Military ceremony marks the beginning of the unknown

U.S. troops will be gone by the end of the year, and a truly sovereign Iraq is now a country with an uncertain fate.
A man fishes across from the Green Zone on the Tigris River in Baghdad December 2, 2011. The last 13,000 U.S. troops will pull out of Iraq by the end of the year. (SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters)

BAGHDAD - Thirty days before the official withdrawal deadline and with fewer than 13,000 U.S. troops remaining, Iraq will soon chart its course without the American military presence that has been regarded as both a helpful safety net and a bullying occupation.

Iraqi and U.S. leaders marked the end of what will be 105 months of a U.S. military presence with a ceremony on Thursday with headliners Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden. It hardly registered in Iraqi media, which largely treated the event as a routine press conference.

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