Nightly News   |  December 15, 2011

US formally ends 9-year Iraq war

US forces formally ended their nine-year war in Iraq with a low-key flag ceremony in Baghdad on Thursday. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

Share This:

This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

WILLIAMS: Good evening.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: At a ceremony in Baghdad today, the Americans lowered the flag and it was a quiet ending to a war that went bad not long after its spectacular start. This ends close to nine years of warfare, and the US exit from Iraq comes after a high cost. Nearly 4500 American troops dead, more than 32,000 wounded. On the Iraqi side, estimates begin at 150,000 dead.

WILLIAMS: The cost in dollars to the US, around 800 billion. Some estimates put that at a trillion. And please remember, every American who served there volunteered for duty while their families sacrificed greatly here at home. And tonight, here's what it's -- looks like to wait for a ride home, and not just any ride. Few members of Bravo 224 of the 25th, a Virginia National Guard unit, en route to Fort Hood Texas . They'll all need their ride out of Camp Virginia in Kuwait tonight. They'll be airborne while most Americans are asleep. Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is in Baghdad , where he lived, of course, for many years covering this war and where he covered today's ceremony. Richard , good evening.

RICHARD ENGEL reporting: Good evening, Brian . For the more than one million US troops who served in Iraq , this is the end of an era. The Iraq war defined their lives, in some cases ended their lives, and now it's over. For a big war, it was a remarkably small closing ceremony . A few hundred troops, a five-piece band on a base by the airport on the edge of Baghdad . But with the casing of the colors, the US military command in Iraq ended a mission that began what feels like so long ago.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We cannot know the duration of this war, yet we know its outcome. We will prevail.

ENGEL: At least now we know the duration. America 's costliest war in decades officially ended today.

Secretary LEON PANETTA (Secretary of Defense): Your nation is deeply indebted to you. You have done everything your nation asked you to do and more.

ENGEL: This ceremony has been nine tough years in the making. After an invasion, elections, a civil war , a surge and finally a training mission , for the first time the US military command no longer has a presence here in Iraq . This is now a sovereign nation . There is still one mission left, to withdraw the 4,000 remaining troops in Iraq in the coming days. Most have already made it south to Kuwait , where they go through inspections and wait for flights home. Major Allison Daye was skyping with her children in Texas .

Major ALLISON DAYE: I love you!

ENGEL: She used to read them stories by phone from Iraq . She'll see them soon.

Maj. DAYE: What do I want for Christmas ? I want Santa to bring me home. Does that work?

Unidentified Child: I asked him for that, too.

ENGEL: The major now only wants one thing.

Maj. DAYE: Waking up in the morning and having their cute little faces there.

ENGEL: This war has been controversial and costly, but the troops, by and large, are leaving with their heads high.

Unidentified Man: Iraq is doing their own thing. They're their own country now, up and running. And, you know, it's wonderful.

ENGEL: Did America prevail? Iraq 's future remains uncertain. But today, December 15th , 2011 , will be written the day America 's war in Iraq ended, in time for the holidays. What was conspicuously absent today, Brian , there were no parades among Iraqis , no victory celebrations, no thank-yous.

WILLIAMS: Richard , you spent a good chunk of your adult life there. How's it feel today?

ENGEL: I'm worried about what happens in this country , Brian . I'm worried that the violence could return. I'm worried that the United States Embassy footprint with thousands of security contractors could antagonize Iraqis . The infrastructure in this country is still very poor. In many parts of Baghdad there are only a few hours of electricity a day. The Iraq war is ending for the United States , but it might not be ending for Iraqis .

WILLIAMS: Richard Engel in Baghdad tonight. Richard , thank you very much .