President Obama on Wednesday fulfilled his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq when he formally marked its end with a visit to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Obama welcomed the troops home and thanked them for their dedication and service.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the last U.S.military personnel are expected to leave Iraq in a matter of days. Before his speech at Fort Bragg, Obama had met five returning soldiers. He met also with the family of a young soldier who died on November 14.
Obama officially ended the war, saying:
"Tomorrow the colours of the United States Forces Iraq, the colors you fought under, will be formally cased in a ceremony in Baghdad. As your commander in chief and on behalf of a grateful nation, I'm proud to finally say these two words - welcome home, welcome home, welcome home."
A special ceremony will be held on Thursday in Iraq to mark the formal transfer of the American flag out of Baghdad back to U.S. Politico notes that Obama's speech was not with the "Mission Accomplished rhetoric" of his predecessor George Bush. The president announced that, “One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end. America’s war in Iraq will be over.” The crowd cheered in response. Obama in his speech described the perils the troops faced and its impact both in the U.S. and the world. He spoke about the controversies and conflicts the war caused in the U.S.
BBC reports that about 1.5 million Americans served in Iraq, about 4,500 died and 30,000 were wounded. Obama said: "...those numbers (deaths and casualties) don't tell the whole story of Iraq." Obama speaking of the perils of the war said: "Everything that American troops have done in Iraq, all the fighting and dying, bleeding and building, training and partnering, has led us to this moment of success."
The peak strength of U.S. troops was about 170,000 in 2007, but now only about 5,500 remain, mostly military trainers and advisers. The last combat troops left Iraq in August last year, according to BBC.
Obama spoke of a "new partnership" between the U.S. and the Iraqi government. The president said: “In handing over responsibility to the Iraqis, you preserved the gains of the last four years and made this day possible."
Obama owes his presidency significantly to his position on the Iraq war. As a Senator, he said the conflict was "dumb," and commentators are noting the conflict in the fact that now as president, he is paying tribute to the troops. Mark Maddell of BBC, said: "This is more than a little awkward, intellectually. He is papering over the cracks between what he has always thought and what he has to say to the country.”
Republicans have criticized Obama's decision to withdraw all U.S. troops. Politico reports Senator John McCain said departure of U.S. troops from Iraq will endanger national security and threaten the "fragile peace in Iraq."
According to a WSJ/NBC News poll conducted this month, Americans are pessimistic about Iraq's future. 60 percent of respondents believe the withdrawal will lead to "all-out civil war," compared to 54% that believed the same in February 2009.