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Monthly Archives: September 2010

No travel advisory for Indonesia at this stage, says M`sian PM Najib

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Najib Razak

September 02, 2010

Putrajaya (ANTARA News/Bernama) – The government does not plan to issue an advisory against travel to Indonesia at this stage, despite the latest incident in West Kalimantan on Sunday, said Najib Razak.

The prime minister said he needed to consult Wisma Putra (Foreign Ministry) before issuing a travel advisory because it was a serious matter which involved the interests of both countries.

“(Issuing) a travel advisory is a serious matter because we have so much interests…government, business and personal relations with Indonesia.

“So, we need to consider a lot of things if we were to make such a decision.
At this stage, we are not issuing a travel advisory unless the situation worsens,” he said at his office here Wednesday.

Najib was speaking to reporters after receiving a hand-made Independence Day message book from pupils of Sekolah Bukit Damansara, which was also signed by schoolchildren from three schools in Singapore.

Also present was Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also Education Minister.

On Sunday, the home of a 60-year-old Malaysian engineer at an oil palm plantation in Ketapang, West Kalimantan, was pelted with stones in a “sweeping” (hunt for Malaysians) incident.

It was reported that in the 2pm incident, a group of five men wearing headbands with “Ganyang Malaysia” (Crush Malaysia) written on them, had also hurled verbal insults against Malaysia.

Asked what would it take for the government to issue a travel advisory, Najib said there was no hard and fast rule about it.

“(But) we must only issue a travel advisory when the situation warrants it…when lives are in danger or when we have information that something very serious is going to happen,” he said.

On the upcoming meeting between Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and his Indonesian counterpart Dr Marty Natalegawa in Kota Kinabalu on Sept 6 to discuss the two countries` territorial waters, Najib hoped the issues would be resolved amicably and not prolong.

“We should not invite reactions such as extreme demonstrations like what happened recently.

“It`s difficult to avoid problems between the two neighbouring countries altogether, especially when we have expansive territorial waters, the issue of which has not been fully resolved.

“Meanwhile, of course, various problems would arise from time to time.

“But we have to make a stand that whenever there is an incident, let us resolve the issue involved and there should be no interference by other parties to worsen the situation,” Najib said.

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Independent Wilkie boosts Australia PM Julia Gillard

Mr Wilkie said he believed Labor would deliver more stable government

September 02, 2010

(KATAKAMI / BBC)  —  One of four key independent lawmakers has pledged support for Prime Minister Julia Gillard, leaving her just two seats short of the majority needed to form the next Australian government.

Andrew Wilkie, who represents Denison in Tasmania, said Ms Gillard’s Labor party was most likely to deliver stable government.

Three other independents have yet to decide who to back.

They have been in talks with both Ms Gillard and her rival, Tony Abbott.

Almost two weeks after the 21 August elections, neither the ruling Labor party nor the Liberal-led coalition has managed to form a government.

After Mr Wilkie’s decision Labor can now count on support from 74 of the 76 seats needed, with the coalition narrowly behind on 73.

“I have judged that it is the Australian Labor Party that best meets my criteria that the next government must be stable, must be competent and must be ethical,” Mr Wilkie told journalists.

He said Ms Gillard had agreed to a number of requests, including funding for the Royal Hobart Hospital and restrictions on poker machines, ABC news reported.

The three independents who remain undecided, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter, are continuing to hold talks with both blocs.

They have asked the coalition to explain what the Treasury says is a US$9.6bn (£6.2bn) hole in its election manifesto costings.

Mr Wilkie urged them to act quickly.

“I hope that this sends a signal to the other three independents and they move as soon as they can to make their decisions, and to decide to support a party or parties in a way that will bring stability to the parliament,” he said.

Photostream : Russian President Dmitry Medvedev attended the opening of the first Presidential Cadet Academy

Visiting the first Presidential Cadet Academy. Dmitry Medvedev wrote in the guests’ book: “I wish all students and teachers at the Orenburg Presidential Cadet Academy successful studies, good health and happiness. May you have a good road ahead.”September 1, 2010  (Photo : The Presidential Press & Information KREMLIN.RU)

September 01, 2010

(KATAKAMI / KREMLIN.RU)  — As Russia marks the start of the new school year with Knowledge Day, Dmitry Medvedev attended the opening of the first Presidential Cadet Academy

The President gave a lesson about peace in one class, visited the teaching and residential buildings, and talked with teachers and cadets’ parents.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mr Medvedev congratulated the students and staff on the start of the new school year and said that similar academies would be opened in all of the federal districts over the coming years.

The Orenburg Presidential Cadet Academy was launched by presidential order at the site of the former Orenburg Higher Air Defence School and is under the Defence Ministry’s jurisdiction. The academy has a total of 359 students aged 10 and up, who will go through a seven-year programme. The cadets will study two foreign languages, subjects related to modern technology, and will have an intensive physical training.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) with Russian cadets at the opening of the first Presidential Cadet School in Orenburg, about 1300 kilometers (800 miles) southeast of Moscow on the Day of Knowledge, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010. (Photo : The Presidential Press & Information KREMLIN.RU)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, center walks with Russian cadets at the opening of the first Presidential Cadet School in Orenburg, about 1300 kilometers (800 miles) southeast of Moscow on the Day of Knowledge, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010. (Photo : The Presidential Press & Information KREMLIN.RU)

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev (front) addresses pupils as he visits the presidential cadet school in the city of Orenburg, September 1, 2010. (Photo : The Presidential Press & Information KREMLIN.RU)

Visiting the first Presidential Cadet Academy.September 1, 2010  (Photo : The Presidential Press & Information KREMLIN.RU)

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev (2nd R) holds a camera at a photo laboratory as he visits the presidential cadet school in the city of Orenburg, September 1, 2010. (Photo : The Presidential Press & Information KREMLIN.RU)

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev (2nd R) holds a camera at a photo laboratory as he visits the presidential cadet school in the city of Orenburg, September 1, 2010.  (Photo : The Presidential Press & Information KREMLIN.RU)

Talking with teachers and cadets’ parents. (Photo : The Presidential Press & Information KREMLIN.RU)

U.S. Formally Begins a New Era in Iraq

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates with American soldiers in Ramadi on Wednesday (9/1/ 2010). Photo : The New York Times

September01, 2010

BAGHDAD  (KATAKAMI / NYT) — The United States began a fragile new era in its turbulent history with Iraq on Wednesday as American political and military leaders marked the official end of combat operations but acknowledged that a difficult milestone, the creation of a new coalition Iraqi government, was not yet in reach.

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.”

He ended his remarks with his military sign-off. “Lion 6 — Out,” he said.

The ceremony, attended by hundreds of American and Iraqi military commanders under United States and Iraqi flags hung between 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 a substantial increase in casualties when compared with a similar period during Ramadan in 2009.

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 preceding 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 have 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 General Odierno called on Iraq to form a government nearly six months after elections, although Mr. Biden sought to cast the stalemate in a positive light. “Politics has broken out in Iraq,” he 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.”

The war, he added, “will always be clouded by how it began” — that is, he said, the premise on which it was justified, Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, which did not exist. “This is one of the reasons that this war remains so controversial at home,” he said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Gates said he remained hopeful that Iraq could work out its problems in the long run, including its failure to form a coalition government. “These guys are politicking, they’re not shooting at each other,” he said. “And the efforts of Al Qaeda to reignite the sectarian violence we saw in 2006 and 2007 have not been successful. So I guess I would have to say I’m optimistic that these guys will get a coalition government and that they will continue to make progress.”

Nonetheless, when the Obama administration drew up the plan to reduce American forces to 50,000 troops by the end of August 2010, military planners assumed that Iraq would have a newly elected and largely representative government in place. And although Mr. Obama’s goals for Iraq are less far-reaching than those of President George W. Bush — who envisioned a democratic Iraq that would act like a catalytic agent for political change in the Middle East — the current administration’s goals are not immodest and include an Iraq government that, as President Obama said Wednesday night, is “just, representative and accountable to the Iraqi people.”

In his speech on Wednesday night, Mr. Obama noted that the last combat brigade had left Iraq on Aug. 19 without a shot being fired. What Mr. Obama did not say was that in the days since, one American soldier was killed near Basra when his unit was attacked by “indirect fire,” the military’s term for mortar or rocket fire, and at least four American troops in Iraq have been wounded.

Despite the official end of the combat mission, officials say, fighting will continue. American Special Operations Forces will continue to hunt for insurgents along with Iraqi units—a mission the Pentagon calls “partnered counterterrorism.”

The six United States “advise and assist” brigades that are staying behind to train Iraqi forces, escort American civilian advisers and protect United Nations officials have all of the weapons and military capabilities of a traditional combat unit. There is every indication that attacks by insurgents and Iranian-backed militias against American troops will continue, and the advisory brigades will have the right to defend themselves, with Iraqi troops if they are ready and willing, or by themselves if they must.

“Iraq can still be a dangerous place at certain places for very short periods,” Col. Malcolm B. Frost, the commander of an advisory brigade in Diyala, wrote in a note to the soldiers’ families. “The rules of engagement have not changed. We will move around Iraq fully protected in armored Strykers and other armored vehicles, wearing full body armor, and fully loaded with ammunition to deal with the enemy if/when they raise their head in anger against us.”

Colonel Frost’s brigade has the same combat and support soldiers as a traditional combat brigade but has been augmented with 51 advisers. Since arriving in Iraq in July for its advisory mission, two of the brigade’s soldiers have been killed. Thirteen were wounded but were able to quickly return to duty.  (*)

Julia Gillard wins Greens support in govt bid

Photo : Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks at a press conference in Canberra, Australia, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010. A Greens lawmaker agreed Wednesday to help the center-left Labor Party form a minority Australian government in a climate-focused alliance while other kingmaker legislators said they are close to deciding whether to back Labor or a conservative coalition. (Getty Images)

September 01, 2010

(KATAKAMI / INDIAN EXPRESS) — Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard forged an alliance with the Greens party on Wednesday to take her party closer to forming a government, but vowed not to allow the deal to change her plans for a tax on miners’ profits.  

Our election commitments are our election commitments, the Labor Party leader told a news conference. In the days since the election I’ve been asked will you change the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, and the answer of course is no.

Labor’s widely expected agreement with the influential Greens party gives Gillard 73 seats in the 150-member lower house, bringing her level with the oppposition conservative coalition but still three short of the majority required to rule.

A jostle for the support of four independent lawmakers who emerged from Aug. 21’s inconclusive election holding the balance of power could still drag into early next week.

US deaths in Afghanistan hit record in 2010

In all, 1,270 US troops have lost their lives since the conflict began with the US-led invasion of Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001. — Photo by AP

September 01, 2010

KABUL (KATAKAMI / DAWN.COM) —  The number of US soldiers killed in the Afghan war in 2010 is the highest annual toll since the conflict began almost nine years ago, according to an AFP count Wednesday.

A total of 323 US soldiers have been killed in the Afghan war this year, compared to 317 for all of 2009, according to a count by AFP based on the independent icasualties.org website.

Foreign forces suffered a grim spike in deaths last month as the Taliban insurgency intensified, with Nato confirming on Wednesday that a sixth US soldier was killed on one of the bloodiest days this year.

At 490, the overall death toll for foreign troops for the first eight months of the year is rapidly closing in the number registered in all of 2009, which at 521 was a record since the start of the war in late 2001.

A total of 80 international soldiers died in the Afghan war last month, 56 of them Americans.

In all, 1,270 US troops have lost their lives since the conflict began with the US-led invasion of Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday warned that the United States faced a “very tough fight” in Afghanistan, with more casualties and “heartbreak” to come.

“We obviously still have a very tough fight in Afghanistan,” Obama told troops in Texas as the United States marked the formal end of combat operations in Iraq.

“We have seen casualties go up because we are taking the fight to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” Obama said. “It is going to be a tough slog.”

Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) confirmed that a sixth US soldier died on Tuesday, killed in an insurgent attack in the south of the country.

This followed the previously announced deaths on Tuesday of another five US soldiers, four of them killed in a roadside bomb attack.

Twenty-five Americans have died since Friday.

Military leaders say the spike in deaths reflects the injection of additional troops into the Afghan theatre, which leads to a higher number of battlefield engagements with Taliban-led insurgents.

US General David Petraeus, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said Tuesday that deployments would reach their full strength of 150,000 within days.

On Monday, eight Nato troops — seven Americans and an Estonian — were killed in bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan.

Icasualties.org is constantly updating its figures as soldiers wounded in battle die of their injuries after they have been evacuated from Afghanistan, sometimes days or weeks later.

Australian Greens back PM Julia Gillard as coalition talks progress

Greens Party leader Bob Brown speaks to the media in Melbourne in August 2010. Brown declared his support for Prime Minister Julia Gillard as tortuous negotiations to form a minority government inched forward.

September 01, 2010

 

(KATAKAMI / FRANCE 24 / AFP ) – Australia’s only Greens MP Wednesday declared his support for Prime Minister Julia Gillard as tortuous negotiations to form a minority government inched forward.

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown said MP Adam Bandt would back Gillard’s Labor party in parliament after she offered to set up a climate change committee, invest in dental care and study a high-speed east-coast rail link.

“We have made a decision here,” Brown told a press conference. “We are the first people in this balance of power in both houses to make a decision.

“We think that will help lead to others making a decision.”

The move was widely expected after the parties agreed to swap preferences votes during August 21 polls, and as the alternative Liberal/National coalition is led by Tony Abbott, who doubts mankind’s influence on climate change.

Bandt’s endorsement gives Labor 72 seats in the 150-seat lower house, still short of the 76 needed for a majority, with Abbott’s centre-right coalition on 73, according to the official tally.

Four independents have yet to declare support for either side while one seat remains in doubt as postal and absentee votes are counted, after cliff-hanger elections returned the first hung parliament since 1940.

Seat numbers remain volatile as tallying continues in the extremely close contest, with candidates in some marginal seats separated by just a few hundred votes.

About 83 percent of ballots have been counted, and the definitive result is not due before the end of this week.

Disillusioned voters swung sharply away from Labor and towards the Greens, who enjoyed a record vote share, after the government hesitated to act on climate change and sacked elected prime minister Kevin Rudd in June.

The deadlock has been largely shrugged off by financial markets but experts warn protracted uncertainty could unsettle business confidence and harm Australia’s reputation for stability.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard expresses condolences over Papua New Guinea crash

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard

September 01, 2010

(KATAKAMI / DAILY TELEGRAPH) — PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has expressed her condolences over the crash of an aircraft in PNG which killed three Australians.

Ms Gillard said that crash had also claimed the life of a New Zealand man while a New Zealander who is an Australian resident survived.

“On behalf of the Government can I offer my condolences to the families of the three Australians that would be grieving the loss of a loved one today,” she said.

“Can I also offer our condolences to the New Zealand family that has lost a loved one. And can I wish a speedy recovery and a return to good health to the New Zealand citizen, Australian resident who has been injured.”

The Cessna Citation aircraft overshot the runway on Misima Island andburst into flames.

Airline boss Les Wright and maritime pilot Chris Hart believed dead in PNG plane crash

Les Wright

September 01, 2010

(KATAKAMI / DAILY TELEGRAPH)  — AVIATION identity Les Wright and maritime pilot Chris Hart have been identified as two of three Australians killed in a plane crash in Papua New Guinea yesterday.

Father of three Chris Hart was a passenger on board the Trans Air plane which slid off a wet runway on Milne Bay Province’s Misima Island and burst into flames on Tuesday afternoon.

The 61-year-old Sydney man was on his way to guide a ship from Misima, about 500km southeast of Port Moresby, through the Great Barrier Reef.

Two other Australians – one believed to be Trans Air owner Les Wright and the other a worker for medivac company International SOS – and a New Zealander also died.

Don Mclay, from Australian Reef Pilots, told reporters in Brisbane Captain Hart was a “supreme professional” and mentor for younger boat pilots.

The former British navy submariner worked for cruise ship firm P&O, where he met his wife Hilary.

Chris Hart

After a secondment to the Maritime Services Board in Sydney, Capt Hart joined Howard Smith and returned to sea in the firm’s merchant shipping division.

He became a coastal pilot with Australian Reef Pilots in 1997.

Mr Mclay said Capt Hart took great pride in his two daughters and son.

“While his duties meant he was frequently away from home he made sure he always had quality time with them,” Mr Mclay said.

“We have lost a respected friend and colleague. We will always remember Chris’ quirky sense of humour, his passion as a chef and his insatiable love for country and western music.”

Messages on pilot blog sites have confirmed that members of the Trans Air company, the owner of the Cessna Citation plane, were onboard when it crashed on Misima Island – 500km south-east of Port Moresby.

The Trans Air plane slid off a wet runway about 4.30pm yesterday killing four men. The pilot is in hospital with serious injuries.

An International SOS spokesman said the aviation company was speaking to family and that they had ‘lost a staff member’.

Sources have told local journalists that Les Wright “was also on board the plane”.

The plane that crashed was used by Mr Wright as a charter and medivac aircraft.

His previous Australian company Transair, which has gone into liquidation, operated the plane that crashed at Lockhart River in North Queensland in 2005, killing 15 people.

In 2007, Coroner Michael Barnes blamed pilot Brett Hotchin and airline Transair for the Lockhart crash.

Mr Wright was chief pilot at the time. He later moved to PNG to start a new company.

A total of three Australians and one New Zealander died in the plane crash.

The pilot, a New Zealand citizen who lives in Australia, is recovering in hospital.

Independents should release costings: PM Julia Gillard

Prime Minister Julia Gillard

September 01, 2010

(KATAKAMI / SMH.COM.AU)  —  Prime Minister Julia Gillard will ask independents Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott to release Labor’s and the coalition’s policy costings publicly.

Ms Gillard said the three MPs were being briefed by Treasury and the finance department on the government’s and opposition’s policy costings as she spoke on Wednesday.

“At the end of those briefings, it is my intention to ask the independents if the costings of government policies prepared at their request … can be released publicly,” she told reporters in Canberra.

“We want to be transparent, we believe those costings should be released publicly.”

Ms Gillard called on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to allow the public to see the coalition’s policy costings too.

The prime minister also welcomed the deal she signed earlier with the Australian Greens, which secures their support for a Labor minority government.

“I think the fact that we were able to reach that agreement shows that we have worked in good faith and held good discussions,” she said.

In negotiating changes to the caretaker conventions that allowed the independents to have their Treasury briefings, Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott’s chief-of-staff had reserved the right for the opposition to have later briefings itself.

The opposition would get costings support, “should the opposition require additional or revised policies based on negotiations with the independents”, she said.

“Whatever Mr Abbott has said today in this correspondence is recognising the reality of the circumstances after the election,” she said.

Ms Gillard said Labor was not in coalition with the Greens.

“Mr (Adam) Bandt in the House of Representatives and the Greens in the Senate will make up their mind on propositions before the parliament,” she said.

“(They will) vote in accordance with their party’s policies, their conscience, what Mr Bandt considers to be in the best interests of his electorate.”

Ms Gillard said she hoped to secure written agreements of support from Mr Katter, Mr Windsor, Mr Oakeshott and Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie and WA Nationals MP Tony Crook.

“Agreements in writing are important to transparency and they are important to certainty,” she said.

“So it is my intention to seek further agreements in writing.”

Ms Gillard on Tuesday said she gave the rural independents a paper outlining Labor’s proposed parliamentary reforms.

The prime minister didn’t intend for it to be released publicly but said the MPs could do so if they wished.

“We didn’t in that process indicate to them that it was our intention to release it publicly,” she said.

“I’m happy for it to be but we did give it to them for their own uses and own purposes.”

President Obama’s address to the nation on the End of Combat Operations in Iraq

US President Barack Obama reads his speech to photographers after delivering an address to the nation on the end of combat operations in Iraq from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on August 31, 2010. (Getty Images)

August 31, 2010

(KATAKAMI / WHITE HOUSE.GOV)  —  THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening.  Tonight, I’d like to talk to you about the end of our combat mission in Iraq, the ongoing security challenges we face, and the need to rebuild our nation here at home. 

I know this historic moment comes at a time of great uncertainty for many Americans.  We’ve now been through nearly a decade of war.  We’ve endured a long and painful recession.  And sometimes in the midst of these storms, the future that we’re trying to build for our nation — a future of lasting peace and long-term prosperity — may seem beyond our reach.

But this milestone should serve as a reminder to all Americans that the future is ours to shape if we move forward with confidence and commitment.  It should also serve as a message to the world that the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century.

From this desk, seven and a half years ago, President Bush announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq.  Much has changed since that night.  A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency.  Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart.  Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded.  Our relations abroad were strained.  Our unity at home was tested.

These are the rough waters encountered during the course of one of America’s longest wars.  Yet there has been one constant amidst these shifting tides.  At every turn, America’s men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve.  As Commander-in-Chief, I am incredibly proud of their service.  And like all Americans, I’m awed by their sacrifice, and by the sacrifices of their families.

The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given.  They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people.  Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future.  They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people, trained Iraqi Security Forces, and took out terrorist leaders.  Because of our troops and civilians — and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people — Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.

So tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended.  Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.

This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office.  Last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our efforts to strengthen Iraq’s Security Forces and support its government and people.

That’s what we’ve done.  We’ve removed nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq.  We’ve closed or transferred to the Iraqis hundreds of bases.  And we have moved millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq.

This completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own security.  U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq’s cities last summer, and Iraqi forces have moved into the lead with considerable skill and commitment to their fellow citizens.  Even as Iraq continues to suffer terrorist attacks, security incidents have been near the lowest on record since the war began.  And Iraqi forces have taken the fight to al Qaeda, removing much of its leadership in Iraqi-led operations.

This year also saw Iraq hold credible elections that drew a strong turnout.  A caretaker administration is in place as Iraqis form a government based on the results of that election.  Tonight, 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.  And when that government is in place, there should be no doubt:  The Iraqi people will have a strong partner in the United States.  Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.

Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission:  advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces, supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counterterrorism missions, and protecting our civilians.  Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.  As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians — diplomats, aid workers, and advisors — are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world.  That’s a message that Vice President Biden is delivering to the Iraqi people through his visit there today.

This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq — one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.  Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission.  Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife.  But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals.  Iraqis are a proud people.  They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction.  They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets.  Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders.  What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.

Ending this war is not only in Iraq’s interest — it’s in our own.  The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people.  We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home.  We’ve persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people — a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization.  Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility.  Now, it’s time to turn the page.

As we do, I’m mindful that the Iraq war has been a contentious issue at home.  Here, too, it’s time to turn the page.  This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush.  It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset.  Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.  As I’ve said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it.  And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hopes for Iraqis’ future.

The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead.  And no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al Qaeda.

Americans across the political spectrum supported the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11.  Now, as we approach our 10th year of combat in Afghanistan, there are those who are understandably asking tough questions about our mission there.  But we must never lose sight of what’s at stake.  As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We will disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists.  And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense.  In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al Qaeda leaders — and hundreds of al Qaeda’s extremist allies — have been killed or captured around the world.

Within Afghanistan, I’ve ordered the deployment of additional troops who — under the command of General David Petraeus — are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. 
As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future.  But, as was the case in Iraq, we can’t do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves.  That’s why we’re training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems.  And next August, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility.  The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure.  But make no mistake:  This transition will begin — because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.

Indeed, one of the lessons of our effort in Iraq is that American influence around the world is not a function of military force alone.  We must use all elements of our power — including our diplomacy, our economic strength, and the power of America’s example — to secure our interests and stand by our allies.  And we must project a vision of the future that’s based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes — a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world,
but also the limitless possibilities of our time.

Today, old adversaries are at peace, and emerging democracies are potential partners.  New markets for our goods stretch from Asia to the Americas.  A new push for peace in the Middle East will begin here tomorrow.  Billions of young people want to move beyond the shackles of poverty and conflict.  As the leader of the free world, America will do more than just defeat on the battlefield those who offer hatred and destruction — we will also lead among those who are willing to work together to expand freedom and opportunity for all people.

Now, that effort must begin within our own borders.  Throughout our history, America has been willing to bear the burden of promoting liberty and human dignity overseas, understanding its links to our own liberty and security.  But we have also understood that our nation’s strength and influence abroad must be firmly anchored in our prosperity at home.  And the bedrock of that prosperity must be a growing middle class.

Unfortunately, over the last decade, we’ve not done what’s necessary to shore up the foundations of our own prosperity.  We spent a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas.  This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits.  For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform.  As a result, too many middle-class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk.

And so at this moment, as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy, and grit, and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad.  They have met every test that they faced.  Now, it’s our turn.  Now, it’s our responsibility to honor them by coming together, all of us, and working to secure the dream that so many generations have fought for — the dream that a better life awaits anyone who is willing to work for it and reach for it.

Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work.  To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy.  We must jumpstart industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil.  We must unleash the innovation that allows new products to roll off our assembly lines, and nurture the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs.  This will be difficult.  But in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as President.

Part of that responsibility is making sure that we honor our commitments to those who have served our country with such valor.  As long as I am President, we will maintain the finest fighting force that the world has ever known, and we will do whatever it takes to serve our veterans as well as they have served us.  This is a sacred trust.  That’s why we’ve already made one of the largest increases in funding for veterans in decades.  We’re treating the signature wounds of today’s wars — post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury — while providing the health care and benefits that all of our veterans have earned.  And we’re funding a Post-9/11 GI Bill that helps our veterans and their families pursue the dream of a college education.  Just as the GI Bill helped those who fought World War II — including my grandfather — become the backbone of our middle class, so today’s servicemen and women must have the chance to apply their gifts to expand the American economy.  Because part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who have fought it.

Two weeks ago, America’s final combat brigade in Iraq — the Army’s Fourth Stryker Brigade — journeyed home in the pre-dawn darkness.  Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of vehicles made the trip from Baghdad, the last of them passing into Kuwait in the early morning hours.  Over seven years before, American troops and coalition partners had fought their way across similar highways, but this time no shots were fired.  It was just a convoy of brave Americans, making their way home.

Of course, the soldiers left much behind.  Some were teenagers when the war began.  Many have served multiple tours of duty, far from families who bore a heroic burden of their own, enduring the absence of a husband’s embrace or a mother’s kiss.  Most painfully, since the war began, 55 members of the Fourth Stryker Brigade made the ultimate sacrifice — part of over 4,400 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq.  As one staff sergeant said, “I know that to my brothers in arms who fought and died, this day would probably mean a lot.”

Those Americans gave their lives for the values that have lived in the hearts of our people for over two centuries.  Along with nearly 1.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq, they fought in a faraway place for people they never knew.  They stared into the darkest of human creations — war — and helped the Iraqi people seek the light of peace.

In an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners and the strength of our own nation.  Every American who serves joins an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar — Americans who have fought to see that the lives of our children are better than our own.  Our troops are the steel in our ship of state.  And though our nation may be travelling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true, and that beyond the pre-dawn darkness, better days lie ahead.

Thank you.  May God bless you.  And may God bless the United States of America, and all who serve her. 

(MS)