Obama: 'Time to Turn the Page' as Iraq Combat Mission EndsWorld | September 1, 2010, Wednesday // 08:10| views
US President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington DC, USA, 31 August 2010. President Obama announced that Operation Iraqi Freedom is over. Photo by EPA/BGNES
Marking the end of the US combat mission in Iraq, President Obama said Tuesday night that America would continue supporting Iraq's government while also looking to refocus its energies on the US economy and the war in Afghanistan.
"The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people," Obama said in an address from the Oval Office. "... Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn the page."
The US combat mission in Iraq officially ended at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, more than seven years after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Roughly 50,000 US troops will remain in Iraq until the end of 2011 to train, assist and advise Iraqi troops; such troops could remain beyond that if Iraq requests it and the United States agrees.
Obama praised American troops for their "enormous sacrifices in Iraq" and said the country "spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home." Though attacks across Iraq continue and leaders are struggling to form a coalition government after recent elections, Obama said attacks are at "near the lowest level on record" since the war began, and Iraq is in position to shape its own future.
"We have persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people -- a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization," Obama said.
Obama, who spoke with Bush in a phone call earlier in the day, did mention Bush, but not in relation to the surge.
"It's well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush's support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security," Obama said. "As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq's future."
Obama said the winding down of the war in Iraq means it's time for US citizens to tackle what he said was now America's No. 1 challenge: the economy.
"Our most urgent task is to restore our economy and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work," Obama said. "...We must jumpstart industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil. We must unleash the innovation that allows new products to roll off our assembly lines, and nurture the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs.
"This will be difficult. But in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president."
Speaking earlier on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki lauded the withdrawal of US combat forces, saying Iraq was now "sovereign and independent".
"Our security forces will take the lead in ensuring security and safeguarding the country and removing all threats that the country has to weather, internally or externally," he said.
But while many Iraqis have welcomed the withdrawal, others say they believe it is happening too soon and that the country is not ready to manage its own security.
The last US combat brigade left Iraq nearly two weeks ago, well ahead of the 31 August target set by President Obama to cut the number of US troops in Iraq below 50,000. Those remaining US troops will focus on supporting Iraqi forces.
All US forces must be gone by the end of next year.
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