x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Obama lays out Iraq plan

The US president says his promise for combat missions to end is being met on schedule, but troops to stay for counter-terrorism operations.

The US president Barack Obama set a course today for the country's changing mission in Iraq as the American military prepares to end its combat operations despite continued violence. Mr Obama addressed the progress being made to meet his deadline of removing all combat troops from Iraq by the end of this month. A transitional force of 50,000 troops will remain in the country to train Iraqi security forces, conduct counter-terrorism operations and provide security for the civilian US efforts.

"As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end," Mr Obama said in a speech at the national convention of the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta, according to excerpts of the address released by the White House ahead of time. "Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. "And I made it clear that by August 31, 2010, America's combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing - as promised, on schedule."

All US troops will leave Iraq by the end of next year, the president said. In Iraq yesterday, two bombings and a drive-by shooting killed eight people. In the worst incident, suspected al Qa'eda militants blew up the house of a policeman west of Baghdad and killed him, his wife and four-year-old daughter. The latest violence, as well as new Iraqi government figures showing that last month was the deadliest single month for Iraqis in more than two years, revived doubt about the readiness of Iraqi security forces to take over from the Americans.

It also reinforced speculation that the continued political impasse in Iraq has made conditions ripe for a resurgence in violence, as political and religious factions turn to arms to defend their interests. Since March 7 parliamentary elections failed to produce a clear winner, Iraq's political parties have been unable to form a new government. Mr Obama said even as militants tried to derail the country's progress, "violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it's been in years".

"But 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," he said. August 31 will also mark the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom launched by the former president George Bush with the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to White House officials. The transitional mission will be called Operation New Dawn. While scaling back in Iraq, Mr Obama has expanded the US commitment in Afghanistan, ordering the deployment of 30,000 additional troops.

Mr Obama plans to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next July. foreign.desk@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Associated Press