Fort Bragg: President Barack Obama saluted returning troops on Wednesday, applauding their "extraordinary achievement" and declaring that the nearly nine-year conflict in Iraq is ending "not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home."
Marking the conclusion of the war at this military redoubt that`s seen more than 200 deaths during the Iraq war, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama addressed several thousand troops and several hundred military families.
"The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and your service belongs to the ages," he said.
Obama highlighted the human side of the war, reflecting on the bravery and sacrifices of US forces now on their way back home. He recalled the start of the war, a time when he was only an Illinois state senator and many of the warriors before him were in grade school.
The war, he said, took many twists and turns.
"We knew this day would come. We have known it for some time now," he said. "But still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long."
He noted the early battles that defeated and deposed Saddam Hussein and what he called "the grind of insurgency" — roadside bombs, snipers and suicide attacks.
"Your will proved stronger than the terror of those who tried to break it," he said.
Upon his arrival in Fort Bragg Wednesday, Obama met with five enlisted service members who had recently returned from combat. He also met with the family of a soldier killed overseas.
Obama has on several occasions addressed his reasons for ending the war, casting it as a promise kept after he ran for president as an anti-war candidate and speaking of the need to refocus US attention on rebuilding the troubled economy at home.
Obama`s approval rating on handling the situation in Iraq has been above 50 percent since last fall, and in a new Associated Press-GfK poll, has ticked up four points since October to 55 percent. Among independents, his approval rating tops 50 percent for the first time since this spring.
With the economy foremost on people`s minds, fewer now consider the war a top issue. Fifty-one percent said it was extremely or very important to them personally, down from 58 percent in October, placing it behind 13 of 14 issues tested in the poll.