“The last convoy of American troops to leave Iraq drove into Kuwait on Sunday morning, marking the end of the nearly nine-year war…
“In darkness, the convoy snaked out of Contingency Operating Base Adder, near the southern city of Nasiriyah, around 2:30 a.m., and headed toward the border. The departure appeared to be the final moment of a drawn-out withdrawal that included weeks of ceremonies in Baghdad and around Iraq, and included visits by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, as well as a trip to Washington by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq…
“‘I just can’t wait to call my wife and kids and let them know I am safe,’ said Sgt. First Class Rodolfo Ruiz just before his armored vehicle crossed over the border. ‘I am really feeling it now.’
“Shortly after crossing into Kuwait, Sergeant Ruiz told the men in his vehicle: ‘Hey guys, you made it.'”
“The atmosphere was subdued inside one of the vehicles as it streamed down the highway, with little visible in the blackness outside through the MRAP’s small windows. Along the road, a small group of Iraqi soldiers waved to the departing American troops.
“‘My heart goes out to the Iraqis,’ said Warrant Officer John Jewell, acknowledging the challenges ahead. ‘The innocent always pay the bill.’…
“Early Saturday morning, the brigade’s remaining interpreters made their routine calls to the local tribal sheiks and government leaders that the troops deal with, so that they would assume that it was just a normal day.
“‘The Iraqis are going to wake up in the morning and nobody will be there,’ said Spc. Joseph, an Iraqi American who emigrated from Iraq in 2009 and enlisted. He asked that his full name be withheld to protect his family.”
“‘If you’re a loved one of someone that was killed in action or seriously wounded in action, there are no words that can make you ever believe that this was worth it,’ Gen. Lloyd Austin said today in Camp Adder, from where the final combat troops left.
“‘However, if you really think about what’s happened here — we removed a brutal dictator that killed, tortured hundreds of thousands of people over time and it provided the Iraqi people opportunities that they have not seen in their lifetime,’ Austin said. ‘If you consider the fact that we have a young democracy in a very critical region, a region that’s critical to the United States of America — yes, it was worth it.’…
“‘We are very happy for these young men and women to go back safely. We share their sorrow and grief for the ones who have fallen in Iraq and we do believe that Iraqis, on their own, could not have freed themselves from Saddam’s tyranny,’ Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said in a weekend interview with ABC News. ‘The Iraqis will remember all that. But that is not to say that some serious mistakes were not made on the ground. There have been many people, Iraqi people, that have been killed unnecessarily, and of course that has left some sorrow and grief among the Iraqis.'”
“When news reached a waking Iraqi public, there was joy at the end of a presence that many Iraqis resented as a foreign occupation.
“In the northern city of Mosul, pastry shop owner Muhannad Adnan said he had a swell of orders for cakes — up to 110 from the usual 70 or so a day — as families threw parties at home. Some asked him to ice the cakes with inscriptions of ‘congratulations for the end of occupation,’ he said…
“Omar Waadalla Younis, a senior at Mosul University, said at first he was happy to hear the last Americans were gone and thought the city government should hold celebrations in the streets. Then he thought of the possible threat from Iran.
“‘Now that the Americans have left, Iraq is more vulnerable than before.'”
“Sgt. First Class Hilda McNamee was the truck commander in the last MRAP to drive out of Iraq. The 34-year-old said when she gets back to Texas, she plans to take her son to the International House of Pancakes.
“For her the significance of the last convoy driving out was immediately apparent.
“‘It means I won’t open a newspaper and find out that one of my friends passed away,’ said McNamee.
“She welled up but didn’t want to go any deeper.”
“Freshly turned red soil covered his coffin, which went into the ground two weeks and a day before he was due home. There were two shriveled carnations on the damp dirt. There was no marker yet, no indication that this was a soldier’s grave.
“Hickman, 23, was killed in Baghdad by a roadside bomb that ripped through his armored truck Nov. 14 — eight years, seven months and 25 days after the U.S. invasion of Iraq began.
“He was the 4,474th member of the U.S. military to die in the war, according to the Pentagon.
“And he may have been the last.”
“Iraq’s Shi’ite prime minister asked parliament to fire his Sunni deputy, and security sources said an arrest warrant was issued for the Sunni vice president, straining the fragile sectarian coalition on the day the last American troops left…
“Iraqiya lawmaker Ahmed al-Alwani accused Maliki’s authorities of carrying out ‘political targeting’ – using the security forces and justice system against political opponents.
“‘There must be a way of dealing with these issues, without replacing the celebration of the U.S. withdrawal with the politicization of security matters to target political rivals,’ he told Reuters.”