Last US base handed to Iraq ahead of pullout

Last Updated: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 23:41

Nasiriyah: Iraq took control of the
last US military base in the country on Friday, a day after US
forces formally marked the end of their mission, bringing a
divisive war to a low-key conclusion.

The transfer of the sprawling installation on the
outskirts of the southern city of Nasiriyah is a final step
ahead of a complete US withdrawal from Iraq in the coming
days.

The Imam Ali Base, known to the US military as Camp
Adder, housed 15,000 American troops at its peak and was
officially signed over at a ceremony attended by Hussein
al-Assadi, the Iraqi official responsible for base transfers.

"We proudly announce to the Iraqi people today the
handover of the last American military base," Assadi said
after the signing. "Today we are turning the last page on the
occupation."

The base, which will now be used by Iraq`s fledgling
air force, lies on the edge of the ancient city of Ur, the
Biblical birthplace of Abraham.

Today`s handover comes after US Defence Secretary Leon
Panetta and US commanders took part in a subdued "casing of
the colours" ceremony on Thursday near Baghdad airport, the
first site US forces occupied in Baghdad during the 2003
invasion.

All that remains of the American military in Iraq are
around 4,000 soldiers, down from a peak of nearly 170,000
troops and 505 bases across the country. After year-end, the
US embassy will retain just 157 US soldiers, for training of
Iraqi forces, and a group of marines to secure the diplomatic
mission.

The withdrawal ends a war that left tens of thousands
of Iraqis and nearly 4,500 American soldiers dead, many more
wounded, and 1.75 million Iraqis displaced, after the US-led
invasion unleashed brutal sectarian fighting.

It brings to a close nearly nine years of US military
involvement in Iraq that began with a "shock and awe" campaign
in 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein, which many in Washington
believed would see US forces conclude their mission in Iraq
within months.

But key decisions taken at the time have since been
widely criticised as fuelling what became a bloody Sunni Arab
insurgency, in particular dissolving the Iraqi army and
purging the civil service of all members of Saddam`s Baath
Party, including lower-ranking members.

The insurgency eventually sparked brutal communal
bloodshed, particularly after the February 2006 bombing of a
Shiite shrine in the predominantly Sunni city of Samarra by
al Qaeda.

PTI



First Published: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 23:41

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