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IRAQ: Departing general praises progress, eulogizes those who died.

February 8, 2009 |  1:59 pm

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In his farewell after 12 months as the top Marine in Iraq, Maj. Gen. John Kelly said he is proudest of the progress in Anbar province achieved not through strength of arms but through a partnership with the Iraqis.

"What I am very proud of is the number of human beings we did not have to kill because we never stopped extending the hand of friendship even in the darkest days gone by," Kelly said, "and the damage we didn't do because we resorted to force last, and always restrained its use when we did go to the guns."

Kelly is set to be relieved Monday as commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) and its 22,000 troops. He will return later in the week to Camp Pendleton.

Kelly listed as successes a number of economic development projects and the recent provincial election "without a single accusation of fraud, without a single violent incident."

It was Kelly's third assignment to Iraq. He was assistant commander of the 1st Marine Division during the assault on Baghdad and Tikrit in 2003 and then the battle in Fallouja in 2004.

While praising his troops, Kelly had a few darts for naysayers back home and invited them to Anbar to see the progress. "We fought here in the unimaginable heat of Iraq's summer, and they criticized," Kelly said. "We walked the most dangerous streets in the world hunting the most murderous men on earth, and they slept safely at home in their beds."

And in an emotional conclusion, Kelly listed the 28 troops in his command who were killed in the last year.

"I will think about them for the rest of my life because I failed to bring them home," he said. "I will never forget them, or their families.... I still thank God there were so few this time."

--Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly. Credit: Marine Corps

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