Obama urges nation to “turn the page” on Iraq, work to heal economy

<p>Declaring the U.S. combat mission in Iraq complete, President Obama on Tuesday implored the war-torn nation to end its internal strife, saying, "it is time to turn the page."

“The American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country,” Obama said.

In his second prime-time address from the Oval Office, Obama praised the nearly 1.5 million U.S. troops who served in Iraq.

While careful to avoid taking overt credit for the withdrawal of combat brigades, Obama noted that the action fulfilled a campaign pledge he made to bring the conflict to a successful conclusion. Still, more than 50,000 American troops will remain in Iraq in supporting roles, and that country's political future remains uncertain.

In a nod to his predecessor, whose 2007 surge strategy is largely credited with bringing Iraq into sufficient order to permit troop withdrawal, Obama said he called former President George W. Bush earlier in the day.

“It's well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset, yet no one could doubt President Bush's support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security,” Obama said. “As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it.”

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, taking his party's lead in rebutting the president's claim to credit for Iraq, noted Obama's opposition to the surge when he was a senator.

“Some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results,” Boehner said. “Today we mark not the defeat those voices anticipated — but progress.”

Still, after more than seven years embroiled in a war that scorched Bush's presidency, cost billions of dollars and claimed more than 4,000 American lives, Obama's even-toned, straightforward speech seemed anti-climactic. “In an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners and the strength of our own nation,” Obama said.

Obama couched the end of the war as an opportunity to work together on “our most urgent task,” restoring America's economy.

“This will be difficult,” he said. “But in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president.”

Broadening his remarks further beyond Iraq, Obama said the reduction in forces and spending there will allow the U.S. to better focus on Afghanistan, a once-popular conflict that lately has seen a spike in American deaths to their highest levels during the nine-year-long conflict.

For Obama, beset by dropping poll numbers and an intractable economy, the speech marked an opportunity to highlight a turning point welcomed by many war-weary Americans.

Obama's day, replete with the traditional observances of a wartime presidency at a profound moment, included addressing the troops at Fort Bliss, Texas, and visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“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,” Obama said.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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