WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- The U.S. combat role in Iraq is over, President Barack Obama told the nation Tuesday night, and it's time to focus on repairing the U.S. economy.
Speaking during an 18-minute, prime time national television address from the Oval Office, the president officially announced the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom and said "the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country." That, Obama said, fulfilled his campaign pledge made two years ago.
"Ending this war is not only in Iraq's interest -- it is in our own," he said. "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 have 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."
Obama called it a "remarkable chapter' in U.S. history but added "it is time to turn the page" and said it was his "central responsibility" to get the economy rolling again.
"Today, our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work," Obama said.
"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 jump-start 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."
Obama said the pullout of combat troops from Iraq -- where 50,000 troops remain for another 16 months as trainers and in support of Iraqi forces -- doesn't mean America is turning its back on the world.
"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," he said.
Obama gave credit to Iraqis for taking over their own security and working to forge a democratic government in the face of ongoing terrorist activities by insurgents.
The president also lauded America's troops.
"At every turn, America's men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve," he said. "As commander in chief, I am proud of their service. Like all Americans, I am awed by their sacrifice, and by the sacrifices of their families."
Obama said the draw down in Iraq will help bolster U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, where he said troops are "fighting to break the Taliban's momentum" and give Afghans time to build their capacity to fend for themselves. Ultimately, he said, Afghans must be responsible for their own security, though the timing of the transition "will be determined by conditions on the ground."