By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 15, 2008 - With fewer than 40 days left in office, President George W. Bush signed a security pact in Baghdad yesterday, putting an end in sight for the Iraq war after nearly six years of fighting. "The war is not over yet," Bush said, "[but] it is decisively on its way to being won."
During a surprise farewell visit to Baghdad yesterday, Bush met with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a signing ceremony, affirming the two landmark agreements to withdraw U.S. troops and formalizing a long-term relationship between the two countries.
"[The agreements] cement a strategic partnership between our two countries, and they pave the way for American forces to return home as the war in Iraq approaches a successful end," Bush said. "They represent a shared vision on the way forward in Iraq."
Two years ago, such an agreement was unimaginable, Bush said. Violence and attacks in Iraq were rising, and sectarian lines were dividing much of the Iraqi people. Terrorism and fighting in many regions proved difficult to overcome. The Iraqi people have suffered greatly, he added.
"[The Iraqi people] suffered car bombings and suicide attacks and [improvised explosive devices], and desperate efforts by terrorists to destroy a young democracy," he said. "Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have stepped forward to defend this democracy, and many have paid a dear price."
Bush said the American people sacrificed a great deal for Iraq to reach this point too, as fighting there has required large amounts of time, resources and American lives. More than 4,000 U.S. servicemembers have been killed in Iraq since March 2003. More than 300 coalition troops also have been killed.
The agreements honor all those who have sacrificed by building a freer, safer and more hopeful world, Bush said.
"In terms of the agreements, this is a major achievement," Bush told reporters. "Is it the end? Absolutely not. There is more work to be done."
The strategic framework agreement provides the underpinning for a U.S.-Iraq trade and investment relationship as well as diplomatic, cultural and security cooperation. It sets the foundation for a long-term bilateral relationship between the two countries.
The status-of-forces agreement outlines the framework for American forces withdrawal while providing authorization and protections for U.S. troops to continue support operations after the United Nations mandate expires Dec. 31.
Although the pace of meeting those agreements depends on the Iraqi government and military, Bush said, the SOFA acknowledges that U.S. combat forces in Iraq are required to withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages and localities no later than June 30, and it calls for a complete withdrawal of forces by Dec. 31, 2011.
Both agreements were passed by Iraq's parliamentary councils Nov. 27 and by the presidency council Dec. 4. Both take effect Jan. 1.