US to pull out of Iraq after nearly 9 years of war

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.

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