U.S. defense secretary says war is over in Iraq
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Wednesday that the U.S. military war in Iraq is over a day after the U.S. military formally ended combat mission in the country, Xinhua reported.
In his answer to questions by reporters at camp Ramadi, a U.S. base located some 100 km west of Baghdad, whether he believes that the Unites States is still at war in Iraq, Gates replied "I'd say we are not, combat operations have ceased."
Gates also said that his troops are still working with Iraqis on counter-terrorism operations, along with the training and advising mission.
"We moved into the final phase of our engagement in Iraq," Gates added.
The Pentagon leader was also asked whether the U.S. troops might maintain military presence in Iraq after the end of 2011, when the U.S. forces are due to leave the country according to security agreement signed earlier with the Iraqi government, Gates replied "such proposal would have to be at the initiative of the new Iraqi government."
Earlier in the day, Gates plane arrived in the U.S. military base at the heart of Anbar province in western Iraq.
Gates is expected to attend a change of command ceremony in Baghdad for the U.S. military outgoing commander in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, who is due to hand over to the incoming commander, Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is also in Iraq since Monday for talks with Iraqi top officials to urge them to form a government nearly six months after the parliamentary elections were held in the country.
Both U.S. leaders are due to attend a ceremony marking the end of U.S. combat mission and the start of the new "advise and assist " mission, dubbed "Operation New Dawn."
Gates' visit came hours after U.S. President Barack Obama announced the end of U.S. combat mission in Iraq.
U.S. troops in Iraq had been reduced to below 50,000 soldiers. Washington said that the remaining U.S. troops will remain in Iraq to conduct support and training missions.