|Withdrawal of US troops since 2010 has brought down number of soldiers to 12,000 from a peak of 170,000 [Reuters]|
The US military has vacated a main base in Iraq, located near Baghdad airport, marking a milestone in its pending full withdrawal from the country.
Victory Base Complex, which was a US nerve centre for the Iraq war since around the beginning of the 2003 invasion, was handed over to Iraq’s government on Friday.
“The Victory Base Complex was officially signed over to the receivership of the Iraqi government this morning,” Barry Johnson, a US military spokesman, said by email.
“The base is no longer under US control and is now under the full authority of the government of Iraq.”
US forces have been closing down operations for months at the Victory complex, which once housed around 42,000 military personnel and another 20,000 support staff.
Angela Funaro, a spokeswoman for US forces in Iraq, said that just five US bases in Iraq now remain to be handed over.
About 12,000 US troops are still operating in Iraq, down from a peak of about 170,000 at the height of the war. The reduction of US military presence in the country was mainly due to partial withdrawals since 2010.
Fewer than 500 of the troops remain in the capital, the Reuters news agency quoted a US official as saying.
All of the remaining forces are due to leave by the end of this year, except for a small group of under 200 linked to the US embassy.
Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi leader who was toppled during the US-led war and executed in 2006 after being found guilty by an Iraqi court for war crimes, had built the Victory complex as a vast network of palaces, villas, canals and man-made lakes.
US forces used Hussein’s al-Faw Palace as their war operations centre. It was a 450,000-square-foot building with 62 rooms, including 29 bathrooms.
After being captured by US forces, Hussein was imprisoned at Victory Base for about two years in a maximum-security facility.