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Serious note in holiday night at White House

President Barack Obama warns "there will be difficult days ahead" in Iraq at a White House celebration of Independence Day with military families.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama warned on Saturday "there will be difficult days ahead" in Iraq and said the U.S. will remain a strong partner to Iraq for its security.

Obama, speaking to military families invited to the White House for Independence Day festivities, praised Iraq's independence and thanked troops for their service. Because of the courage, capability and commitment of soldiers who have served in Iraq, the country is now "taking control of its own destiny," he said.

"Iraq's future now rests in the hands of its own people. As extraordinary an accomplishment as that is, we know that this transition won't be without problems," Obama said. "We know there will be difficult days ahead. And that's why we will remain a strong partner to the Iraqi people on behalf of their security and prosperity."

Combat troops this week withdrew from Iraqi cities as part of a security pact that calls for a full withdrawal by the end of 2011. But concerns are growing that a lack of political progress is fueling violence in Iraq.

Violence remains at low levels in Iraq compared with previous years, but a series of bombings that killed scores of people raised concerns about the run-up to the parliamentary elections. At least 447 Iraqi civilians were killed in June, double the toll from the previous month, according to an Associated Press tally.

Obama told service members they were "the latest, strongest link in that unbroken chain that stretches back to the Continental Army." Speaking to those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama said the U.S. military has taken on terror and extremism that threaten the world's stability.

"I'm proud to be your commander in chief," Obama said. "That's why, this Fourth of July, I renew my pledge to each and every one of you — that for as long as I have that immeasurable honor, you will always have the equipment and support you need to get the job done."

Obama also took note of Vice President Joe Biden, who celebrated Independence Day with U.S. troops in Iraq.

The White House invited hundreds of military families to attend the Fourth of July gathering on the White House South Lawn. The celebration included volleyball and refreshments such as hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, corn on the cob, ice cream and lemonade.

Obama daughters Sasha and Malia joined their parents as the president addressed the military families from a balcony decorated with red, white and blue bunting. Malia Obama turned 11 Saturday.

"I should say that there's also one girl in particular who's just thrilled that all of you are here — and that is Malia Obama, because this happens to be her birthday, as well," Obama said, drawing applause. "When she was younger, I used to say that all these fireworks were for her. I'm not sure she still buys that."

Nearby on the National Mall, thousands gathered for a Fourth of July celebration that included a performance by singer Barry Manilow. Fireworks lit up the national monuments as a band played a medley of patriotic music.