Dempsey: Iraq Campaign Was Worth the Cost

BAGHDAD, Dec. 15, 2011 — Top U.S. mil­i­tary lead­ers observed the offi­cial end of U.S. Forces Iraq’s mis­sion here today after near­ly nine years of con­flict that claimed the lives of near­ly 4,500 U.S. troops, and cre­at­ed a sov­er­eign nation from the destruc­tion of a bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ship.

On a stage in a smoky court­yard on the mil­i­tary side of Bagh­dad Inter­na­tion­al Air­port, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta, Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, com­mand­ing gen­er­al of U.S. Forces Iraq, and U.S. Ambas­sador to Iraq James F. Jef­frey addressed U.S. and Iraqi offi­cials and more than 150 troops and media from around the world. Also on the stage was Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis, com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand.

Panet­ta wel­comed dis­tin­guished mem­bers of the Iraqi gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary.

“Thank you for your courage, for your lead­er­ship, for your friend­ship over these many years,” the sec­re­tary said. “More impor­tant­ly, thank you for your loy­al­ty to the future of Iraq. Your dream of an inde­pen­dent and sov­er­eign Iraq is now a real­i­ty.” “This is not the end,” he added. “This is tru­ly the begin­ning.”

As U.S. Forces Iraq’s mis­sion ends, Jef­frey said, it’s fit­ting to “look back at the sac­ri­fices made by so many Amer­i­cans and so many Iraqis.”

It’s also a time, he added, to “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 in USFI led by Gen. Austin.”

The USFI com­man­der wel­comed the begin­ning of a new chap­ter in the U.S. strat­e­gy with Iraq, adding that he found the cer­e­mo­ny to be poignant.

“Eight years, eight months and 26 days ago, as the assis­tant divi­sion com­man­der for maneu­ver for the 3rd Infantry Divi­sion, I gave the order for the lead ele­ments of the divi­sion to cross the bor­der,” Austin said.

“As fate would have it,” he added, “I now give the order to case the col­ors today.”

Cas­ing the col­ors means pack­ing the U.S. Forces Iraq flag and send­ing it home to the Unit­ed States where it will be retired.

The home of U.S. Forces Iraq host­ed 45,000 to 49,000 troops for the vast major­i­ty of Oper­a­tion New Dawn and at the peak of the war housed 170,000 troops. Today only about 4,000 troops remain and every day hun­dreds more leave for stag­ing and out-pro­cess­ing facil­i­ties in Kuwait.

The rest of the troops will depart Iraq over the next two weeks, , well in advance of the Dec. 31 dead­line set by Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, said Army Maj. Gen. Jef­frey Buchanan, the offi­cial spokesman for U.S. Forces Iraq.

For more than 20 years, Dempsey said, “Iraq has been a defin­ing part of our pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al lives … Every­where, at every lev­el, we learned the pow­er of rela­tion­ships root­ed in trust and respect with our­selves and with our Iraqi broth­ers.”

The chair­man recalled when he deployed to Iraq in 1991 as part of Oper­a­tion Desert Storm to end Sad­dam Hussein’s oppres­sion of the Kuwaiti peo­ple.

More than a decade lat­er, Dempsey deployed to Iraq again.

“I remem­ber leav­ing my fam­i­ly again to end Sad­dam Hussein’s oppres­sion of the Iraqi peo­ple,” the chair­man said. “And now today I stand here with the very heart of my fam­i­ly, my wife, Deanie, to bear wit­ness to what our sons and daugh­ters — to what your sons and daugh­ters — have achieved.”

Dempsey said he’s proud that the Unit­ed States with its coali­tion part­ners and the Iraqi peo­ple teamed up to “set a course that befits the promise and spir­it of Iraq’s chil­dren.

“I look for­ward to an endur­ing part­ner­ship between our coun­tries,” the chair­man added.

The Defense Depart­ment val­ues the rela­tion­ship with Iraq, Dempsey said.

“We will stand with you against ter­ror­ists and oth­ers that threat­en to undo what we have accom­plished togeth­er,” he said. “We will work with you to secure our com­mon inter­ests in a more peace­ful and pros­per­ous region.”

Every­one who served in Iraq will car­ry an image of that time, the chair­man said.

“Today my image is of Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Eric Cooke … of the First Brigade, First Armored Divi­sion, who on Christ­mas Eve 2003 was killed by an IED … in north­ern Bagh­dad. Prob­a­bly the finest non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer I’d ever met,” Dempsey said.

“We’ve paid a great price here,” the chair­man added, “and it has been a price worth pay­ing.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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