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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  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    This seems to be a withdrawal as much as GW Bush victory ceremony marked a real victory. One more word to be twisted...

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    US invasion of Iraq - WHO WON THE WAR ????

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    All the stupid leftist blowhards on here really disgust me. Let I remind you all that when the US removed Saddam, the Iraqi people dug up 100,000 of their own citizens in mass graves. And can any of you say with a straight face, that if Saddam was still in power, there would not currently be a nuclear arms race between Iraq and Iran? Who were mortal enemies. Middle Eastern nukes is a nightmare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    As an American of Iraqi heritage, I think history will show that the US intervention in Iraq served Iraq well in the long term but was not in the best interest of the US. For those who think that it was all about oil or WMD's, I am not sure it was that simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.


    The same Saudi with all that oil? No one said Saddam was behind 9/11; the claim was that he funded terrorists - which he did. Not to mention the genocide, institutional rape as a weapon, and invading Kuwait.

    Anyone who wishes to make the actions of the US, and those of the former Iraqi dictatorship, morally equivalent, is laughably unaware of Iraq before the war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    When does the Iran opening ceremony begin?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    295. "Maybe thats the reason people are not whooping with thanks today, The USA did not 'liberate Europe" and claims like that don't endear us Europeans to you."

    So who did liberate Europe then? It certainly wasn't Europeans! You're surely not going to credit the Russians with "liberation" are you? Without America to hold them back, Russia would've occupied the whole of Europe by 1950.

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    Bob17779 most servicemen and women I know would never lay claim to be more than a cog in a very large wheel, unlike you.

    Unless you're very high up in the command chain, which without chucking cheapshots I'm overwhelmingly assuming you aren't, you're not privvy to anything mate...

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    Re 205.

    Official reports from the US have stated that Iraq has the 3rd largest proven resources of oil after Saudi & Canada,so a pretty big temptation there then?

    As to its invasion being on the "neo con agenda for years." No doubt about that one,all that was needed was a viable excuse??

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    I don't know who America are trying to kid on, the world or themselves. No-one wanted the invasion of Iraq - not even the Iraqi's. No-one wanted the wholesale slaughter of innocents for access to oil. No-one wanted their loved ones embroiled in a war they neither supported nor had any say in whatsoever. You should be ashamed, America, for deluding yourself that Iraq was anything but murder for oil

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    395.CymruLondoner: In general I cannot disagree with you. As a profession we can be a little (often necessarily) blunt and single minded at times but fortunately some of us are paid to think as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    US Defences Secretary, Leon Panetta: "To all of the men and women in uniform today your nation is deeply indebted to you."
    Shouldn't that read: "To all of the men and women in uniform today Halliburton, Blackwater, Veritas Capital Fund, Washington Group International, Environmental Chemical, Aegis, Erinys etc. are deeply indebted to you."

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    I feel sadness for the Iraqi people, of who are the victims of 'Western' interference in their affairs from their creation as an artificial state (with the fall of the Ottoman Empire) to the present day. This 'war' must have been the final straw.

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    And what will it all have acheived ? in time along will come another despot/dictator and then the merry go round will continue and so it goes on and on and on !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    As the World becomes more aware of the Facts regarding 9/11 and lies that that are spread as Truth eaven the most simple among us with the slightest wish to actualy look can see that the official stories just dont add up. The blaytent suppresion of information fails daily as more and more people leak facts.. appalled by the corruption behind so called main stream news.

  • Comment number 409.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    This is the thanks you get for all the coalition deaths trying to build something out of nothing.....WMD's, okay so none found but then maybe we all shouldn't have bothered, let the murdering and raping continue and sit back and watch, we are not that kind of nation, turn up at someones door asking for a roof and then question the manner that roof was provided. just say thanks and then shut up!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    The entire debacle is a sad commentary on modern geopolitics. Saddam was never as much of a threat to world peace as nuclear armed Pakistan or the manipulative Saudi Arabia. Iraquis are not be blamed for their ambivalent feelings. Iraq is an unstable mess. Countless lives have been lost or ruined to accomplish this to say nothing the billions of wasted dollars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    Should have also added that Afghanistan adventure will also be a success story.
    That's Hollywood.

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    386. Fishermans_Enemy
    ..there is error in your understanding of oil in the world.

    No there isn't. Oil is a finite resource. It WILL run out, sooner than we all think. When it does the west will find alternatives. The middle east will return to barren desert and its people will end up in places like the UK, where they will learn to worry more about the X factor, football and fashion than jihad.


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