WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office Tuesday to mark the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq and the transfer of security into the hands of Iraqi forces. “The American combat mission in Iraq has ended,” Obama said. “Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.”
Obama said the United States has removed 100,000 troops from Iraq since he took office.
“It marks a milestone that we have achieved in removing our combat troops,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday. “That is not to say that violence is going to end tomorrow.”
Obama promised troops in Fort Bliss, Texas on Tuesday that the Oval Office address “is not going to be a victory lap; it’s not going to be self-congratulatory. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
In the address, Obama thanked U.S. troops for their service. Since the Iraq war began in 2003, more than a million U.S. service members have been deployed, more than 30,000 have been injured, and more than 4,400 troops have been killed.
Obama said that a “transition force” of 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in the country to assist Iraqi security forces in the transition of Iraqi security from the hands of U.S. troops to their Iraqi counterparts as part of “Operation New Dawn.”
“We will be their ally, but the responsibility of charting the future of Iraq, first and foremost, belongs to the Iraqis,” Gibbs said.
In the address Tuesday night, Obama urged Iraq to set up a government to replace the caretaker government that has been in place since elections.
“I encourage Iraq’s leaders to move forward with a sense of urgency to form an inclusive government that is just, representative, and accountable to the Iraqi people,” Obama said.
Vice President Joe Biden is in Iraq meeting with Iraqi leaders this week to discuss steps toward forming a cohesive government.
At a transfer of command ceremony at Camp Victory in Baghdad on Wednesday, Biden urged Iraqi leaders to put national interests above their own.
“It’s important for Iraq to resolve the current political stalemate,” State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley said Monday, “But this is not something that we will impose on Iraq. We are confident that they’ll work through these politics and eventually arrive at a new government,” he said.
Obama said that the troop drawdown in Iraq will free up resources to go after al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Obama said nearly a dozen al-Qaida leaders and hundreds of extremists have been killed or captured in the past 19 months.
House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized Obama and leading Democrats in a YouTube video for opposing the January 2007 troop surge ordered by President Bush and then taking credit for it.
“The transition he is celebrating was only made possible by the implementation of the surge he opposed prior to his election as president,” Boehner said in a statement Monday, “With all due respect to them, our troops who have served so courageously in Iraq deserve the credit for the success of the surge and, along with the Iraqi people, the turnaround in Iraq,” he said.