President Barack Obama has announced that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq is over. The president said Tuesday America's new mission is to advise and assist Iraq's security forces.
Seven-and-a-half years after U.S. forces invaded Iraq, President Obama thanked the troops for their service and announced that their combat mission has concluded. "Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country," he said.
In only the second Oval Office address of his presidency since taking office, Mr. Obama did not declare victory, but said the move to a new mission is
underway. "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 president said.
About 50,000 American troops will remain in Iraq, with the last of them scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.
The president said the new U.S. mission is to advise and aid Iraqi security forces, cooperate with those forces in counterterrorism missions and protect civilians.
Mr. Obama said more and more U.S. civilians will support Iraq's efforts to build a government and recover from years of war. "Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner," he said.
Almost six months after Iraq's elections, Mr. Obama encouraged the country's leaders to work with a sense of urgency to form a new government.
Before the speech, the top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives again criticized the president's Iraq policies. John Boehner reminded a convention of war veterans that Mr. Obama, before his election as president, was among those who opposed both the war and the increase in troops in 2007. "Some leaders who opposed, criticized and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results," Boehner said.
While promising continued support to Iraq, President Obama said some U.S. forces are being shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, where the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida is approaching its tenth year. "We will disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense," he said.
As the U.S. economic recovery continues to falter, the president turned his attention to the economy and said restoring the millions of lost jobs is America's most urgent task.