Declaring that "America's war in Iraq" was at last coming to a conclusion, President Barack Obama yesterday vowed that the last of the US troops would be withdrawn from the country by the end of this year, fulfilling a promise he had made while running for the White House three years ago.
The lifting from Iraqi soil of the last military boots will bring to a close a tortuous nine-year war that has been one of the most controversial in American history. Launched in early 2003 by President George W Bush without clear legal backing from the United Nations but with support from Britain, it damaged the US in the court of world opinion and led to bitter domestic divisions.
The withdrawal will drop a shroud over a conflict that has also cost America dearly in blood and treasure. The bill so far in Iraq has reached $800bn at a time when the US is facing spiralling budget deficits. Meanwhile, more than 4,000 US service members have been killed.
With his announcement, Mr Obama ended speculation that the US would leave a small contingency of up to 5,000 soldiers in Iraq beyond the end of this year, which some in the military hierarchy had argued for to help with training and as a bulwark against Iranian political influence. "As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over," he told reporters at the White House after a video conference call with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki. He said they had both agreed on the withdrawal deadline.
"Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home," the President said.
"The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops. That is how America's military efforts in Iraq will end."
Mr Obama, who has found himself unable to honour other election promises such as closing Guantanamo Bay, said during his run for office in 2008 that he would wind down the Iraq conflict and focus American energies on Afghanistan, dubbing it the country's "neglected war".
The Iraq conflict was at its bloodiest over the 2006-2007 period in the second term of George W Bush. Fighting began to ease after a surge in troop numbers. The original deal to bring all US troops home – about 40,000 remain in Iraq now – by the end of this year was struck by Mr Bush in 2008. In August 2010, Mr Obama declared the combat phase for US troops was over and those soldiers remaining were primarily on a training mission.