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Comment: Obama ends a war he didn't want

By Jonathan Mann, CNN
As an Illinois lawmaker, Barack Obama described the Iraq conflict as a "dumb war."
As an Illinois lawmaker, Barack Obama described the Iraq conflict as a "dumb war."
  • As Illinois lawmaker Barack Obama called Iraq conflict a "dumb war"
  • Obama announced end to U.S. combat missions earlier this week
  • 50,000 U.S. troops to remain in Iraq to advise, assist Iraqi forces
  • Iraq still faces mainly problems; not the triumphant exit some in the U.S. wanted

(CNN) -- U.S. President Barack Obama announced a milestone in the American war in Iraq this week, in the awkward position of a commander taking stock of a conflict he opposed after a strategy he opposed, with a result he could hardly have wished for either.

"The American combat mission has ended," he said in a nationally televised address from the Oval Office. "The Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country."

George W. Bush invaded Iraq seven-and-a-half years ago, in his now famously failed bid to find weapons of mass destruction. Obama, then a little-known lawmaker in the mid-western state of Illinois, called it a "dumb war."

When the fight seemed deadlocked in 2007, Bush raised the total number of U.S. troops to 166,000, in a surge that Obama campaigned against as well.

Video: Obama: Time to turn the page in Iraq
Video: Iraqi people unsure about future
  • Iraq
  • Iraq War
  • Barack Obama

The surge is now widely viewed as a turning point, allowing the Bush administration to agree with Iraqi authorities that U.S. troops would leave the country in 2011. Obama's announcement this week was a step in that direction, made possible in part by his predecessor's plans.

"Of course violence will not end with our combat mission" Obama said. "Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner."

So 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, to "advise and assist" Iraqi forces. They will not lead the ongoing fight against insurgents but they will often be in it or alongside.

"We're not at the end," said David Frum, a former Bush aide. "This war went a way nobody expected and nobody wanted."

More than 4,400 Americans have been killed and even conservative estimates suggest that tens of thousands of Iraqis have died as well.

Iraq is still crippled by the scars of war, daily extremist violence and its inexperience adapting to democracy. Six months after its most recent election, it still doesn't have a new government. It's hardly the way that Washington once hoped to leave it.

But the U.S. isn't leaving Iraq yet. It is reducing its commitment well short of a real triumph.