Biden: U.S. Effort in Iraq Goes On Despite Mission Change

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1, 2010 — Com­bat oper­a­tions may be over in Iraq, but the U.S. mil­i­tary and diplo­mat­ic endeav­or remains, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden said today in Bagh­dad, remind­ing the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty of the sig­nif­i­cance of Oper­a­tion New Dawn.

“Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom is over, but Amer­i­can engage­ment with Iraq will con­tin­ue with the mis­sion that begins today,” Biden said. “We are ramp­ing up our civil­ian and diplo­mat­ic efforts to strength­en Iraqi sov­er­eign­ty, sta­bil­i­ty and self-reliance at the very same time we are draw­ing down com­bat forces.”

Biden spoke to troops at Camp Victory’s al Faw Palace near the Bagh­dad air­port, just before a the U.S. Forces Iraq change-of-com­mand cer­e­mo­ny. The cer­e­mo­ny coin­cid­ed with the mis­sion change from Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom to Oper­a­tion New Dawn.

Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no relin­quished his post as com­man­der of all Amer­i­can troops in Iraq. Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III is now at the helm of the U.S. mis­sion there, and he will like­ly com­mand the unit through Dec. 31, 2011, when all U.S. forces are sched­uled to be out of Iraq.

“As the name sug­gests, this cer­e­mo­ny not only marked the change of a com­mand but the start of a dif­fer­ent chap­ter in the rela­tion­ship with Iraq,” Biden said at the cer­e­mo­ny. “Our remain­ing troops — I might add, as com­bat ready, if need be, as any in our mil­i­tary — will advise and assist Iraqi forces, sup­port part­nered coun­tert­er­ror­ism oper­a­tions and pro­tect our mil­i­tary and civil­ian per­son­nel as well as our infra­struc­ture.”

Few­er than 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq until the mis­sion offi­cial­ly ends next year. They will serve in an advise-and-assist role for Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, while civil­ian diplo­mats guide Iraq’s gov­ern­ment.

“With our Iraqi part­ners, our hope is to be able to enhance the ties of trade and com­merce, increase our cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al exchanges, open con­sulates in Bas­ra and Erbil, all to ensure that our engage­ment spans the breadth and length of this coun­try,” the vice pres­i­dent said. “Our diplo­mats will sup­port Iraq’s efforts to build strong ties with their neigh­bors and the wider world while work­ing through the remain­ing oblig­a­tions at the Unit­ed Nations.”

Troop lev­els in Iraq peaked at around 170,000 in 2007 dur­ing the height of the troop surge. More than 4,400 U.S. troops, as well as anoth­er 300 coali­tion ser­vice­mem­bers have lost their lives to com­bat in Iraq.

“This change of mis­sion, to state the obvi­ous, would nev­er have been pos­si­ble with­out the resolve and tremen­dous sac­ri­fice and com­pe­tence of our mil­i­tary — the finest fight­ing force in the world, and I would argue the finest fight­ing force that ever has exist­ed,” Biden said.

Biden also praised the efforts and vision of America’s top mil­i­tary lead­ers. He not­ed Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’ will­ing­ness to con­tin­ue his ser­vice under Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma. Biden also salut­ed the “wis­dom, steady hand and lead­er­ship” of Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, com­man­der of all U.S. and inter­na­tion­al forces in Afghanistan.

Petraeus is cred­it­ed with much of the suc­cess in Iraq, hav­ing been the top com­man­der there dur­ing the troop surge of 2007.

Biden rec­og­nized Odier­no for more than four years of lead­ing forces in Iraq. Odier­no com­mand­ed Multi­na­tion­al Force Iraq and remained through its tran­si­tion to U.S. Forces Iraq, serv­ing as the top mil­i­tary com­man­der there for two straight years. He also com­mand­ed the U.S. Army’s III Corps and Multi­na­tion­al Corps Iraq, serv­ing in Iraq from Dec. 2006 to Feb. 2008. Odier­no also served a year in Iraq in 2004–2005 as com­man­der of the Army’s 4th Infantry Divi­sion.

“This man is not only a war­rior but a diplo­mat in the best Amer­i­can tra­di­tion,” Biden said of Odier­no. “Gen­er­al, four years and five months is an extra­or­di­nary sac­ri­fice for both you and your fam­i­ly. I know how joy­ous your home­com­ing is going to be.”

More than 1.5 mil­lion U.S. troops deployed to Iraq since 2003, dur­ing which time they’d employed new tac­tics and tech­nol­o­gy to fight extrem­ists and com­bat impro­vised explo­sive devices, Biden said.

“Our fight­ing men and women were giv­en a mis­sion in Iraq that was as com­pli­cat­ed as any in our his­to­ry,” the vice pres­i­dent said. “The high-speed inva­sion that top­pled a tyrant became a grind­ing strug­gle against vio­lent extrem­ists.”

Biden also laud­ed Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, cred­it­ing their efforts through­out the past year in reduc­ing vio­lence in Iraq to its low­est lev­els since 2003.

Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces are “increas­ing­ly ready to defend their cit­i­zens,” he said. “Because of their com­pe­tence, we have … been able to trans­fer thou­sands of square miles of ter­ri­to­ry and hun­dreds of bases to Iraqi con­trol.”

Gov­er­nance in Iraq and tran­si­tion­ing secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ties proves that Amer­i­ca can make good on its com­mit­ments, Biden said. Iraq and its cit­i­zens are on a path to a secure and pros­per­ous future, he added.

“I pray that all those [Iraqis] scarred by this war in Iraq come to know the balm of last­ing peace,” Biden said, acknowl­edg­ing the Iraqis’ sac­ri­fice.

Tens of thou­sands of Iraqi civil­ians and secu­ri­ty forces have paid the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice in their fight for sov­er­eign­ty, the vice pres­i­dent said.

“I believe, I tru­ly believe, that their dark­est days are now behind them,” Biden said. “They have such a great oppor­tu­ni­ty as they step up to it.”

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

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