Friday, December 2, 2011

U.S. Hands Key Base Over to Iraqi Control

BAGHDAD - The United States on Dec. 2 handed over to Iraqi control the sprawling Victory Base Complex near Baghdad, the main base from which the U.S. war in Iraq was run, a U.S. military spokesman said.
U.S. SOLDIERS LEAVE Al-Fao palace at Camp Victory, one of the last U.S. bases Iraq, after a special ceremony in Baghdad on Dec. 1. The United States handed over control of the sprawling Victory Base Complex near Baghdad, the main base from which the (Khalid Mohammed / AFP)
"The Victory Base Complex (VBC) was officially signed over to the receivership of the Iraqi government this morning. The base is no longer under U.S. control and is now under the full authority of the government of Iraq," said Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for United States Forces - Iraq (U.S.F-I).
"There was no ceremony, just a signing of paperwork akin to the closing of a home sale," Johnson said in a statement emailed to AFP.
Lt. Col. Angela Funaro, a spokeswoman for USF-I, said that U.S. troops had pulled out from VBC in advance and that just five U.S. bases in Iraq now remain to be handed over.
"All U.S. troops departed as of last night," she said. "The air base which adjoined VBC has transferred to the control of the State Department, but has some troops there."
At its peak, VBC housed more than 100,000 people - some 42,000 military personnel and more than 65,000 contractors, according to the U.S. army's top historian in Iraq.
The complex includes an area known as Camp Victory, a sprawling collection of canals, man-made lakes, palm trees and palaces from which the U.S. war in Iraq was run.
The top U.S. generals in Iraq lived in the 25,000-square-foot, 20-room waterfront Al-Ez palace in the area, which also includes the 450,000-square-foot, 62-room Al-Faw palace, which served as the headquarters for various Iraq-wide military commands.
Al-Faw was also used to host speeches and ceremonies, including one on Dec. 1 that was attended by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, and U.S. ambassador James Jeffrey.
"This palace, a grotesque monument to a dictators greed, is totally filled with American and Iraqi warriors, who are bound together by a shared sacrifice in the service of both their countries - an appropriate use of this palace today," Biden said in his remarks at the palace.
The complex also contains two apparently decrepit, bombed-out villas on a small island, which is accessible only by a drawbridge.
While their exteriors would seem to mark them as unimportant, one houses a secret prison that once held now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, as well as his also-executed cousin Ali Hassan Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his involvement in poison gas attacks.
President Barack Obama announced on Oct. 21 that U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011, bringing to a close an almost nine-year war that has left thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
As of late Thursday, there were less than 12,000 U.S. military personnel, including both soldiers and Department of Defense civilians, remaining in Iraq.
That is down from a peak of about 170,000 soldiers in 2007 at the height of a U.S. troop surge ordered to rein in rampant sectarian bloodshed.
On Dec. 2, eight people were killed and 12 wounded in bomb and gun attacks in Iraq, according to security officials.
Violence has declined in Iraq since its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common. A total of 187 people were killed in November, according to official figures.

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