WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama said on Friday (Saturday in India) that all American troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, ending a long war which cleaved deep political divides and estranged the United States from its allies.
The decision came after Iraq failed to agree to legal immunity for a small residual force that Washington had hoped to keep in the country to train the army and counter the influence of neighboring Iran, officials said.
After nearly nine years, the deaths of more than 4,400 US troops, tens of thousands of Iraqis and the expenditure of
hundreds of billions of dollars, Obama said the last American soldier would leave with his head held high.
“Today 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,” Obama said at the White House.
“Our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays,” said Obama, who rose to power in opposing the unpopular war and pledged as a presidential candidate to withdraw all US military personnel.
Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, arguing that its then leader Saddam Hussein was endangering the world with weapons of mass destruction programs. After Saddam was toppled, such arms were never found.
US troops soon became embroiled in a bitter insurgency, swelled by incoming Al-Qaeda fighters, and the tide of the war only turned when now retired General David Petraeus convinced Bush to mount a troop surge strategy in 2007.
Obama announced the pullout after holding a video conference with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which US officials said included a moving tribute by the Iraqi leader to American troops who died in his country.
It also came after his credentials as commander-in-chief, bolstered by the killing of Osama bin Laden and top Al-Qaeda suspects, were further enhanced by the death of Moamer Kadhafi after a NATO mission in support of Libyan rebels.
Obama administration officials declined to say whether the war had been worthwhile.
The 39,000 remaining US troops in Iraq must withdraw by the end of 2011 under an accord between the two countries reached during the Bush presidency.
The US withdrawal provokes a number of questions about the war-ravaged country’s future, including:
- Are the Iraqi military and security forces up to the job of safeguarding security gains made over recent years?
- How will Iran seek to expand its influence in Iraqi politics?
- Is Iraq’s fledgling political system robust enough to survive?
- Will disputes between Kurdistan and Baghdad drive a deeper wedge between the autonomous region and the central government?