WASHINGTON – Claiming no victory, President Barack Obama formally ended the U.S. combat role in Iraq after seven long years of bloodshed, declaring firmly Tuesday night: “It is time to turn the page.” Now, he said, the nation’s most urgent priority must be fixing its own sickly economy.
From the Oval Office, where George W. Bush first announced the invasion that would come to define his presidency, Obama addressed millions who were divided over the war in his country and around the world. Fiercely opposed to the war from the start, he said the U. S. “has paid a huge price” to give Iraqis the chance to shape their future – a price that now includes more than 4,400 dead, tens of thousands of troops wounded and hundreds of billions of dollars spent since March 2003.
Even as he turns control of the war over to the Iraqis – and tries to cap one of the most divisive chapters in recent American history – Obama is escalating the conflict in Afghanistan. He said that winding down Iraq would allow the U. S. “to apply the resources necessary to go on offense” in Afghanistan, now the nation’s longest war since Vietnam.
In Iraq, for all the finality of Obama’s remarks, the war is not over. More Americans are likely to die. The country is plagued by violence and political instability, and Iraqis struggle with constant shortages of electricity and water.
Obama is keeping up to 50,000 troops in Iraq for support and counterterrorism training, and the last forces are not due to leave until the end of 2011 at the latest.
“Our combat mission is ending,” he said, “but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.”