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
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Warehouse Developer - (Oracle, PL/SQL, ETL, OLAP, B

£65000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: One of the global leaders in fina...

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager (permanent ...

Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

ICT Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering