Obama defends handling of Iraq, hits Romney, as violence flares

After a bloody wave of attacks unfurled across Iraq, killing more than 100 people and wounding at least 235, President Barack Obama defended his decision to pull America from that strife-torn country — a move Mitt Romney once criticized.

"I pledged to end the war in Iraq honorably, and that's what we've done," Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) annual convention in Reno, Nev.

"We brought our troops home responsibly," he said. "They left with their heads held high, knowing they gave Iraqis a chance to forge their own future. And today, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq, and we are proud of all the Americans who served there."

The president, who championed the withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2011, lashed out at critics, Romney among them, who opposed the pull-out.

"Some said that bringing our troops home last year was a mistake. They would have kept tens of thousands of our forces in Iraq -- indefinitely, without a clear mission," Obama said. "Well, when you're Commander-in-Chief, you owe the troops a plan, you owe the country a plan -- and that includes recognizing not just when to begin wars, but also how to end them."

In November 2011, the former Massachusetts governor had branded the Democrat's timetable as "precipitous" and "tragic" and warned that "it puts at risk many of the victories that were hard won by the men and women who served there." Those warnings were commonplace among Republican critics of Obama's approach.

The deadly wave of violence in Iraq, however, underlined how the withdrawal of American forces does not mean the end of a war — merely the end of American involvement. And Obama's press secretary let it be known that bloody flare-ups in Iraq were now the Iraqis' problem.

"There is no question that Iraq remains a violent place — and we strongly condemn the attacks in Iraq," Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One ahead of Obama's speech.

"It is also the case that Iraq is not nearly as violent a place as it was, and that — thanks to the enormous sacrifice of military personnel — Iraqi security personnel have been trained up and have the capacity to deal with internal security, which was exactly what the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people wanted," Carney said.

Asked about unspecified critics who say that the American troop withdrawal that former president George W. Bush set in motion and Obama completed had endangered hard-earned gains in Iraq, Carney suggested those unnamed nay-sayers favored endless war and a reckless policy of intervention everywhere.

"I understand that there are those who think we never should have ended the war in Iraq -- that we should have stayed in Iraq, perhaps, for a second decade," Carney said. "The President simply disagrees with that."

"I also question the general premise that the United States should militarily, should send forces to every country that has an internal security problem in order to deal with that security on behalf of the other country," he said.

It was unclear to whom he was referring. While some lawmakers have criticized the American withdrawal from Iraq as premature, and some in Congress have called for a more robust response to events in Syria, none has called for send troops to every country with "an internal security problem."

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