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Iraq War Officially Ends with Subdued Ceremony

U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd James Austin III, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, and Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph R. Allen case the command's flag on the former Sather Air Base in Baghdad during a ceremony that marked the end of Operation New Dawn.: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo.

After nearly nine years, the War in Iraq came to an end Thursday.

The Cost of War

“After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said during a ceremony marking the official end of the conflict. “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.”

According to the Department of Defense, of the more than 1.5 million Americans who served in Iraq, nearly 4,500 paid the ultimate sacrifice; an estimated 30,000 troops were injured. The war has also claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 Iraqis.

Uncertainty over Iraq’s Future

While the administration might be celebrating the end of the conflict which, according to some estimates has cost as much at $1 trillion, others were cautious about Iraq’s future.

As a sign of the challenges still facing the Iraqi people, the ceremony took place under tight security with helicopters hovering above the event, on the lookout for incoming missiles.

“Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead – by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” the defense secretary said. “Challenges remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.”

Some military officials have also expressed concern about the readiness of Iraqi security forces and their ability to maintain the nation’s security.

President Obama faced much criticism at home when negotiations to allow some U.S. troops to remain in the Middle Eastern nation after the deadline for withdrawal fell apart. American service members would have continued training their Iraqi counterparts.

Soldiers Face New Challenges at Home

President Barack Obama marked the end of the Iraq War by welcoming home troops at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg. While the president hailed the accomplishments of “the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” he also addressed the challenges they face upon returning to civilian life.

He discussed the recently-passed tax credits for hiring Veterans and challenged his audience to focus their attention on improving their own home country.

“You’re the finest our nation has to offer. And after years of rebuilding Iraq, we want to enlist our veterans in the work of rebuilding America.”

In the end, the controversial war came to a quiet end. As President Obama told soldiers at Fort Bragg,  “[W]e are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home.”

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