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15 December 2011 Last updated at 01:02 ET
US to lower flag to end Iraq war
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President Barack Obama: "You have shown why the US military is the finest fighting force in the history of the world"
Struggle for Iraq
Timeline: US troops
Opinion divided
Mardell: Tricky rhetoric
Veteran's war
The US flag is to be lowered in Baghdad, formally marking the end of US military operations in Iraq after nearly nine years of war.
Most of the 5,500 remaining soldiers have now left Iraq, with security in the hands of the Iraqi authorities.
President Barack Obama, who came to office pledging to bring troops home, said the US left behind a "sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq".
Some 4,500 US soldiers and more than 100,000 Iraqis have died in the war.
It has cost the US some $1tr.
Republicans have criticised the pullout citing concerns over Iraq's stability, but most Americans support the move.
In a speech to troops just returned from Iraq in North Carolina on Wednesday, Mr Obama hailed the "extraordinary achievement" of the military and said they were leaving with "heads held high".
Analysis
Jim Muir
BBC News, Baghdad
It has been a huge logistical exercise winding in the once enormous deployment that pervaded this country.
The last few thousands troops are expected to drain away to the south in the next few days.
The remaining American presence and influence here will now be focused on the enormous US embassy in Baghdad, with as many as 15-16,000 personnel.
A small number of them are military trainers, with several hundred private contractors also helping train up Iraqi security forces.
The two countries have agreed to continue a long-term strategic relationship, but some Iraqis and others in the region believe that the removal of American military power will leave the field wider open to a further spread of influence by Iraq's powerful neighbour, Iran.
"Everything that American troops have done in Iraq, all the fighting and dying, bleeding and building, training and partnering, has led us to this moment of success," he said.
"The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and your service belongs to the ages."
He said the war had been "a source of great controversy" but that they had helped to build "a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people".
Some 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003. In addition to those who died, nearly 30,000 have been wounded.
Troop numbers peaked at around 170,000 during the height of the so-called surge strategy in 2007, but as of this week only about 5,500 remained. Many of them have already left for bases in Kuwait prior to flying home.
The last combat troops left Iraq in August last year. A small contingent of some 200 soldiers will remain in Iraq as advisers, while some 15,000 US personnel are now based at the US embassy in Baghdad - by far the world's largest.
'Ruin and mess'
Some Iraqis have said they fear the consequences of being left to manage their own security.
Timeline - US troops in Iraq
March 2003 - Operation Iraqi Freedom begins with a "shock and awe" assault on Baghdad, which falls in under a month
May 2003 - President George Bush declares "mission accomplished"
Dec 2003 - Saddam Hussein captured in a bunker south of Tikrit
April 2004 - Photos emerge showing abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison
2005 - Suicide attacks in Iraq hit all-time high as insurgency spreads
January 2007 - US troop "surge" begins, leading to a drop in violence by 2008
August 2010 - Last US combat troops leave Iraq
Timeline: US troops in Iraq
Baghdad trader Malik Abed said he was grateful to the Americans for ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein, but added: "I think now we are going to be in trouble. Maybe the terrorists will start attacking us again."
But in the city of Falluja, a former insurgent stronghold which was the scene of major US offensives in 2004, people burned US flags on Wednesday in celebration at the withdrawal.
"No-one trusted their promises, but they said when they came to Iraq they would bring security, stability and would build our country," Ahmed Aied, a grocer, told Reuters news agency.
"Now they are walking out, leaving behind killings, ruin and mess."
Concerns have also been voiced in Washington that Iraq lacks robust political structures or an ability to defend its borders.
There are also fears that Iraq could be plunged back into sectarian bloodletting, or be unduly influenced by Iran.
This is more than a little awkward, intellectually. He [Obama] is papering over the cracks between what he has always thought and what he has to say to the country”
Mark Mardell
BBC North America editor
Read Mark's thoughts in full
The conflict, launched by the Bush administration in March 2003, soon became hugely unpopular as claims that Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction and supporting al-Qaeda militants turned out to be untrue.
It descended into sectarian conflict, costing tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.
Mr Obama announced in October that all US troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011, a date previously agreed by former President George W Bush in 2008.
Nonetheless, a recent poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 75% of Americans backed the troop withdrawal.
 
More on This Story
Struggle for Iraq
Timeline: US troops
Key moments from US involvement in Iraq since 2003 - in pictures and video.
Opinion divided
Mardell: Tricky rhetoric
Veteran's war
What next?
Iraqi women 'afraid for country'
Iran 'swayed' Iraq over US exit
Background & analysis
Iraq country profile
US a 'shrunken superpower'
Iraq war in figures
Iraq facts and figures
Watch/listen
Iraqis look ahead to US withdrawalSmugglers' risky crossing to Iran
Related Internet links
Iraq and Public Opinion - Pew
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Comment number 40.
Mysticalnubnub
Just now
nearly nine years too late.
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Comment number 39.
apc
Just now
So - yet another "destroy them and leave them" mission completed by the USA.

They should have mentioned that all the miitary bases will be kept open, many troops and equipment only being pulled back just across Kuwait and the USA will control the skies.

The most unconvincing is the 20,000 "embassy staff" they are leaving behind, when even the largest embassies only have 100 staff. Another scam.
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Comment number 38.
lapin-rouge
3 Minutes ago
In with a bang, out with a whimper, apalling US foreign policy. Obama is right to get out - shame that the country is now worse than before, yes the Iraqi's have freedom but no water, infrastructure or working hospitals.

100,000 Civilian casualties. Approximately, the US doesnt actually keep a tally.

I have to agree with a comment below: Bush + Blair have a case to answer in The Hague.
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Comment number 37.
Russel
3 Minutes ago
@ Darren...."terror states"? I suggest you get out from in front of your V or bar and visit some of the real terror states, and find out what life is like there. Talk to the real people and find out what they think of the USA & UK......you'll find them all busy filling in their US visa lottery applications....they know where they would rather live
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Comment number 36.
Pheelozzofey
11 Minutes ago
Ney, there is now crude oil on all flying fish and cruelsification even on zebra-crossings, with repeated encores everybleepmwhere on the formerly best planet. What'd Mr. Gore do? trolleying orcs, i have no clue. Casting ballots broadway, where the remote-control is.
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