Obama Not Yet Ready to Declare Victory in Iraq

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Elected on a promise to get U.S. forces out of Iraq, President Obama today called the withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraqi cities and towns "a milestone."

But the White House is still far from ready to declare victory.

"We'll keep the banner printers from doing anything crazy," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in a pointed reference to the "Mission: Accomplished" banner displayed behind President George W. Bush on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on that night in 2003 when he prematurely announced an end to combat operations in Iraq.

Even so, Mr. Obama was quick to caution Americans that "difficult days" remain ahead of us in Iraq.

"We know that the violence in Iraq will continue," said Mr. Obama. But he said he's confident the forces of opposition will fail.

"The future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy. And today's transition is further proof that those who have tried to pull Iraq into the abyss of disunion and civil war are on the wrong side of history."

Mr. Obama sees this latest transition in Iraq as part of the strategy to "responsibly end the war." Under the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated at the end of the Bush administration, the U.S. remains committed to having all combat forces withdrawn by the end of August 2010, and all American troops pulled out by the end of 2011.

"This is an important step forward as a sovereign and united Iraq continues to take control of its own destiny," said Mr. Obama at the start of an East Room event on another subject.

Despite his statement about a "united Iraq," the White House harbors concerns. Today it announced that Mr. Obama has asked Vice President Joe Biden to oversee the implementation of U.S. policy on Iraq. He'll work with America's top diplomat and military commander there, Ambassador Chris Hill and Gen. Ray Odierno, to help Iraq's three major ethnic factions reconcile their political differences.

As a senator, Biden advocated the partition of Iraq into separate enclaves for the Shia, Sunni and Kurds, but spokesman Gibbs says that's history.
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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