Biden Promises Responsible Drawdown in Iraq

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2011 — After meet­ing in Iraq today with its new gov­ern­men­tal lead­ers and with U.S. offi­cials, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden promised deployed U.S. ser­vice mem­bers the Unit­ed States will draw down its forces in a way that pre­serves their achieve­ments and hon­ors the sac­ri­fices made there.

Biden is the high­est-lev­el U.S. offi­cial to vis­it Iraq since it formed what Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq, called “the most inclu­sive gov­ern­ment in their his­to­ry.” The vice pres­i­dent met with Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Mali­ki, Iraqiyya coali­tion leader Ayad Allawi, Pres­i­dent Jalal Tal­a­bani, Speak­er Osama al-Nujaifi and oth­er polit­i­cal lead­ers.

Biden also met with Austin and U.S. Ambas­sador to Iraq James F. Jef­frey to dis­cuss progress made, chal­lenges ahead and plans to con­tin­ue draw­ing down U.S. forces in Iraq through Dec. 31.

“I’m here to help the Iraqis cel­e­brate the progress they made,” Biden told reporters as he met with Austin and Jef­frey. “They formed a gov­ern­ment, and that’s a good thing. They have a long way to go.”

Fol­low­ing today’s ses­sions, Biden thanked an assem­bly of U.S. mil­i­tary mem­bers at Camp Vic­to­ry for what they and those who served before them have helped to accom­plish in Iraq and beyond.

Because of their “incred­i­ble sac­ri­fices,” he said, the Iraqi peo­ple are on the verge of hav­ing a coun­try that will be “demo­c­ra­t­ic, sus­tain­able, and God will­ing, pros­per­ous.” “And it can have a dra­mat­ic impact on this entire region,” he added.

Biden pledged to the ser­vice mem­bers that the Unit­ed States will end the war respon­si­bly and “leave behind a coun­try that is wor­thy of the sac­ri­fices that so many of your broth­ers and sis­ters have made.”

He not­ed that 4,422 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers have died in Iraq, and near­ly 32,000 more have been wound­ed. While U.S. casu­al­ties have decreased dra­mat­i­cal­ly, Biden said, the most recent loss­es ear­li­er this week demon­strate that duty in Iraq “is not a nor­mal day at the office.”

“You are still risk­ing your lives for your coun­try,” he said.

Troops serv­ing dur­ing Oper­a­tion New Dawn in Iraq are lay­ing ground­work that will remain long after they return home to their fam­i­lies and loved ones, Biden told the group.

He rec­og­nized, as an exam­ple, that the 807th Med­ical Com­mand is help­ing the Iraqis build the infra­struc­ture to deliv­er qual­i­ty health care to their peo­ple.

The U.S. mil­i­tary mis­sion is to advise and assist Iraq’s secu­ri­ty forces, con­duct part­nered coun­tert­er­ror­ism oper­a­tions and pro­tect U.S. civil­ians. Mean­while, the Unit­ed States is increas­ing its diplo­mat­ic, polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic engage­ment with Iraq.

“The things you are doing in this tran­si­tion peri­od are the things that are going to put the Iraqi peo­ple and Iraqi gov­ern­ment in a posi­tion to sus­tain the incred­i­bly hard-fought gains that you ini­tial­ly are respon­si­ble for,” Biden said.

Just as the U.S. mis­sion changed when the Unit­ed States end­ed its com­bat mis­sion in Iraq on Aug. 31, Biden said, it will change again at the end of 2011, when the U.S. mil­i­tary leaves in accor­dance with an agree­ment between the U.S. and Iraqi gov­ern­ments.

While laud­ing progress in get­ting Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces “to a point now where they can be in the lead” and “get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter every day,” Biden acknowl­edged that they are like­ly to con­tin­ue to need U.S. assis­tance for some time. He cit­ed train­ing, equip­ping and main­tain­ing as areas the Iraqis like­ly could require con­tin­ued help.

Biden turned emo­tion­al as he thanked the ser­vice mem­bers for the sac­ri­fices they and their com­rades, as well as their fam­i­lies, have made in Iraq.

“You are part of an incred­i­bly, incred­i­bly proud tra­di­tion,” he said. “And I hope that not only your mil­i­tary exper­tise wears off on our Iraqi friends. I hope they under­stand and see –- and I think they do –- the incred­i­ble patri­o­tism, the incred­i­ble ded­i­ca­tion to coun­try, the incred­i­ble diver­si­ty that we rep­re­sent: men and women, black and white, Asian, Cau­casian, every sin­gle mix that exists on Earth, work­ing as one incred­i­ble unit to pro­tect the inter­ests of the Unit­ed States.” Today’s men and women in uni­form rep­re­sent “the great­est war­rior class the world has ever cre­at­ed,” the vice pres­i­dent said. “This is not only the best-run, but this is the most pow­er­ful, sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary force in the his­to­ry of mankind. And the world knows that and our cit­i­zens know that.”

Biden promised that the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to live up to its “one true sacred oblig­a­tion — to pre­pare and equip those we send into harm’s way and care for them when they come home.”

He wiped tears from his eyes as he described how he and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, vis­it non­am­bu­la­to­ry patients at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter and come away amazed that all they ask for is help get­ting back to their units.

Biden said Amer­i­cans rec­og­nize and appre­ci­ate their mil­i­tary, but that he wished all could see what he does -– “young women and men, not so young some­times, who don’t ask a thing for all that they’ve done.”

“We owe you more than we could every repay you,” he said.

Biden’s vis­it to Iraq is his sev­enth since tak­ing office in Jan­u­ary 2009. He trav­eled to Bagh­dad from Islam­abad, Pak­istan, where he and Pak­istani lead­ers focused on their coun­tries’ rela­tion­ship and joint efforts toward region­al peace and sta­bil­i­ty.

The vice pres­i­dent kicked off his vis­it to the region ear­li­er this week in Afghanistan, where he met with U.S. and Afghan nation­al and local lead­ers to assess progress and rein­force the U.S. com­mit­ment to Afghanistan.

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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