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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
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
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

Head of Sales, Milton Keynes

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Bristol

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Birmingham

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Manchester

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game