US Vice President Joe Biden has declared ‘the start of a different chapter’ for Iraq as his country marked the end of its seven-year-old combat operations there.
Biden expressed confidence that the worst of the violence was over and said the US wants to help build ‘a physically secure and economically prosperous Iraq.’
Calling for unity around the new mission he also acknowledged that the 2003 invasion had split US public opinion.
‘It is no secret that this war has divided Americans but they have never shrunk from the united support of the United States military,’ Biden said.
‘Now is the time to put these differences behind us,’ he added.
‘Operation Iraqi Freedom is over but American engagement with Iraq will continue with the mission that began today, Operation New Dawn.’
A total of 49,700 troops are currently deployed in Iraq for the new training and counter-terrorism mission that will continue until a full withdrawal at the end of next year.
The ceremony took place in a palace that was once a holiday retreat for former dictator Saddam Hussein and his aides.
The outgoing US military commander, Gen Raymond Odierno, handed over to Gen Lloyd Austin, who will be in charge of the remaining troops to ‘advise and assist’ Iraqi forces.
Former president George W.Bush signed a pact with the Iraqi government before leaving office that all US soldiers would return home before the end of 2011.