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Iraq: US troops leave with a latte

Last American combat troops get ready to withdraw from Iraq.

US soldier in Iraq
A U.S. soldier walks past Iraqi military police vehicles lined up at a U.S. army base west of Baghdad on July 29, 2010. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

BAGHDAD — This is the way a war ends — not with a bang but a chai tea latte.

At Victory Base Camp in Baghdad, soldiers from the last American combat brigade in Iraq are packing up their coffee grinders, their pirated DVDs and their tangled memories for the long journey home.

They line up outside the Green Bean coffee shop ("Honor First, Coffee Second") in 90 degree evening heat for the smoothies and lattes that have replaced the packets of instant coffee dissolved in purified water that were popular in the early days of the war back in 2003.

Most of them haven’t fired a shot in combat during their entire deployment over the past year. Most, but not all, are happy about that.

Over the past seven years, the military invaded a country, denied there was an insurgency, fought an insurgency and largely subdued it, but some of these latest soldiers to serve here have never made it off the base.

The U.S. has closed down more than 400 bases, shipped out tons of equipment for the more urgent fight in Afghanistan and sent home almost 120,000 soldiers in the last two years. The last combat troops of this war — a Washington state-based Stryker brigade — will be home by next week.

Some of those troops have seen the very worst of this war at the forefront of the surge — their buddies numbered among the more than 4,400 soldiers killed in this war.

But the end of the combat mission here — Aug. 31, the last date in President Barack Obama's withdrawal plan for combat troops to be out of the country, will be merely symbolic.

“It’s not going to be a big shock on the first of September,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, deputy commanding general of U.S. forces here. He describes the Iraq they’re leaving as a "relatively stable security environment." For the U.S., if not for Iraqis, that appears to be a relief.

Outside Victory Base, beyond the concrete walls, guard towers and notices warning visitors that deadly force is authorized, the city lurches along.