Obama Joins Troops for Iraq Plan Rollout

Posted February 27, 2009 at 12:08pm

Updated 3 p.m.

President Barack Obama on Friday announced that U.S. combat forces will leave Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, and that the 35,000 to 50,000 who will remain in a mostly noncombat role will be out of the country by the end of 2011.

“Iraq is not yet secure, and there will be difficult days ahead,” said Obama, who spoke at Camp Lejeune, N.C. But he said the die was cast for Iraq to move ahead without direct U.S. involvement in its affairs. “Iraq’s future is now its own responsibility,” he said.

The president promised to rely on “comprehensive American engagement across the region” to help keep the peace, vowing to consult with Congress as he does because political backing for diplomatic efforts is needed. Obama said the “new framework” would include talks with Iran and Syria, countries mostly avoided by the Bush administration.

But Obama declared he would use “all elements” of U.S. power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Troops remaining in Iraq after the combat drawdown will assist with training Iraqi forces, conduct “targeted” operations against al-Qaida and protect U.S. civilian efforts in the country, Obama said.

Obama also promised the troops more veterans’ hospitals, increased pay and a “21st-century GI program” to help them succeed in the private sector.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) reacted favorably to the announcement.

“President Obama’s announcement of a withdrawal schedule for US combat troops in Iraq is good news because it signals that the war is coming to an end,” Pelosi said in a statement. “As President Obama’s Iraq policy is implemented, the remaining missions given to our remaining forces must be clearly defined and narrowly focused so that the number of troops needed to perform them is as small as possible. The President’s decision means that the time has come at last for Iraq’s own security forces to have the prime responsibility for Iraq’s security.”

Pelosi earlier in the week expressed concern at the size of the U.S. military presence that would remain in Iraq until 2011.

Hoyer said, “The president’s strategy represents a responsible plan to ensure our nation’s security, draw down our troops in a manner that will ensure their safety and shift responsibility to where it rightly belongs — with Iraqi Security Forces.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued statements praising Obama for what they called a decision to continue the “surge” strategy developed by Gen. David Petraeus.