WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Barack Obama vowed yesterday to pull all U.S. troops from Iraq this year, symbolically ending the war but dashing U.S. hopes of leaving a few thousand troops to buttress a still shaky Iraq and offset neighboring Iran’s influence.
After months of negotiations with officials in Baghdad failed to reach an agreement to keep possibly thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq as trainers, Obama announced he would stick to plans to pull out the remaining force of 40,000 by year’s end.
“After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” Obama told reporters.
The announcement was a milestone more than 8 1/2 years after the Bush administration led the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein based on warnings of weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist.
Obama made his announcement after a video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He said the two leaders agreed to stick to an earlier arrangement to pull the remaining U.S. troops by year’s end.
The prospect of extending the troop presence was very sensitive for Iraq’s fractured political elite.
Maliki, heading a tenuous coalition including politicians vehemently opposed to foreign troops, eventually advocated a training presence but rejected any legal immunity for U.S. soldiers. Those terms were deemed unacceptable in Washington.
Obama, eyeing a 2012 re-election campaign likely to be fought over his handling of the U.S. economy, is looking to wind down a decade of war in the Muslim world that did lasting damage to the U.S. image worldwide and stretched its military and budget to the brink.
In Iraq, where the U.S. force peaked at about 190,000 during the height of President George W. Bush’s troop surge in 2007, almost 4,500 U.S. soldiers have died and the war has cost U.S. taxpayers over $700 billion in military spending alone.