Excerpts of the speech given by US President Barack Obama on plans for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
He said the US combat mission in Iraq would officially end by August next year and that all US troops would have left the country by the end of 2011.
ON STABILITY IN IRAQ
The relative peace and strong participation in January's provincial elections sent a powerful message to the world about how far Iraqis have come in pursuing their aspirations through a peaceful political process.
On my first full day in office, I directed my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of our strategy in Iraq to determine the best way to strengthen that foundation, while strengthening American national security.
I have listened to my Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and commanders on the ground. We have acted with careful consideration of events on the ground; with respect for the security agreements between the United States and Iraq; and with a critical recognition that the long-term solution in Iraq must be political – not military.
Because the most important decisions that have to be made about Iraq’s future must now be made by Iraqis.
WITHDRAWING US TROOPS
Let me say this as plainly as I can: by 31 August, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.
As we carry out this drawdown, my highest priority will be the safety and security of our troops and civilians in Iraq. We will proceed carefully, and I will consult closely with my military commanders on the ground and with the Iraqi government. There will surely be difficult periods and tactical adjustments. But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.
After we remove our combat brigades, our mission will change from combat to supporting the Iraqi government and its security forces as they take the absolute lead in securing their country.
As I have long said, we will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi security forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq.
Diplomacy and assistance is also required to help the millions of displaced Iraqis. These men, women and children are a living consequence of this war and a challenge to stability in the region, and they must become a part of Iraq's reconciliation and recovery.
America has a strategic interest - and a moral responsibility - to act.
In the coming months, my administration will provide more assistance and take steps to increase international support for countries already hosting refugees; we'll cooperate with others to resettle Iraqis facing great personal risk; and we will work with the Iraqi government over time to resettle refugees and displaced Iraqis within Iraq – because there are few more powerful indicators of lasting peace than displaced citizens returning home.
DIPLOMACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST
The future of Iraq is inseparable from the future of the broader Middle East, so we must work with our friends and partners to establish a new framework that advances Iraq's security and the region's. It is time for Iraq to be a full partner in a regional dialogue, and for Iraq's neighbors to establish productive and normalized relations with Iraq. And going forward, the United States will pursue principled and sustained engagement with all of the nations in the region, and that will include Iran and Syria.
This reflects a fundamental truth: we can no longer deal with regional challenges in isolation – we need a smarter, more sustainable and comprehensive approach. That is why we are renewing our diplomacy, while relieving the burden on our military. That is why we are refocusing on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing a strategy to use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon; and actively seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Arab world.
Every nation and every group must know - whether you wish America good or ill - that the end of the war in Iraq will enable a new era of American leadership and engagement in the Middle East. And that era has just begun.
You and your families have done your duty - now a grateful nation must do ours. That is why I am increasing the number of soldiers and marines, so that we lessen the burden on those who are serving. And that is why I have committed to expanding our system of veterans' health care to serve more patients, and to provide better care in more places. We will continue building new wounded warrior facilities across America, and invest in new ways of identifying and treating the signature wounds of this war: post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, as well as other combat injuries.
We will also heed the lesson of history - that those who fight in battle can form the backbone of our middle class - by implementing a 21st Century GI Bill to help our veterans live their dreams.