Published October 21, 2011
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. commitment to the democratic future of Iraq remains strong despite the withdrawal of American troops by the end of the year.
"Even as our troops come home, the United States' commitment to Iraq's future as a secure, stable, democratic nation remains as strong as ever," she said at a news conference in the Tajik capital. "This will end the war and it will open a new chapter in our relationship," Clinton said Saturday.
President Barack Obama says the death of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi and ending the U.S. war in Iraq are powerful reminders of America's renewed leadership in the world.
At the same time, Obama said Saturday that the U.S. now must tackle its "greatest challenge as a nation" -- rebuilding a weak economy and creating jobs -- with the "same urgency and unity that our troops brought to their fight."
Obama informed the nation on Friday that the long and costly war in Iraq will be over by the end of the year and that some 40,000 U.S. servicemen and women still there "will definitely be home for the holidays."
A day earlier, he hailed the killing of Libya's longtime leader as a "momentous day" in the history of a country that Gadhafi had ruled for decades through tyranny.
Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address that these foreign policy successes were part of a larger story.
"This week, we had two powerful reminders of how we've renewed American leadership in the world," Obama said. "After a decade of war, we're turning the page and moving forward, with strength and confidence."
He said withdrawing troops from Iraq has allowed the U.S. to focus on Afghanistan and score major victories against Al-Qaeda, including the killing in May of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. Troops also have been coming home from Afghanistan.
Obama said ending both wars will allow the U.S. to focus on rebuilding a weak economy so it can start creating enough jobs to reduce high levels of unemployment. That could possibly aid his re-election bid, which is being jeopardized by the tough financial circumstances.
"Over the past decade, we spent a trillion dollars on war, borrowed heavily from overseas and invested too little in the greatest source of our national strength -- our own people," the president said. "Now, the nation we need to build is our own."
The announcement of the troop withdrawal came after the president completed a secure video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The discussion apparently finalized negotiations that have dragged on for months over what, if any, military presence the U.S. would maintain in Iraq beyond a Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline set in 2008. The president said the two are now in "full agreement" over how to move forward, and that no U.S. troops will remain.
"As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year," Obama said. "After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over."
Though the president cast the announcement as making good on his promise to wind down the conflict, the plan was far from a sure thing.
Officials had been discussing with Iraqi leaders the possibility of several thousand U.S. troops staying beyond 2011 to train Iraqi security forces. However, Iraqi leaders had refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution, something that was seen as a deal-breaker.
Talks with the Maliki government did not begin in earnest until August of this year. The White House had authorized the ambassador there to negotiate the possibility of up to 5,000 trainers remaining -- though Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commanding general, had requested upwards of 15,000.
Over the summer, Pentagon officials expressed public frustration with the stalling being done by Maliki -- it later became increasingly clear that all U.S. troops would have to leave.
Capitol Hill sources indicated Friday that, while the troops will come home, the standard presence of Marines will be kept to guard the U.S. Embassy there.
Democratic leaders in Washington commended Obama Friday for the announcement. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called it a "promise kept."
But some Republicans have expressed concern that the U.S. runs a risk in pulling all troops out.
"I respectfully disagree with President Obama. I feel all we have worked for, fought for, and sacrificed for is very much in jeopardy by today's announcement. I hope I am wrong and the president is right, but I fear this decision has set in motion events that will come back to haunt our country," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement.
More than 4,400 American military members have been killed since the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.
There are still 40,000-45,000 U.S. troops in the country, but Obama said they would all be shipping home soon. He said the next challenge will be to ensure those troops can find work in America upon returning home.
Fox News' Ed Henry and Jennifer Griffin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.