WASHINGTON (AP and KQED News) — President Barack Obama on Friday declared an end to the Iraq war, one of the longest and most divisive conflicts in U.S. history, announcing that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from the country by year’s end.

Obama’s statement put an end to months of wrangling over whether the U.S. would maintain a force in Iraq beyond 2011.

“After nearly nine years,” the president, “America’s war in Iraq will be over.”

He spoke at the White House after a private video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and he offered assurances that the two leaders agreed on the decision.

The American withdrawal by the end of 2011 was sealed in a deal between the two countries when George W. Bush was president. Obama declared the end of the combat mission earlier this year.

Pulling troops out by the end of this year would allow al-Maliki to claim victory for ending the American presence and restoring Iraqi sovereignty.

More than 4,400 American military members have been killed since the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.

The U.S. military presence in Iraq is currently at about 40,000.

Commander James Ridgeway, Commanding Officer of the Navy Operational Support Center in Alameda, told KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler that local military families would be pleased. “As commanding officer of what is essentially a navy reserve center, I can tell you that while the families of our service people do support what they do in defense of this country and what it holds dear, the families obviously would be welcoming of the news. Any time that we send troops overseas and especially into harm’s way, it’s going to create some sort of anxiety and hardship on those families. It’s always welcome news when you find out they’re going to be coming home and potentially not going back into harm’s way.”

Two U.S. officials told The Associated Press last week that the United States does not plan to keep troops in Iraq past the year-end withdrawal deadline, except for a small number of active-duty soldiers attached to the U.S. Embassy.

Yet Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed hope Monday that the United States and Iraq can soon reach agreement on a possible U.S. military training role in Iraq beyond Dec. 31, when all American troops are scheduled to depart.

At issue has been whether to negotiate a new security agreement to ensure that gains made and more than 4,400 American military lives lost since March 2003 do not go to waste.

In recent months, Washington had been discussing with Iraqi leaders the possibility of several thousand American troops remaining to continue training Iraqi security forces.

But a senior Obama administration official in Washington confirmed Saturday that all American troops will leave Iraq except for about 160 active-duty soldiers attached to the U.S. Embassy.

Throughout the discussions, Iraqi leaders have adamantly refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, and the Americans have refused to stay without it.

Moreover, Iraq’s leadership has been split on whether it wanted American forces to stay.

When the 2008 agreement requiring all U.S. forces leave Iraq was passed, many U.S. officials assumed it would inevitably be renegotiated so that American forces could stay longer.

The U.S. said repeatedly this year it would entertain an offer from the Iraqis to have a small force stay behind, and the Iraqis said they would like American military help. But as the year wore on and the number of American troops that Washington was suggesting could stay behind dropped, it became increasingly clear that a U.S. troop presence was not a sure thing.

The issue of legal protection for the Americans was the deal-breaker.

Obama: U.S. to Pull All Iraq Troops by Year’s End, Says “War Will Be Over”; Watch Video of Announcement 21 October,2011KQED News Staff and Wires

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