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END OF US COMBAT IN IRAQ.

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Denzel Musumba

Denzel Musumba

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Almost seven and a half years ago, President George W. Bush launched a blistering "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq. The goal: Eliminate a perceived threat of weapons of mass destruction while replacing a hostile, tyrannical regime with a friendly democracy in the heart of the Middle East. At 5 p.m. ET -- at a cost of more than 4,400 U.S. military personnel killed and 30,000 wounded -- America's combat mission in Iraq officially drew to a close. The quick removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ushered in years of grinding sectarian violence, war, terrorist attacks and, according to some observers, increased Iranian influence in the region. Various groups have estimated the Iraqi civilian death toll to be roughly 100,000 or more. But the war also paved the way for nationwide elections and increasing economic development. Whether it was worth the price remains a subject of fierce debate both at home and abroad. President Barack Obama, who based much of his campaign for the White House on growing public exhaustion with the conflict, will announce the conclusion of the combat mission in a speech to be delivered from the Oval Office at 8 p.m. ET. He spent the day meeting with troops at Fort Bliss, Texas -- a base that has supplied soldiers at all stages of the conflict. Obama called Bush for a "few minutes" from Air Force One while en route to Texas, according to White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton. The White House has not said if Obama will give Bush any credit during his speech for the controversial 2007-08 military "surge," believed by some observers to have helped curtail Iraqi violence. His remarks are "not going to be a victory lap," Obama told the troops stationed at Fort Bliss. "We still have a lot of work to do." Obama said his main message will be a simple one to military veterans of the conflict: "Congratulations on a job well done."

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