Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mission Accomplished at 5 PM?

Washington (CNN) -- Almost 7½ years ago, President George W. Bush launched a blistering "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq.

The goal: eliminate a perceived threat of weapons of mass destruction while replacing a hostile, tyrannical regime with a friendly democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

At 5 p.m. ET Tuesday -- at a cost of more than 4,400 U.S. military personnel killed and 30,000 wounded -- America's combat mission in Iraq will officially draw to a close.
The quick removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ushered in years of grinding sectarian violence, war, terrorist attacks and, according to some observers, increased Iranian influence in the region. But it also paved the way for nationwide elections and increasing economic development.
Whether the war was worth the price remains a subject of fierce debate both at home and abroad.

President Obama, who based much of his campaign for the White House on growing public exhaustion with the conflict, will announce the conclusion of the combat mission in a speech to be delivered from the Oval Office at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday. He will spend the day meeting with veterans at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Obama called Bush for a "few minutes" from Air Force One while en route to Texas, according to White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton. The White House has not said if Obama will give Bush any credit during his speech for the controversial 2007-08 military "surge," believed by some observers to have helped curtail Iraqi violence.

Ben Rhodes, a presidential foreign policy speechwriter, told reporters Obama's remarks will focus on -- among other things -- the responsibilities of Iraqi leaders moving forward as well as the new partnership between the United States and Iraq.
Obama also will discuss the refocusing of U.S. resources in the global fight against al Qaeda as well as the heightened American military presence in Afghanistan, Rhodes said.
Vice President Joe Biden, who once advocated splitting Iraq along largely ethnic lines, is in Baghdad for the transition. He also will help mark Wednesday's transfer of U.S. military command there from Army Gen. Ray Odierno to Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin.

While the official U.S. combat mission is ending, roughly 50,000 American troops will remain in the country until the end of 2011. Their mission will be to will train, assist and advise the Iraqis.
As the U.S. military has been scaling down, the U.S. civilian presence has been ramping up. Iraqi officials are struggling to form a new ruling coalition in the wake of March's closely contested national elections.

And while Obama administration officials have touted what they claim is a gradual decline in the overall level of violence in Iraq, the country has recently been the target of a series of attacks.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned Friday of the likelihood of continuing attacks across the country. His warning came two days after a wave of 20 bomb attacks struck 13 Iraqi cities, mostly targeting police. The bombs killed 48 and wounded at least 286.
Al-Maliki said there were indications that "al Qaeda and remnants of [Saddam Hussein's] Baath Party with foreign backing are planning to carry out a series of bombings in Baghdad and the other provinces."

The attacks -- a show of force for the insurgency -- have increased fears among Iraqis about the ability of their security forces to protect them after the U.S. withdrawal.
But Biden on Tuesday suggested that reports of increased violence in Iraq have been exaggerated by the media.

"Notwithstanding what the national press says about increased violence, the truth is things are still very much different," he told reporters while meeting with al-Maliki. "Things are much safer."
Biden called recent terrorist attempts "dismal."
For his part, the Iraqi prime minister marked the occasion on Tuesday with a national address proclaiming his country "sovereign and independent."

Like Biden, al-Maliki insisted there had been major strides in Iraqi security.
"If these security achievements were not real, we would not have been able to move to executing the bigger and more important step, which is the withdrawal of American forces that is happening today," he said.

"We do not view the withdrawal as an accomplishment of one person, or one party or one sect or one ethnicity; it is an achievement for all Iraqis. ... And it represents a golden opportunity to strengthen national unity and a starting point to build Iraq after decades of destruction and suffering."

Top Republicans have been loath to give the Obama White House any credit for Tuesday's milestone.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, will say in a speech to be delivered Tuesday to the American Legion in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that the day "belongs to our troops."
"When Gen. [David] Petraeus embarked on the surge strategy in January 2007, it was widely viewed as our last chance to save Iraq from spiraling into an irreversible descent toward chaos," Boehner argues in excerpts of his prepared remarks.

"The consequences of failure then, as now, were severe."
In a thinly veiled slap at Obama, Boehner says in his remarks that "some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, is also set to address the Iraq war in a speech Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, asserted during a speech Tuesday to the American Legion that, despite the recent spate of attacks in Iraq, "overall levels of violence this year remain at their lowest point since the beginning of the war in 2003."
Al Qaeda in Iraq has been largely cut off from its masters abroad."
But Gates stressed that he was not "saying that all is, or necessarily will be, well in Iraq."
"Sectarian tensions remain a fact of life. Al Qaeda in Iraq is beaten, but not gone. This is not a time for premature victory parades or self-congratulation," he said.

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