In a speech marking the end of combat operations in Iraq, President Barack Obama declared that "Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country."
American troops succeeded in their mission. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, U.S. troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people, trained Iraqi Security Forces, and took out terrorist leaders. Thanks to American troops and civilians, Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.
One of those challenges is to form a new government in the wake of democratic elections held in March 2010. President Obama encouraged Iraq's leaders "to move forward with a sense of urgency to form an inclusive government that is just, representative, and accountable to the Iraqi people. And when that government is in place," he said, "there should be no doubt: The Iraqi people will have a strong partner in the United States."
As President Obama said, "Our mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq's future is not:"
"Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces, supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counterterrorism missions, and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year. As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians -- diplomats, aid workers, and advisors -- are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world."
Another challenge facing Iraq will be the ongoing violence. Islamic extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack civilians, and try to spark sectarian strife. "But ultimately," said President Obama, "these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals." Iraqis have rejected sectarian war and endless destruction. They are capable of resolving their differences and policing their streets. Only the Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders.
"What America can do, and will do," said President Obama, "is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner."