Obama: 'I've kept promise on Iraq pull-out'

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President Barack Obama will mark a promise kept in a speech today, declaring the end of America's combat mission in Iraq and wagering the wobbly Baghdad government can hold together against a still-dangerous uprising.

After taking office, the president vowed to withdraw all but 50,000 US troops by August 31, a reduction of about 90,000 forces by the end of his first 20 months in office.

American commanders reached that goal last week, the same seven-day period during which insurgent bombers and gunmen killed 50 Iraqis.

The timing of the speech appears aimed at reminding Americans of the importance of the departure from Iraq as Mr Obama's popularity is flagging, largely because of the troubled US economy.

With November congressional elections just two months away, he is looking for a foreign policy boost before voting that could see his fellow Democrats lose their majority in the House of Representatives, and, perhaps, also in the Senate.

In that light, the Iraq speech precedes by two days a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Mr Obama had pledged to make peace in the Middle East a top agenda item in the first weeks of his presidency, but progress has been halting and expectations are low for the coming new round of negotiations.

The US war in Iraq has been fraught for Mr Obama, a critic of that conflict even as he has significantly increased American firepower and troop strength in the longer, nearly nine-year fight in Afghanistan.

He opposed invading Iraq from the outset, a position seen as partially behind his victory over secretary of state Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nominating contest and his wide victory over Republican senator John McCain in the 2008 presidential vote.

Mr Obama was also a vocal opponent in the Senate when former president George Bush boosted US troop strength by thousands in 2006, an infusion of force, known as the "surge", credited with pulling the country back from the precipice of civil war.

Now, that history - combined with his administration's troubled record in pulling the country out of a catastrophic economic downturn - leaves Mr Obama in a delicate position as he celebrates the conclusion of the United States' seven-year involvement in Iraq.

In recent days, the White House has produced a blitz of pronouncements honouring veterans of the Iraq war, the families and loved ones of the more than 4,000 who died and the nearly 32,000 who were wounded.

Yesterday Mr Obama travelled to Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington to visit the wounded.

And before sitting down to speak from behind his desk in the White House Oval Office tonight, he will go to Fort Bliss in Texas to thank warriors at a base that provided much of the heavy armour and thousands of troops who served multiple tours in Iraq.

The much-diminished American military presence - the fewest troops since the March 2003 US-led invasion - leaves behind a stalemated Iraqi political system that has been unable to form a new government nearly six months after national elections.

Violence has spiked as insurgent bombers and gunmen seek to prove they remain capable of producing chaos.

The remaining US contingent, slightly fewer than 50,000, still faces a dangerous task in its mission to train Iraqi forces, to join Iraqi troops in targeted anti-terror operations and to protect Americans who remain in the country.

In the meantime, US worries over Iraq's failure to agree on a new prime minister and government, along with the ceremonial end of the US fighting mission, prompted Mr Obama to send Vice President Joe Biden to Baghdad on his sixth trip since January 2009, shortly before he and Mr Obama took office.

Mr Biden will also make a new appeal to Iraqi leaders, including prime minister Nouri Maliki and political arch-rival and former premier Ayad Allawi today, to end the deadlock and seat a new government.

In a day-long meeting Mr Biden will "urge Iraqi leaders to conclude negotiations on the formation of a new government", the White House said.



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