Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Obama Declares an End to Combat Mission in Iraq (September 1, 2010)
In the marble rotunda of Al Faw Palace, one of the lavish former homes of Saddam Hussein that serves as the American military headquarters in Baghdad, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. Ray Odierno sounded the same theme in a made-for-television ceremony to inaugurate Operation New Dawn, as the post-combat phase has been named. The United States, they said, was moving toward an exit after seven years of war but would not abandon the country.
“We stood together in difficult times, we fought together, we laughed together and sometimes died together,” said General Odierno, who formally ended four years as the top American commander in Iraq during the ceremony. He said the change in mission, which still leaves 50,000 American troops in the country, “in no way signals the end of our commitment to the people of Iraq.”
The ceremony, attended by hundreds of American and Iraqi military commanders under United States and Iraqi flags hung from the rotunda’s black marble columns, at times resembled a high school reunion as officers who served multiple deployments in Iraq greeted one another before the formalities began.
The setting was rich in symbolism: Some seven years and five months ago, American forces entered the decrepit palace during the invasion of Baghdad to find an enormous crater from an American bomb, no plumbing or electricity, and goats wandering the rooms.
Despite the pageantry of the ceremony, held the day after President Obama declared combat operations at an end in a prime-time address from the Oval Office, military officials said they remained concerned about the bloodshed in Iraq, which has been sharply reduced from dark days before a 2007 increase in American forces but is still not under control.
Recent statistics gathered by the United States military show that in the first 17 days of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that began in August, there was an increase in casualties when compared with a similar period during Ramadan in 2009. Specifically, civilian casualties had increased more than 55 percent, Iraqi security force casualties were up more than 35 percent and American casualties had risen 25 percent.
There has also been a major increase in rocket and mortar attacks in the fortified Green Zone and at the Baghdad airport, according to Gen. Ralph A. Baker, the deputy commander of American forces in central Iraq. General Baker, who said there had been about 60 such attacks in the last two months compared with “two or three” in the preceeding months, blamed a “confluence” of factors, including frustration over electricity, the return of Iranian-trained militants and Iraq’s failure to produce a post-election government, which the insurgents had sought to exploit.
The goal of the insurgents, he said, is to “further erode confidence” in the Iraqi government and Iraqi forces “by trying to portray them as weak.”
Both Mr. Biden and Mr. Gates expressed concern about the failure of the Iraqis to form a government six months after elections, although they sought to cast the stalemate in a positive light. “Politics has broken out in Iraq,” Mr. Biden said in his remarks from the podium. But he added that the Iraqis had courageously voted in large numbers, and therefore “they expect a government that reflects the results of the votes they cast.”
Mr. Gates, who has taken a markedly anti-triumphal tone during the clamor surrounding the end of combat, said earlier on Wednesday that history had still to judge whether America’s involvement in the seven-year-old war was worth the cost.
In subdued and reflective comments on Wednesday morning to reporters in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar Province and the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war, Mr. Gates said that while American servicemen and women “have accomplished something really quite extraordinary here, how it all weighs in the balance over time I think remains to be seen.”
Asked directly if the war had been worth it, Mr. Gates replied, “It really requires a historian’s perspective in terms of what happens here in the long run.”
-Article taken from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/02/world/middleeast/02iraq.html