Obama marks end of Iraq combat mission

Obama marks end of Iraq combat mission

Barack Obama ended the US combat mission in Iraq today, declaring no victory after seven years of bloodshed and telling those divided over the war: “It is time to turn the page.”

From the White House’s Oval Office, where George Bush first announced the invasion that would come to define his time in office, President Obama said bluntly: “Our most urgent task is to restore our economy.”

It was a telling sign of the domestic troubles weighing on Mr Obama’s nation and his own presidency that he would put such emphasis in a war address to the dire state of US joblessness.

But even as he tried to cap one of the most divisive chapters in recent American history, he escalated the conflict in Afghanistan, pledging anew that the United States would keep up the fight in that war, the longest one since Vietnam.

And in Iraq, for all the finality, the war is not over and more Americans will probably die.

Mr Obama is keeping up to 50,000 troops in Iraq for support and counter-terrorism training and the last forces are not due to leave until the end of 2011 at the latest.

As the commander in chief over a war he opposed, Mr Obama took pains to thank troops for their sacrifice but made clear he saw the moment more as a mistake ended than a mission accomplished.

He spoke of strained relations with allies, anger at home and a “huge price” of the highest order.

The toll includes more than 4,400 US troops dead and many more Iraqis, tens of thousands more Americans wounded, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent.

To underscore his point of ending the divisiveness over Iraq, Mr Obama said he had called Mr Bush, whom he had taunted so often in the 2008 presidential campaign. He prominently praised the former Republican president in the heart of his speech.

“It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset,” Mr Obama said. “Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.”

In the aftermath of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, the Iraq war began with bi-partisan congressional backing, based on what turned out to be flawed intelligence that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

Today, Iraq is in political turmoil, its leaders unable to form a new government long after March elections that left no clear winner.

The uncertainty has created an opening for insurgents to pound Iraqi security forces, hardly the conditions the US envisaged for this transition deadline, which Mr Obama announced 18 months ago.

Mr Obama pressed Iraq’s leaders, saying it was time to show some urgency and be accountable.

At once, he sought to assure Americans that the war was finally winding down, and yet also promise Iraq and those watching across the Middle East that the US was not simply walking away.

“Our combat mission is ending,” he said, “but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.”

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