Last US base handed to Iraq ahead of pullout
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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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