As the final phase of withdrawals of US soldiers takes place, the US president said after a war spanning nine years, which he once described as “dumb” theirs was an “extraordinary achievement”.
The president was addressing an audience of soldiers at Fort Bragg during the “historic moment”, praising their “patriotism” and “abiding commitment”.
He said: “Dozens of bases with American names that housed thousands of American troops have been closed down or turned over to the Iraqis. Thousands of tons of equipment have been packed up and shipped out. Tomorrow, the colours of United States Forces Iraq, the colours you fought under, will be formally cased in a ceremony in Baghdad.
“One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end. Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its people. America’s war in Iraq will be over.”
The last US troops will make a route home across the desert, along the same path taken when they, with British and coalition forces, entered to attack Iraq in 2003. Obama made swift reference to inheriting a military and diplomatic quagmire from a Bush administration, far from the easy war promised. Instead, the American invasion unleashed a drawn out conflict.
Still, for all the suffering, the result was success, Obama insisted.
“We knew this day would come. We’ve known it for some time. But still there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long.
“It’s harder to end a war than begin one. Everything that American troops have done in Iraq – all the fighting, all the dying, the bleeding and the building and the training and the partnering, all of it has landed to this moment of success.”
Obama’s address was far removed from the hubris of his predecessor, who paraded under a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” just as the worst of the killing in Iraq was about to begin. However, the president was certain, Iraq is a better place than what it was.
“Iraq’s not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations and we are ending a war not with a final battle but with a final march toward home. This is an extraordinary achievement,” he said.
Critics argue the war has destabilised the region, strengthened Iran, and exposed US military shortcomings, possibly encouraging future conflict.
Bush misled the US public to believe Iraq was linked to the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks, and the war was to uncover the country’s weapons of mass destruction. The claims faded as the war took an increasing toll on the US.
Obama acknowledged part of the huge human cost of the war.
“We know too well the heavy cost of this war. More than 1.5m Americans have served in Iraq. Over 30,000 Americans have been wounded and those are only the wounds that show. Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
“We also know that these numbers don’t tell the full story of the Iraq war. Not even close.”
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are believe to have lost their lives, and the cost of the war has run over $1 trillion.