By Jim GaramoneAmerican Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – All U.S. service members will leave Iraq by the end of the year, President Barack Obama announced Friday.
About 40,000 U.S. service members are in the country, and all will be “home for the holidays,” Obama said.
The president made the announcement after speaking with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this morning.
Since American forces went into Iraq in March 2003, more than 1 million Americans have deployed to the Middle Eastern country – many multiple times. More than 32,200 U.S. service members and civilians have been wounded in the country, and 4,482 were killed.
“Today, I can report that as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” the president said. “The last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops,” the president said. “That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.”
The United States will maintain a close alliance with Iraq, the president said, and the withdrawal means the relationship between the countries will be just like that between the United States with any other country. Obama said it will be “an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”
Obama said he and Maliki agreed that a meeting of the Higher Coordinating Committee of the Strategic Framework Agreement will convene in the coming weeks, and that he invited the Iraqi leader to Washington to plan the future relationship.
“This will be a strong and enduring partnership, with our diplomats and civilian advisers in the lead; will help Iraqis strengthen institutions that are just, representative and accountable; will build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture and education, that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people; will partner with an Iraq that contributes to regional security and peace, just as we insist that other nations respect Iraq’s sovereignty,” Obama said.
The United States will offer to help Iraq train and equip its forces, just as the United States offers assistance to countries around the world.
“There will be some difficult days ahead for Iraq, and the United States will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure and self-reliant,” the president said. “Just as Iraqis have persevered through war, I’m confident that they can build a future worthy of their history as the cradle of civilization.”
The end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition in world affairs, Obama said. “The tide of war is receding,” he said. “The drawdown in Iraq allowed us to refocus our fight against al-Qaida and achieve major victories against its leadership, including Osama bin Laden.”
The United States also is reducing the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan. He noted that when he took office in January 2009, more than 180,000 U.S. service members were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. “By the end of this year, that number will be cut in half. And make no mistake: It will continue to go down,” the president said.
The president said the United States is moving forward from a position of strength. The war in Iraq will end in December. The number of Americans in Afghanistan will continue to go down. As these actions continue, there will be fewer deployments and more time for training, Obama said.
The nation still has the responsibility and duty to provide America’s newest veterans and their families “the care, the benefits and the opportunities that they have earned,” the president said.
“This includes enlisting our veterans in the greatest challenge that we now face as a nation – creating opportunity and jobs in this country,” he added. “After a decade of war, the nation that we need to build and the nation that we will build is our own, an America that sees its economic strength restored, just as we've restored our leadership around the globe.”
Preparations to withdraw continue. The United States closed its U.S. Division North at Camp Speicher yesterday. Only one divisional level U.S. unit now remains in the country.