After almost 9 years of controversy and 4,500 soldiers killed in action, the Iraq War has officially come to a close.  In a quiet ceremony this morning, U.S. troops lowered the flag of command that was over the Iraqi capitol, carefully rolled it, and cased it in camouflage in accordance with Army procedures. 

Started in 2003, President Bush began the Iraq War on the grounds that Saddam Hussein had interest in aquiring weapons of mass destruction that he could in turn share with other hostile forces like al Qaeda.  Hussein's forces were easy to defeat, however weapons of mass destruction were never found.  Opinions of America's presence in Iraq were split down the middle not only in America, but across the world.  Then-Vice President Cheney predicted that American troops would be greeted as liberators in Iraq, though that turned out to not be the case. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Iraq in 2006 during heightened hostilities where Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were so commonplace that they were known in most American homes.  As part of Bush's Iraq Study Group, Panetta noted,

"sectarian violence was skyrocketing and it seemed as if nothing was working."

5 years later, Panetta returned to Baghdad for the flag lowering ceremony.

 "After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real."

"This is a time for Iraq to look forward," he said. "This is an opportunity for Iraq to forge ahead on a path to security and prosperity. We owe it to all of the lives that were sacrificed in this war not to fail."

All remaining U.S. Troops must be out of Iraq by the end of December after negotiations between Washington and Baghdad failed to agree to terms under which some troops could remain.  in 2007, more than 170,000 troops were stationed in Iraq, living on more than 500 bases and outposts across the country.  At the time of the flag-lowering ceremony, only 5,500 troops are in Iraq, with anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 to be stationed in Kuwait for an unknown period of time. 

According to poll on CNN, only half of Americans believe the U.S. accomplished its goals in the Iraq War, with 61% favoring a withdrawl by the end of the month, and 68% saying they opposed the war. 

Some Iraqis fear that America is going to disengage completely from the country, leaving no structure to Iraq afterwards.  Brett McGurk, a former advisor to 3 U.S. Ambassadors says that is far from the truth and that Iraq has been in charge if its own security since 2009,

"It's not like we were controlling Iraq's security situation last week, and now we're suddenly leaving.  We haven't had troops in Baghdad for over two years."

Yesterday, President Obama welcomed returning troops home at Fort Bragg, NC,

"Because of you -- because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met, Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny," Obama said. "That's part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the empires of old, we did so not for territory or for resources. We do it because it's right."

Over the course of the war, America lost 4,500 troops, 30,000 were injured, and spent $800 billion.  Casualties on the Iraqi side are not certain, but estimated to be around 150,000 dead, with 80% of the casualties being civilians.