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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Iraq After the War
Aired December 15, 2011 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: It's 1:00 p.m. in Baghdad, 5:00 a.m. in Washington. I'm Zain Verjee in London.
JIM CLANCY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jim Clancy. We're in Atlanta. And you are watching CNN, the world's news leader. And we want to welcome you to our special coverage, "Iraq After the War."
VERJEE: Just moments ago, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Baghdad to participate in the formal end to U.S. military involvement in Iraq.
We want to take you now live to Baghdad, where you are looking at live pictures of the casing of the colors ceremony in the Iraqi capital. It has been almost nine years since the U.S. invaded that country. And in that time, at least 128,000 Iraqis have been killed in conflict situations. More than 4,400 U.S. troops have also died.
And now, at this very moment, the American military command in the country is closing a chapter in the history of both Iraq and the U.S. Armed Forces with this somber ceremony.
It is such a big contrast to the explosions that marked the beginning of the war in Iraq, back in March of 2003.
CLANCY: Now, this moment does, in a very real sense, mark the end of a difficult period, not only for the U.S. military, but for the people of Iraq.
Arwa Damon has covered the key moments of the Iraq war. She joins us now from Baghdad.
You know, Arwa, you've seen it all. I was there with you for some of it. And looking on, you realize the tremendous suffering that the Iraqi people have had. But on a day like this one, do they have misgivings about what they're seeing?
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, as soon as the images are up, that's going to be the first the Iraqis are, in fact, hearing about this ceremony. This ceremony, of course, marking the end of the war, the casing of the colors, the final step as the U.S. begins to complete its withdrawal of its own forces from the country. It's set to take place by the end of this month.
Only a few thousand troops still remaining in-country. But when you discuss the end of the war for the Iraqis, there's a lot of conflicting emotions. People are still incredibly torn about the U.S. role in their own country. And, of course, they have sacrificed so much.
And many of them continue to remain uncertain about their own future here. Exactly what is going it take place once the U.S. military leaves. Many of them feel as if their government is still not sufficiently unified, still not capable of providing them with what they're going to need. And there are great concerns about what sort of entity is going to fill the potential security backing that the U.S. leaves behind.
But this is right now, most certainly, a very symbolic moment, for the U.S. military in Iraq. They, too, have sacrificed a lot. A lot of those soldiers that we've been out with have seen their friends dying next to them. A lot of them are also sharing their own conflicting emotion as well during this moment, Jim.
CLANCY: Arwa, a lot of them aren't even back inside their own homes inside the country and some of them are still living outside the country. For many Iraqis, this conflict isn't over. This would be a ceremony today that marks the departure of U.S. troops, but still not over.
DAMON: No. In many ways, Jim, it really just marks the new chapter of the war for the Iraqis themselves. There are millions who have been displaced, still continue to be displaced. Many don't feel it's safe enough for them to be able to go back home. Many of them have been asking us how the U.S. can declare this a success, if the country is not secure them enough for them to be able to go back home, the country is not secure enough for them to be able to even have a semblance of a normal life.
Iraqis, just about every family in this country, Jim, has lost a loved one in this war. And that is why they cannot define these moments as being victory or success. That is why they cannot say that they are glad or they are displeased with the U.S. military even invaded their own country, because for them, the war is not that black and white.
I was recently speaking with a woman who had lost her husband back in an explosion in 2007. She has managed on the surface to begin to put her life back together. But she also has a lot of questions.
And the question that she has, we hear echoed by many Iraqis, she wants to know why. Why did the U.S. make so many mistakes in Iraq? So many mistakes that Iraqis and the U.S. have had to pay for with their own blood.
CLANCY: You know, we just watched some of the generals coming in. And I think there's some frustration, not only in the Iraqi side, but on the U.S. military side.
I can remember talking with people who said, we're going to get the electricity back on in Iraq. And in many ways, people thought that the electricity and the grid, the way that it delivered power, and life really to so many parts of Iraq, would be a major test of what the U.S. could achieve.
What's the status today?
DAMON: Well, I can tell you, Jim, in Baghdad, most households are getting around two hours of city power a day. And that's something to think about. Most people rely, if they can afford it, on generators. Every single neighborhood has a generator in it.
And the person who owns the generator effectively runs the neighborhood. Like mini mafias. You drive through the streets and all you see is a tangle of cables strewn across alleyways. People really also using electricity as a marker of success.
And a lot of the Iraqis also have a question, how is it that the U.S. being such a massive superpower, but it was unable to do something so simple like bring the electricity back.
Again, another Iraqi I was speaking to, a woman, she took me to see a manicured lawn inside one of her friend's homes. She wanted us specifically to see that, because pointing to the perfectly clipped grass, pointing to the flowers, she said, this is what we thought America was going to bring to us. Instead, she said, step outside, look to the streets of Baghdad, look to the filth. This is what America is leaving behind.
CLANCY: All right. Well, we'll hear, you know, there's more perspectives in all of this. Arwa Damon has seen it all. She'll be with us across the next hour or 90 minutes.
Arwa, great to have you there. But I'm going to turn it back over to Zain in London.
VERJEE: Jim, we're going to continue to watch this live ceremony.
Meanwhile, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the U.S. president, Barack Obama, marked this historic moment, the end of the U.S. military operations in Iraq, with American soldiers. On Wednesday, as the president welcomed home some of the most recent troops to arrive home, he reflected on the pull-out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I've come to speak to you about the end of the war in Iraq. Over the last few months, the final work of leaving Iraq has been done. Dozens of bases with American names that house thousands of American troops have been closed down or turned over to the Iraqis. Thousands of tons of equipment have been packed up and shipped out.
Tomorrow, the colors of United States forces Iraq, the colors you fought under, will be formally cased in a ceremony in Baghdad. Then they'll begin their journey across an ocean back home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VERJEE: All of the American troops with the exception of a small contingent of noncombat soldiers plan to be out of Iraq by the end of this month. But they're not all coming straight home. A lot of them are going to be heading to Kuwait, and that's where we find Martin Savidge.
Martin, give us an idea of the logistical operation here and the role that Kuwait is playing.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zain, hello to you.
It's been a huge logistics issue for the U.S. military. One, it's actually been in the planning for several years. It goes back to 2008.
They knew at that time in the agreements that were signed with the Iraqi government that there would be an eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces. It was speed up somewhat by the president's announcement that it would come at the end of this year. But the planning was basically there.
They describe it as the biggest logistics move that the U.S. military has been involved with since at least the Vietnam War. They describe hundreds of thousands of vehicles, millions of pieces of equipment. And then on top of that, tens of thousands of troops that all had to be drawn down responsibly. It isn't like you tell everyone, all right, just go home wherever you feel like it.
There is a plan, you want to make sure you shut down the laundry at the right time. But you don't get rid of the security before you shut down the laundry, and on and on like that. So, that's what required the careful planning and timing.
As far as Camp Virginia here at Kuwait, this is the main transit point for most of them coming out of Iraq. Most of them coming on the ground via convoys. Those convoys end up here.
Here, they sort through their gear, sort through the equipment. Turn in the vehicles and then eventually, it is from here that they catch a flight back to the United States.
So, right now, it's relatively quiet. The peak rush hour, if it were of the drawdown of U.S. forces was shortly after Thanksgiving. However, there is another push that is going to happen, and that's expected in the next few days, as some of the remaining troops continue to come out of Iraq.
But this continues to be a point where a lot of, you see a lot of happy faces. A lot of Americans looking forward to going home.
VERJEE: Martin Savidge, just stand by for just a moment.
We're watching live pictures of a ceremony about to start in Baghdad, which is big on symbolism, a critical moment for the United States and Iraq. They're bringing in the colors now. Let's watch.
VERJEE: This is a major moment for Iraq and the United States. A somber ceremony here in Baghdad that is big on symbolism. Almost nine years of war, $1 trillion U.S. dollars spent, more than 120,000 Iraqis have died, more than 4,400 U.S. troops have died.
Barbara Starr is watching this ceremony. She has been traveling with the U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Barbara, what are we seeing?
Barbara Starr is at the scene. We will try to reestablish communication with her in just a moment. But this is a real big deal for both Iraq and the United States. It is marking the official end of U.S. military operations in this country.
Jim Clancy, my colleague, is in Atlanta watching the ceremonies also.
As we listen to the U.S. national anthem -- Jim, what goes through your mind? You covered this war when it started back in 2003. And here we are, almost nine years later, and it's officially over.
CLANCY: This has been a very bitter experience, I think for many Americans. But let's listen to the end to the national anthem. Let me collect some thoughts here.
CLANCY: As we continue to watch the ceremony, as the Casing of the Colors, as it's called, as the U.S. officially ends combat operations in Iraq -- a prayer being offered there.
Let's listen to this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since 2003, our nations sought a common good rarely tried in the history of mankind to bring the rule of law to a nation. And so doing, Iraq and America sacrifice their most precious resources in the lives of service members and citizens. These sacrifices were not in vain, and therefore, we pray that a new spirit of peace and friendship will flow across this land, and that all Iraqis will work together for their mutual growth and prosperity. Give its leaders and people a renewed sense of hope for the days ahead.
And we thank you for the leadership of General Austin, who led the U.S. forces in Iraq. Grant wisdom to Ambassador Jeffrey, as he builds on the success of these years. We will thank you for all of these things which we humbly ask in your holy name, amen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please be seated.
The whole military unit is embodied in the colors under which it fights. The colors stand in testimony of all that the unit has accomplished through history. The colors inspire future success in peace and war. We rally to the colors (ph), safeguard them from harm, loss and dishonor that we would guard ourselves.
Today, with the casing of the honor-led colors of the United States forces in Iraq, we close not only a chapter of the unit's history but also a chapter of American military history. Today, we mark the end of Operation New Dawn. Though the historic colors will fly no more, they will never fade in the memory of those who sacrificed so much to bring the promise of freedom to the people of Iraq.
Now, moving forward, the case of the USAF colors are General Lloyd J. Austin III, commanding general of the United States forces of Iraq, Command Sergeant Major Joseph Allen, the command sergeant major of the United States forces, Iraq.
CLANCY: James "Spider" Marks is a retired major general in the U.S. Army. He ended his 30-year military career as the top intelligence officer for coalition land forces during the 2003 invasion in Iraq and he joins us now to tell us a little bit about what we're seeing.
The casing of the colors -- you know, if there's something that is achieved today, it is when American troops went in, so many said, General Marks, they'll never leave, they'll take the oil. This is the day when that is proved wrong.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), U.S. ARMY: You know, Jim, we need to take great pride in what we're seeing right now. I mean, this is not the end. This is truly the end of the beginning.
We established a relationship with Iraq, Iraq and United States established a new relationship when we entered Iraq in March of 2003. And we are now transitioning.
This is really a period of looking forward in anticipation. And there should be great optimism. There really is, I don't want to make too much of this -- United States has made some mistakes in Iraq. But this should not be an occasion for us to --
CLANCY: General Marks, sorry to interrupt, but Ambassador Jeffrey is about to speak. Let's listen to what he has to say.
JAMES F. JEFFREY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: USFI, in doing so, we look back at the sacrifices made by so many Americans and so many Iraqis. But we also look forward to an Iraq that is sovereign, secure, and self-reliant. An Iraq with whom the United States government will continue to work in every way possible, building on the successes of our colleagues and USFI, led by General Austin.
In doing so, as the American mission moves forward, we will be a constantly in mind the responsibilities those of us have in the future for those of us who have given so much in the past.
Mr. Secretary, we thank you for your support, both in your current position and as director of the CIA. Thank you very much for coming here today.
LEON PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much. Sergeant Major, General Austin, General Mattis, General Dempsey, honored guests.
It is a profound honor to be here in Baghdad and to have the opportunity to participate in this moving ceremony, on this very historic occasion for both the Iraqi people and the American people. No words, no ceremony can provide full tribute to the sacrifices that have brought this day to pass.
I'm reminded of what President Lincoln said at Gettysburg about a different war at a different time, as he paid tribute to the fallen in that war. His words echo through the years, as we pay tribute to the fallen of this war.
The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. But it can never forget what they did here.
Today, we are honored by the presence of so many distinguished guests from the Iraqi and American governments, and to the distinguished members of the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi military. Thank you for your courage, for your leadership, for your friendship over these many numbers of years.
More importantly, thank you for your loyalty to the future of Iraq. Your dream of an independent and sovereign Iraq is now a reality.
We are deeply fortunate that in addition to all the great commanders who led our troops here, there are two great Americans who stepped forward to lead this mission through this final transition. Today, we honor these two national treasures, Ambassador Jeffrey and General Austin.
Jim, I want to thank you for your wise counsel, for your brilliant diplomacy, at a time that called for both.
And, Lloyd, our nation owes you its highest gratitude for your tireless commitment to this mission, through multiple lengthy deployments. I want to offer my deepest thanks on behalf of the American people, for shouldering the burden of leadership. Lloyd, your effort to make this day a reality is nothing short of miraculous.
This was one of the most complex, logistical undertakings in U.S. military history -- 50,000 U.S. troops withdrawn seamlessly. Dozens of bases closed or handed over. Millions of pieces of equipment that had to be transferred. All while maintaining the security of our forces and the security of the Iraqi people.
Lloyd, you'll now reunite at the Pentagon with someone else, whose able leadership under critical time in this war effort help achieve its ultimate success, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno. And together with Ray, you'll now lead the Army through an important moment of transition as vice chief of staff. You're part of a generation of battle-proven leaders who have now taken the reins of our national security. And I can't tell you how much we benefit from that great experience.
Lloyd, I know you'll insure with Ray Odierno and Marty Dempsey and others who fought in this conflict, that as we confront the strategic challenge of the future, we will never forget the lessons of war. Nor will we ever forget the sacrifices of the more than 1 million men and women of the United States Armed Forces who served in Iraq and the sacrifices of their families.
Through deployment, after deployment, after deployment, families somehow withstood the strain, the sacrifice and the heartbreak of watching their loved ones go off to war. Their loved ones fought in places like Fallujah and Ramadi and Sadr City, and elsewhere.
And today in particular, we remember the nearly 4,500 brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, as well as the more than 30,000 wounded warriors, many of whom still struggle with serious life-altering injuries.
To all of the men and women in uniform today, your nation is deeply indebted to you. You have done everything your nation asked you to do and more. Your dedication, your commitment to this mission has been the driving force behind the remarkable progress that we've seen here in Baghdad and across this country.
You came to this land between the rivers again and again and again. You did not know whether you'd return to your loved ones. You will leave with great pride, lasting pride, secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people begin a new chapter in history, free from tyranny and full of hope for prosperity and peace, particularly for this country's future generations.
This outcome was never certain, especially during the war's darkest days. In 2006, as a member of President Bush's Iraq study group, I traveled here at a time when sectarian violence was skyrocketing. And it seemed as if nothing was working. Iraq was struggling with turmoil, with violence, with uncertainty.
And today, some five years later, and after a great deal of blood has been spilled, by both Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could finally govern and secure itself has become real. The Iraqi army and police have been rebuilt. And they are capable of responding to threats.
Violence levels are down. Al Qaeda has been weakened. The rule of law has been strengthened. Educational opportunities have been expanded. And economic growth is expanding as well.
And this progress has been sustained, even as we have withdrawn nearly 150,000 U.S. combat forces from this country.
With the departure of the remaining U.S. forces within these last few days to the end of the year, we salute the fact that Iraq is now fully responsible for directing its own path to future security and future prosperity.
To be sure, the cost was high. The blood and treasure of the United States and also for the Iraqi people. But those lives have not been lost in vain. They gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq.
And because of the sacrifices made, these years of war have now yielded to a new era of opportunity. Together with the Iraqi people, the United States welcomes the next stage in U.S./Iraqi relations -- one that will be rooted in mutual interest and mutual respect.
Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead -- by terrorism, by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself. Challenges remain. But the United States will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.
To that end, the U.S. is deepening our relationship with Iraq through our Office of Security Cooperation, and Iraq security forces will continue to partner with the U.S. Central Command led by General Mattis. The U.S. will maintain a significant diplomatic presence here in Iraq. We will continue to help Iraq address violent extremism and defend against external threats. We will continue to have a robust and enduring military presence across the Middle East.
We are not about to turn our backs on all that has been sacrificed and accomplished. And we will not allow those who would seek to undermine success to have their way, but in the end, this is not about the United States. Rather today is about Iraq. This is a time for Iraq to look forward. This is an opportunity for Iraq to forge ahead on the path to security and prosperity.
And we undertake this transition today, reminding Iraq that it has in the United States, a committed friend and a committed partner. We owe it to all of the lives that have been sacrificed in this war, not to fail. I believe that the fundamental dream of all humanity is to be able to give our children a better life. Today, the Iraqi people move closer to realizing that dream.
And Iraqis can take pride in knowing that through the service and sacrifice of so many brave warriors, your children will have a better future. That is the reward. That we all cherish on this historic day. This is not the end. This is truly the beginning. May God bless our troops, may God bless America, and may God bless Iraq, its people and its future. Thank you.
CLANCY: Leon Panetta, the former head of the CIA, now the defense secretary, speaking there, exhorting Iraqis to work together with the United States, saying the U.S. isn't going to abandon this partnership, and it will stand to block those who want to undermine the mission, the sacrifices that have been made by the Iraqis and by U.S. troops. Talking there about the one million Americans that, at one time or another, have served during this very long engagement inside Iraq. Next we're going to be hearing from General Martin Dempsey who's the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
GEN. MARTIN E. DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Mark this new beginning in the history of Iraq of the United States, and at some level, for the entire region. I'm honored to share this moment with Secretary Panetta and Ambassador Jeffrey, General Mathis, and of course, General Austin, and sergeant major. They stand tall among American leaders who have been dedicated to seeing this difficult mission through.
They represent a generation of my fellow citizens who came here to make a difference, to keep America safe, and to free Iraq from tyranny. They have shouldered their duties in partnership with our very respected Iraqi brothers. For over 20 years, Iraq has been a defining part of our professional and our personal lives. The road we have traveled was long, and it was tough.
Our journey was a lesson in courage, a test of our character, an affirmation of shared sacrifice, and a monument to sheer will. Every day required us to balance conflict and compassion. Every step was a singular act of moral and physical courage. Everywhere and at every level, we learn the power of relationships, relationships rooted in trust and respect among ourselves and with our Iraqi brothers.
We lived among you. When I reflect on this journey, I remember deploying in 1991, to end Saddam Hussein's oppression of the Kuwaiti people. Twelve years later, I remember leaving my family again to end Saddam Hussein's oppression of the Iraqi people.
And now, today, I stand here with the very heart of my family, my wife, Deenie, to bear witness to what our sons and daughters, I mean, literally our sons and daughters, but in the more broader sense, all of our sons and daughters have achieved.
We will remember you and those that have gone before, what you risked, what you learned, how much you sacrificed, and the fallen comrades for whom we all grieve. There's many images, each of us have our own. Today, my images of Command Sergeant Major Eric Cook, first command sergeant major of the first brigade, first armored division, who on Christmas eve of 2003, was kill by an IED in Northern Baghdad (ph).
Probably the finest noncommissioned officer I had ever met. We've paid a great price here, and it has been a price worth paying. He and many others, and it's important to note, American and Iraqi deserve an Iraq that cares for its citizens and that secures its future for its children as Secretary Panetta just mentioned.
As a father of soldiers, I'm proud that we, with the Iraqi people and our coalition partners, have set a course that actually befits the spirit of that commitment to Iraq's children. And as a leader of soldiers and now of airmen, marine, sailors and coast guardsmen as well, I look forward to an enduring relationship between our countries. Be certain, we value this relationship.
We will stand you against terrorists. We will stand with you against terrorists and others that threaten to undo what we have accomplished together. We'll work with you to secure our common interest in a more peaceful and prosperous region. You can be certain we will seize this new beginning.
In just a few minutes, I'm going to fly out of Baghdad airport on that C-17 that sits behind you, out of McGuire Air Force Base piloted by a young major by the name of Jim Acres (ph). He's going to fly me out of here later today. And it occurs to me that the next time I come back, I came here today because I wanted to. I didn't have to ask anyone's permission to fly in here.
The next time I come back, I'm going to have to be invited in. I'm going to have to be invited by the Iraqi government. And I kind of like that, to tell you the truth. So, in closing, let me just say (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE). Let me also say (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) and (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE). Thank you very much.
VERJEE: Goodbye my friends and God bless you in Arabic. The chairman of the joint chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, speaking there, marking the achievement in Iraq of what he called our sons and our daughters. Let's listen now to the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin speaking now.
GEN. LLOYD J. AUSTIN III, COMMANDING GENERAL, U.S. FORCES - IRAQ: After more than eight years, we have seen great progress, progress that has enabled our military to transition the lead for U.S. efforts in Iraq to our partners in the embassy, and progress that has given the Iraqi people opportunities that they have not seen in their lifetime.
This would not have been possible without the many sacrifices, the tireless, dedication, and bravery, and the magnificent performance of our men and women in uniform, our coalition partners, and our core of dedicated civilians. And I could not be more honored to represent all of them here today as we begin a new chapter in our strategic relationship with Iraq.
Secretary Panetta, Ambassador Jeffrey, General and Mrs. Dempsey, General Mathis, the distinguished members of the Iraqi government, Iraqi security force leaders, fellow general officers, command sergeants majors, partners, and friends of United States forces Iraq, good afternoon and thank you one and all for joining us for this historic event.
And right from the start, I'd like to thank the mighty tropic lightning band. As always, you sound magnificent, and your performance makes this event even more special. So, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a round of applause for the band and all who helped put the ceremony together.
(APPLAUSE) This is an especially poignant moment for me. Eight years, eight months, and 26 days ago as the assistant division commander for maneuver for the third infantry division, I gave the order for the lead elements of the division to cross the border. As fate would have it, I now give the order to case the colors today. I was here when we originally secured this airfield, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to be here again as we return it to its rightful owner, the Iraqi people.
After 21 days of tough fighting, we ended Saddam Hussein's reign of terror, liberating the Iraqi people. The conventional fight was intense, and it was decisive. But calling the ensuing insurgency, aimed at trampling the seeds of democracy was a much different effort, one that tested our military strength and our ability to adapt and evolve.
Fighting al Qaeda in Fallujah and Ramadi, to battling the Madhi army in Najaf and Basra, our troops worked to protect the Iraqi people from an enemy that determined to cause indiscriminate harm. Our men and women displayed incredible courage in the face of daily attacks. And they demonstrated the ability to analyze an exceedingly complex environment so that they could adapt in order to defeat the enemy.
They fielded new equipment. They enhanced their ability to fuse intelligence. And they adopted tactics that formed the basis of our counterinsurgency doctrine. And most important, they created the conditions for democracy to take root as Iraq developed its constitution and proud Iraqis found their voices through their votes.
Our troops also adapted by moving off of our large bases and creating small combat outposts that enabled them to live among the Iraqi people. They displayed remarkable agility, simultaneously engaging in combat operations, while conducting humanitarian projects and peace-keeping activities. And they were able to build trust by learning to understand and respect the Iraqi culture and by conducting face-to-face engagements with local leaders.
It was this trust that helped inspire the Sunni awakening, which was critical in stemming the violence. Another key factor in stabilizing a security environment was the development of Iraq's security forces. Since 2003, we have helped the Iraqi security forces grow from zero to more than 650,000 strong. They have trained, they have fielded equipment, allwhile remaining engaged with a determined enemy.
The combined efforts of the Sunni awakening, the surge, and the defeat of the Madhi army led to a significantly improved security situation by the summer of 2008. Working with our Iraqi and coalition partners, we had stopped the downward spiral of devastating violence. But as you all know, wars don't just abruptly end.
And so, what followed was a series of transitions that have capitalized on the improved security situation and turned the tide of war. As violence subsided, we were able to redeploy a surge brigades. And in order to maintain our momentum with fewer troops, we changed the nature of our interaction with the Iraqi security forces by conducting partnered operations.
And through this partnership, they became more capable. And over time, they assumed the lead for internal security enabling us to move out the cities in June of 2009. We introduced advise and assist brigades that focus on developing the Iraqi security forces while working simultaneously with the state department's reconstruction teams.
And their work was to build Iraq's civil capacity. These efforts to improve the quality of life for thousands of Iraqis while attacking the root causes of violence. And as you all know, we began "Operation New Dawn" in September of 2010.
This operation was focused on transitioning the lead for U.S. efforts in Iraq to our embassy partners and taking advantage of sustained improvements in internal security that we were able to help the Iraqi security forces take some initial steps towards developing the ability to defend against external threats.
And we stood up the office of security cooperation, which manages one of the most robust foreign military sales programs in the world and will become the core of our enduring military-to-military relationship. Our troops work tirelessly to transition hundreds of tasks to the embassy and to other organizations.
In addition to these critical tasks, they have, over the past few months, focused on transferring bases, re-posturing our remaining 50,000 troops, and more than two million pieces of equipment, and they've done this superbly. As the secretary said, they executed one of the most complex maneuver and logistics operations in our nation's history. And so, as a result of these efforts over the past eight years, the Iraqi people have unprecedented opportunities.
They have the opportunity to make their voices heard through a democratically-elected government, the opportunity to live in a relatively peaceful environment, and the opportunity to find prosperity as their economy strives to develop its potential. And given the unforeseen events that have transpired in this dynamic region over the past year, it is even more evident that a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq will serve as a source of stability and inspiration to this region.
To our comrades in the Iraqi security forces, we have trained, fought, bled, together. We have created hope. We have persevered. And we witnessed remarkable progress together. Security has improved as U.S. troop strength decreased. And it continued to improve over the course of national elections while forming your government.
And this is a true testament to your dedication, your competency, and your courage. There is no doubt that this is a challenging time for Iraq and its neighbors. But Iraq has an opportunity to assume a position of leadership in the region if it follows the right path. Iraq's leaders must make the right choices, basing their decisions on what is best for the Iraqi people.
They must demonstrate the resolve to maintain relentless pressure on those who are intent on causing harm and disrupting progress because violence and prosperity cannot co-exist. And they must work to develop the institutions that will help their democracy mature. And I cannot overstate that our partners in the embassy are well- suited to continue to help Iraq build its future.
I could not be more impressed by our team of diplomats led by Ambassador Jim Jeffrey. Jim, you have been a true friend and a confidante. I thank you for your leadership and for the spirit of teamwork that you inspire. You and your team are absolutely top notch and the right folks to foster our enduring strategic relationship with Iraq. So, now over the next few days, we will transfer our remaining bases and complete our withdrawal.
Thereby, honoring our commitment to Iraq and bridging our military mission to a -- bringing our military mission to a successful conclusion. And so, too, our sailors, soldiers, airmen, marines, coast guardsmen, civilians, and coalition members, I say thank you for a job extremely well done. I am truly humbled by and thankful for your service and your many sacrifices.
I'd like to extend a special word of thanks to our wounded brothers and sisters back at home. Please know that you will always have a place in our formation. And I'd also like to express my sincere appreciation for the outstanding members of our reserve components and the employers who have sacrificed during your extended absences. Their support and your efforts added critical capabilities that we would not have found elsewhere.
We have, indeed, accomplished a great deal, but it goes without saying that we did not do this alone. Our families and our loved ones sacrifice considerably to support us. Our spouses, our friends, and other family members have stepped up time and time again to carry on in our absence. So, to our loved ones back home, let me extend our deepest thanks for your support and to the families of our fallen.
Our nation owes you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. You will always be a part of our military family. We've also been fortunate to have the unwavering support of the great American public. From folks greeting service members in airports to organizations that sent care packages and wrote letters. Your support has meant the world to us in uniform. Again, to our Iraq war veterans, I could not be more proud of what you have accomplished.
You have done all that has been asked of you and as the secretary said earlier, you have done more. You have set the stage for the United States to have an enduring strategic partnership with Iraq and for Iraq to emerge as a strong, stable leader in a critically important region. May God bless you all. May God bless the sovereign country of Iraq. And May God continue to bless the United States of America. (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the giving of the benediction by Chaplain Eric, the retirement of the colors, the playing of the armed forces medley, and the departure of the official party.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let us pray. And now, Lord, we beseech your mercy upon the nation of Iraq, that its future will glow with the light of freedom, that all its citizens will share in the blessings of prosperity and peace. We humbly pray that the seeds of America's work will make -- will mark a new dawn for this great land now and for all future generations. For your honor and glory, we ask these things, amen.
CLANCY: Much praise there for U.S. forces. One million having served in Iraq during the last eight years, eight months, 26 days. Praise, too, for their families, encouragement to the Iraqi people, and to Iraq's security forces, but also, a warning, there may be difficult days ahead. Having followed this story all of that time, our own Barbara Starr is there in Baghdad. Barbara, your thoughts?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, Jim, I think what we're see something is really the dropping of the curtain on the U.S. invasion of Iraq nearly nine years ago. This ceremony today is very much a U.S. military ceremony. Casing the colors, what we see here, we did not see Iraqi troops. We saw, perhaps, only a very small handful of Iraqi officials at best.
So, this is all about the U.S. military drawing the curtain on the war over the last nearly nine years here in Iraq. This ceremony very much, there was security concerns. It is behind blast walls. Thankfully, there were no issues here. No problems, but this is really the last final chapter in the U.S. military mission as it existed in Iraq.
The numbers keep coming back. They were said by the speakers, more than 4,000 U.S. troops killed, some 32,000 wounded. This is the place, of course, where America came to know the phrase, "IED," improvised explosive device, the weapon that's still killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, of course.
So, mission accomplished. That was back in 2003, front and center, when President George W. Bush stood next to banner had said "mission accomplished." Mission accomplished or not, for U.S. troops, today, the war is over -- Jim.
CLANCY: Barbara Starr, thank you very much for that. Zain, back to you over in London.
VERJEE: It's over. Eight years, eight months, and 26 days to bring us to this historic moment that you are watching on the right- hand side of your screen in Baghdad. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears from both the sides of the Iraqi people and the American people.
If you think back to March of 2003, we went through shock and awe, war, suicide bombings, sectarian violence, the deposing of Saddam Hussein, executions, political disagreements, to bring us to this day and this moment. So big on symbolism and also big on substance after almost nine years of war, $1 trillion U.S. spent, and deaths on the Iraqi side of 128,000, almost 4,500 U.S. troops died.
It really is a day of a lot of conflicting emotions. Iraqis, on the one hand, say that they're happy that the U.S. is leaving. On the other hand, a lot of people are still really nervous. They don't know that once the U.S. leaves, what will their future look like. And will the Iraqi government be able to rule? Will they or is it still so politically fragile?
MINA AL-ORAIBI, ASSISTANT EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, ASHARQ ALAWSAL: Well, it's a bittersweet moment for Iraqis. And you're right, there are conflicting emotions. Of course, it's sweet because nobody wants to see foreign troops on their land, and this is the end of that symbolic moment of American presence. Having said that, there are still going to be contractors on the ground.
There are still going to be some troop levels available at least to guard the embassy grounds. But at the same time, it's bitter, because you remember, everything that's happened over more than eight years. This was never meant to be an occupation, at least, in the minds of the Iraqi people. Everything that they thought previous to 2003 was that this would be a war, deposing of a dictator, instill a new government and there would be a partnership.
And it wasn't. It was an occupation. Regarding the government and whether they can actually do it, the political divisions in Iraq are huge and no one knows what will happen after December 31st.
VERJEE: Will the Iraqi security forces be able to run the place to secure the Iraqi people?
AL-ORAIBI: Well, they are doing that now.
VERJEE: Will they do a good job of it?
AL-ORAIBI: I think so for they've done as good of a job as they could do, especially after the Iraqi army was dismantled in 2003 and having to start from scratch. And that was, really, I think, one point that everybody will turn back to and say that we went through a lot in Iraq that we didn't necessarily have to had the army not been completely dismantled.
So, from June of 2009, they've been guarding the cities. American troops did pull out. People thought that there would be huge upheaval and there wasn't.
VERJEE: Mina al-Oraibi, the assistant editor and chief of Asharq Alawsal, thank you so much.
Jim, you were the only correspondent at CNN who's covered three wars in Iraq. Your thoughts on this significant day?
CLANCY: Well, we have to go now, but we'll be talking about this a lot in the hours ahead. Zain, this has been a peace of history, CNN's special coverage. Iraq after the war. I'm glad all of you joined us. I'm Jim Clancy.
VERJEE: And I'm Zain Verjee.