U.S. President Barack Obama has paid tribute to the troops who have served in Iraq, as the U.S. military presence there winds down.
The president, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, spoke Wednesday at the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina.
As the last of the American troops prepare to exit Iraq, he said the United States is leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq. He described that as an “extraordinary achievement.” He said the future of Iraq is now in the hands of the Iraqi people.
He said troops stayed strong in the face of fierce fighting, and suicide and sniper attacks. He paid tribute to the nearly 4,500 U.S. troops killed in the almost nine years of war, including the more than 200 from Fort Bragg.
The U.S. forces are withdrawing from Iraq by December 31. The war in Iraq, which began in March 2003, claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis.
In Iraq Wednesday, hundreds of people in the city of Fallujah took to the streets to celebrate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from their country. They shouted slogans and held banners, and some burned U.S. and Israeli flags. Fallujah, to the west of Baghdad, was once a center of insurgency against U.S. forces.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who met with Mr. Obama Monday at the White House, has extended an open invitation to U.S. companies to help rebuild his country. On Tuesday, he told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that it was not the “generals” who were playing a leading role in Baghdad's future, but instead corporations and business leaders.
The White House says it believes Iraq is ready to handle its own security, and that while there will be violence, it has been diminishing as key figures resolve differences democratically.
On Monday, Mr. Maliki and Mr. Obama outlined a broad agenda for post-war cooperation, pledging to ensure Iraq's political stability and strengthen its national security.