WASHINGTON — The White House this week plans to showcase the close of the war in Iraq, looking to highlight what it says is a 2008 campaign promise made good — and likely previewing a 2012 campaign theme.
President Barack Obama will meet Monday at the White House with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to talk about Iraq's future, and Obama and his wife, Michelle, will head to Fort Bragg, N.C., on Wednesday to speak with returning veterans.
"As we definitively end America's war in Iraq this month, the president wanted to speak directly to the troops at Fort Bragg and to members of the armed forces and their families everywhere," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday. He added that Obama would address "the enormous sacrifices and achievements of the brave Americans who served in the Iraq war, and he will speak about the extraordinary milestone of bringing the war in Iraq to an end."
Obama and Maliki will discuss the removal of the troops and what the administration says are "efforts to start a new chapter in the comprehensive strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq."
Analysts note that though the war is winding down, the United States will continue to have a presence in the country, which is still wracked by violence. Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise stop in Iraq last month to talk with Maliki about U.S.-Iraqi cooperation on a variety of fronts, including law enforcement, defense and security.
The White House says Obama _who ran for office in 2008 promising to wind down the war in Iraq — also will tout the war's close during interviews Tuesday with local television anchors from across the country.
He mentioned the close of the war in one of four local television interviews he did Thursday, suggesting to WISH-TV in Indianapolis, Ind., that he could be back in the battleground state to announce new initiatives for returning veterans.
"We've got a whole bunch of them who are going to be coming back this month because we've ended the war in Iraq as I promised," Obama told the station.
Republicans on the campaign trail and in Congress have criticized Obama for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq and failing to secure an agreement with Maliki to keep some forces in the country.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington on Wednesday that the troop withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan were "based upon electoral expediency, not military requirement."
A recent Gallup poll found that three out of four Americans support pulling troops out of Iraq and pollsters say a majority of Iraqis also support the move.
The administration is looking to underscore what it clearly sees as a foreign policy success. News reports said Biden on Thursday moved up a trip to Florida by a few hours to welcome home 350 Navy sailors as they returned to Mayport Naval Station from a seven-month deployment in Iraq aboard the USS Gettysburg.
The United States ended its combat mission in Iraq on Aug. 31, 2010, and drew down to fewer than 50,000 troops from approximately 144,000 in January 2009. The administration maintains that violence in Iraq has remained at its lowest level since 2003, though some analysts fear a return to violence after U.S. troops withdraw.
The White House has said Obama and Maliki have "agreed that it was in the best interests of both the United States and Iraq to draw down U.S. forces by the end of 2011 and embark on a new phase in our relationship_ a long-term strategic partnership across a range of sectors."
On a related issue, a group of Iranian-Americans, along with former FBI Director Louis Freeh, will protest outside the White House during Maliki's visit, urging Obama to press Maliki to cancel a Dec. 31 deadline to expel a camp of more than 3,000 Iranian dissidents who have been stranded in Iraq since 2003.
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