US Military Operations in Iraq Formally Ended

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Eight years and nine months, that's how much time has passed since the US war in Iraq began. The initial assault, the explosion of shock and awe back in March of 2003 feels distant now. Today, a simple flag lowering ceremony in Baghdad marked the official end of the war in Iraq. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged the high cost to the US in blood and treasure, and he noted the challenges ahead for Iraq. For Americans and Iraqis alike it's a day of mixed feelings. Iraqi journalist, Sahar Issa, is in Baghdad.

Sahar Issa: The Iraqi people never thought they would see the day, for good or for bad, today is important. It is the very last day of what is predominantly considered an occupation.

Werman: How was that manifested today? I mean as the Americans are kind of rolling their way out of town were people in the street? I mean I'm just trying to get a picture?

Issa: Not really, actually the event went past very cooly I would say. The only real reaction I think would have been found in Fallujah. There are celebrations in the streets of Fallujah.

Werman: And they were celebrating the Americans leaving?

Issa: Yes, yes.

Werman: Of course, Fallujah was the site of some very heavy combat.

Issa: Indeed. Yesterday around 5,000 people congregated. They were poems, there were applause, there were everything. And today, it was even a little bit stranger because the celebration took place in the Martyr's Cemetery that used to be a football field. And all the families -- wives, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons -- they all came with photographs of their loved ones. It was very emotional.

Werman: I can imagine. And I mean the perspective on America and the Americans have fought I imagine is quite different in Fallujah than it is in Baghdad.

Issa: Of course, in Fallujah it's a personal matter because there is no family in Fallujah that has not had a least one of its members killed by coalition forces.

Werman: For you personally, Sahar, is this moment, this day that the American troops finally go out, I mean is it one you've been waiting for?

Issa: There are two feelings. One feeling is that what is going to happen? Do you we have real politicians? Are they able to handle the situation and the security issues? This is one thing. And on the other hand the day must come. I mean Iraqis must stand up for themselves and begin. And I don't see if this day came in 2-3 years that there would have been anything beneficial for Iraqis. So the quicker we start the quicker we'll be on our feet.

Werman: Is there one image or an interaction you had with American troops that you'll remember very clearly?

Issa: Yes, of course, one day at 6 o'clock in the morning the door was knocked on and there was a search, a house-to-house search. And they came into the house and were very afraid. Of course, there were Americans and Iraqis together. And they said can we search the house? They were very proper and we allowed them. And so these Americans go to the bookshelves that I have in my sitting room and they see English books. And so the man turns around and he says ma'am, you read a lot. And I said well, yes I do. And he goes on looking and he says hm, Grisham, hm...and all the writers that perhaps his family reads. And then he said do you have a weapon in the house? And I said in that cupboard, of course we do. And he opened the cupboard and he sees the video games that my sons play, and he said what, Auto Theft and the other one, their names, and he was grinning and he was laughing. And I felt inside me that for the first time he was able to see me as a person. And I think for him it was like a revelation, and I could see it in his eyes.

Werman: So Sahar, have you been to any of the bases or the barracks that the American troops have left behind? What's it like there?

Issa: Well, it's like a ghost town. It's like a finality. Although to tell you the truth, with all these finalities around us, with all these camps being emptied of their soldiers, the Iraqi people still ask, the American Embassy is retaining 16,000 are the Americans really leaving? And who are these 16,000 people who are staying behind? That's a really big question.

Werman: Iraqi journalist Sahar Issa lives in Baghdad, works for McClatchy Newspapers there. Sahar, thank you very much.

Issa: Thank you.