President Barack Obama is satisfied that the United States can safely end its combat role in Iraq at the end of this month and meet the deadline for removing all U.S. troops from the country by the end of 2011, White House officials said Wednesday.
Obama was briefed on the status of the withdrawal from Iraq by his national security team and the top U.S. commander in Iraq. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president was also brought up to date on so far unsuccessful efforts by Iraq to form a new government five months after national elections.
Obama met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, national security adviser James Jones and, by videoconference, the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno.
"The president heard directly from General Odierno, who said that we were on target to complete our drawdown by the end of August. Already we have removed over 80,000 troops from Iraq since President Obama took office," Gibbs said.
Gibbs and other U.S. officials said an uptick in violence as August 31 draws nearer was expected. They blamed it on the start of the monthlong Islamic observance of Ramadan, and on attempts by factions to further complicate efforts to form a coalition government and by some militants to create the appearance that they were running the U.S. out of the country.
Ongoing attacks against Iraq's security forces come as the U.S. is moving to reduce its troop levels to 50,000 by the end of August.
"There continue to be terrorists in Iraq. There continue to be acts of violence," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told a group of reporters. "They have not affected the positive trends" happening in Iraq and the overall level of violence is lower than it has been in the past, Rhodes said.
Gibbs said Odierno told Obama the security situation has continued to improve and that Iraqi forces are fully prepared to take over.
Obama has vowed both to end the official U.S. combat mission on schedule and to move all remaining U.S. troops off Iraqi soil by the end of 2011, a timetable set in an agreement with the Iraqi government.
The president also received an update from Vice President Joe Biden and Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, on Iraq's troubled efforts to form a new government.
Biden's national security adviser, Tony Blinken, said frustration is building among the Iraqis over failure to form a coalition government. "There is a sense of urgency to move forward and get a government formed," he said. "We really believe there is forward movement. But it's not up to us."
In a National Public Radio interview from Baghdad earlier in the day, Hill said the pace of political progress has quickened in recent weeks and that "things may be heading in the right direction" even though "more needs to be done."
White House officials sought to blunt suggestions that the end of 2011 deadline for removing all remaining troops might be impossible to meet.
"All systems in the U.S. government are getting down to...there will be no troops (in Iraq) after 2011," said Rhodes. He said an exception would be security forces to protect the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
In the meantime, he said, "50,000 troops are capable of accomplishing a great deal," even though the U.S. mission will change on Sept. 1 to one of support.
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