Obama says Iraq war will end 'on schedule'

Associated Press
Monday 02 August 2010 17:42 BST

President Barack Obama declared today that the Iraq war was nearing an end "on schedule".

Mr Obama cited progress toward meeting his deadline of withdrawing all US combat troops from Iraq by the end of this month.

A transitional force of 50,000 troops will remain to train Iraqi security forces, conduct counterterrorism operations and provide security for US civilian efforts. Under an agreement negotiated in 2008 with the Iraqis, all American troops are to be gone from Iraq by the end of next year.

"The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq," Mr Obama said.

"But make no mistake, our commitment in Iraq is changing - from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats."

The main message of Mr Obama's speech to disabled war veterans was the move toward fulfilment of his campaign promise to end the Iraq war, a position that perhaps most defined his 2008 candidacy and was key to his base of support in the liberal wing of his Democratic Party.

With pivotal November congressional elections approaching, the White House wants to highlight the progress as a success story.

The speech was only the first in a series planned for this month, with others to be headlined by the president as well as vice president Joe Biden and other administration officials.

But the rhetoric comes amid deep concerns about Iraq's stability.

The US has stepped up the pressure on Iraqi leaders to overcome a five-month political impasse that has prevented the formation of a new government following elections earlier this year.

In a reminder of Iraq's fragility, two bombings and a drive-by shooting killed eight people today.

With such attacks remaining a daily occurrence, especially in Baghdad, questions persist about the readiness of Iraqi security forces to take over for the Americans.

Mr Obama said, "Violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it's been in years," but figures released by Iraqi authorities over the weekend - dismissed by the US military as too high - showed July to be the deadliest month for Iraqis in more than two years.

At the same time Mr Obama has drawn down forces in Iraq, he has increased the US commitment in Afghanistan, ordering a surge of 30,000 additional troops for the nine-year mission there.

But with casualties on the rise, fresh concerns have arisen - with some saying the Afghanistan war should be ended and others questioning Mr Obama's plan to begin winding it down as soon as next July. Critics say such a timetable will embolden the Taliban and other extremist groups in the region.

With such debate and low public support, the White House has launched a fresh effort to paint the US goals in Afghanistan as modest: keeping the region from being a haven for terrorists.

"We face huge challenges in Afghanistan," Mr Obama said today. "But it's important that the American people know that we are making progress and we're focused on goals that are clear and achievable."

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