Last US troops leave Iraq after nine years
A soldier folds up a US flag at Camp Adder, near Nassiriya, before leaving Iraq yesterday with the last US military convoy. All US troops were scheduled to have departed Iraq by December 31st, but local Iraqis working with the soldiers were not told the exact date for security reasons. Photograph: Lucas Jackson /Getty Images
TIM ARANGO and MICHAEL S SCHMIDT in Baghdad
THE LAST convoy of US troops to leave Iraq drove into Kuwait yesterday morning, marking the end of the nearly nine-year war. The convoy’s departure, which included about 110 vehicles and 500 soldiers, came three days after the US military folded its flag in a muted ceremony here to celebrate the end of its mission.
In darkness, the convoy snaked out of Contingency Operating Base Adder, near the southern city of Nasiriyah, at about 2.30am, and headed towards the border.
The departure appeared to be the final moment of a drawn-out withdrawal that included weeks of ceremonies around Iraq, and included visits by the vice-president, Joe Biden, and defence secretary Leon Panetta, as well as a trip to Washington by Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
As dawn approached yesterday, the last trucks crossed the border into Kuwait at an outpost lit by floodlights and secured by barbed wire. “I just can’t wait to call my wife and kids and let them know I am safe,” said Sgt 1st Class Rodolfo Ruiz just before his armoured vehicle crossed the border. “I am really feeling it now.”
Shortly after crossing into Kuwait, Ruiz told the men in his vehicle: “Hey guys, you made it.” Then, he ordered the vehicles in his convoy not to flash their lights or honk their horns. For security reasons, the last soldiers made no time for goodbyes to Iraqis with whom they had become acquainted. To keep details of the final trip secret from insurgents, interpreters for the last unit to leave the base called local tribal sheikhs and government leaders on Saturday morning and conveyed that business would go on as usual, not letting on that all the Americans would soon be gone.
Many troops wondered how the Iraqis, whom they had worked closely with and trained over the past year, would react when they awoke yesterday to find that the remaining US troops on the base had left without saying anything.
“The Iraqis are going to wake up in the morning and nobody will be there,” said a soldier who only identified himself as Spc Joseph.
He said he had immigrated to the US from Iraq in 2009 and enlisted a year later. He refused to give his full name because he worried for his family’s safety.
All US troops were legally obligated to leave the country by the end of the month but President Barack Obama, when he announced, in October, the end of the US military role, promised that everyone would be home for the holidays. The US will continue to play a role in Iraq. The largest US embassy in the world is there, and in the wake of the military departure it is doubling in size – from about 8,000 people to 16,000 people, most of them contractors. Under the authority of the ambassador will be fewer than 200 military personnel, to guard the embassy and oversee the sale of weapons to the Iraqi government.
History’s final judgment on the war, which claimed nearly 4,500 American lives and cost almost $1 trillion, may not be determined for decades. But it will be forever tainted by the early missteps and miscalculations, the faulty intelligence over Saddam Hussein’s weapons programmes and his supposed links to terrorists, and a litany of American abuses, from the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal to a public shootout involving Blackwater mercenaries that left civilians dead – a sum of agonising factors that diminished America’s standing in the Muslim world and its power to shape events around the globe.
When then president George W Bush announced the start of the war in 2003, at the Oval Office, he proclaimed, “We will accept no outcome but victory.” But the end appears neither victory nor defeat, but a stalemate – one in which the optimists say violence has been reduced to a level that will allow the country to continue on its lurching path towards stability and democracy, while the pessimists say the American presence has been a bandage on a festering wound.
The war’s conclusion marks a political triumph for Obama, who ran for office promising to bring the troops home, but is bittersweet for Iraqis who will now face, on their own, the unfinished legacy of a conflict that rid their country of a hated dictator but did little else to improve their lives. – (New York Times)
Casualties of war: Latest figures for soldiers and civilians killed
Latest figures for soldiers and civilians killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003.
US-led coalition forces:
United States 4,487
Other nations 139
Estimated no of Iraqi troops killed during invasion: 10,000
Post-Saddam Iraqi security forces:
Official death toll since Jan 2005
Prior to 2005 (est) 1,300
Civilians : Iraq Body Count*, compiled from media reports: between 103,536 and 113,125.
Compiled from official Iraqi statistics since 2005: 50,578
War toll according to the Iraqi government: **
Total deaths (2004-2011, through end-October) 61,921
Total wounded (2004-2010) 159,710
Notes : * = From www.iraqbodycount.org (IBC), run by academics and peace activists, based on reports from at least two media sources. The IBC says on its website the figure underestimates the true number of casualties. Full analysis of the WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs may add 15,000 civilian deaths. The US-led military coalition toll includes casualties from Iraq and the surrounding area where troops are stationed.
** Iraqi government began collecting war-related statistics in 2004. Figures compiled by health, interior and defence ministries include civilians and security forces. – (Reuters)