Last US troops leave Iraq as war ends

2011-12-18 07:09

Khabari Crossing - The last US soldiers rolled out of Iraq across the border to neighbouring Kuwait at daybreak on Sunday, whooping, fist bumping and hugging each other in a burst of joy and relief.

Their exit marked the end of a bitterly divisive war that raged for nearly nine years and left Iraq shattered, with troubling questions lingering over whether the Arab nation will remain a steadfast US ally.

The mission cost nearly 4 500 American and more than 100 000 Iraqi lives and $800bn from the US Treasury. The question of whether it was worth it all is yet unanswered.

Captain Mark Askew, a 28-year-old from Tampa, Florida who was among the last soldiers to leave, said the answer to that question will depend on what type of country and government Iraq ends up with years from now, whether they are democratic, respect human rights and are considered an American ally.

Blood and dollars

"It depends on what Iraq does after we leave," he said, speaking ahead of the exit. "I don't expect them to turn into South Korea or Japan overnight."

The war that began in a blaze of aerial bombardment meant to shock and awe the dictator Saddam Hussein and his loyalists ended quietly and with minimal fanfare.

US officials acknowledged the cost in blood and dollars was high, but tried to paint a picture of victory - for the troops and the Iraqi people now freed of a dictator and on a path to democracy. But gnawing questions remain: Will Iraqis be able to forge their new government amid the still stubborn sectarian clashes. And will Iraq be able to defend itself and remain independent in a region fraught with turmoil and still steeped in insurgent threats.

Many Iraqis, however, are nervous and uncertain about the future. Their relief at the end of Saddam, who was hanged on the last day of 2006, was tempered by a long and vicious war that was launched to find non-existent weapons of mass destruction and nearly plunged the nation into full-scale sectarian civil war.

Some criticised the Americans for leaving behind a destroyed country with thousands of widows and orphans, a people deeply divided along sectarian lines and without rebuilding the devastated infrastructure.

Low-key exit

Some Iraqis celebrated the exit of what they called American occupiers, neither invited nor welcome in a proud country.

Others said that while grateful for US help ousting Saddam, the war went on too long. A majority of Americans would agree, according to opinion polls.

The low-key exit stood in sharp contrast to the high octane start of the war, which began before dawn on March 20, 2003, with an air strike in southern Baghdad where Saddam was believed to be hiding. US and allied ground forces then stormed across the featureless Kuwaiti desert, accompanied by reporters, photographers and television crews embedded with the troops.

The final few thousand US troops left Iraq in orderly caravans and tightly scheduled flights. They left at night in hopes it would be more secure and got out in time for at least some of the troops to join families at home for the Christmas holidays.

The last convoy of MRAPs, heavily armoured personnel carriers, arrived in Kuwait around 07:30 local time (04:30GMT) on Sunday. Soldiers standing just inside the crossing on the Kuwaiti side of the border waved and snapped photos as the final trucks crossed over.


Brittany Hampton, 21, was among the last soldiers to leave. "Awesome. It is awesome. I am very proud of it," she said.

The final troops completed the massive logistical challenge of shuttering hundreds of bases and combat outposts, and methodically moving more than 50 000 US troops and their equipment out of Iraq over the last year - while still conducting training, security assistance and counter-terrorism battles.

As of Thursday, there were two US bases and less than 4 000 US troops in Iraq - a dramatic drop from the roughly 500 military installations and as many as 170,000 troops during the surge ordered by President George W Bush in 2007, when violence and raging sectarianism gripped the country. All US troops were slated to be out of Iraq by the end of the year, but officials are likely to meet that goal a bit before then.

The total US departure is a bit earlier than initially planned, and military leaders worry that it is a bit premature for the still maturing Iraqi security forces, who face continuing struggles to develop the logistics, air operations, surveillance and intelligence-sharing capabilities they will need in what has long been a difficult region.

Despite President Barack Obama's earlier contention that all American troops would be home for Christmas, at least 4 000 forces will remain in Kuwait for some months. The troops will be able to help finalize the move out of Iraq, but could also be used as a quick reaction force if needed.

'Chance for a successful future'

Obama stopped short of calling the US effort in Iraq a victory in an interview taped on Thursday with ABC News' Barbara Walters.

"I would describe our troops as having succeeded in the mission of giving to the Iraqis their country in a way that gives them a chance for a successful future," Obama said.

The Iraq Body Count website says more than 100 000 Iraqis have been killed since the US invasion. The vast majority were civilians.

The US plans to keep a robust diplomatic presence in Iraq, foster a deep and lasting relationship with the nation and maintain a strong military force in the region.

Campaign promise

US officials were unable to reach an agreement with the Iraqis on legal issues and troop immunity that would have allowed a small training and counter-terrorism force to remain. US defence officials said they expect there will be no movement on that issue until sometime next year.

Obama met in Washington with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last week, vowing to remain committed to Iraq as the two countries struggle to define their new relationship.

Ending the war was an early goal of the Obama administration, and Thursday's ceremony will allow the president to fulfil a crucial campaign promise during a politically opportune time.

The 2012 presidential race is roiling and Republicans are in a ferocious battle to determine who will face off against Obama in the election.

  • Nicholas Rogerson - 2011-12-18 07:28

    And you wonder why USA is bankrupt. $800 billion is a lot of loot.

      Squeegee - 2011-12-18 07:36

      Not really. If you consider the jobs, factories, services, contractors,etc. etc. that the war created. The question now is what to do with this huge war machine and the thousands of people employed by it. Iran?

      goyougoodthing - 2011-12-18 09:46

      The USA is bankrupt along with the rest of the world because our economies are owned by private individuals who charge interest on money they simply invent. The war is nothing more than a money making adventure and those that took part are fools first and bigots second.

      Jay - 2011-12-18 10:01

      @goyougoodthing, sounds like you need a hug :)

      goyougoodthing - 2011-12-18 10:32

      Jay: no, I don't. I would be very happy if people were not so stooopid. :-)

  • Craig - 2011-12-18 07:37

    Enter the era of outsourcing military responsibility to murderous mercenary outfits like Blackwater, or Xe, or whatever other private militia you care to mention. But the public laps up the "withdrawal" lie while the embedded (read dumb-as-f***) mass media simper and whimper like a beaten dog that pees where and when it is told to pee, and never, ever, ever ask embarrassing questions like, Why hasn't any of these private militias actually been given a contract with the Iraqi government? Come on people. Read between the lines.

      Mthuthuzeli - 2011-12-18 09:46

      When its black Libyians fighting for Gaddafi they are called mercenaries and those employed by the US are called private contractors.

      Tony - 2011-12-18 11:04

      Mercenaries like in Libie gets paid to kill the opposition and supporters...private contractors pay honest individuals and private security companies to look after their workers doing humanitarian work e.g building schools and hospitals and only shoot back when attacked. The Iraqi government did make use of PSC's to protect some ministers...why?...because they've seen to many assassinations by their own bodyguards turning on them

  • Gene - 2011-12-18 08:06

    I am in Iraq, and still to this day there are attacks and bombings on a daily basis, what have the americans achived?

  • carolyn.dewrance - 2011-12-18 13:08

    Time for all wars to come to an end, this killing of each other must stop. What the hell have we all become??

      Hunter - 2011-12-18 16:04

      We are still the same warring species that have been on this planet from the start. We have become nothing better the the tribes of cave men that killed each other with clubs...we just have much more improved clubs now! So to answer your question: we are still the same and will not be changing much in nature.

  • toibry - 2011-12-18 21:30

    God is the one who can do and prove better.

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