President Obama Marks End of Combat in Iraq, Cites Challenges Ahead

VIDEO: President Obama Addresses the Nation
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President Obama tonight delivered his second nationally-televised Oval Office address to herald the end of U.S. military combat operations in Iraq and to remind the American people of his pledge to bring the war to a close.

"Operation Iraqi Freedom is over," the president said. "The Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country. This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office."

Mr. Obama's address, seven and a half years after President George W. Bush launched a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, cast the milestone as a sign that America can prevail in the face of stiff economic challenges at home and fierce fighting abroad in Afghanstan.

"This milestone should serve as a reminder to all Americans that the future is ours to shape if we move forward with confidence and commitment," Obama said.

The president praised America's men and women in uniform for shifting the tide in Iraq, saying he has been "awed" by their sacrifice and "courage and resolve."

More than 4,400 U.S. military service members have died in Iraq. At its peak in 2007, more than 170,000 troops were in the country; only around 50,000 troops remain. The war has cost taxpayers an estimated $885 million.

"The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people," Obama said. "We have persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people -- a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn the page."

Today the official name of the military mission in Iraq changes to "Operation New Dawn," but the president cautioned that does not mean the violence in Iraq is over, nor is the U.S. commitment to help fight it.

"Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife," Obama said.

"Tonight, I encourage Iraq's leaders to move forward with a sense of urgency to form an inclusive government that is just, representative and accountable to the Iraqi people. And when that government is in place, there should be no doubt: the Iraqi people will have a strong partner in the United States.

"Our combat mission is ending," he said, "but our commitment to Iraq's future is not."

As military forces draw down, a corps of U.S. civilians led by the U.S. State Department will support the fledgling government and help strengthen civil society.

All American forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 under an agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, but experts say those terms will likely be renegotiated due to the persistent challenges Iraq faces.

Civilian violence has declined since its peak in September 2006, but at least 270 Iraqis were killed in attacks just this month. And six months after Iraq held its latest , a governing coalition remains unformed with little sign the stalemate will end soon.

Republicans today criticized the president's handling of the milestone, chiding him for taking credit for a moment they say was largely made possible because of policies and strategies implemented by President George W. Bush.

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