FAYETTEVILLE, N.C., Dec. 14 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama Wednesday thanked U.S. troops home from Iraq and said the nine-year struggle will produce a "sovereign, stable, self-reliant" Iraq.
U.S. forces are to be out of Iraq by Dec. 31 under an agreement negotiated by the administration of President George W. Bush.
"Of course, Iraq is not a perfect place," Obama said in remarks reported by The Washington Post. "But we are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people."
The president's speech and remarks by first lady Michelle Obama to 3,000 cheering troops at Fort Bragg, N.C., ends a week of events marking an end to the conflict that began in 2003. The colors of the United States Forces-Iraq will be formally cased in a Baghdad ceremony Thursday.
"Fort Bragg, we're here to mark a historic moment in the life of our country and our military," Obama, who opposed the war as a U.S. senator, said at the 440th Structural Maintenance Hanger near Fayetteville. "For nearly nine years our nation has been at war in Iraq. And you, the incredible men and women of Fort Bragg, have been there every step of the way, serving with honor, sacrificing greatly, from the first waves of the invasion to some of the last troops to come home.
"So, as your commander in chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I'm proud to finally say these two words, and I know your families agree: Welcome home!"
Some 1.5 million U.S. military personnel served in Iraq, with more than 30,000 wounded and nearly 4,500 killed, including 202 from Fort Bragg.
"Over the last three years, nearly 150,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq," he said. "And over the next three days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of that country, Obama said as this chapter in history ends "Iraq's future will be in the hands of its people. America's war in Iraq will be over."
About 150 Defense Department military and civilian personnel are to remain to guard the U.S. Embassy, among other responsibilities. They will operate under the State Department, which will take the leading role in Iraq.