Thank you very much Ambassador, Mr. Secretary, Ministers, General Babaker—my brother, and I see out there as well, General Abdul Kader, you’re always going to be General Abdul Kader to me, you know that. As-Salamu Alakum [peace be with you].
Thank you for welcoming me back to Baghdad to mark this new beginning for Iraq, the United States and on some level, the entire region. I’m honored to share this moment with Secretary Panetta, Ambassador Jeffrey, General Mattis, and of course General Austin and his sergeant major [Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Allen]. They stand tall in a long line of American leaders who have been dedicated to seeing this difficult mission through. They represent a generation of my fellow who came here to keep America safe and to free Iraq from tyranny. They have shouldered their duties in partnership with our very respected Iraqi brothers.
For over 20 years, Iraq has been a defining part of our professional and personal lives. The road we have traveled was long and it was tough. Our journey was a lesson of courage, a test of character, an affirmation of shared sacrifice, and a monument of sheer will. Everyday required us to balance conflict and compassion. Every step was a singular act of moral and physical courage. Everywhere and at every level, we learned the power of relationships, relationships rooted in trust and respect among ourselves and with our Iraqi brothers. We lived among you.
When I reflect on this journey, I remember deploying in 1991 to end Saddam Hussein’s oppression of the Kuwaiti people. Twelve years later, I remember leaving my family to end Saddam Hussein’s oppression of the Iraqi people. And now today, I stand here with the very heart of my family, my wife Deanie, to bear witness to what our sons and daughters—and I mean literally, our sons and daughters—but in the more broader sense, our sons and daughters have achieved.
We will remember you and those that have gone before, what you risked, what you learned, how much you sacrificed, and the fallen comrades for whom we all grieve. There are many images, each of us have our own. Today my image is of Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Cooke, the command sergeant major of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, who on Christmas Eve of 2003 was killed by an IED in Adhamiya in Northern Baghdad; probably the finest noncommissioned officer I had ever met.
We’ve paid a great price here, and it has been a price worth paying. He and many others, and it’s important to note both American and Iraqi, deserve an Iraq that cares for its citizens, and that secures its future for its children as Secretary Panetta just mentioned. As a father of Soldiers, I’m proud that we, with the Iraqi people and our coalition partners, have set a course that actually befits the spirit of that commitment to Iraq’s children. And as a leader of Soldiers and now Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen as well, I look forward to an enduring relationship between our countries. Be certain, we value this relationship, we will stand with you against terrorists and others that threaten to undo what we have accomplished together. We’ll work with you to secure our common interests in a more peaceful and prosperous region. You can be certain we will seize this new beginning.
In just a few minutes, I’m going to fly out of Baghdad Airport in that C-17 that sits behind you out of McGuire Air Base piloted by a young major by the name of Jim Akers. He’s going to fly me out of here later today, and it occurs to me that the next time I come back—I came here today because I wanted to, I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to fly in here—the next time I come back, I’m going to have to be invited in. I’m going to have to be invited by the Iraqi government. And I kind of like that, to tell you to the truth.
So in closing, let me tell you shukran [thank you]. Let me also say ma’a salama [with peace, my friend], and barakallahu feekum [blessings be upon you]. Thank you very much.