Photo by ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images.
UPDATE: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was in Iraq on Thursday to declare an official end to the Iraq war after nine years.
"After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real," Panetta said at a ceremony at Baghdad’s international airport. "To be sure, the cost was high — in blood and treasure for the United States, and for the Iraqi people. Those lives were not lost in vain."
The Washington Post with more:
The 1:15 p.m. ceremony (5:15 a.m. in Washington) effectively ended the war two weeks earlier than was necessary under the terms of the security agreement signed by the U.S. and Iraqi governments in 2008, which stipulated that the troops must be gone by Dec. 31. ... The date of the final ceremony had been kept secret for weeks, so as not to give insurgents or militias an opportunity to stage attacks.
Wednesday, Dec. 14: President Obama welcomed home about 3,000 troops to Fort Bragg on Wednesday with a speech that marked the coming end of the near nine-year war in Iraq.
The Washington Post reports that Obama saluted the returning troops, along with the hundreds of thousands who fought in the way, thanking them and saying that they fought to create a "sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq."
"One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end," Obama said the assembled crowd in one of Fort Bragg’s airplane hangars. "Iraq's future will be in the hands of its people. America's war in Iraq will be over. We knew this day would come. We have known it for some time now. But still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long."
USA Today notes that although Obama spoke out against the war in 2002 as an Illinois senator–calling two of George W. Bush’s advisers "weekend warriors" trying to "shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives and hardships borne"–the president didn’t oppose the war or the troops’ efforts during his address.
Two hundred two soldiers from Fort Bragg died in Iraq. All told, more than 1.5 million U.S. troops served; 30,000 were wounded and 4,500 died.
"The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and your service belongs to the ages," Obama said. "Never forget that you are part of an unbroken line of heroes spanning two centuries–from the colonists who overthrew an empire; to your grandparents and parents, who faced down fascism and communism; to you–men and women who fought for the same principles in Fallujah and Kandahar, and delivered justice to those who attacked us on 9/11."