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News | Dec. 6, 2011

Biden expresses gratitude to U.S., Iraqi forces

By Donna Miles , American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (December 2, 2011) — Joined by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Baghdad yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden thanked U.S. and Iraqi armed forces for their sacrifices, commitment and success.

“I also know you gentlemen will acknowledge that America sent you the very best our country has to offer – our young men and women, … but also their leaders,” Biden told the Iraqi leaders, praising the leadership of U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James F. Jeffrey and Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq.

The vice president surveyed the U.S. and Iraqi troops assembled in Al Faw palace, all “bound together by a shared sacrifice in the service of both their countries.”

Given a mission “as complicated and as challenging as any in our history,” they adapted with the changing situation on the ground tackled everything they were asked to do, he said.

“You succeeded,” he said. “You helped defeat a tyrant, helped beat back violent extremists, and enabled the rise of a new democratic nation, and gave the Iraqi people a chance, at long last, for a better future – a future they deserve.”

Working side by side, the U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces “have laid the foundation for a long-term, strategic partnership between our nations and also for an Iraq that, against all odds, can serve as a source of stability not only for its people, but here in the region, and for years to come,” he said.

Biden noted how far the situation in Iraq has progressed, and he acknowledged the troops’ “heroic work” that made it possible. “Because of you and the work those of you in uniform have done, we are now able to end this war,” he said.

The United States has kept its promises – to remove all U.S. troops from Iraqi cities, to end its combat mission last August and reduce its forces in Iraq to 50,000, and now, to remove all troops by the year’s end, Biden noted.

Biden shared Maliki’s observation that some have questioned whether Iraqi security forces would be ready to assume full security responsibility for their country.

“But the Iraq security forces proved to be more than ready,” he said. “You met the challenge. Throughout the downturn of United States forces and coalition forces, you kept your people safe. And violence has remained at its lowest level since 2003 – because of you.”

Now comes a time of transition, Biden said, as the United States and Iraq explore ways to expand their relationship for the future, calling it a new chapter and a fresh start that both the Iraqi and American people want and deserve.

The strategic framework agreement between Iraq and the United States will guide this relationship, with broad cooperation across wide areas he said, noting that unlike the security agreement, it does not expire.

It represents “a fundamentally different type of relationship, grounded in civilian cooperation between equal sovereigns,” he said, and a long-term comprehensive relationship between the two nations.

“It means America will remain deeply engaged here in Iraq, and throughout the region,” he said. The United States will remain a loyal partner, he added.

Biden offered high praise for U.S. service members and Iraqi security forces for paving the way for a new generation of Iraqis to face a hopeful future with decreased violence.

“It was the sacrifice and bravery and professionalism of all of you assembled before me in uniform that made it possible,” he said. “And it will not and should not be forgotten – either in Iraq, or in my home country of the United States of America.”

He paid special tribute to the 4,486 who made the ultimate sacrifice, and more than 30,000 who were wounded in Iraq.

“We honor their sacrifice, as well as yours, and we take immense pride and success in what you have done,” he told the assembly, noting the nation’s responsibility to care for its veterans.

“We owe you,” he said. “The only sacred obligation our nation has is to care for those who we send to war, and care for them when they come home.”

As the last of U.S. forces return home this month and their mission ends in Iraq, Biden acknowledged that the threats they confronted haven’t disappeared. He expressed confidence, however, that the Iraqis are ready to confront them.

“Iraqi security forces have been well trained [and] prepared, and you are fully capable of meeting the challenge,” he said. “And Iraq’s emerging, inclusive political culture will be the ultimate guarantor … of this stability.”

Biden challenged the Iraqis to seize the opportunity to provide their people a normal, prosperous future, knowing that the United States remains a committed partner.

“Our forces are leaving with their heads held high,” he said. “But the hard-won ties between our two nations, pray God, will live on.”