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WASHINGTON — No ticker-tape parades or flashy nationwide tributes for returning Iraq War veterans are planned right now, but not long ago government officials were preparing a posh celebration of the returning heroes and their overseas victory.

In 2006 and 2007, Congress set aside $20 million in its annual defense budget bills for a party in the nation’s capital to honor the achievements of U.S. troops at the conclusion of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

The event was to be the highlight of a national observation similar to V-J Day at the end of World War II. Lawmakers gave the president the authority designate a day of celebration for every city in the country to honor troops’ sacrifices and heroics, and to welcome the veterans home.

The White House still holds that authority, but funding for the celebration was shifted elsewhere by lawmakers in early 2007, as Congress fought over whether to support President George W. Bush’s proposed “surge” of troops into Iraq.

Officials from New York and Washington this week said they’d be open to such a post-war celebration, but federal officials would have to take the lead. Pentagon spokesmen this week said they have not been instructed to plan any such events. White House officials declined comment.

Staging an outsized celebration that could be construed as a victory parade might be politically problematic for the current administration. President Barack Obama has often drawn criticism from conservatives for not emphasizing the idea of U.S. military victory in Iraq, or celebrating what they see as the success of the U.S. involvement there.

Military officials also routinely note that about 90,000 American troops are still serving in harm’s way in Afghanistan. Obama has outlined turning over the combat lead to Afghan troops and drawing down U.S. forces steadily until a full transfer of authority is realized by 2014. But some U.S. troops will likely remain in the country after that turnover.

More than 1.5 million veterans served in Iraq during the eight-year war. Earlier this month, military officials marked the official end of operations in that country, and the last U.S. forces crossed into Kuwait on Dec. 18.

In a statement earlier this week, Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said that military leaders are grateful for numerous local community efforts to welcome troops home from Iraq in recent months.

Veterans from the first Gulf War were feted with a march down Broadway in June 1991. That celebration was paid for through private donations, and several New York City councilmen have publicly suggested a similar plan to pay for an Iraq veterans parade.

The authorities laid out by Congress still allow the Defense Department to accept private contributions to help fund a return celebration, to cover the costs of bringing troops and equipment to D.C. for an event. But no private money has been raised thus far.

shanel@stripes.osd.milTwitter: @LeoShane


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