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U.S. marks end of military mission in Iraq (2)


08:17, December 16, 2011

"We will continue to help Iraq address violent extremism and defend against external threats. We will continue to have a robust and enduring military presence across the Middle East," Panetta said.

"Today, some five years later, and after a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real," Panetta said, adding that "the Iraqi army and police have been rebuilt. Violence levels are down. Al-Qaida weakened. Rule of law strengthened. Educational opportunities expanded, and economic growth expanding."

For his part, Austin recalled in his speech the time when he gave orders for his troops to cross the border into Iraq in 2003, saying that he will now see his troops leave the country.

Panetta is scheduled to meet with Iraqi top officials to discuss fully withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.

This is Panetta's second visit to Iraq since he took office as the U.S. defense secretary.

Since August, the U.S. troops have dramatically withdrew from more than 500 military bases and as for Thursday, there are roughly 4,000 U.S. troops remained in the country, who are scheduled to completely depart the country within days ahead of the withdrawal deadline of Dec. 31.

According to a security pact named Status of Forces Agreement ( SOFA) signed in 2008 between the United States and Iraq, all the U. S. troops are scheduled to pull out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

Also on Thursday, violence continued in Iraq as five people were killed and five others wounded in two motorcycle bomb attacks in Iraq's western province of Anbar.

A booby-trapped motorcycle ripped through central the provincial capital city of Ramadi, some 110 km west of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding three others, the source from Anbar's operations command told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Minutes later, a second motorcycle bomb exploded in another district in Ramadi, killing two people and wounding two others, the source said.

Sporadic attacks are still common in Iraqi cities despite the dramatic decrease of violence over the past few years.

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