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Obama Urges Iraqis to Take Larger Role in Controlling Country

April 7, 2009 at 6:00 PM EST
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In an unannounced trip to Iraq Tuesday President Obama met with national leaders, urging the Iraqis to take a larger role in controlling the country and reiterating his pledge to have all military personnel out of the country by 2011. Kwame Holman reports.
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GWEN IFILL: Our lead story: President Obama wrapped up his overseas trip with an unannounced four-hour stop in Iraq today. While there, he thanked U.S. troops for their service and repeated his pledge to bring them all home by the end of 2011.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president was greeted by some 600 troops at Camp Victory, the main U.S. military base in Iraq. They were loudly enthusiastic throughout Mr. Obama’s remarks, notably when he said the time had come for the Iraqis to take responsibility for their country.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: This is going to be a critical period, these next 18 months. I was just discussing this with your commander, but I think it’s something that all of you know. It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. They…

They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty.

President meets troops, leaders

Barack Obama
President of the United States
We've seen very good progress, but going forward it's absolutely critical that all Iraqis are fully integrated into the government and the security forces.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president's visit to Iraq was his first as commander-in-chief and included meetings with General Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander there, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

BARACK OBAMA: We strongly support political steps to be taken to resolve differences between the various factions within Iraq and to ensure a more peaceful and prosperous future. Again, we've seen very good progress, but going forward it's absolutely critical that all Iraqis are fully integrated into the government and the security forces.

Obama defines Iraq policy

Barack Obama
President of the United States
States are like big tankers. They're not like speedboats. You can't just whip them around and go in a new direction. Instead, you've got to slowly move it, and then eventually you end up in a very different place.

KWAME HOLMAN: For his part, Maliki said he had assured the president that all the progress that has been made in the security area will continue.

Just hours before Mr. Obama's arrival, a car bomb exploded in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad killing at least nine. The attack came after a wave of deadly bombings in the country yesterday. The fresh violence has stoked concerns about the president's timetable to pull most troops out of Iraq by the end of next year.

The president raised the issue of Iraq at his last event before departing Turkey earlier in the day. It came during an exchange at a town hall with university students at Istanbul, where he was asked if his policies were any different from George W. Bush's.

BARACK OBAMA: You know, I think this will be tested in time, because, as I said before, moving the ship of state is a slow process. States are like big tankers. They're not like speedboats. You can't just whip them around and go in a new direction. Instead, you've got to slowly move it, and then eventually you end up in a very different place.

So let me just give you a few examples. When it comes to Iraq, I opposed the war in Iraq. I thought it was a bad idea. Now that we're there, I have a responsibility to make sure that, as we bring troops out, that we do so in a careful enough way that you don't see a complete collapse into violence.

So some people might say, "Wait, I thought you were opposed to the war. Why don't you just get them all out right away?" Well, just because I was opposed at the outset, it doesn't mean that I don't have now responsibilities to make sure that we do things in a responsible fashion.

Rebuilding Muslim relations

Barack Obama
President of the United States
I want you to know that I'm personally committed to a new chapter of American engagement. We can't afford to talk past one another, to focus only on our differences, or to let the walls of mistrust go up around us.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president also repeated his pledge to rebuild U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

BARACK OBAMA: I want you to know that I'm personally committed to a new chapter of American engagement. We can't afford to talk past one another, to focus only on our differences, or to let the walls of mistrust go up around us.

Instead, we have to listen carefully to each other. We have to focus on places where we can find common ground and respect each others' views, even when we disagree. And if we do so, I believe we can bridge some of our differences and divisions that we've had in the past.

Now, part of that process involves giving you a better sense of America. I know that the stereotypes of the United States are out there. And I know that many of them are informed not by direct exchange or dialogue, but by television shows and movies and misinformation.

Sometimes it suggests that America has become selfish and crass or that we don't care about the world beyond us. And I am here to tell you that that's not the country that I know and it's not the country that I love.

So to all of you, I want you to know that the world will be what you make of it. You can choose to build new bridges instead of building new walls. You can choose to put aside longstanding divisions in pursuit of lasting peace. You can choose to advance a prosperity that is shared by all people and not just the wealthy few.

And I want you to know that, in these endeavors, you will find a partner and a supporter and a friend in the United States of America.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president returns to Washington from his eight-day overseas trip late this evening.