Obama calls for normalised relations with Iraq within the Middle East. [AFP]

During his election campaign, Barack Obama, the US President, vowed to end the war in Iraq.

Addressing a marine base in North Carolina, he detailed how he will complete the withdrawal of US troops over a period of nearly three years.

"Next month will mark the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq. By any measure, this has already been a long war.

"For the men and women of America's armed forces – and for your families – this war has been one of the most extraordinary chapters of service in the history of our nation.

"You have endured tour after tour after tour of duty. You have known the dangers of combat and the lonely distance of loved ones. You have fought against tyranny and disorder.

"You have bled for your best friends and for unknown Iraqis. And you have borne an enormous burden for your fellow citizens, while extending a precious opportunity to the people of Iraq.

"Under tough circumstances, the men and women of the United States military have served with honour, and succeeded beyond any expectation. 

"Where we stand"

"Today, I have come to speak to you about how the war in Iraq will end.

"To understand where we need to go in Iraq, it is important for the American people to understand where we now stand. Thanks in great measure to your service, the situation in Iraq has improved.

"Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq's Security Forces, and through our partnership with Sunni Arabs.

"The capacity of Iraq's security forces has improved, and Iraq's leaders have taken steps toward political accommodation. 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. 

"But let there be no doubt: Iraq is not yet secure, and there will be difficult days ahead. Violence will continue to be a part of life in Iraq. Too many fundamental political questions about Iraq’s future remain unresolved.

"Too many Iraqis are still displaced or destitute. Declining oil revenues will put an added strain on a government that has had difficulty delivering basic services. Not all of Iraq’s neighbours are contributing to its security.

"Some are working at times to undermine it. And even as Iraq's government is on a surer footing, it is not yet a full partner – politically and economically – in the region, or with the international community.

"Renewed hope"

"In short, today there is a renewed cause for hope in Iraq, but that hope rests upon an emerging foundation.

"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 defence, 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.

"We have also taken into account the simple reality that America can no longer afford to see Iraq in isolation from other priorities: we face the challenge of refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan; of relieving the burden on our military; and of rebuilding our struggling economy – and these are challenges that we will meet.

"Today, I can announce that our review is complete, and that the United States will pursue a new strategy to end the war in Iraq through a transition to full Iraqi responsibility.

"This strategy is grounded in a clear and achievable goal shared by the Iraqi people and the American people: An Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant.

"To achieve that goal, we will work to promote an Iraqi government that is just, representative, and accountable, and that provides neither support nor safe-haven to terrorists.

"We will help Iraq build new ties of trade and commerce with the world. And we will forge a partnership with the people and government of Iraq that contributes to the peace and security of the region.

"What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals. We cannot rid Iraq of all who oppose America or sympathise with our adversaries. We cannot police Iraq's streets until they are completely safe, nor stay until Iraq's union is perfected.

"Better future"

"We cannot sustain indefinitely a commitment that has put a strain on our military, and will cost the American people nearly a trillion dollars.

"America's men and women in uniform have fought block by block, province by province, year after year, to give the Iraqis this chance to choose a better future. Now, we must ask the Iraqi people to seize it. 

"The first part of this strategy is therefore the responsible removal of our combat brigades from Iraq.

"As a candidate for president, I made clear my support for a timeline of 16 months to carry out this drawdown, while pledging to consult closely with our military commanders upon taking office to ensure that we preserve the gains we’ve made and protect our troops.

"Remove combat brigades"

"Those consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months.

"Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 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.

"Initially, this force will likely be made up of 35-50,000 US troops.

"Through this period of transition, we will carry out further redeployments. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

"We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honour that they have earned."

"Sustained diplomacy"

"As we responsibly remove our combat brigades, we will pursue the second part of our strategy: sustained diplomacy on behalf of a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq.

"The drawdown of our military should send a clear signal that Iraq's future is now its own responsibility.

"The long-term success of the Iraqi nation will depend upon decisions made by Iraq's leaders and the fortitude of the Iraqi people.

"Iraq is a sovereign country with legitimate institutions; America cannot – and should not – take their place. However, a strong political, diplomatic, and civilian effort on our part can advance progress and help lay a foundation for lasting peace and security.

Ambassador to Iraq

"This effort will be led by our new ambassador to Iraq – Chris Hill. From his time in the Peace Corps, to his work in Kosovo and Korea, Ambassador Hill has been tested, and he has shown the pragmatism and skill that we need right now.

"He will be supported by the courageous and capable work of so many American diplomats and aid workers who are serving in Iraq.

"Going forward, we can make a difference on several fronts. We will work with the United Nations to support national elections, while helping Iraqis improve local government.

"We can serve as an honest broker in pursuit of fair and durable agreements on issues that have divided Iraq's leaders.

"And just as we will support Iraq's security forces, we will help Iraqi institutions strengthen their capacity to protect the rule of law, confront corruption, and deliver basic services.

"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.

Obama speaks to Iraqis

"Now, before I go any further, I want to take a moment to speak directly to the people of Iraq.

"You are a great nation, rooted in the cradle of civilisation. You are joined together by enduring accomplishments, and a history that connects you as surely as the two rivers carved into your land.

"In years past, you have persevered through tyranny and terror; through personal insecurity and sectarian violence. And instead of giving in to the forces of disunion, you stepped back from a descent into civil war, and showed a proud resilience that deserves respect.

"Our nations have known difficult times together. But ours is a bond forged by shared bloodshed, and countless friendships among our people.

"We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.

"There are those who will try to prevent that future for Iraq – who will insist that Iraq's differences cannot be reconciled without more killing. They represent the forces that destroy nations and lead only to despair, and they will test our will in the months and years to come. America, too, has known these forces.

"We endured the pain of Civil War, and bitter divisions of region and race. But hostility and hatred are no match for justice; they offer no pathway to peace; and they must not stand between the people of Iraq and a future of reconciliation and hope.

"So to the Iraqi people, let me be clear about America's intentions. The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources. We respect your sovereignty and the tremendous sacrifices you have made for your country.

"We seek a full transition to Iraqi responsibility for the security of your country. And going forward, we can build a lasting relationship founded upon mutual interests and mutual respect as Iraq takes its rightful place in the community of nations.

"That leads me to the third part of our strategy – comprehensive American engagement across the region."

New security framework

"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 neighbours to establish productive and normalised 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. 

"And that is why we have named three of America's most accomplished diplomats – George Mitchell, Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke – to support Secretary Clinton and me as we carry forward this agenda. 

"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..."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies