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Middle East
Last US combat troops leave Iraq
Soldiers cross border into Kuwait after nearly nine years of war and ahead of a December 31st deadline to withdraw.
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2011 11:51

The withdrawal ends a war that has left an estimated 1.75 million Iraqis displaced [EPA]

The last US combat troops based in Iraq have crossed the border into Kuwait, completing their withdrawal from the country after nearly nine years of war.

The last of roughly 110 vehicles carrying 500-odd soldiers traversed the border around 7:38am local time (04:38 GMT) on Sunday, leaving just a couple of hundred soldiers at the US embassy.

Follow in-depth coverage of the nation in flux

Soldiers standing just inside the crossing on the Kuwaiti side of the border waved and snapped photos as the final trucks crossed over, well ahead of a December 31st deadline to leave Iraq.

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 US-led invasion unleashed brutal sectarian killing.

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.

They were also involved in conducting training, security assistance and counterterrorism 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 George W Bush, the former US president, in 2007, when violence raged in the country.

Low-key exit

Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said: "This is significant because it is not just symbolic, but it is actually the end of the US war."

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 Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was believed to be hiding.

Many US veterans returning from the Iraq war have found themselves dealing with psychological trauma

But questions remain as to whether Iraqis will be able to forge their new government amid sectarian clashes.

Many Iraqis say they 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 nonexistent 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.

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 in ousting Saddam, the war went on too long.

Political deadlock

The withdrawal comes at a time when the country struggles with renewed political deadlock as the Iraqiya bloc, which won the March 2010 elections and drew most of its support from minority Sunnis, is at loggerheads with Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister.

"One of the legacies of the US presence here is that they pushed for a coalition government that would include Sunnis, Shias and Kurds," Al Jazeera’s Arraf said.

Obama vowed to remain committed to Iraq during a meeting with Maliki, left, last week [GALLO/GETTY]

"But the consequence of that is a coalition government that is quite fragile," she added.

Meanwhile, a lawmaker, from the Iraqiya bloc, has said it has suspended its participation in parliament to protest the control of key posts by al-Maliki.

Hamid al-Mutlaq said on Sunday that the decision stemmed from the Shia-dominated government's failure to share more
powers with the Sunni-backed bloc.

Two years after the parliamentary elections there is still no defence or interior minister.

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

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 counterterrorism force to remain.

Barack Obama, the US president, met in Washington with Maliki last week, vowing to remain committed to Iraq.

Ending the war was an early goal of the Obama administration, and the withdrawal allows the president to fulfil a crucial campaign promise during a politically opportune time.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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