Addressing an issue that defined his campaign, President Barack Obama today said all U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010.

By that date, he said, “our combat mission in Iraq will end.”

Obama delivered the much -anticipated news in a speech to in a speech to Marines and military leadership at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The president’s deadline for withdrawing the troops extends past the May 2010 timetable he promised as a candidate. And of the roughly 100,000 U.S. combat troops still in Iraq, most will remain in the war zone through at least the end of 2009 to ensure Iraqi elections go smoothly.

In an effort, perhaps, to blunt criticism from opponents, Obama emphasized to the military crowd that his planned pullout did not amount to abandoning Iraq.

“I want to be very clear,” he said, “We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime – and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government – and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life – that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.”

The president also emphasized that challenges remain:

“There will be difficult days ahead,” he said. “Violence will continue to be a part of life in Iraq. Too many fundamental political questions about Iraq’s future remain unresolved. Too many Iraqis are still displaced or destitute. Declining oil revenues will put an added strain on a government that has had difficulty delivering basic services. Not all of Iraq’s neighbors are contributing to its security. Some are working at times to undermine it. And even as Iraq’s government is on a surer footing, it is not yet a full partner – politically and economically – in the region, or with the international community.”

Read the president’s full speech on the White House web site.

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