Iraq up to job as US ends combat

PM Maliki says nation wins independence

Iraq up to job as US ends combat

An Iraqi police officer stands at a checkpoint in Baghdad on Tuesday. AP

US troop numbers were cut to 50,000 in advance of the August 31 milestone as President Barack Obama seeks to fulfil a promise to end the war launched by his predecessor George W Bush.

The six remaining US military brigades will turn their focus to training and advising Iraqi police and troops as Iraq takes responsibility for its own destiny ahead of a full withdrawal of US forces by the end of next year.

“Iraq today is sovereign and independent,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told Iraqis in a televised address to mark the US forces’ shift to assisting rather than leading the fight against a Sunni Islamist insurgency and Shi’ite militia.

“With the execution of the troop pullout, our relations with the United States have entered a new stage between two equal, sovereign countries.”

Obama promised war-weary US voters he would extricate the United States from the war, launched by Bush with the stated aim of destroying Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

No such weapons were found. Almost a trillion dollars have been spent and more than 4,400 US soldiers and over 1,00,000 Iraqi civilians killed since the 2003 invasion.

Obama’s Democratic party is battling to retain control of Congress in elections in November and his administration faces other challenges — a worsening war in Afghanistan and storm clouds over the economy. Tuesday’s deadline was to some extent a symbolic one. The 50,000 US soldiers staying on in Iraq for another 16 months are a formidable and heavily-armed force.

Iraqi security forces have already been taking the lead since a bilateral security pact came into force in 2009. US soldiers pulled out of Iraqi towns and cities in June last year.


Nevertheless, Iraqis are apprehensive as US military might is scaled down, especially amid a political impasse six months after an inconclusive election.

“We’ll be just fine, they’ll be just fine,” US Vice President Joe Biden said after flying to Baghdad on Monday to mark the end of combat operations and to urge Iraqi leaders to speed up the formation of a new government. “Notwithstanding what the national press says about increased violence, the truth is things are very much different. Things are much safer,” Biden told Maliki on Tuesday.

Violence in Iraq has declined sharply since the peak in 2006/07 of the sectarian slaughter unleashed by the 2003 US-led invasion, but bombings remain common.

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