After eight years, US finally leaves Iraq


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The Independent Online

Eight years and three months after "liberating Iraq", a time of unrelenting strife in which tens of thousands died and a society was torn apart, America has finally ended its war in Iraq.

After the colours of the US forces were lowered and the Last Post was played, the Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, declared to the troops: "You will leave with great pride, lasting pride, secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside and to offer hope for prosperity and peace to this country's future generations."

He acknowledged the bloodshed but insisted: "It has been to achieve a mission making the country sovereign and independent and able to govern and secure itself."

Not far from where the speeches were taking place lay grim evidence which refuted his claims. More than 8,000 people, among them the very young and the elderly, can be found living in squalor in a field of mud and fetid water, with huts made of rags and salvaged pieces of wood.

The residents of Al-Rahlat camp are among 1.3 million refugees in their own country, driven out of their homes by sectarian violence spawned by the war. Another 1.6 million, who had fled Iraq for neighbouring states, are unable to return. Those in Syria, with its escalating violence, now face having to seek another place of safety.

A third vulnerable group are the 70,000 or so who had worked for the US military. They were promised refuge in the US, but little has been done to fulfil the pledge.

Barack Obama, while campaigning for the White House four years ago, berated the Bush administration over the issue, saying: "The Iraqis who stood with us are being targeted for assassination, yet our doors are shut. That is not how we treat our friends."

In 2008 Congress passed a bill for visas to be issued for 25,000, but only 3,000 have been processed so far.