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As 2011 began, the conventional wisdom was that most U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, but that a significant residual force would remain on a handful of bases to help Iraqis with training, and to deter threats both internal and external.

But the Iraqi and American governments were unable to hammer out a status of forces agreement. At issue was legal protection for U.S. servicemembers. The Iraqis, feeling burned by the 2005 killings in Haditha of 24 men, women and children, for which there have been no criminal convictions, would not offer immunity. The two sides reached an impasse.

On Oct. 21, President Barack Obama announced that everyone would be out by year’s end.

“As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year,” he said. “After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.”

On a frigid Dec. 18 morning, the last U.S. military truck rolled into Kuwait, effectively ending a conflict that killed nearly 4,500 U.S. troops, wounded many more and took an estimated 100,000 Iraqi lives.

Aside from some high-profile bombings, including the May 5 attack on a police compound in Hilla that killed 26 people and wounded 60, Iraq was largely quiet, as U.S. forces turned their attention to Afghanistan. But throughout the year, mentoring of Iraqi forces continued and bases began drawing down, a mission that kicked into high gear with the October announcement.

It’s unclear whether the Iraq government is ready to stand on its own, militarily or politically. Just one day after American troops left the country, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of being behind a string of assassination attempts against officials. Al-maliki critics have countered that the prime minister is trying to consolidate power.

It would appear the same sectarian divides that plagued the country are beginning to play out again. Those are largely Iraq’s problems now.

The war’s effects on the U.S. military have yet to be fully realized. The war leaves in its wake thousands of troops mentally and physically injured from the conflict. It leaves men and women with huge gaps in their family lives, as they spent year after year, deployment after deployment, in Iraq. And it leaves a tired military looking for a “reset” of equipment and soldiers, and needing to do so with severe budget cuts on the horizon. Twitter: @Stripes_GeoffZ


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