In a speech at Fort Bragg in North Carolina President Obama paid tribute to the soldiers who served and died in the war, and their families. He said the last US soldiers are expected to withdraw from Iraq before December 31st.
"So, as your commander in chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I'm proud to finally say these two words, and I know your families agree -- welcome home!" Obama said to the crowd of 3,000 as a giant American flag hung behind him at the 440th Structural Maintenance Hangar here.
The president's speech capped a week of events leading to the milestone when the final U.S. troops cross the border out of Iraq by the end of the month. Obama tallied the costs of the extended battle that toppled the regime of President Saddam Hussein: More than 1.5 million U.S. troops served; 30,000 were wounded and 4,500 died, including 202 from Fort Bragg.
The effort was not in vain, Obama declared, despite security challenges that will persist after the U.S. departure. The president met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday at the White House to discuss postwar cooperation as Iran's creeping influence in the Middle East worries U.S. policymakers.
"Of course, Iraq is not a perfect place," Obama acknowledged Wednesday. "But we are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We are building a new partnership between our nations."