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Obama to announce end date of war

UNITED States President Barack Obama was expected to confirm yesterday that the United States would end its bloody and costly combat mission in Iraq by the late summer of 2010.

However, a dramatic force reduction was not expected until after Iraq's national elections at the end of this year.

The president announced yesterday while speaking at a Marine Corps base in North Carolina that the mission in Iraq would be concluded August 31, 2010.

Even with the end of the combat mission - three months later than Obama pledged during his presidential campaign - a force numbering between 35,000 and 50,000 Americans will stay behind, with the final troops not slated to leave until December 31, 2011.

There were no assurances that the residual force would not be pulled into battle should Sunni Muslim insurgents remain a major threat or disaffected Shiite Muslims resume wide-scale fighting.

Administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan was not yet public, said the pace of the withdrawal would be guided by the needs of General Raymond Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq. They said he felt it was important to keep an adequate combat force in the country at least until national elections this December.

The officials said Obama's order would not specify the rate of withdrawal either before or after those elections are held. During the campaign, Obama said it would be roughly one combat brigade per month over 16 months.

While the pace of withdrawal was expected to quicken in 2010, the officials refused to be specific, noting that elections in Iraq have tended to slip beyond scheduled dates.

Depending on the number of forces left behind, the military will have withdrawn between 92,000 and 107,000 American fighting personnel from Iraq nearly seven and a half years after the US invaded.

According to an Associated Press count, as of Thursday at least 4,251 members of the US military had died in the war since it began in March 2003. Total Iraqi deaths are unknown but number in the tens of thousands and are perhaps above 100,000.


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