Farewell to Iraq, but no talk of mission accomplished

President avoids triumphalism of his predecessor during televised speech

Barack Obama last night brought down a curtain on the long, costly and inconclusive war in Iraq, but amid near indifference from a country now worried about the economy to the exclusion of virtually all else.

"It is time to turn the page," the President declared in a prime-time address from the Oval Office – only the second of its kind since he took power in January 2009. "Ending this war is not only in Iraq's interest, it is in our own," he argued. "The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people."

The 15-minute speech marked a historic moment, the departure from Iraq of the last US combat forces after a seven-and-a-half-year conflict, costing some $900bn (£585bn), in which 1.5 million US troops have served and more than 4,400 were killed.

But there was no boasting from either the President or his aides of a "Mission Accomplished", as proclaimed by the fateful banner behind George W Bush, Mr Obama's predecessor, when he prematurely announced military victory from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in May 2003.

"It's not going to be a victory lap. It's not going to be self-congratulatory. There's still a lot of work that we've got to do to make sure that Iraq is an effective partner with us," Mr Obama said earlier at the US army base at Fort Bliss in Texas, where he met some of the last combat units to return from Iraq.

The administration is acutely aware of the latest resurgence of violence in Iraq, and of the political deadlock that has prevented the formation of a new Iraqi government since the stalemated general election in March.

Indeed, as Mr Obama delivered his address, Vice-President Joe Biden was in Baghdad, ostensibly for a "change of mission" ceremony but above all to put new pressure on Iraq's leaders to settle their differences.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proclaimed Iraq's "independence" in a television address yesterday. "Our security forces will take the lead in ensuring security and safeguarding the country and removing all threats that the country has to weather, internally or externally," Mr Maliki said.

Even with combat troops gone, and 2003's "Operation Iraqi Freedom" replaced by "Operation New Dawn," 50,000 US soldiers will remain – some to conduct counterterrorism operations against a still threatening al-Qa'ida organisation in Iraq, but mainly to train Iraqi forces to take full charge of the country's security. In theory, that moment will arrive in 16 months when the last of the hold-over force is scheduled to leave. By the end of next year, all of our troops will be home," the President re-iterated in his regular weekly radio address last Saturday.

However doubts are widespread whether this deadline can be met – not just among Iraqi politicians fearful that a complete US departure will leave a dangerous security vacuum, but also among Iraq specialists here who believe that, like it or not, Washington will be entangled in Iraq for years.

"The US may be announcing the 'withdrawal' of its combat forces," Anthony Cordesman, of the Centre for International and Strategic Studies think- tank, said yesterday. "The fact is though that the US withdrawal is far from over, the Iraq war is not over, it is not 'won,' and any form of stable end state in Iraq is probably impossible before 2020," he warned.

Even so, the President insisted last night that by ending America's combat mission, he was fulfilling a key campaign pledge, to end a war he opposed from the outset, even before Mr Bush launched the US-led invasion in March 2003. His challenge now is to secure some credit from this achievement, not only domestically, but in a Muslim world increasingly disillusioned with him.

At home, Iraq may be winding down, but the even more protracted war in Afghanistan intensifies. Most important, the stumbling economy and the worsening jobs market are now virtually the only things that matter to US voters, who are set to give Mr Obama's Democrats a drubbing in November's mid-term Congressional elections.

In his prime-time speech, the President acknowledged as much. "Today, our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work," he said, according to excerpts of the address released beforehand by the White House.

For Mr Obama's audience in the Arab world meanwhile, the pull-out of combat troops from Iraq must be set against his failure to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and the lack of progress in the Middle East.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Life & Style
techHow a 'grey brick' took over the world of portable gaming
Sport
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
sport
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Coren Mitchell, who is the daughter of the late broadcaster Alan Coren and is married to comedian David Mitchell, produced a hand to make poker history at the 98th EPT main event.
peopleJournalist and TV presenter becomes first ever two-time winner of the European Poker Tour
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players