TODAY   |  November 30, 2011

US combat troops prepare to leave Iraq

The remaining U.S. combat troops in Iraq are packing up and getting ready to leave the country in just a few weeks. NBC’s Ann Curry reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> on assignment this morning. she traveled with vice president joe biden to iraq where u.s. forces are packing up to leave the country in just a few weeks. ann, good morning to you.

>> reporter: good morning to you, savannah. that's right, the vice president's c-17 landed in darkness. the pilots wearing infrared goggles. security is heavy amid an uptick in violence as the u.s. brings its divisive eight-year war in iraq to an end. the vice president timed his trip to the last days of america 's war in iraq . from 170,000 troops deployed at the height of the war, now less than 13,000 are packing up for good. general jeffrey buchanan says this largest movement of military equipment since world war ii sparks emotions.

>> i think all of us have lost a lot of friends, and that's tough. we want to honor that commitment and honor their sacrifice. my greatest hope is that the iraqis take advantage of the opportunities that they have.

>> reporter: captain lester minges and staff sergeant donald whitesman ending third deployments here.

>> i want to see the nation of iraq succeed, i really do and what i don't want to see is it crumble.

>> i've noticed a lot, the iraqi people over here have pretty much the same beliefs and they want the same things and i'm going to miss that.

>> reporter: eight years after shock and awe, after the toppling and death of saddam hussein , after at least 400473 american lives lost, and 32,226 wounded in action, and a roughly estimated 100,000 iraqi civilian deaths, america leaves a significantly less violent but not completely stable iraq . this attack in baghdad in recent days. having survived bombings and hunger.

>> very, very good.

>> reporter: the madawi family keeps weapons, fearing new attacks on anyone who helped the americans and on religious groups. sahara is saying, "we did not have sectarianism before the invasion." helping iraq rebuild is part of the vice president's mission.

>> it's good to be back for this purpose.

>> reporter: after u.s. troops withdraw by december 31st , or even sooner.

>> our troops in iraq will definitely be home for the holidays .

>> reporter: sergeant brian driscoll of tyler, texas, can hardly wait.

>> first thing i'm going to do when i get home, see my family, hug my wife. hug my kids.

>> reporter: the real question now is, how warmly america will receive these iraq war veterans who have had the proven resilience, courage and leadership skills to potentially become our next greatest generation . beyond our gratitude to the young men and women who answered the call of duty , is the united states really doing enough to give them access to higher education , to jobs, to encourage even preferential mortgages as our nation did after world war ii which then and could now again help lift our nation's economy. that will be among the questions we ask the vice president here in baghdad in our interview tomorrow