BAGHDAD (FoxKansas.com) -- The war in Iraq is officially over.
The U.S. military lowered the American flag during a ceremony Thursday in which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta marked the end of the nine year conflict in which American-led forces ended the rule of former dictator Saddam Hussein's but the campaign also resulted in heavy casualties on all sides.
"After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real," Panetta said during the ceremony, which was held outside Baghdad's airport.
Nearly 4,500 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis lost their lives during the war, which began during former President George W. Bush's administration. In the opening moments of the war, the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign unfolded on live television in the United States as American missiles pounded Baghdad. One of the most searing moments came when a statue of the toppled Iraqi leader was felled by troops and Iraqi citizens.
In the following days, however, Bush's reason for entering the war came under fire when it was revealed that the motivating factor for the war -- that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction -- was not true and was in fact based on faulty U.S. intelligence.
Reuters reported that at the height of the war, 170,000 American soldiers were stationed throughout 500 bases across Iraq.
The war in Iraq has become the most unpopular U.S. military venture since American involvement in the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 70s. During his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama promised to bring troops home.
There are about 4,000 American troops remaining in Iraq but they are expected to leave by the end of this year. It remains to be seen if the fragile Iraqi government in place will be able to lead in coming weeks.
"Iraq will be tested in the days ahead, by terrorism, by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues," Panetta said. "Challenges remain, but the United States will be there to stand by the Iraqi people."
FoxKansas.com Staff Writer Alfred Charles contributed to this report. He can be reached at email@example.com.