U.S. Shifts from Military to Civilian-Led Mission in Iraq
Washington — The United States has ended its seven-and-a-half-year-old military operation in Iraq and is shifting to a civilian-led mission to build a partnership with Iraq that will strengthen its government, industry and people, President Obama says.
“As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians — diplomats, aid workers and advisers — are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world,” Obama said in a nationally televised speech from the White House August 31.
“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 partner,” he said.
Obama said the Iraqi people held credible elections this year that drew a strong voter turnout, and a caretaker administration is in place as Iraqis form a government based on that election. He encouraged Iraq’s leaders to move forward “with a sense of urgency” to form an inclusive government that is just, accountable and representative to the Iraqi people.
Vice President Biden was in Iraq August 31 for a ceremony marking the change in mission and a change of command. He is also meeting Iraq’s senior leaders, according to Antony Blinken, Biden’s national security adviser.
The last U.S. combat brigade rolled out of Iraq August 19, ending a military operation that toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. The current U.S. military personnel, numbering less than 50,000, will remain in Iraq with a new mission as advisers assisting Iraq’s security forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting U.S. civilians, Obama said.
Speaking for only the second time from the Oval Office, Obama said that “the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.”
Obama pledged on February 27, 2009, to end America’s combat mission in Iraq, shrink the number of U.S. forces, strengthen Iraq’s forces and support Iraq’s government. Under the terms of a security agreement signed between the United States and Iraq, all U.S. military personnel must leave Iraq by the end of 2011. U.S. military operations began in Iraq in March 2003.
In June 2009 U.S. forces withdrew from Iraqi cities. Subsequent missions were at the request of the Iraqi government and were carried out with Iraqi security forces.
On Afghanistan, the president said that with the reduction of military units in Iraq, the United States and its allies can move more effectively to break the Taliban insurgents’ momentum, especially along the border with Pakistan. He said the United States will continue to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists.
By Merle David Kellerhals Jr., US Embassy, Staff Writer
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