JIM LEHRER: The U.S. moved into what is planned as its final military phase in Iraq today, after ending its combat role.NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.
KWAME HOLMAN: Cleaning up and packing, that's what U.S. soldiers were doing on bases across Iraq today.Humvees rolled on to flatbed trucks, and rows of equipment awaited transport home.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:Good evening.
KWAME HOLMAN: Last night, President Obama marked the formal end of combat operations in Iraq with a speech from the Oval Office.
BARACK OBAMA: Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq's future is not.This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq, one based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today, American military leaders marked the occasion with a change in command of the remaining 50,000 troops in Iraq.Vice President Biden and Defense Secretary Gates were among those presiding at the main U.S. military headquarters on the outskirts of Baghdad.
U.S. VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: I pray that all those scarred by this war in Iraq come to know the balm of lasting peace.And I believe, I truly believe, that their darkest days are now behind them.They have such a great opportunity as they step up to it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Defense Secretary Gates also visited American troops at Camp Ramadi.He said, only history will be the judge of whether the war was worth it.
U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: Our men and women in uniform believe we have accomplished something that makes the sacrifice and the bloodshed not to have been in vain, that -- that we have accomplished -- that our men and women in uniform have accomplished something really quite extraordinary here.How -- how it all weighs in the -- in the balance over time I think remains to be seen.
KWAME HOLMAN: For their part, Iraqi military leaders reiterated that they are ready to take the lead on security.Iraqi security forces already have been tested by a rise in attacks, even though civilian deaths actually dropped in August, according to new data from the health ministry.
But, on the streets of Baghdad today, some Iraqis expressed real fear about what the future holds.
KHALID IBRAHIM, Baghdad (through translator):Iraq is a country without government and sovereignty.It is now an easy morsel that any state can occupy.And, if the American troops withdraw, Iran will enter.
FADHIL HASHIM, Baghdad (through translator):I hoped that the American troops would leave Iraq, but not right now.
KWAME HOLMAN: The deadline for all U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq is the end of 2011.