The US President Barack Obama will mark a promise kept in a speech today, declaring the end of America’s combat mission in Iraq and wagering the wobbly Baghdad government can hold together against a still-dangerous uprising.
After taking office, the president vowed to withdraw all but 50,000 US troops by August 31, a reduction of about 90,000 forces by the end of his first 20 months in office.
American commanders reached that goal last week, the same seven-day period during which insurgent bombers and gunmen killed 50 Iraqis.
Obama had pledged to make peace in the Middle East a top agenda item in the first weeks of his presidency, but progress has been halting and expectations are low for the coming new round of negotiations. The Iraq speech precedes by two days a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The US war in Iraq has been fraught for Obama, a critic of that conflict even as he has significantly increased American firepower and troop strength in the longer, nearly nine-year fight in Afghanistan.
In recent days, the White House has produced a blitz of pronouncements honoring veterans of the Iraq war, the families and loved ones of the more than 4,000 who died and the nearly 32,000 who were wounded.
Yesterday the President travelled to Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington to visit the wounded.
The remaining US contingent, slightly fewer than 50,000, still faces a dangerous task in its mission to train Iraqi forces, to join Iraqi troops in targeted anti-terror operations and to protect Americans who remain in the country.
In the meantime, US worries over Iraq’s failure to agree on a new prime minister and government, along with the ceremonial end of the US fighting mission, prompted Obama to send Vice President Joe Biden to Baghdad on his sixth trip since January 2009, shortly before he and Obama took office.
Biden will also make a new appeal to Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and political arch-rival and former premier Ayad Allawi today, to end the deadlock and seat a new government.
In a day-long meeting Biden will “urge Iraqi leaders to conclude negotiations on the formation of a new government”, according to White House.