At 7:30am Baghdad time, the final convoy of US troops left Iraq, ending an almost nine-year military operation which began with the toppling of Dictator Saddam Hussein.
Since the first missile strikes of the $806 billion mission were launched under US President George W. Bush in March 2003, almost 4,459 Americans have been killed in Iraq, with 32,200 troops and staff wounded in action.
Military personnel and equipment rolled across the Iraq-Kuwait border just ahead of the December 31 deadline in a highly-organized exit which was planned over several months. Air Force para-rescue forces remained on alert in case the 500-man convoy faced a critical emergency, yet the withdrawal remained low-key. At its peak, US forces numbered over 170,000 at more than 500 bases.
On Thursday, US troops conducted a formal ceremony ending Operation Iraqi Freedom in Baghdad, though a US diplomatic mission will remain on hand as a presence in Iraq, also overseeing military and equipment sales.
The withdrawal was a key component of US President Barack Obama’s election campaign. As part of its effort to depart Iraq uneventfully, US forces paid $100,000 to tribal sheikhs to ensure their safety on highways toward Kuwait, according to Reuters news agency.
Though it seems the mission succeeded in thwarting attacks in the United States, it appears to have done little for Iraqi stability. Major sectarian violence led to thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths over the years, with a complex and fragile governmental coalition of Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish parties threatening to collapse, persistent insurgent attacks against government officials, and looming regional power wielders such as Iran and terror group Al-Qaida poised to take control.