Obama spells out Iraq departure

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The Independent Online

All American combat troops will be pulled out of Iraq by August next year, President Barack Obama announced today.

He said his administration will "proceed cautiously" on the withdrawal and that US commanders will bring it about in close consultation with the Iraqi government.

During his campaign for the presidency, Mr Obama had advocated pulling troops out within 16 months of taking office. The timeline he announced today , involving roughly 100,000 troops, was two months longer but it still hastens the exit.

Mr Obama also said that between 35,000 and 50,000 troops will initially remain there to help train Iraqi forces and undertake counter-terrorism missions.

"The most important decisions that have to be made about Iraq's future must now be made by Iraqis," Mr Obama told Marines and officers at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which is deploying thousands of troops to the other war front in Afghanistan.

Senior Obama administration officials said that of the roughly 100,000 US combat troops to be pulled out of Iraq over the next 18 months, most will remain in the war zone through at least the end of this year to ensure national elections there go smoothly.

The pace of withdrawal suggests that although Mr Obama's promised pull-out will start soon, it will be progressive, with most troops returning toward the end of the period.

And even then a sizeable residual US force of 35,000 to 50,000 US troops will stay in Iraq under a new mission of training, civilian protection and counterterrorism.

The 31 August 31 2010, end date for Iraq war combat operations is slower than Mr Obama had promised voters as a candidate. The timetable he pledged then would have seen combat end in May 2010.

Regardless, it is a hastened exit, something Mr Obama called a necessity, both for the future of Iraq and to allow the US to refocus its attention more firmly on Afghanistan.

"We cannot rid Iraq of all who oppose America or sympathise with our adversaries," he said. "We cannot police Iraq's streets until they are completely safe, nor stay until Iraq's union is perfected. We cannot sustain indefinitely a commitment that has put a strain on our military, and will cost the American people nearly a trillion dollars."

"America can no longer afford to see Iraq in isolation from other priorities: we face the challenge of refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan; of relieving the burden on our military; and of rebuilding our struggling economy and these are challenges that we will meet," Mr Obama said.

"Every nation and every group must know, whether you wish America good or ill, that the end of the war in Iraq will enable a new era of American leadership and engagement in the Middle East.

"This does not lessen our commitment. We are going to be enhancing that commitment to bring about a better day in that region, and that era has just begun."

Mr Obama praised the military for its role in creating an improved situation in Iraq, where violence is down significantly in Baghdad and most of Iraq and US military deaths plunged.

He also acknowledged that many problems remain in the country and said "there will be difficult days ahead."

Those include violence that will remain "a part of life," political instability and fundamental unresolved questions, a large displaced and destitute citizenry, tepid support for Iraq's fragile government in neighbouring countries and the stress of declining oil revenues.