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US lowers Mission Iraq flag

US forces formally marked the end of their mission in Iraq with a low-key ceremony near Baghdad on Thursday, after nearly nine years of war that began with the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

world Updated: Dec 16, 2011 01:38 IST

US forces formally marked the end of their mission in Iraq with a low-key ceremony near Baghdad on Thursday, after nearly nine years of war that began with the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

There are a little more than 4,000 US soldiers in Iraq, but they will depart in the coming days, at which point almost no more American troops will remain in a country where there were once nearly 170,000 personnel on more than 500 bases. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/16-12-11-metro18.jpg

The withdrawal ends a war that left tens of thousands of Iraqis and nearly 4,500 American soldiers dead, many more wounded, and 1.75 million Iraqis displaced, after the 2003 US-led invasion unleashed brutal sectarian fighting.

“Your dream of an independent and sovereign Iraq is now reality,” US defence secretary Leon Panetta said at the symbolic flag-lowering ceremony held near Baghdad’s airport.

“Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism and by those who would seek to divide it, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” he said.

But the US “will stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges.”

He described the US withdrawal as “nothing short of miraculous” and “one of the most complex logistical undertakings in US military history.”

General Lloyd Austin, the commander US Forces — Iraq (USF-I), cased the colours at the ceremony, rolling the USF-I flag around its pole and covering it with a camouflage bag.

The war was launched in March 2003 with a massive “shock and awe” campaign, followed by eight-plus years in which a US-led coalition sought not only had to rebuild the Iraqi military from the ground up, but also to establish a new political system.

Iraq now has a parliament and regular elections, and is ruled by a Shia-led government that replaced Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime.