Panetta said the United States’ relationship with Iraq would only grow stronger in the days ahead.
Panetta marks end of Iraq war
By TIM MAK 12/15/2011 06:16 AM EST Updated 12/15/2011 09:59 AM EST
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta formally marked the end of U.S. military operations in Iraq with a speech in Baghdad on Thursday praising American troops for their sacrifices and assuring the nation’s people that the United States will stand by them.
Panetta looked on as the flag of the command was lowered and rolled up — bringing the war to an official end.
After close to nine years, some 4,500 American war dead, tens of thousands wounded and more than $800 billion spent, Panetta honored those who had served in deployments in Iraq since 2003.
“To the men and women in uniform: Your nation is deeply indebted to you. You have done everything your nation asked your to do, and more… you will leave with lasting pride, secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people begin a new chapter in history, free from tyranny and full of hope for prosperity and peace,” he said Thursday during the ceremony with Iraqi officials.
“It has been a price worth paying,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a later speech.
Panetta said the United States’ relationship with Iraq would only grow stronger in the days ahead, even as the Middle Eastern country confronts the difficulties it must face.
“Iraq will be tested in the days ahead, tested by terrorism, by those who would seek to divide, by social and economic issues, by the challenges of democracy itself. But the United States will be there to stand by the Iraqi people,” he said.
The defense secretary closed with an invocation of God.
“This is not the end, this is truly the beginning. May God bless our troops, may God bless America and may God bless Iraq, its people and its future,” he concluded.
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