Obama declares promise to end combat role in Iraq is coming ‘as promised and on schedule’

Monday, August 2, 2010

Obama: End of US combat role in Iraq ‘on schedule’

ATLANTA — President Barack Obama says America’s combat role in Iraq will end Aug. 31 “as promised and on schedule.”

Obama tells the Disabled American Veterans organization that violence in Iraq has been at a lower ebb recently. And he says that in advance of terminating U.S. combat operations there, hundreds of bases have been transferred to the Iraqis and “we’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment.”

Obama pledged in his presidential campaign to pull all troops out by the end of 2011. And in his Atlanta speech, he said that by the end of August, more than 90,000 servicemen and women will have been brought home since he took office.

However, there was a chilling reminder of the perils that linger — two bombings and a drive-by shooting killed eight people.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

ATLANTA (AP) — President Barack Obama is ready to spell out in greater detail America’s changing mission in Iraq with the approach of an end to combat operations there.

In a speech to the national convention of the Disabled American Veterans later Monday, Obama will cite progress toward meeting his deadline of drawing down all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of the month. A transitional force of 50,000 troops will remain to train Iraqi security forces, conduct counterterrorism operations and provide security for ongoing U.S. civilian efforts.

“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,” the president said in excerpts released ahead of the speech.

Obama has said that all U.S. troops will be gone from Iraq by the end of next year, fulfilling a campaign promise that was key to his base of support in the 2008 presidential campaign. So moving toward that end is something the White House wants to highlight with pivotal congressional elections approaching. Monday’s speech was only the first in a series of such events planned for this month.

The president, as well as Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials, will all be touting success in Iraq. “The message is, when the president makes a commitment, he keeps it,” White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters traveling with Obama to Georgia on Air Force One.

But the rhetoric comes amid persistent concerns about Iraq’s stability.

U.S. officials have stepped up the pressure on Iraqi leaders to overcome a five-month political impasse that has prevented the formation of a new government following elections earlier this year.

And, a reminder of Iraq’s fragility, two bombings and a drive-by shooting killed eight people there Monday.

With such attacks remaining a daily occurrence, especially in Baghdad, and government figures showing July to be the deadliest month for Iraqis in more than two years, questions persist about the readiness of Iraqi security forces to take over for the Americans.

Burton said the White House believes the current transitional government leading Iraq is “very stable,” and is confident that the country’s leaders are moving in the right direction.

“The fact that there are competing parties and individuals who want to lead this democracy is a sign of the kind of progress they’ve made,” he said.

At the same time Obama has drawn down forces in Iraq, he has increased the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, ordering a surge of 30,000 additional troops. But with casualties on the rise, there are fresh concerns about the 9-year mission in Afghanistan, as well as Obama’s plan to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011, a timetable that critics say will embolden the Taliban and other extremist groups in the region.

Facing a potential loss of public and congressional support for the Afghanistan war, the White House is painting the U.S. mission there as humble and achievable: keeping the region from being a haven for terrorists.

“What we’re looking to do is difficult, very difficult, but it’s a fairly modest goal,” Obama told the CBS “Sunday Morning” show.

Despite the surge in Afghanistan, there are fewer U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan now than there were when Obama took office last year. Come September, when the Iraq drawdown is complete, the White House says there will 146,000 troops on the ground, down from 177,000 in January 2009.

During his remarks Monday, Obama is expected to speak about the government’s efforts to support those troops, as well as veterans of other wars. “While other individuals and institutions have shirked responsibility, they have welcomed it,” Obama said in the excerpts.

After the speech, Obama was scheduled to attend a fundraising lunch for the Democratic National Committee, his latest stop in a summer fundraising sprint that also includes events in Chicago later this week.

But Georgia’s most prominent Democrat, former Gov. Roy Barnes, won’t be joining Obama at either of his stops Monday. Barnes, who is running to get his old job back, had previously scheduled events in southern Georgia, his campaign said.

Distancing himself from the president could be politically smart for Barnes. Georgia is a Republican stronghold that John McCain carried in 2008. A poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. in July had Obama with a 37 percent approval rating in the state. Fifty percent of those surveyed disapproved of Obama’s performance.

Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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