By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 27, 2009 - U.S. combat troops will redeploy from Iraq by August 2010, leaving about 35,000 to 50,000 American forces there to attend to Iraqi troop and police training, counterterrorism and other duties, President Barack Obama told servicemembers at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., today. "So, let me say this as plainly as I can: by Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," Obama told servicemembers gathered inside the post's Goettge Memorial Field House.
"As we carry out this drawdown, my highest priority will be the safety and security of the troops and civilians in Iraq," Obama said, noting he'd consult closely with U.S. commanders on the ground and with the Iraqi government as the redeployment gets under way.
Next month marks the sixth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, Obama said. The situation in Iraq has improved, he said, thanks in great part to the efforts and sacrifices of U.S. servicemembers. There are about 146,000 U.S. forces currently in Iraq.
However, "we cannot sustain indefinitely a commitment that has put a strain on our military and will cost the American people nearly a trillion dollars," Obama said of the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
"America's men and women in uniform -- so many of you -- have fought block-by-block, province-by-province, year after year, to give the Iraqis this chance to choose a better future.
"Now, we must ask the Iraqi people to seize it," Obama said.
Violence in Iraq "has been reduced substantially" from the horrific sectarian warfare experienced there in 2006 and 2007, Obama said. Also, al-Qaida in Iraq "has been dealt a serious blow" by U.S., coalition and Iraqi security forces, the president said.
However, even considering the reduced violence, Obama acknowledged that "Iraq is not yet secure" and predicted "there will be difficult days ahead."
There is renewed cause for hope in Iraq, Obama said. Yet, that hope, he added, depends upon "an emerging foundation" that supports efforts to transfer full responsibility to Iraqis so that they can superintend their own affairs.
And, the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, Obama said, is the first part of a three-pronged U.S. strategy "to end the war in Iraq through a transition to full Iraqi responsibility."
Obama said employing diplomacy and injecting comprehensive U.S. engagement across the broader Middle East to promote regional peace and prosperity comprise the other legs of the U.S. government's Iraq strategy.
"After we remove our combat brigades," Obama said, "our mission will change from combat to supporting the Iraqi government and its security forces as they take the absolute lead in securing their country."
Around 35,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops will stay in Iraq after the combat forces depart, Obama said. These remaining forces, he said, will help train, equip and advise Iraqi security forces, conduct antiterrorism missions, and protect ongoing U.S. civilian and military efforts.
There will be additional redeployments of troops from Iraq, Obama said, noting he intends to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, as part of the U.S.-Iraq status-of-forces agreement.
The decision to redeploy U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 18 months, Obama said, came out of the recently concluded Iraq strategy review conducted by his national security team. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Joint Chiefs, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command; and Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, were among senior defense officials who provided input for the Iraq review.
The Iraq strategy "is grounded in a clear and achievable goal shared by the Iraqi people and the American people: an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant," Obama said. "To achieve that goal, we will work to promote an Iraqi government that is just, representative and accountable, and that provides neither support nor safe haven to terrorists."
The United States, Obama continued, will "help Iraq build new ties of trade and commerce with the world" and "will forge a partnership with the people and government of Iraq that contributes to the peace and security of the [Middle East] region."
The United States and its allies cannot rid Iraq of all the people there who oppose America or sympathize with America's enemies, Obama said. Neither can the United States wait until conditions in Iraq are perfect, he said.
There are people who want the fledgling Iraqi democracy to fail, Obama acknowledged. Such people, he said, belong "to the forces that destroy nations and lead only to despair, and they will test our will in the months and years to come."
The terrorists and criminals that seek to tear Iraq apart "offer not pathway to peace; and they must not stand between the people of Iraq and a future of reconciliation and hope," Obama said.
Obama assured the Iraqi people that the United States "pursues no claim on your territory or your resources." The United States respects Iraq's sovereignty and the sacrifices of its citizens, he said.
"And going forward, we can build a lasting relationship founded upon mutual interests and mutual respect, as Iraq takes its rightful place in the community of nations," Obama said.