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Obama ready to set out Iraq withdrawal plan

The biggest constraint Obama faces on Iraq is an agreement between Baghdad and Washington signed before he took office, which requires that all US forces depart the country by the end of 2011. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 25, 2009
President Barack Obama is to announce his timeline for withdrawing US troops from Iraq on Friday, and is leaning towards a 19-month pullout rather than the 16-month target he backed when campaigning, officials said.

After weeks of discussions with top military commanders, Obama has apparently agreed to a slightly slower pace for drawing down the 142,000 American troops stationed in Iraq, an official told AFP.

"It appears he's leaning to the 19-month option," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I think that's the way it's going."

But he added there was still "no final decision."

Obama, an early opponent of the war, was to reveal his plans for Iraq during a visit on Friday to a Marine Corps base at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, another administration official said.

"He is going to thank the Marines and their families for the incredible sacrifices they have made and outline his plan for moving forward in Iraq," the official said.

Vice President Joseph Biden said earlier that Obama would speak in detail about Iraq and that "the American public will understand exactly what we're doing and I think they'll be pleased."

"We're keeping a campaign commitment," he told NBC television.

Military officers presented Obama with three options for the withdrawal, with deadlines of 16 months, 19 months and 23 months, officials said.

The risks and advantages of each scenario were set out to the president, who faces competing demands from the wars in Iraq, where conditions have improved, and Afghanistan -- where violence has spiked.

Military commanders in each country have argued for more troops and resources, with officers in Iraq pressing for a slower withdrawal and a larger residual force as insurance.

The 19-month option would be a compromise of sorts between the longer 23-month option advocated by some military commanders on the ground, and the 16-month option that had worried some military officials.

But the biggest constraint Obama faces on Iraq is an agreement between Baghdad and Washington signed before he took office, which requires that all US forces depart the country by the end of 2011.

Any change to that deal would require negotiations with the Baghdad government in that country's fraught political climate.

During the campaign, Obama said he would maintain a residual force on the ground to train Iraq forces, fight extremists and protect US assets.

Obama has made clear he inherited the war in Iraq from his predecessor George W. Bush, but he is keen to ensure that a withdrawal does not undermine hard-won gains in the strategic, oil-rich country that neighbors Iran.

Although the 19-month option would be a little slower than his campaign pledge, Obama would still put an end to a war nearing its sixth anniversary that has profoundly divided the American public.

The war has cost hundreds of billions of dollars and over 4,200 American lives.

With Iraq fading as a concern as the country faces its worst recession in decades, 61 percent of Americans last month said they thought the war was not worth its cost, an ABC News-Washington Post poll found.

Polls also show that most Americans back Obama's argument that US troops can best be used to fight the war in Afghanistan, which Obama has called "the central front" in the war on terror.

The Iraq drawdown is expected to allow more US troops to be deployed to Afghanistan, where Obama has recently authorized an increase of 17,000 troops to add to the 36,000-strong US force there.

Administration officials have also indicated that a withdrawal from Iraq would help toward halving the trillion-dollar-plus US budget deficit by the end of Obama's first term in 2013.

In an address to Congress late Tuesday, Obama said he was "now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars.

"I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war," he said.

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Obama to announce Iraq troop withdrawal decision
Washington (AFP) Feb 25, 2009
President Barack Obama will announce his decision on a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq this week, upholding a campaign pledge, Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday.

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