savage civil war which is still not finished.

The United States leaves behind a country embittered by the occupation.

And yet today, as the Americans pull down their flag and leave, some Iraqis hope that their country's luck may be turning.

If Iraq becomes wealthy, if it can stay more or less democratic, if it can finally bring terrorism to an end, then the 40 years of horror may be over.

Its people deserve a little good luck at last.

The symbolic ceremony in Baghdad officially "cased" (retired) the US forces flag, according to army tradition.

It will now be taken back to the USA.

Mr Panetta told US soldiers they could leave Iraq with great pride.

"After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real," he said.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said Iraqis were glad the US troops were leaving.

"They have been difficult years," he told the BBC.

"We have had some successes together. We had some failures. We have some mishaps.

"I think we are all happy that the American soldiers are returning home safely to their families and we are also confident that the Iraqi people and their armed forces, police, are in a position now to take care of their own security."

Some 4,500 US soldiers and more than 100,000 Iraqis have died in the war.

The conflict, launched by the Bush administration in March 2003, soon became hugely unpopular as claims that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction and supporting al-Qaeda militants turned out to be untrue.

The war has cost the US some $1tr.

Republicans have criticised the pullout citing concerns over Iraq's stability, but a recent poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 75% of Americans backed the troop withdrawal.

'Moment of success'

President Barack Obama, who came to office pledging to bring troops home, said on Wednesday that the US left behind a "sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq".

In a speech in North Carolina to troops who have just returned, Mr Obama hailed the "extraordinary achievement" of the military and said they were leaving with "heads held high".

"Everything that American troops have done in Iraq, all the fighting and dying, bleeding and building, training and partnering, has led us to this moment of success," he said.

Barack Obama: "You have shown why the US military is the finest fighting force in the history of the world"

"The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and your service belongs to the ages."

He said the war had been "a source of great controversy" but that they had helped to build "a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people".

Mr Obama announced in October that all US troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011, a date previously agreed by former President George W Bush in 2008.

Some 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003. In addition to those who died, nearly 30,000 have been wounded.

Troop numbers peaked during the height of the so-called surge strategy in 2007, but the last combat troops left Iraq in August last year.

A small contingent of some 200 soldiers will remain in Iraq as advisers, while some 15,000 US personnel are now based at the US embassy in Baghdad - by far the world's largest.

Timeline - US troops in Iraq

  • March 2003 - Operation Iraqi Freedom begins with a "shock and awe" assault on Baghdad, which falls in under a month
  • May 2003 - President George Bush declares "mission accomplished"
  • Dec 2003 - Saddam Hussein captured in a bunker south of Tikrit
  • April 2004 - Photos emerge showing abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison
  • 2005 - Suicide attacks in Iraq hit all-time high as insurgency spreads
  • January 2007 - US troop "surge" begins, leading to a drop in violence by 2008
  • August 2010 - Last US combat troops leave Iraq
'Ruin and mess'

Some Iraqis have said they fear the consequences of being left to manage their own security.

Baghdad trader Malik Abed said he was grateful to the Americans for ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein, but added: "I think now we are going to be in trouble. Maybe the terrorists will start attacking us again."

But in the city of Falluja, a former insurgent stronghold which was the scene of major US offensives in 2004, people burned US flags on Wednesday in celebration at the withdrawal.

"No-one trusted their promises, but they said when they came to Iraq they would bring security, stability and would build our country," Ahmed Aied, a grocer, told Reuters news agency.

"Now they are walking out, leaving behind killings, ruin and mess."

Concerns have also been voiced in Washington that Iraq lacks robust political structures or an ability to defend its borders.

There are also fears that Iraq could be plunged back into sectarian bloodletting, or be unduly influenced by Iran.

US troop levels

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  • Comment number 384.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    #366. bob17999

    Privy to information? Yeh right, and my Aunt is my Uncle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    362. boldriley
    >>>>100,000 Iraqis would still be alive if America hadn't invaded.

    Unseen deaths are still deaths.

    "Hussein created a nation of informants ...making an entire population complicit in his rule".[28] ...estimated 800,000 deaths caused by Saddam not counting the Iran-Iraq war.[29] Estimates as to the number of Iraqis executed by Saddam's regime vary from 300–500,000"

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    So another great US military success.
    Who writes this stuff? Surely not those who remeber Vietnam

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    USA has at last left the country it destroyed & hurled into turmoil. No mention of the real number of Iraqis who have been killed either deliberately or accidentally in this shameful example of western dominance. Ruled by a madman but all had healthcare, education, water & electricity continuously. So now they are free to sell their oil to the USA & UK, democracy in action? I don't think so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    Killing of the innocents on a scale that Saddam could only dream about..
    No weapons of mass destruction found...
    An illegal war..
    Iraq now a yank puppet state... To be milked for it's resources..
    War criminals still at large (Bush and Blair for a start!)
    I don't call that success.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    @363 bob17999, there were no WMDs Bob. And what Iraq did have was sold to them by the USA. Saddam never used them 'on his own people', 'cos he was a Tikriti,and he gassed Kurds that happened to live inside the boundary of Iraq, and do you need reminding these countries borders were created by Westerners?

    Oh, and I don't buy that you a privy to some information that justifies the debacle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    The sooner the middle east's oil runs out and they go back to living in tents and poisoning each others' wells the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    America now has a $15 trillion national debt from misconceived wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a few years, the Arab petro-states dissolve during the mass sale of hydrogen fuel, for vehicle use.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    30. BlueStrike
    >>>Dick Cheney's Haliburton and other US companies will be grateful for the new market control they have exerted on the people of Iraq.

    Dick Cheney left Halliburton in 2000. Does he still have an interest in that concern do you know?

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    The Iraq invasion will probably be remembered as one of the greatest political/economic/security catastrophes in American history. Saddam was a horrible dictator, no doubt, but I believe we are infinitely worse off now then we were before the invasion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    Job well done! Stable country with democratic values and a booming economy.


    Country in turmoil, as democratic as you can be when the CIA has your pocket and economy on its knees because US companies such as Halliburton control the major source of income, oil!

    You decide!

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    I am aways amazed at the anti American tone of these BBC reports. While I dont expect flag waving, the tone is critical, it is not reportage, it is opinion. It is a constant, especially from Mr. Melendez.

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    As an Iraqi myself, let me remind you that this invasion was about so-called weapons of mass destruction and blaming Iraq for 9/11. It was never about liberating Iraqis from Saddam and bringing democracy to Iraq.
    So after 9 years of war and 100,000 Iraqi civilians deaths, where are the "WMD" then?

  • Comment number 370.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    The Middle East has been at war with itself since the dawn of history. Eleven years of US meddling changes nothing in the long run. The only difference is that those of us with the misfortune to live in the West during the next couple of centuries get to hear about how it's all our fault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    ref #362
    15 Minutes ago
    Obama may try to talk up American interference in Iraq and make it sound like a success but the invasion was a disaster for the Iraqi people. 100,000 Iraqis would still be alive if America hadn't invaded.

    It was the ilsamic terrorists who were responsible for almost all of the Iraquis deaths.

    They invaded we liberated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    "US flag ceremony ends war in Iraq". The title simply highlights the clear political bias of the supposedly impartial BBC. This was not a war, it was an INVASION! There is a very big difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    @278.CymruLondoner. No I am currently serving in the military and served in Iraq twice. I have in the course of my duties been privy to information that the public has rightly not. Therfore unlike the vast majority of people here I have formed my opions on the full picture. When the information becomes availiable in the distant future I hope others will do the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    @363 bob17999

    The capability to use WMDs was not there because there weren't any and there hadn't been since 1995.

    Nor can you invade a country because it has the capacity to manufacture WMD -any half decent university chemistry lab has that capacity.

    Iraq was a broken an impoverished third world country with no airforce, no navy, scarely an effective army and definitively, no WMD -no threat.


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