Gibbs: Iraqis Will Now Be in Control of Their Future

An Iraqi police officer stands at a checkpoint in central Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2010. The Iraqi prime minister put his nation on its highest alert for terror attacks, as insurgents hammer Iraqi security forces preparing to take over for a U.S. combat mission that formally ends on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed) KHALID MOHAMMED

An Iraqi police officer stands at a checkpoint in central Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2010.
AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed
President Barack Obama and his speech writers are fine-tuning tonight's major Iraq policy speech. In his second Oval Office address since taking office, Mr. Obama will mark the formal end of combat operations in a more-than-seven-year war that has left more than 4,400 Americans dead and thousands more wounded.

In a radio interview with CBS News, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama will emphasize that "We are putting the Iraqis in control of their history and their future. They'll have responsibility for security and responsibility for providing for the citizens of that country. That is a milestone worth barking."

Just hours before the president speaks from the Oval Office, Gibbs said the speech would emphasize "the milestone of the end of our combat mission," and said Mr. Obama will say, "The story of the Iraqis will be written by the Iraqis."

The president hopes to draw a line between "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and the start of "Operation Iraqi Dawn" tomorrow.

Gibbs also said thanks are due to the hundreds of thousands of men and women in uniform who made that possible.

"The president is in awe of that sacrifice," Gibbs said, who promised, "We will honor those sacrifices."

With a nod to the tumultuous history of public opinion over U.S. involvement in Iraq, Gibbs indicates the president will try to ease the often-sharp debate on the war.

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"There were patriots that supported and patriots that opposed this war; that's all now behind us," said Gibbs. "It's time to heal those divisions and continue to heal those divisions, and move forward and address the problems that we all know exist here at home."

Gibbs said the speech will focus on a message of "strengthening our security and rebuilding our country at home."

The spokesman disputes any contention that with thousands of Americans still in harm's way, calling it an end of combat mission is a matter of semantics. He acknowledges "violence will persist" but Iraqis, with U.S. support, "will be entirely in the lead."

Watch Gibbs' appearance on CBS' "The Early Show" at left

While Iraq has seen political turmoil for months, Gibbs insists the caretaker government is stable. He predicts "in very short order" the Iraqis will have a government in place. The spokesman said the president will tell Iraqis, "with our help as allies, you will be able to chart your future and your course as you determine."

Gibbs also had a terse response to Republicans challenging the president to give credit to the troop surge ordered by former President George. W. Bush — a move opposed by then-Senator Obama.

Gibbs acknowledged that "the surge improved security conditions in Iraq." But, he added, "I think the only question that matters for them (Republicans) today — we can look back in history, but the question that matters today is, where are you on bringing more than 90,000 troops out of Iraq right now? Do you support the president's timeline for ending our combat operation in Iraq? That's the question I'd like to hear answered by those Republicans."

President Obama will also call George W. Bush today for what Gibbs describes as an "appropriate time" to thank him for his "love of country as we end the combat mission."

President Obama's speech will be at 8 p.m. ET and will be available on your CBS television station, CBS Radio News or here at CBSNews.com.


Peter Maer is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter.
  • Peter Maer On Twitter»

    Peter Maer is a CBS News White House Correspondent.

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