US to exit Iraq by end of 2011


US President Barack Obama said all American troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, ending a long war which cleaved deep political divides and estranged the United States from its allies.
The decision, announced Friday, came after Iraq failed to agree to legal immunity for a small residual force that Washington had hoped to keep in the country to train the army and counter the influence of neighboring Iran, officials said. After nearly nine years, the deaths of more than 4,400 US troops, tens of thousands of Iraqis and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, Obama said the last American soldier would leave with his head held high.
“Today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” Obama said at the White House. In his weekly radio address Saturday, Obama added that his decision to pull all US troops out of Iraq by the end of the year and the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were reminders of “renewed American leadership in the world.”
“Once we’ve completed the reduction of the combat presence, then I think we begin a process of negotiating with them,” US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters.
“We now turn our full attention to pursuing a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq that’s based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” he added.
President Obama’s announcement to bring all troops home fulfilled a central promise of his 2008 election campaign, which took place at a time when the Iraq war was still a painful fault line in US politics. Maliki, whom Obama has invited to the White House in December, said in a brief statement that the two leaders were on the same page on the withdrawal. The 39,000 remaining US troops in Iraq must pull out by the end of 2011 under an accord between the two countries reached during the Bush presidency. Obama’s announcement that the 39,000 US soldiers still stationed in Iraq will leave by the end of 2011 has been criticised by the Republican opposition, which fears the withdrawal will enable Iran to expand its regional clout.