As Combat Operations End, Iraq Remains a War Zone

U.S. troops on the ground say names may change, but mission continues.

BAGHDAD Aug. 31, 2010— -- President Obama's declaration of the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom may carry symbolic meaning, but on the ground in Iraq today, there were plenty of reminders that the country is still a war zone.

As a group of soldiers got word over the radio of an IED attack in the town of Mosul, one soldier laughed when asked whether he felt like the war had ended.

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more reporting from Iraq tonight on ABC.

"We're combat troops. We're still here. We still have a job to do," the soldier said. "The names change, but the mission's pretty much the same."

It's still dangerous here, but in many ways, it's also a whole new war. 50,000 American troops will stay in Iraq on a mission officially called Operation New Dawn.

U.S. forces now need Iraqi permission to arrest or kill a suspected terrorist, and they need an Iraqi escort to drive through any city in the country

Troops Still Have Permission to Fire if Fired Upon

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ross Coffman explained the new rules, which will not require U.S. forces to get permission from Iraqis to fire if fired upon.

"An American soldier always has the right to self-defense," Coffman said. "When bullets start flying, everyone reacts on instinct."

These days, though, it's mostly Iraqis, not Americans, on the front lines. For example, at one checkpoint, Iraqi troops could be seen searching vehicles while American soldiers monitored their work via video feeds.

"There's not too much left that we have to do," one soldier said.

Announcement Has Symbolic Meaning for Military Families

The end of combat operations has concrete implications for active troops, but for families of the fallen, the meaning is more symbolic.

Pamela Montgomery lost her husband, Lance Corporal Brian Montgomery in Iraq in 2005. At the funeral, she dressed her young son, Alexander, in military uniform. He is now six-years-old.

"It was his hope of better country and society and his love of country, duty and country," Montgomery told ABC News recently, reflecting on her husband's ideals. "I think that's a legacy any family can build upon."

Tonight is a turning point, no doubt. But no one in Iraq or at home truly believes this war is ending anytime soon.

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