Iraq War Officially Ends, But Without Much Cheering

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BAGHDAD, IRAQ - DECEMBER 15:  U.S. Military personnel holding the US flag, Iraq flag, and the US Forces Iraq colors stand as an Iraqi Army officer (L) walks past before the start of a casing ceremony where the United States Forces- Iraq flag was retired, signifying the departure of United States troops from Iraq, at the former Sather Air Base on December 15, 2011 in Baghdad, Iraq. United States forces are scheduled to entirely depart Iraq by December 31, there are currently around 4,000 troops remaining in Iraq.(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Photo: Mario Tama/2011 Getty Images

A 45-minute ceremony called "Casing the Colors" took place in Iraq on Thursday as the United States declared an official end to its nine-year mission. President Obama has held a series of public events this week to commemorate the war's final days, including yesterday at Fort Bragg, but today in Baghdad, the New York Times reports, the gathering was "muted." And that's about as positive as things get, at least according to the Paper of Record, which notes that the handover ceremony "was likely to sound an uncertain trumpet for a war that was launched to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction it did not have." The paper continues: "Violence continues to plague the country and the Muslim world remains distrustful of American power … remaining troops are still being attacked on a daily basis … military officers made no secret that they see key gaps in Iraq's ability to defend its sovereign soil."

"Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself," said U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. "Challenges remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation."

Some 4,000 American troops currently remain in the country at two military bases, as compared to the war's peak in 2007, when 170,000 troops populated 505 bases. By the end of 2011, combat troops will be withdrawn completely. A few hundred Americans will remain to train local officers and help with arms sales, and "negotiations could resume next year on whether additional American military personnel can return to further assist their Iraqi counterparts."