U.S. prepares for full Iraq withdrawal
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki meets with President Obama at the White House on Monday.
Al-Maliki: “The relationship will not end with the departure” of U.S. troops “This is a historic moment,”
President Barack Obama says The United States is set to withdraw virtually all troops from Iraq by the end of the year Spokesman says 6,000 U.S. troops and four military bases remain in Iraq as of Sunday Washington.
President Barack Obama met Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki amid the ongoing withdrawal of virtually all U.S. troops from Iraq, a process to be completed by the end of this month.
Speaking to reporters after their Oval Office meeting, Obama said the end of the Iraq war means a new chapter in U.S.-Iraq relations, with a focus now on a “normal relationship between sovereign nations.” “This is an equal partnership, a broad relationship that advances the security and aspirations of both our peoples,”
Obama said. “This is a historic moment. A war is ending. A new day is upon us, and let us never forget those who gave us this chance.” Obama told the visiting Iraqi prime minister that the two nations will build “a comprehensive partnership” that includes trade relations and building up Iraq’s democratic capacity. Al-Maliki said he is committed to building ties moving forward. “The relationship will not end with the departure of the last American soldier,” he said.
Iraq is now completely reliant on its own security apparatus, he said. “We have proven success. Nobody imagined that we would succeed in defeating terrorism and al Qaeda,” he said.
After the news conference, Obama and al-Maliki were scheduled to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Also Monday, NATO announced it is withdrawing training forces from Iraq by December 31. A NATO statement said “robust negotiations” on extending the NATO training mission failed to reach agreement. The unresolved issue was granting foreign forces immunity from local prosecution, officials said.
The same issue stymied earlier talks between the Obama administration and al-Maliki’s government about the possibility of some U.S. training forces staying longer than the deadline for withdrawal set in an agreement dating back to the Bush administration. Both Obama and al-Maliki have political reasons for ending the U.S. military presence.
Obama pledged during his 2008 campaign to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, while al-Maliki faces internal opposition to the foreign military presence. More than 4,400 U.S. troops were killed and thousands more were wounded in the war that began in 2003.
“The war is over and the troops are coming home,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday. Some analysts fear that violence could spike in Iraq as groups struggle over power in the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal, and that the decreased U.S. presence could allow Iran to increase its influence.
As of Sunday, 6,000 U.S. troops and four U.S. military bases remained in Iraq, according to Col. Barry Johnson, spokesman for the United States Forces in Iraq. The four bases are: • Kalsu in Iskandariya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad • Echo in Diwaniya, about 110 miles south of Baghdad • Adder near Nasiriya, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad • Basra in Basra, about 340 miles southeast of Baghdad Iraq faces many challenges as U.S. troops pull out, ranging from human rights issues to oil deals to national stability.
Meghan O’Sullivan, a Bush administration deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004 to 2007, wrote that there is “reason to worry” in a recent analysis for Foreign Affairs posted on CNN’s Global Public Square blog. “The foundations of the Iraqi state remain shallow. Divisions within Iraq’s ruling elite run deep,” wrote O’Sullivan, now a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
“A continued U.S. military presence would not have guaranteed peace and prosperity, but its removal increases the risks of failure in Iraq by eliminating the psychological backstop to a still delicate political system and by kicking open the door more widely to foreign interference.” U.S. officials have insisted the drastic pullback of troops does not mean an end to the U.S. government’s presence in Iraq.
“We are absolutely committed to be your partner to the extent you want us to be,” Vice President Joe Biden told al-Maliki during a visit to Iraq this month. “We stand ready to provide assistance.” The move is the start of “a new chapter” in the U.S. relationship with Iraq, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said shortly after Obama announced the withdrawal in October.
Toner noted substantial improvements in the capabilities of the Iraqis, even as he admitted the continued importance of addressing “security needs” of the hundreds of nonmilitary U.S. personnel who will remain there. This personnel includes about 1,700 diplomats, law enforcement officers and economic, agriculture and other professionals and experts who will be in Iraq into 2012, according to the State Department. In addition, 5,000 security contractors will protect U.S. diplomats and another 4,500 contractors will serve other roles, such as helping provide food and medical services, until they can be done locally. Future U.S. involvement in training for Iraqi troops is also a possibility, U.S. officials have said.
“We will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces — again, just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world,” Obama said in October.
Earlier this month, al-Maliki said Iraq is becoming a more stable country. He said all Iraqis should be proud of what has been achieved, adding that it was not a success for any particular party, sect or ethnicity. Al-Maliki made the comments during a ceremony honoring the sacrifices of both U.S. and Iraqi troops. But the prime minister noted that Iraqis have paid a huge price in lives and property.
Officials and analysts have said the impact of the U.S. presence will echo for years to come. “Iraqis, Americans and the world ultimately will judge us far more on the basis of what will happen than what has happened,” Ryan Crocker, then-U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said in 2008 congressional testimony. “In the end, how we leave and what we leave behind will be more important than how we came.”
CNN’s Ingrid Formanek contributed to this report.