As combat mission ends, Obama hails sacrifices in Iraq

President Obama, who was largely propelled into the national spotlight by his opposition to the Iraq war, hailed the sacrifices of troops who served there as the U.S. prepares to end its combat mission in the country at the end of August.

In a speech to the Disabled American Veterans convention in Atlanta, the president will repeat his campaign pledge to end the war in Iraq, but according to speech excerpts, will not mention the delayed timeline from his campaign.

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Obama announced in February 2009, just about a month after he was sworn in to office, a new policy ending the U.S. combat mission by Aug. 31, 2010, and transitioning to a support role training Iraqi security forces.

"And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised, on schedule," Obama will say Monday, according to the remarks released by the White House.

During the campaign, Obama pledged to end U.S. combat operations within 16 months of taking office, but the president also said he would heed the advice of commanders on the ground when deciding when to withdraw troops.

“Let me say this as plainly as I can: By Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," Obama said in a speech at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in February 2009.

Despite the occasion, Obama will warn in his comments Monday that "terrorists" are still trying to "derail Iraq's progress" and that the mission U.S. troops are transitioning to will still come with casualties.

About 50,000 U.S. troops will stay in Iraq to train Iraqi security forces, joining Iraqis in counterterrorism missions and protecting U.S. civilian interests until the end of 2012, when all U.S. troops are supposed to leave the country.

"These are dangerous tasks," Obama will warn, according to the excerpts. "And there are still those with bombs and bullets who will try to stop Iraq’s progress.  The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq."

Still, Obama will say, "make no mistake, our commitment in Iraq is changing — from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats."  

Obama, a state senator from Illinois when the war started in 2003, jumped onto the national stage with his vocal opposition to the pre-emptive war George W. Bush launched, and he acknowledged the "vigorous debates about the Iraq war."

In a 2002 speech, a then-unknown Obama railed against the possibility of war, calling pre-emptive action in Iraq "dumb" and "rash."

"What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war," Obama said at the time. "What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne."

But with the war nearing an end, Obama, eight years later, is toning down the anti-war rhetoric considerably.

"There are patriots who supported going to war, and patriots who opposed it," Obama will say. "But there has never been any daylight between us when it comes to supporting the more than 1 million Americans in uniform who have served in Iraq — far more than any conflict since Vietnam."

In marking the transition, Obama called for Americans to honor the sacrifices of the troops who served in the controversial war.

"While our country has sometimes been divided, they have fought together as one," Obama will say. "While other individuals and institutions have shirked responsibility, they have welcomed it. And while it is easy to be daunted by overwhelming challenges, the generation that has served in Iraq has overcome every test before them.”