War in Iraq is at an end, says Obama
US President Barack Obama has announced that all American troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, bringing a formal close to a long and bloody war that divided the country.
In a brief appearance at the White House yesterday, Mr Obama said: "I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over."
The remaining 40,000 US troops in Iraq, would, he said, "definitely be home for the holidays".
He conspicuously declined to repeat the mistake of his predecessor George W Bush, who started the war in March 2003 and displayed a "Mission Accomplished" banner six weeks later, only for Iraq to descend into years of insurgency and sectarian violence that has claimed at least 100,000 civilian lives.
Mr Obama, however, asserted that the "United States is moving forward from a position of strength".
"The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their head held high, proud of their service," he added.
The president stressed that he was meeting a withdrawal deadline reached earlier with the Iraqis, as well as keeping a pledge made as a candidate in 2008 to wind down the controversial war as fast as possible.
But his statement masked the fact that his administration had wanted to keep a residual force of 4-5,000 beyond the end of the year in a training capacity that would also have acted as a prohibitive presence to neighbouring Iran.
Despite months of discussions, however, it failed to win a continued guarantee of immunity for US troops from prosecution from the Iraqi government.
Though some Iraqi politicians favoured such a deal, Iranian-backed Sadrists strongly opposed any prolonged American troop presence while Shi'ite militiamen threatened attacks on any American forces that remained past the deadline.
Mr Obama said discussions with Iraq would continue on "how the US might assist and train" the Iraqis, but offered no details.
Dennis McDonough, the US deputy national security adviser, suggested that a small US troop presence to the south in Kuwait would be able to respond to any appeals for assistance from Baghdad.
He denied that the departure of US armed forces from Iraq would leave the door open to Iranian meddling.
"We don't have concerns about Iraqis being able to exercise the kind of sovereignty they want," he said.
The president and his aides insisted that the US and Iraq would enjoy a positive relationship as sovereign nations.
Using terminology likely to be heard often between now and his re-election bid in November 2012, Mr Obama added: "After a decade of war, the nation we need to build, and will build, is our own." (© Daily Telegraph, London)