US hands key base over to Iraqi control

US hands key base over to Iraqi control

BAGHDAD - Agence France-Presse
US hands key base over to Iraqi control

Iraqi flags wave as U.S. soldiers leave Al Faw palace at Camp Victory. AP Photo

The United States on Friday handed over to Iraqi control the sprawling Victory Base Complex near Baghdad, the main base from which the US war in Iraq was run, a US military spokesman said.

"The Victory Base Complex (VBC) was officially signed over to the receivership of the Iraqi government this morning. The base is no longer under US control and is now under the full authority of the government of Iraq," said Colonel Barry Johnson, a spokesman for United States Forces - Iraq (USF-I).

"There was no ceremony, just a signing of paperwork akin to the closing of a home sale," Johnson said in a statement emailed to AFP.

Lieutenant Colonel Angela Funaro, a spokeswoman for USF-I, said that US troops had pulled out in advance and that just five US bases in Iraq now remain to be handed over.

"All US troops departed as of last night," she said. "The air base which adjoined VBC has transferred to the control of the State Department, but has some troops there." At its peak, the Victory base housed more than 100,000 people -- some 42,000 military personnel and more than 65,000 contractors, according to the US army's top historian in Iraq.

The complex includes an area known as Camp Victory, a sprawling collection of canals, man-made lakes, palm trees and palaces from which the US war in Iraq was run.

The top US generals in Iraq lived in the 25,000-square-foot (2,300-square-metre), 20-room waterfront Al-Ez palace in the area, which also includes the 450,000-square-foot (41,800-square-metre), 62-room Al-Faw palace, which served as the headquarters for various Iraq-wide military commands.

Al-Faw was also used to host speeches and ceremonies, including one on Thursday that was attended by US Vice President Joe Biden, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, and US ambassador James Jeffrey.

"This palace, a grotesque monument to a dictator's greed, is totally filled with American and Iraqi warriors, who are bound together by a shared sacrifice in the service of both their countries -- an appropriate use of this palace today," Biden said in his remarks at the palace.

The complex also containes two apparently decrepit, bombed-out villas on a small island, which is accessible only by a drawbridge.

 While their exteriors would seem to mark them as unimportant, one houses a secret prison that once held now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, as well as his also-executed cousin Ali Hassan Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his involvement in poison gas attacks.

US President Barack Obama announced on October 21 that US troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011, bringing to a close an almost nine-year war that has left thousands of US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

Less than 14,000 US soldiers now remain in Iraq, down from a peak of 170,000 in 2007 at the height of a US troop surge ordered to rein in two years of sectarian bloodletting that left tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.