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Biden brings down curtain on US Iraq operations (VIDEO)

US military marked the end of its Iraq operations in a ceremony attended by Vice President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The remaining 13,000 US troops are due to withdraw by end of year.

By Staff Writer / December 1, 2011

US servicemen fold the American flag after it was lowered during the a handover ceremony of a military base in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday. Vice President Joe Biden thanked US and Iraqi troops on Thursday for sacrifices that he said allowed for the end of the nearly nine-year-long war.

Nabil al-Jurani/AP

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Baghdad

Top American and Iraqi leaders today marked the end of the US military presence in Iraq, after a costly war that brought down a tyrant, but also left a trail of destruction of 4,500 American lives, and many, many more Iraqis killed.

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The marble rotunda of Baghdad's Al Faw Palace – one of the thrones from which Saddam Hussein ruled, until toppled by the US armed forces in April, 2003 – echoed with a military band and platitudes.

A moment of silence was observed for "martyrs" of the war.

IN PICTURES: Leaving Iraq

Vice President Joseph Biden said the United States had set Iraq on a democratic path. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani expressed gratitude for the American role, despite widespread uncertainty among Iraqis about their future – and doubts about the price they've already paid.

"We're gathered here to thank the armed forces of Iraq and America, and to honor your sacrifice, to honor your success, as well as your commitment," Mr. Biden told scores of US and Iraqi military officers at the ceremony.

"Because of you ... and the work those of you in uniform have done, we are now able to end this war," said Biden. "We learned in over eight years in Iraq that this country's independent spirit is stitched into its national fabric.... The Iraqi people have not and will not yield again to any kind of external domination."

Biden said the foundation had been laid for an Iraq that, "against all odds, can serve as a source of stability not only for its people, but here in the region, and for year to come."

Biden added that "it's fair to say, almost no one thought that was possible a few years ago."

Home by Christmas?

The remaining 13,800 US troops in Iraq are exiting in coming weeks, and all will depart the seven remaining bases – down from a high of some 171,000 troops on 500 bases – by an end-of-year deadline.

Even as officials sought to close this chapter, reminders of the dangers facing Iraq were clear: 18 people were killed in Diyala Province today, most victims of a car bomb.

Mr. Talabani, a pro-US Kurdish politician, thanked American forces as "friends" who changed history for the better, and far beyond Iraq's borders. He sought to cast the US role in Iraq as a critical forerunner to the people-power Arab Spring revolutions that have so far this year toppled three dictatorial regimes, in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

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