About the Author: Aaron Snipe serves as Deputy Spokesperson at U.S. Embassy Baghdad.
Last night, millions of Americans tuned in to listen to President Obama's Oval Office address where he announced the end of our combat role in Iraq. Like almost every American with a family member or loved one serving in Iraq, my parents were listening carefully to what the President had to say. For my colleagues and me serving in Iraq (many of whom woke up at 3:00 a.m. to watch the speech), this solemn moment gave us an opportunity to reflect on America's responsibilities to Iraq and the many sacrifices made. Service in Iraq has touched tens of millions of American lives in the most profound ways. From diplomats and development professionals who found themselves serving alongside our men and women in uniform for the first time on the front lines, to young soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines serving multiple tours under the most challenging circumstances, Iraq has had an impact on all of us.
The United States' military presence in Iraq has largely defined the relationship between our two countries since 2003. But with the drawdown of our troops and a change of mission -- from combat to advise, train, and assist -- we now see a historic transformation of our relationship with Iraq. This shift reminded me of something I heard Secretary Clinton say when she first arrived at the State Department. Speaking to a group of Foreign Service Officers about her vision for American foreign policy, she spoke of the three pillars: diplomacy, defense, and development. I didn't reflect much on those words at the time, but here in Iraq, they resonate deeply with me. We are now seeing a moment in Iraq where defense -- the hard work and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform -- has paved the way for the enduring pillars of diplomacy and development in Iraq.
With the State Department taking the lead in Iraq, diplomats, development professionals, and specialists in fields such as water, agriculture, health policy, rule-of-law, and governance, who have been working with Iraqis in every province, will continue to assist the people of Iraq in building a strong democracy. From my last tour in Iraq, I saw with my own eyes how U.S. civilian assistance and civilian reconstruction projects have contributed to Iraq's progress. We've now moved from helping Iraq rebuild and reconstruct its infrastructure and institutions, to providing technical advice to strengthen capacity in key fields such as health, agriculture, and economic diversification. Americans should be proud that this important work continues.
With the change of command, and the change of mission, the President reminded us that, "Our combat mission here may be ending, but our commitment to Iraq is not." As we civilians now take the lead in this new phase in our relationship with Iraq, we do so with a great sense of optimism but also with a solemn sense of duty. More than 4,400 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice here in Iraq, and we civilians who now take the lead owe it to our own nation, to the people of Iraq, and most important to the families of the fallen to answer the President's call and lead our new mission.