- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

President Obama hailed the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities as an “important step forward” but cautioned that the Iraqi government and people will still face difficult days ahead.

Mr. Obama said Tuesday that “the Iraqi people are rightly treating this day as a cause for celebration,” but also said that “with this progress comes responsibility.”

He said that Iraqi political and government leaders will have to make “some hard choices.”

He did not specifically mention the issues of power-sharing, maintaining integrity in their armed forces and police, and distribution of oil revenues throughout the country, but those are some of the bigger challenges that face Iraq’s leaders.

Mr. Obama also warned that “there will be difficult days ahead.”

“We know that violence in Iraq will continue,” he said, citing a car bombing in the northern city of Kirkuk earlier Tuesday that killed at least 20 people and wounded another 25.

The Pentagon also said that four U.S. soldiers were killed in Baghdad on Monday on the eve of the U.S. pullout from Iraq’s capital.

U.S. troops handed over security for major cities and towns to Iraqi forces Tuesday under an agreement signed by the Bush administration with the Iraqi government, which is part of a path toward a full withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq by 2011. There are about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, however, voiced concern this week that Iraq’s armed forces and security services may not be ready for sole responsibility to keep their country safe.

“At some point, they have to stand on their own, but I would not want to see the U.S. waste all the tremendous sacrifice that has gotten us to this point,” Mr. Cheney said in an appearance on The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Tuesday that in recent meetings with Iraqi leaders she has been assured that “Iraqi security forces have increased their capacities and are ready to assume responsibility for securing Iraqs cities.”

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