US combat mission in Iraq to end

Barack Obama said the US strategy in Iraq will shift "from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats" by the end of this month, in the first of a series of speeches trumpeting the success of his administration's policy.

After a seven-year conflict costing US taxpayers some $700bn and the lives of more than 4,000 American troops, Obama proclaimed that the withdrawal of US forces was happening "as promised, on schedule," fulfilling his pledge as a presidential candidate to bring the conflict in Iraq to a "responsible end".

"As we mark the end of America's combat mission in Iraq, a grateful America must pay tribute to all who served there," Obama told the Disabled Veterans of America conference in Atlanta today, using a phrase that recalls George Bush's ill-fated claim on 1 May 2003 that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended".

In an attempt to avoid the premature triumphalism that damaged Bush's presidency, Obama also warned: "The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq."

Today's speech comes after a year in which Obama's administration has been concentrating on the conflict in Afghanistan and on US domestic policy, as the economy has remained the public's top concern and Democrats have wrestled with passing landmark healthcare and financial regulation reform

The withdrawal of American troops and the shift to a "civilian effort" will, however, likely include a build-up in contractors working for the US State Department, driving armored vehicles, flying aircraft and disposing of explosive devices, according to a report by McClatchy Newspapers.

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