Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. President Barack Obama today announced that all US troops in Iraq will leave the country by the end of this year. The president made the announcement after speaking through video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. Mr. Obama left open the possibility of future US military help for Iraq, but he made clear that he's set on plans to pull American troops out of Iraq completely by the end of December.
Barack Obama: After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over. Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home. The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops. That is how America's military efforts in Iraq will end.
Mullins: President Obama speaking earlier today. John Burns has spent over twenty years covering Iraq. He's the former New York Times Bureau Chief in Bhagdad. He's now in London. John, about President Obama's announcement today, how do you look back on all that's transpired since 2003 and how are you hearing this announcement?
John Burns: Well it's a momentous occasion of course. An occasion which America has longed for, I think, in it's great majority. It's fought, of course, with danger and complications, not the least of which is getting the troops out.
Mullins: Maybe talk, John, as well about the enterprise itself. When we look at how many American troops alone, I think it's about a million troops have passed through Iraq since 2003. A forty thousand remain. We're talking about more than four thousand at least US troops that died in Iraq. What are we left with right now as President Obama makes this announcement of the final withdrawal?
Burns: Well, it struck me that the President did leave the door open in his remarks by talking, saying that they would be continuing discussions about the training program and that suggests that there might be some residual presence. Not, obviously, the three to five thousand troops that have been in discussion and not combat troops and it seems to me that Iraq will enter into a new phase of great danger when the last American troops go because, in effect, those diminishing number of US troops, and they have been out of major combat operations now for some time, were the tripwire. They were the guarantee against real political mayhem in Iraq. Nothing political has been resolved in Iraq. Let's remember that. The fissures which bedeviled the American occupation from the beginning have never been resolved. Your listeners will be very familiar what the, with what those are. Sectarian, political, ideological, you name it. It's a very fractured society. It hasn't mended and there is a grave danger that Iraq could slide back into the sort of situation that we saw in 2005, in 2006 when Iraq, as you know, was plummeting towards an all-out civil war. We may hope that the Iraqis have learned that the lessons of that time and will not wish to return to it. The vast majority of them don't, but there are some very sinister characters on the Iraqi political scene. Not the least of them is Muqtada al-Sadr, the very man who has made it impossible for the present Iraqi government to make an arrangement with Washington to keep a residual troop presence there. So I think that we have to be alert to the possibility, not perhaps immediate, but certainly within a matter of months of the political center in Iraq beginning to disintegrate.
Mullins: John Burns, former New York Times Bureau Chief in Baghdad. He's now in London. Nice to speak with you.
Burns: It's a pleasure.