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Obama marks the end of the Iraq war

Obama didn’t try to declare victory in the decade-old war but applauded the “extraordinary achievement” of US troops in the region.

Barack Obama speaking today at Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina
Barack Obama speaking today at Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina
Image: AP Photo/Gerry Broome

US PRESIDENT BARACK Obama saluted returning troops returning from Iraq today, declaring that the nearly nine-year conflict is ending honorably, “not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home.”

Marking the conclusion of the war at a military base in North Carolina that’s seen more than 200 deaths over nearly nine years of fighting in Iraq, Obama never tried to declare victory. It was a war that he opposed from the start, inherited as president and is now bringing to a close, leaving behind an Iraq still struggling.

But he sought to declare a noble end to a fight that has cost nearly 4,500 American lives and left about 32,000 wounded.

“The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and your service belongs to the ages,” he said, applauding their “extraordinary achievement.”

All U.S. troops are to be out of Iraq by 31 December, though Obama has pledged America will continue civilian assistance for Iraq as it faces an uncertain future in a volatile region of the world. Even as majorities in the U.S. public favor ending the war, some Republicans have criticised Obama’s withdrawal, arguing he’s leaving behind an unstable Iraq that could hurt U.S. interests and fall subject to influence from neighboring Iran.

Obama, appearing with first lady Michelle Obama, highlighted the human side of the war, reflecting on the bravery and sacrifices of U.S. forces now on their way back home. He recalled the start of the war, a time when he was only an Illinois state senator and many of the warriors before him were in grade school.

“We knew this day would come. We have known it for some time now,” he said. “But still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long.”

Obama, who became president in part because of his opposition to the Iraq war, said the war faced twists and turns amid one constant: the patriotism and commitment of U.S. troops.

“It is harder to end a war, than to begin one,” he said.

Still, he made only passing mention of the enormous soul-searching the war caused in America, saying it “was a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the debate.” He did not mention that he had opposed it.

He noted the early battles that defeated and deposed Saddam Hussein and what he called “the grind of insurgency” – roadside bombs, snipers and suicide attacks.

“Your will proved stronger than the terror of those who tried to break it,” he said.

Upon his arrival in Fort Bragg today, Obama met with five enlisted service members who had recently returned from combat. He also met with the family of a soldier killed overseas.

Obama has on several occasions addressed his reasons for ending the war, casting it as a promise kept after he ran for president as an anti-war candidate and speaking of the need to refocus U.S. attention on rebuilding the troubled economy at home.

In his speech, Obama said that Iraq “is not a perfect place.”

But he added that “we are leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We are building a new partnership between our nations”.

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Associated Press

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