- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

FORT BLISS, Texas (AP) — Hours before addressing the nation, President Obama told U.S. troops just back from Iraq that his speech outlining the withdrawal of combat forces “is not going to be a victory lap” or a cause for celebration.

“There’s still a lot of work that we’ve got to do to make sure that Iraq is an effective partner with us,” Mr. Obama said of his decision to end the nation’s combat mission in a war he once strongly opposed.

“The main message I have tonight, and the main message I have to you, is congratulations on a job well done,” Mr. Obama said.

He also noted that there remained “a tough fight ahead in Afghanistan … a tough slog.”

Before his visit, Mr. Obama telephoned former President George W. Bush, who ordered U.S. troops to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein in March 2003. Aides described the phone call from Air Force One as brief and declined to reveal what was said.

Ending the combat mission fulfills Mr. Obama’s campaign promise to bring the war to a close. However, a force of roughly 50,000 U.S. troops remains there serving in a support and training capacity. All remaining forces are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2011.

Also, Iraq is still torn with violence, and rival political factions have yet to form a government more than six months after national elections.

Mr. Obama spoke at a dining hall on this Army base in El Paso, Texas, which has been central to the war effort. The soldiers with him were among troops who recently returned from Iraq.

“Welcome home,” Mr. Obama said to shouts of “hooh-uh.”

He thanked the soldiers for their sacrifice in the long and unpopular war.

Noting that the war was a source of “political disagreements” at home, Mr. Obama said, “The one thing that we don’t argue about is the fact that we have the finest fighting force in the world.”

“The fact of the matter is that because of the extraordinary service that all of you have done and so many people here at Fort Bliss have done, Iraq has an opportunity to create better future for itself and America is more secure,” Mr. Obama said.

“Congratulations on a job well done. The country appreciates you,” he said.

Of his 8 p.m. EDT speech, Mr. Obama said: “It’s not going to be a victory lap. It’s not going to be self-congratulatory.”

Mr. Obama’s remarks were part of a calculated White House effort not to encourage parallels to Mr. Bush’s premature “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard an aircraft carrier in 2003, just three months after the war began.

Story Continues →