Iraq Withdrawal Signals New Phase, But War is Not Over

U.S. and Iraq Sign Security Pact

The U.S. signed a pact with the Iraqi government in November 2008 to leave the country by 2012. And when President Obama took office, he told the American people in February 2009: "Let me say this as plainly as I can: By Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."

On Aug. 31, the Obama administration will change the name of the war, known as "Operation Iraqi Freedom," to "Operation New Dawn." But it isn't expected to signal and end to the war itself.

"I don't think anybody declared the end of the war as far as I know. There's still fighting ahead," the Pentagon's Morell said today.

U.S. Combat Troops in Baghdad 2007

And there are some signs the U.S. could remain in Iraq beyond the end of 2011.

"If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020," said the Iraqi military's most senior officer Lt. Gen. Babakir Zebari last week.

While sectarian violence in Iraq has fallen precipitously since 2007, insurgents have ratcheted up attacks on civilians in recent weeks with the Iraqi political situation still in flux after the March parliamentary elections.

It's unclear whether the Iraqi security forces will be able to maintain control of the country with a reduced U.S. presence and while the main Iraqi parties are deadlocked over forming a new government.

Obama Pledges to Withdraw Troops

"President Obama is committed to bringing all troops out by the end of 2011, but it might be the Iraqi government who asks for a presence of U.S. troops to remain," said foreign correspondent and the host of ABC News' "This Week" Christiane Amanpour. "Nobody believes that there will be no forces in Iraq at the end of 2011… because the Iraqi forces are not fully ready to stand up."

At the peak of the U.S. troop "surge" in 2007, more than 160,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq. At least 4,415 U.S. service members have been killed in the Iraq war according to Pentagon.

ABC News' Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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