Obama Announces Troop Withdrawal From Iraq

President Obama formally announces that combat troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year.

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All U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of December. President Obama made the announcement today. After nearly nine years, he said, the war will be over. The president spoke after a video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The White House says the two men agreed this is the best way forward for both countries.

NPR's Scott Horsley begins our coverage.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama was a critic of the Iraq War from the very beginning. Ending it fulfills a campaign promise he made more than four years ago. The U.S. has already withdrawn more than 100,000 troops from Iraq. Mr. Obama says the last 40,000 will be leaving by the end of the year.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Across America, our servicemen and women will be reunited with their families. Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays.

HORSLEY: That timetable was originally negotiated back in 2008 by former President George Bush. The U.S. and Iraq had been negotiating about keeping several thousand troops in the country beyond the end of the year, but they were unable to reach agreement on those troops' legal immunity.

Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough says the U.S. will continue to provide military trainers to Iraq, as it does to other countries, though the numbers are uncertain. But he says President Obama envisions a more normal relationship with Iraq, one built on trade and diplomacy.

DENIS MCDONOUGH: He said what we're looking for is an Iraq that's secure, stable and self-reliant. And that's exactly what we got here, so there's no question this is a success.

HORSLEY: President Obama is also planning a troop drawdown in Afghanistan and says by year's end, there will be half as many Americans in the two war zones as there were when he took office. Mr. Obama is increasingly relying on more targeted military operations - like the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, or the NATO campaign that toppled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

OBAMA: The end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition. The tide of war is receding.

HORSLEY: So far, Mr. Obama has drawn little political advantage from his foreign policy successes. His approval rating jumped briefly after bin Laden was killed, but slumped again over the summer. Aides say that's understandable, given the country's preoccupation with domestic economic problems. Mr. Obama acknowledged as much in his announcement today.

OBAMA: After a decade of war, the nation that we need to build, and the nation that we will build, is our own - an America that sees its economic strength restored, just as we restored our leadership around the globe.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama knows some of the troops coming home from Iraq this winter will soon be looking for jobs.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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