Obama, Maliki Chart New Course for US, Iraq

Posted December 12th, 2011 at 3:50 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have outlined a broad agenda for post-war cooperation without American troops in Iraq, touting the emergence of a “sovereign and democratic” nation in the Middle East.

The two leaders spoke Monday after White House talks, pledging to ensure Iraq's political stability and strengthen its national security.

Mr. Obama said Iraq can be “a model for others aspiring to build democracy,” and that this justified the U.S. “blood and treasure” expended there. He said U.S. troops have served “with honor,” warning other countries they “must not interfere in Iraq” after the U.S. withdrawal, an apparent reference to Iran.

The Iraqi leader thanked the U.S. for its “commitments.” He said cooperation is still needed, especially in counter-terrorism, training security forces and equipping the Iraqi army. Mr. Maliki said the U.S. withdrawal indicates success was achieved after nearly nine years of war.

Monday's White House talks focused on how the U.S. and Iraq will cooperate without the presence of U.S. forces which are in the final phase of a December 31 withdrawal. The two leaders also discussed issues such as trade, energy, education and U.S. investment in Iraq.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Maliki later laid wreaths at nearby Arlington National Cemetery, where some of the nearly 4,500 U.S. service members killed in Iraq since the war began in 2003 are buried.

On Wednesday, the Iraqi prime minister is expected to accompany Mr. Obama to North Carolina, where the U.S. president to will thank troops returning home from Iraq.

In Brussels Monday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance will permanently shut down its seven-year training mission in Iraq and withdraw all of its soldiers at the end of the month.

The decision follows Mr. Obama's announcement in October that U.S. troops would return home at year's end after talks to keep thousands of trainers in Iraq fell apart over Baghdad's insistence that all NATO personnel in the country be subject to Iraqi laws and jurisprudence.

U.S. officials had asked for about 3,000 U.S. troops to stay in Iraq, but the Iraqi government was not able to push any agreement on immunity through parliament. The failure to agree on an immunity deal also led to the NATO pullout.

These developments have heightened concern about a power vacuum in the country that could be exploited by neighboring Iran.

Both countries have Shi'ite majorities and many Iraqi politicians spent time in exile in Iran during then-dictator Saddam Hussein's regime. One of Mr. Maliki's main allies – anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – is believed to have spent most of his time in Iran.

Several thousand U.S. troops remain in Iraq, more than eight years after invading the country to oust Saddam Hussein.