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Video: Obama: After nearly 9 years, Iraq war is over

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    SNOW: Good evening. I'm Kate Snow in tonight for Brian .

    KATE SNOW, anchor: After nine years of bloody war costing thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of American dollars , President Obama says it is ending. The last American troops in Iraq are packing up and getting out by the end of the year. Home, he says, in time for the holidays. It was March of 2003 when President George W. Bush announced the start of the war against Iraq with shock and awe. Saddam Hussein 's rule soon collapsed. The president famously announced "mission accomplished," but as we know, even with the capture of Saddam himself, the mission would take much, much longer with more violence, some awful revelations, uplifting victories, and finally today's White House announcement. There is a lot of news to cover on all fronts tonight. We begin with our chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd . Chuck :

    CHUCK TODD reporting: Good evening, Kate . You know, opposition to the Iraq war was among the central reasons why candidate Barack Obama became nominee Obama , then President Obama , and promises to bring the troops home were a campaign staple, something not lost on the president today.

    President BARACK OBAMA: As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America 's war in Iraq will be over. As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. And to date, we've removed more than 100,000 troops. Iraqis have taken full responsibility for their country's security. The United States is moving forward from a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home . Here at home the coming months will be another season of homecomings. Across America , our servicemen and women will be reunited with their families. Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays .

    TODD: And while reaction came fast and furious from politicians of all stripes, we did reach out to former President George W. Bush for a comment, and his office said they would not be releasing a statement or issuing a comment about today's news. Kate :

    SNOW: Chuck Todd at the White House . Stay with us, Chuck ,

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 10/21/2011 6:58:45 PM ET 2011-10-21T22:58:45

President Barack Obama on Friday declared an end to the Iraq war, one of the longest and most divisive conflicts in U.S. history, announcing that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from the country by year's end.

Image: U.S. soldiers take a rest in the shade of armoured vehicles at Camp Liberty in Baghdad
Mohammed Ameen  /  Reuters
U.S. soldiers take a rest in the shade of armoured vehicles at a courtyard at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. U.S troops are scheduled to pull out of the country by the end of this year, according to President Barack Obama.

“As promised the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over,” Obama said.

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The withdrawal of American troops marks a major milestone in the war that started in 2003 and resulted in the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Live vote: Was Iraq war worth the human, financial costs?

"Today I can say that troops in Iraq will be home for the holidays," the president said.

Obama, eyeing a 2012 re-election campaign likely to be fought over his handling of the U.S. economy, is looking to wind down a decade of war in the Muslim world that did lasting damage to the U.S. image worldwide and stretched its military and budget to the brink.

"Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home,'' Obama said.

"The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops,'' Obama said. "That is how America's military efforts in Iraq will end.''

The U.S. military role in Iraq has been mostly reduced to advising the security forces in a country where levels of violence had declined sharply from a peak of sectarian strife in 2006-2007, but attacks remain a daily occurrence.

The U.S. has been withdrawing about 520 military personnel every day in accordance with the mission set by Obama in early 2009, sources told NBC News.

Denis McDonough, the White House's deputy national security adviser, said that in addition to the standard Marine security detail, the U.S. will also have 4,000 to 5,000 contractors to provide security for U.S. diplomats, including at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and U.S. consulates in Basra and Erbil.

US troops in Iraq

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Republicans criticize Obama over Iraq withdrawal

In Iraq, where the U.S. force peaked at around 190,000 during the height of President George W. Bush's troop surge in 2007, almost 4,500 U.S. soldiers have died and the war has cost U.S. taxpayers over $700 billion in military spending alone.

Even as leaders of Iraq's fragile democracy seek to distance themselves from Washington, Iraq is only slowly getting to its feet after years of ferocious violence that shattered its society and killed tens of thousands of people.

While Washington has hailed Iraq's halting progress, especially as tumult has swept the Middle East, its political system remains gripped by perennial deadlock on issues dividing a religiously and ethnically fractured country.

Violence there is a far cry from the sectarian slaughter of 2006-07, but Iraq still suffers daily attacks from a stubborn insurgency allied with al-Qaida, and from Shi'ite militiamen.

"I wish we had been able to make more progress in resolving the internal differences while our troops are still there," said retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who was national security advisor to President George H.W. Bush, and became a prominent Cassandra before the Iraq war.

Shared vision for Iraq?
Obama's announcement in the White House briefing room was freighted with political overtones.

The president, who was an early opponent of the war and campaigned on a promise to end it, repeated his mantra that "The tide of war is receding."

Obama keeps campaign promise with Iraq

But prominent Republicans criticized the president. Sen. John McCain told Reuters the decision went against the advice of U.S. military commanders, could embolden Iran and likely will be met with alarm by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is already concerned about U.S. commitment to his country.

"In retrospect, I don't think the political side of the Obama administration ever had any serious intentions of keeping a residual force there because none of their actions were serious," said McCain, ranking GOP member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Obama made his announcement after a video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He said the two leaders agreed to stick to an earlier arrangement to pull the remaining 40,000 U.S. troops by year's end.

About 160 U.S. soldiers will remain behind under State Department authority to train Iraqi forces along with a small contingent of soldiers guarding the U.S. Embassy. There will also likely be a U.S. special operations presence in Iraq.

But the announcement underscores the gaps that remain between U.S. and Iraqi priorities and political realities.

But administration officials said they feel confident that the Iraqi security forces are well prepared to take the lead in their country. McDonough said assessment after assessment of the preparedness of Iraqi forces concluded that "these guys are ready; these guys are capable; these guys are proven; importantly, they're proven because they've been tested in a lot of the kinds of threats that they're going to see going forward.

"So we feel very good about that."

Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said American and Iraqi officials were continuing discussions that might permit his soldiers to stay beyond the December 31 deadline.

The prospect of extending the troop presence was very sensitive for Iraq's fractured political elite.

Video: End of an era as US troops withdraw from Iraq (on this page)

Maliki, heading a tenuous coalition including politicians vehemently opposed to foreign troops, eventually advocated a training presence but rejected any legal immunity for U.S. soldiers. Those terms were deemed unacceptable in Washington and in the end there was no deal to be had.

"This has been inevitable," said David Mack, a former U.S. ambassador in the Middle East.

"National security strategists in both Washington and Baghdad made a strong case for keeping US military forces beyond 2011, but the domestic politics in both countries were against it," he said.

U.S. military role
The U.S. military role in Iraq has been mostly reduced to advising the security forces in a country whose military was rebuilt from scratch following the 2003 invasion.

Lingering weaknesses in Iraq's military capability would have been one reason to keep a larger U.S. troop presence.

Another was Iran. Chronically critical of Iran's nuclear program, Washington is especially sensitive to the prospect of an expansionist Iran following its recent allegations about a foiled Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

Slideshow: US troops leave Iraq (on this page)

"We remain very concerned that Iran is meddling, not just in the affairs of Iraq but of other countries in the region. And that's unacceptable," Pentagon spokesman George Little said this week when discussing a possible extended troop presence.

Brian Katulis, a security expert at the Center for American Progress in Washington, said the specter of Tehran dictating decisions to Baghdad was a red herring.

"Iranian influence is overstated," he said. "And it's not as if a few thousand U.S. troops was going to be a linchpin."

Both sides appeared to leave the door open to revising the arrangement announced on Friday. An Iraqi government advisor said after Obama's remarks that officials from both countries would discuss post-2011 trainers at their next meeting.

Even without soldiers, the U.S. presence will remain substantial. U.S. officials say the embassy in Baghdad, an imposing, fortified complex by the Tigris River in Baghdad's Green Zone, will be the largest in the world.

NBC's Chuck Todd, Kristin Welker, and Jim Miklaszewski along with the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: 2010 drawdown

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  1. U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicles cross the border from Iraq into Kuwait on Wednesday, Aug. 18. The U.S. Army's 4th Stryker Brigade is the last combat unit to leave Iraq as part of the drawdown of U.S. forces. President Barack Obama had set a goal of reducing the number of American troops in Iraq to 50,000 troops by Sept. 1. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A U.S. soldier waves from his Stryker armored vehicle after crossing the border into Kuwait. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A soldier dismantles a machine gun mounted on his Stryker immediately after crossing the border on Aug. 16. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. U.S. Army soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade race toward the border on Aug. 18. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Stryker armored vehicles through southern Iraq en route to Kuwait on Aug. 15. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Soldiers from C Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division gather before the convoy to Kuwait. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A member of the U.S. Army's 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, carries an American flag after a departure ceremony at Forward Operating Base Constitution in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, on Aug. 7. (Moises Saman / The New York Times via Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division band plays during a ceremony marking the formal withdrawal from the last checkpoints they helped staff in the Green Zone of Baghdad on June 1. (Holly Pickett / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. U.S. military Humvees are ready to be shipped out of Iraq at a staging yard at Camp Victory on July 6 in Baghdad. Everything from helicopters to printer cartridges are being wrapped and stamped and shipped out of Iraq in one of the most monumental withdrawal operations the American military has ever carried out. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Workers sort through broken computer equipment that will be destroyed at a demilitarizing facility for unusable, un-transportable U.S. military equipment at Camp Victory on June 24 in Baghdad. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Workers operate machinery that destroys damaged concrete blast walls at the U.S. Joint Base Balad, north of Baghdad, on July 3. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Soldiers from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, clear their weapons before boarding a military aircraft in Baghdad, as they begin their journey home on Aug. 13. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Soldiers from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, board a military aircraft in Baghdad on Aug 13. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Air Force airman talks on a radio as Army soldiers from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division prepare to board a military aircraft in Baghdad on Aug 13. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Soldiers from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, are seen on board a military aircraft in Baghdad on Aug. 13, as they begin their journey home. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. U.S. Army soldiers carry the flag-draped transfer case containing the remains of a U.S. soldier out of a C-17 during a dignified transfer on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base on Aug. 17 in Dover, Del. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Maya Alleruzzo / AP
    Above: Slideshow (16) US troops leave Iraq - 2010 drawdown
  2. Image:
    Khalid Mohammed / AP
    Slideshow (5) US troops leave Iraq - 2011 drawdown

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