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Last American troops leave Iraq

The US military has said the last American troops have left Iraq as the nearly nine-year war ends.

The final convoy rolled across the border into neighbouring Kuwait as day broke on Sunday. Soldiers whooped, bumped fists and embraced each other in a burst of joy and relief.

The exit marked the end of a bitterly divisive war that raged for nearly nine years and left Iraq shattered, with troubling questions lingering over whether the Arab nation will remain a steadfast US ally. The mission cost well over 100,000 Iraqi lives and 800 billion dollars from the US Treasury. The question of whether it was worth it all is unanswered.

The war that began in a blaze of aerial bombardment meant to shock and awe the dictator Saddam Hussein and his loyalists ended quietly and with minimal fanfare.

US officials acknowledged the cost in blood and dollars was high, but tried to paint a picture of victory - for the troops and the Iraqi people now free from tyranny and on a path for democracy. But gnawing questions remain - will Iraqis be able to forge their new government amid the still stubborn sectarian clashes? And will Iraq be able to defend itself and remain independent in a region fraught with turmoil and still steeped in insurgent threats?

The soldiers left behind an Iraq free from the tyranny of Saddam, inching toward democracy and vowing to be a good neighbour in the region. Many Iraqis, however, are nervous and uncertain about the future. Their relief at the end of Saddam, who was hanged on the last day of 2006, was tempered by a long and vicious war that was launched to find non-existent weapons of mass destruction and nearly plunged the nation into full-scale sectarian civil war.

Some Iraqis celebrated the exit of what they called American occupiers, neither invited nor welcome in a proud country. Others said that while grateful for US help ousting Saddam, the war went on too long. A majority of Americans would agree, according to opinion polls.

The total US departure is a bit earlier than initially planned, and military leaders worry that it is a premature for the still maturing Iraqi security forces, who face continuing struggles to develop the logistics, air operations, surveillance and intelligence-sharing capabilities they will need in what has long been a difficult region.

Despite President Barack Obama's earlier contention that all American troops would be home for Christmas, at least 4,000 forces will remain in Kuwait for some months. The troops will be able to help finalise the move out of Iraq, but could also be used as a quick reaction force if needed.

Mr Obama stopped short of calling the US effort in Iraq a victory in an interview taped on Thursday with ABC News' Barbara Walters. "I would describe our troops as having succeeded in the mission of giving to the Iraqis their country in a way that gives them a chance for a successful future," he said.

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