Iraq: countdown to withdrawal?

President Barack Obama said Aug. 11 that the US can complete its combat role in Iraq safely at the end of this month and meet a deadline for removing troops from the country by the end of 2011. The statement came after a cabinet meeting which was addressed via video by the US commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno. But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, in his comments after the meeting, acknowledged that Iraq has still failed to form a new government five months after national elections.

“The president was satisfied with the progress that we continue to see on the security side,” Gibbs said. “[He] got an update and continue[s] to pursue progress on a formation of a government — understanding the last one took six months, we understood this was not going to be a quick process. But we are on target by the end of the month to end our combat mission, turn over bases that Americans have been on to the Iraqis, and transition our role there.” (RFE/RL, Aug. 12)

President Obama also affirmed Aug. 2 that US combat troops would leave Iraq by the end of August—”as promised and on schedule”—in a speech before a group of disabled veterans in Atlanta. “Make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing—from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats.”

There are currently 65,000 troops in Iraq. The president gave assurances that the US force would drop to 50,000 by the end of the month—a reduction of 94,000 since he took office. The remaining troops will form a transitional force until a final U.S. withdrawal from the country at the end of 2011, he said.

The departure has not been as quick as Obama had initially promised. Shortly after taking office, he revised a 16-month withdrawal timetable and set the Aug. 31, 2010 deadline. (LAT, Aug. 3)

See our last posts on Iraq and the politics of withdrawal.

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