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As Flag Is Put Away, America's Mission In Iraq Symbolically Ends

America's colors have been cased in Iraq — the flag was just symbolically put away at a ceremony marking the end of a war that lasted nearly nine years.

At the Baghdad airport a short time ago, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other officials were there to mark the occasion, NPR's Kelly McEvers reports. It was, she said on Morning Edition, a "quiet, small ceremony."

"The U.S. Forces-Iraq flag was furled — or wrapped — around a flagpole and covered in camouflage," The Associated Press says. "It will be brought back to the United States."

Panetta told those gathered that "challenges remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation," The New York Times reports.

He also said, the BBC writes, that the effort had been worth the cost because the U.S. leaves with an Iraq that is now a partner.

"You will leave with great pride — lasting pride," Panetta told troops at the ceremony, according to the AP. "Secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside and to offer hope for prosperity and peace to this country's future generations."

America's mission, which quickly toppled Saddam Hussein's regime but required years' more effort to bring some stability to the country, officially ends after the deaths of about 4,500 U.S. military personnel and an estimated 100,000 Iraqis. About 32,000 U.S. forces were wounded. American taxpayers spent about $800 billion.

Hussein, who was captured in December 2003, was executed three years later.

From a peak of about 200,000, there are now about 4,000 U.S. military personnel left in Iraq, Kelly says. All American combat forces are due to be out of the country by Dec. 31. Most of the remaining personnel are expected to leave before Christmas.

The U.S. forces there still face dangers. "According to military officials," the Times adds, "the remaining troops are still being attacked on a daily basis, mainly by indirect fire attacks on the bases and road side bomb explosions against convoys heading south through Iraq to bases in Kuwait."

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