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U.S. marks end of military mission in Iraq

(Xinhua)

08:16, December 16, 2011

BAGHDAD, Dec. 15 (Xinhua) -- U.S. officials on Thursday formally announced the end of Iraqi war after nearly nine years of invasion that toppled former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and resulted in the killing and wounding of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who arrived earlier in Baghdad to mark the ceremony that ends U.S. military operations in Iraq, said that "Your dream of an independent and sovereign Iraq is now a reality."

The ceremony, starting at around 1:00 p.m. (1000 GMT) as several helicopters were providing air cover, was carried out by the last U.S. military unit in Baghdad at the last military headquarters near Baghdad airport which was the first site that was occupied in Baghdad by U.S. forces in 2003.

"This is now an Iraq with whom the U.S. will continue to work with in every way possible," said James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, after the U.S. troops cased their flag.

The ceremony was also attended by General Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Iraqi military's chief of staff Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari and defense ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari.

"Iraq will be tested in the days ahead by terrorism and by those who would seek to divide it, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself," Panetta warned.

He reiterated a pledge by U.S. President Barack Obama that his country plans to keep strong diplomatic presence in Iraq and maintain powerful military presence in the region.

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