WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Following is the text, as
prepared for delivery, of U.S. President Barack Obama's speech
Tuesday on Iraq.

"Good evening. Tonight, I'd like to talk to you about the
end of our combat mission in Iraq, the ongoing security
challenges we face, and the need to rebuild our nation here at
home.

"I know this historic moment comes at a time of great
uncertainty for many Americans. We have now been through nearly
a decade of war. We have endured a long and painful recession.
And sometimes in the midst of these storms, the future that we
are trying to build for our nation - a future of lasting peace
and long-term prosperity may seem beyond our reach.

"But this milestone should serve as a reminder to all
Americans that the future is ours to shape if we move forward
with confidence and commitment. It should also serve as a
message to the world that the United States of America intends
to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young
century.

"From this desk, seven and a half years ago, President Bush
announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq. Much
has changed since that night. A war to disarm a state became a
fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare
threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave
their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations
abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested.

"These are the rough waters encountered during the course
of one of America's longest wars. Yet there has been one
constant amidst those shifting tides. At every turn, America's
men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve.
As Commander-in-Chief, I am proud of their service. Like all
Americans, I am awed by their sacrifice, and by the sacrifices
of their families.

"The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every
mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had
terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition
partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops
fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a
better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi
people; trained Iraqi Security Forces; and took out terrorist
leaders. Because of our troops and civilians - and because of
the resilience of the Iraqi people - Iraq has the opportunity
to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.

"So tonight, I am announcing that the American combat
mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and
the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security
of their country.

"This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate
for this office. Last February, I announced a plan that would
bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our
efforts to strengthen Iraq's Security Forces and support its
government and people. That is what we have done. We have
removed nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq. We have closed or
transferred hundreds of bases to the Iraqis. And we have moved
millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq.

"This completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for
their own security. U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq's cities
last summer, and Iraqi forces have moved into the lead with
considerable skill and commitment to their fellow citizens.
Even as Iraq continues to suffer terrorist attacks, security
incidents have been near the lowest on record since the war
began. And Iraqi forces have taken the fight to al Qaeda,
removing much of its leadership in Iraqi-led operations.

"This year also saw Iraq hold credible elections that drew
a strong turnout. A caretaker administration is in place as
Iraqis form a government based on the results of that election.
Tonight, I encourage Iraq's leaders to move forward with a
sense of urgency to form an inclusive government that is just,
representative, and accountable to the Iraqi people. And when
that government is in place, there should be no doubt: the
Iraqi people will have a strong partner in the United States.
Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq's
future is not.

"Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will
remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting
Iraq's Security Forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted
counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our civilians.
Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all
U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year. As our military
draws down, our dedicated civilians - diplomats, aid workers,
and advisors - are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it
strengthens its government, resolves political disputes,
resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the
region and the world. And that is a message that Vice President
Biden is delivering to the Iraqi people through his visit there
today.

"This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with
Iraq-one based upon mutual interests, and mutual respect. Of
course, violence will not end with our combat mission.
Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi
civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately,
these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a
proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have
no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in
the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police
their streets. 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.

"Ending this war is not only in Iraq's interest - it is in
our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the
future of Iraq in the hands of its people. We have sent our
young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and
spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home.
We have persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi
people - a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning
could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this
remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and
Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn
the page.

"As we do, I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a
contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the
page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W.
Bush. It's well known that he and I disagreed about the war
from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush's
support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment
to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who
supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us
are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and
our hope for Iraq's future.

"The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability
to move beyond our differences, and to learn from our
experience as we confront the many challenges ahead. And no
challenge is more essential to our security than our fight
against al Qaeda.

"Americans across the political spectrum supported the use
of force against those who attacked us on 9/11. Now, as we
approach our 10th year of combat in Afghanistan, there are
those who are understandably asking tough questions about our
mission there. But we must never lose sight of what's at stake.
As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its
leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan
and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda,
while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for
terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now
able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In
fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al Qaeda leaders
- and hundreds of al Qaeda's extremist allies - have been
killed or captured around the world.

"Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of
additional troops who - under the command of General David
Petraeus - are fighting to break the Taliban's momentum. As
with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a
limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their
capacity and secure their own future. But, as was the case in
Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for
themselves. That's why we are training Afghan Security Forces
and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan's