News / Middle East

White House: Iraq Now Able to Defend Itself

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White House officials said Tuesday that Iraqi troops are ready to enforce their country's security.  The United States has met President Barack Obama's goal of reducing the number of American troops in Iraq to fewer than 50,000 by the end of this month.

President Obama's top adviser on counterterrorism says Iraq's 600,000 troops have successfully demonstrated their ability to maintain their country's security.

John Brennan spoke with reporters at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where the president is on vacation.

Brennan said operations by Iraqi forces have dealt a significant blow to al-Qaida in Iraq in recent months.

"Its top two leadership figures were taken off the battlefield in Iraqi-led counterterrorism operations.  And a substantial number of its leadership has been removed in a steady campaign that has been waged to degrade al-Qaida in Iraq's capability," said Brennan.

A recent surge in violence has raised concerns about the readiness of Iraqi forces.  But Brennan said there has been less violence than expected and that it has not accomplished al-Qaida's goal.

"Although these terrorists continue to kill innocent Iraqis, they have failed to ignite sectarian violence, and violence continues to be at a reduced level," he said.

Brennan said the United States is determined to work with the Iraqis to forge an enduring government.  A new Iraqi government has yet to be formed -- more than five months after national elections.

With the drawdown in combat troops in Iraq, the U.S. mission will change on September 1 to advising and training Iraqi security forces.

President Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech about the transition in Iraq on August 31st.  He is expected to discuss U.S. policy in Iraq, the significance of the change of mission and how it relates to the U.S. fight against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

White House spokesman Bill Burton says the United States will meet its commitment to withdraw all American forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.

At the briefing, security adviser John Brennan also discussed Tuesday's deadly attack on a hotel in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

The Somali insurgent group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, which Brennan condemned.

"This is a particularly outrageous act during the Islamic month of Ramadan.  And al-Shabab's vision for Africa stands in sharp contrast to the vision of the overwhelming majority of Africans," he added.

Brennan said al-Shabab is spreading its activities outside Somalia and that the United States is working with East African governments to stop it.  He said some members of al-Shabab have been working with members of al-Qaida in plotting attacks.

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