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Obama confirms exit plan despite rising casualties
Despite increasing violence in Iraq, with July 2010 the bloodiest month in over two years, the United States will end its combat mission in the country on August 31 as scheduled, President Barack Obama confirmed on Monday.
The United States will end its combat mission in Iraq as scheduled on August 31 despite a recent flare-up in violence, President Barack Obama said Monday in a speech to the Disabled American Veterans group in Atlanta.
The pullout confirmation comes amid an increase of violence in Iraq, with the Baghdad government releasing figures Saturday that said 535 people died in July, including 396 civilians, 89 policemen and 50 soldiers.
That figure was the highest for a single month since May 2008, when 563 people were killed in violence.
But Major General Stephen Lanza, a spokesman for US forces in Iraq, said the Iraqi figures did not "reflect the security situation" and that data provided to media by unofficial sources were "grossly overstated."
Obama contended that even as militants continue to try to derail the country's progress, "violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it's been in years."
When he became president, Obama inherited a security agreement with Baghdad that calls for all US forces to pull out by the end of 2011. He has ordered the force to draw down to 50,000 by September 1.
There are about 65,000 US soldiers currently stationed in Iraq.
He said the United States will maintain a transitional force in Iraq in the coming months and remove all of its troops by the end of 2011.
US forces will focus during this transitional period on supporting and training Iraqi forces, counter-terrorism missions and protecting US civilian and military initiatives, the president said.
"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," he stressed.
"And as we mark the end of America's combat mission in Iraq, a grateful America must pay tribute to all who served there."
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Obama was "adopting" the program to wind down the war that was outlined by the administration of former president George W. Bush.
"So I commend the president for continuing the policies," McConnell told Fox News television. "He ... continued the policy in Iraq and I think we've made progress. Although, it's still difficult there because the bombings continue."
August 31 will also mark the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom launched by Bush with the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to White House officials.
The transitional mission will be called Operation New Dawn.
Obama announced the date for the end of US combat missions in Iraq at a speech in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in February 2009, a little over a month after moving into the White House.
There were 144,000 US troops in Iraq when he took office.
Along with the troops, Washington is reducing its military equipment in the country.
By the end of August, US forces in Iraq will cut back its equipment from 3.4 million pieces in January 2009 to 1.2 million pieces, which are required to support the remaining troops, according to the White House.
The equipment is being moved to Afghanistan, US military stockpiles and to Iraqi security forces.
By the end of the month, US forces are also scheduled to reduce from 121 to to 94 the number of bases they occupy in Iraq, White House officials said.
By comparison, in June 2009, US troops occupied 357 Iraqi bases.