Speaking from the White House, President Barack Obama announced today that all US troops in Iraq would be withdrawn by the end of the year. The final drawdown will leave behind thousands of private security contractors and State Department employees.
"As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year," Obama said during his announcement. "After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over."
"Today, I can say that troops in Iraq will be home for the holidays," Obama said.
The announcement came after the president held a video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who reportedly expressed gratitude for the sacrifices made by American troops in Iraq.
Between 4,500 and 5,000 private security contractors will remain in Iraq to protect two US consulates and the embassy in Baghdad, according to Denis McDonough, Obama's deputy national security adviser.
The State Department will have 16,000 civilian employees on the ground in Iraq and is preparing for its largest overseas operation since the end of World War II, according to a Washington Post report.
The presence of thousands of contractors and State Department employees raised doubts in Washington as to whether the war effort is truly over.
"Yet today's announcement fails to acknowledge that we will simply be replacing one US occupation with another.... And it is the presence of armed US contractors that is the problem," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). "It will continue to foment instability and violence in Iraq and the region. We need to get out now, not just trade uniforms and personnel. It is reasonable to ask whether the people of Iraq will notice any change."
When asked if troops leaving Iraq could be redeployed to the ongoing war in Afghanistan, McDonough diverted the question to the Pentagon, but stressed that there are fewer US troops overseas now than in recent years.
White House officials said the Obama administration is confident in the Iraqi security force's ability to keep the country stable, and sectarian violence in the country has been reduced because more Iraqis are relying on the democratic political process to resolve disputes.
More than 4,400 US troops have been killed in Iraq and thousands more have been wounded. More than 100,000 civilians deaths have been documented during the conflict, and many more people may have been killed.
Obama's announcement means the US will comply with the deadline for a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq set by security agreements made in 2008 under the Bush administration.
While onlookers in Washington were expecting today's announcement, the official end of the Iraq war is bittersweet for Americans who opposed the costly, bloody conflict in the first place.
"Today's announcement marks the end of a war that should never have happened," said Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org. "We are grateful that our brave soldiers will finally be coming home from Iraq, but we must never forget the thousands of American servicemen and women, and the many more Iraqi civilians who perished. We honor all of their sacrifices and hold in our hearts the thousands of families who will be living with the traumatic wounds of war for years."