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      Obama promises end of US combat in Iraq

      Ali Ahmed, 42, left, and his wife Um Hider prepare their food at a military base belonging to the former Iraqi army, destroyed during the air campaign at early stages of the war, Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, March 20, 2010. / AP Photo

      ATLANTA (AP) " President Barack Obama declared Monday that the Iraq war was nearing an end "as promised and on schedule," touting what he called a success of his administration though it comes amid persistent instability and uncertainty in Iraq.

      Obama cited progress toward meeting his deadline of withdrawing all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of this month. A transitional force of 50,000 troops will remain to train Iraqi security forces, conduct counterterrorism operations and provide security for ongoing U.S. civilian efforts. Under an agreement negotiated in 2008 with the Iraqis, all American troops are to be gone from Iraq by the end of next year.

      "The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq," Obama said in a speech to the national convention of the Disabled American Veterans. "But make no mistake, our commitment in Iraq is changing " from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats."

      The main focus of Obama's appearance was the move toward fulfillment of Obama's campaign promise to end the Iraq war, a position that perhaps most defined his 2008 candidacy and was key to his base of support in the liberal wing of his party. With pivotal congressional elections approaching, the White House wants to highlight the progress as a success story. Monday's speech was only the first in a series of such events planned for this month, with others to be headlined by the president as well as Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials.

      "The message is, when the president makes a commitment, he keeps it," White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters traveling with Obama to Georgia on Air Force One.

      But the rhetoric comes amid deep concerns about Iraq's stability.

      U.S. officials have stepped up the pressure on Iraqi leaders to overcome a political impasse that has prevented the formation of a new government for the nearly five months since parliamentary elections that did not produce a clear winner.

      In a reminder of Iraq's fragility, two bombings and a drive-by shooting killed eight people there Monday.

      With such attacks remaining a daily occurrence, especially in Baghdad, questions persist about the readiness of Iraqi security forces to take over for the Americans and tamp down insurgents. Obama said, "Violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it's been in years," but figures released by Iraqi authorities over the weekend " dismissed by the U.S. military as too high " showed July to be the deadliest month for Iraqis in more than two years.

      At the same time Obama has drawn down forces in Iraq, he has increased the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, ordering a surge of 30,000 additional troops for the 9-year mission there.

      But with casualties on the rise, fresh concerns have arisen " with some saying the Afghanistan war should be ended and others questioning Obama's plan to begin winding it down as soon as next July. Critics say such a timetable will embolden the Taliban and other extremist groups in the region.

      With such debate and low public support, the White House has launched a fresh effort to paint the U.S. goals in Afghanistan as modest: keeping the region from being a haven for terrorists.

      "We face huge challenges in Afghanistan," Obama said Monday. "But it's important that the American people know that we are making progress and we're focused on goals that are clear and achievable."

      Despite the increase in Afghanistan, there are fewer U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan now than there were when Obama took office last year. Come September, when the Iraq drawdown is complete, the White House says there will 146,000 troops on the ground, down from 177,000 in January 2009.

      Speaking before a mostly friendly crowd of more than 2,500 disabled veterans, some in wheelchairs, others with lost limbs, Obama promised an all-out effort to support troops. "Your government is going to take care of you when you come home," he said.

      After the speech, he was heading to a lunch benefiting the Democratic National Committee, his latest stop in a summer fundraising sprint that also includes events in Chicago later this week. But Georgia's most prominent Democrat, former Gov. Roy Barnes, wasn't joining Obama in Atlanta. Barnes, who is running to get his old job back, had previously scheduled events in southern Georgia, his campaign said.

      Distancing himself from the president could be politically smart for Barnes. Georgia is a Republican stronghold that John McCain carried in 2008. A poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. in July had Obama with a 37 percent approval rating in the state. Fifty percent of those surveyed disapproved of Obama's performance.

      ___

      Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta contributed to this report.

      Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

      THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Read earlier story below.

      Read more: The Politics of Ending U.S. Combat Role in Iraq Obama agenda: Drawdown

      WASHINGTON (AP) " President Barack Obama will set a course Monday for the nation's changing mission in Iraq as the military prepares to end its combat operations there.

      In a speech at the national convention of the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta, Obama was to address the progress being made to meet his deadline of drawing down all combat troops by the end of the month. A transitional force of 50,000 troops will remain to train Iraqi security forces, conduct counterterrorism operations and provide security for ongoing U.S. civilian efforts.

      "Make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing, from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats," Obama said in excerpts released ahead of the speech.

      Obama has said all U.S. troops will be gone from Iraq by the end of next year.

      At the same time Obama has drawn down forces in Iraq, he has increased the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, ordering a surge of 30,000 additional troops. But with casualties on the rise, there are fresh concerns about the 9-year mission in Afghanistan, as well as Obama's plan to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011, a timetable that critics say will embolden the Taliban and other extremist groups in the region.

      Facing a potential loss of public and congressional support for the Afghanistan war, the White House is painting the U.S. mission there as humble and achievable: keeping the region from being a haven for terrorists.

      "What we're looking to do is difficult, very difficult, but it's a fairly modest goal," Obama told the CBS "Sunday Morning" show.

      Despite the surge in Afghanistan, there are fewer U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan now than there were when Obama took office last year. Come September, when the Iraq drawdown is complete, the White House says there will 146,000 troops on the ground, down from 177,000 in January 2009.

      During his remarks Monday, Obama is expected to speak about the government's efforts to support those troops, as well as veterans of other wars.

      "While our country has sometimes been divided, they have fought together as one," Obama said in the excerpts. "While other individuals and institutions have shirked responsibility, they have welcomed it."

      After the speech, Obama was scheduled to attend a fundraising lunch for the Democratic National Committee, his latest stop in a summer fundraising sprint that also includes events in Chicago later this week.

      But Georgia's most prominent Democrat, former Gov. Roy Barnes, won't be joining Obama at either of his stops Monday. Barnes, who is running to get his old job back, had previously scheduled events in southern Georgia, his campaign said.

      Distancing himself from the president could be politically smart for Barnes. Georgia is a Republican stronghold that John McCain carried in 2008. A poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. in July had Obama with a 37 percent approval rating in the state. Fifty percent of those surveyed disapproved of Obama's performance.

      ___

      Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta contributed to this report.

      THIS IS A NEWS UPDATE. Read earlier story below.

      (AP) -- President Barack Obama will set a course Monday for the nation's changing mission in Iraq as the military prepares to end its combat operations there.

      Obama will speak in Atlanta at the national convention of the Disabled American Veterans, where he'll address the progress being made to meet his deadline of drawing down all combat troops by the end of the month. A transitional force of 50,000 troops will remain to train Iraqi security forces, conduct counterterrorism operations and provide security for ongoing U.S. civilian efforts.

      While in Atlanta, Obama will also attend a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.

      Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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