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Updated: 2:01 p.m.
The United States will complete its military drawdown in Iraq by the end of 2011, President Barack Obama announced today, just one day after a NATO coalition assisted by American forces helped kill Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Obama promised on the campaign trail in 2008 that he would bring the Iraq War to an end — a promise he evoked in the White House briefing room today — and he appears to be on track to keep his word by the New Year. Military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan were at the forefront of foreign policy discourse on the trail last cycle and have cost in the trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.
“Today I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays,” Obama said. “The United States is moving forward from a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home.”
Obama said he spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki earlier this morning and invited him to the White House in December to discuss the work that remains in the Middle Eastern nation after U.S. forces leave it. The conflict in Iraq began in March 2003.
The president also took time to highlight America’s achievement Thursday in Libya, where Gadhafi was killed in one of the last stronghold cities of his regime. Obama committed American resources — though no boots on the ground — to helping a coalition of allies to assist the Libyan rebels in taking down Gadhafi, and though some top Republicans criticized the president for “leading from behind” by taking a supporting role, the administration is counting the defeat of Gadhafi as another success of the “Obama doctrine.”
“There, too, our military played a critical role in shaping a situation on the ground in which the Libyan people can build their own future. Today, NATO is working to bring this successful mission to a close,” Obama said today of developments in Libya.
With the Iraq announcement, Gadhafi’s death and the assassination of Osama bin Laden in May, Obama is piecing together a record on both military and terrorism issues that he can tout on the trail. One of his themes may be that ending the mission in Iraq lifts a burden from the military, the American government’s finances, the administration and the president himself.
Before Obama’s address in the press briefing room, after which he took no questions, a senior administration official emphasized the finality of the coming days in Iraq as well as expressed optimism for the future of the American-Iraqi relations.
“This will allow us to say definitively that the Iraq War is over and that the partnership between the U.S. and Iraq will be a normal one between two sovereign nations,” the official said. “During their conversation, President Obama and Maliki strongly agreed that this is the best way forward for both countries.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that he backs Obama’s announcement.
“I received a call from the White House this morning,” the Nevada Democrat said. “I fully support the president.”
Reid noted that he is not concerned about the potential influence of Iran in Iraq.
“I think we are well-equipped, as we are, [for] keeping a real close eye on Iran,” Reid said. “Iran is the country in that part of the world that is way behind the times. It’s a country made up of a lot of young people, and they should be aware that the [Arab] Spring that hit all of that part of the world is about to hit them.”
Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.