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With Al-Maliki At The White House, Obama Says Iraqi Withdrawal On Schedule

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki held talks on July 22 at the White House with President Barack Obama to discuss a range of issues, including the transition of U.S. troops out of the country and what comes next in U.S.-Iraqi relations.

Obama said the United States will adhere to its timetable to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 even though there are still militants in the country who " resort to killing innocents and senseless bombings."

Citing a downturn in violence, Obama said his administration was "very encouraged" by the progress that has been made since Maliki's last trip to Washington, which was in 2006, when George W. Bush was still in power.

With Maliki standing by his side, Obama said the United States is in the "midst of a full transition to Iraqi responsibility" that would be based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

Under a Status of Forces pact with the United States, American troops pulled out of major Iraqi cities on June 30, and Obama said that withdrawal "should send an unmistakable signal" that the United States plans to keep its commitments with Iraq.

"We seek no bases in Iraq, nor do we make any claim on Iraq's territory or resources," Obama said.

"Going forward, we will continue to train and support Iraqi forces that are capable and nonsectarian. We will move forward with our strategy to responsibly remove all American combat brigades by next August, and to fulfill our commitment to remove all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011."

There are still more than 130,000 U.S. forces in the country, and the rest of the joint pact calls for the withdrawal of all American combat forces by August 2010 and the remainder of U.S. troops by the end of 2011.

Obama said future relations with Iraq would likely include economic cooperation and the expansion of trade relations. He said both men agreed that cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges would "make a positive difference in the lives" of both Americans and Iraqis.

'Strategic Friendship'

Going into the meeting, U.S. concerns over the slow pace of political, religious and ethnic reconciliation in Iraq were expected to dominate the agenda. Maliki and his Shi'ite Muslim political allies have made less progress than Washington would like on power sharing with the minority Sunnis and Kurds.

Obama said he reiterated his belief in the talks "that Iraq will be more secure and more successful if there is a place for all Iraqis citizens to thrive, including all of Iraq's ethnic and religious groups."

For his part, Maliki said the meeting was "positive and constructive" and echoed most of what Obama said about the two countries working together on a "strategic friendship" that will involve not only solving Iraq's security problems, but also include working together to make progress on things like infrastructure and democratic reform.

Responding to U.S concerns that his national unity government has not moved quickly enough to bring all Iraqis into the fold, Maliki vowed to "work on a national plan where all sons of Iraq and all daughters of Iraq are equal in their contribution and in their services."

Earlier in the day, Maliki met briefly with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UN headquarters in New York before sitting down with the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council to press for the lifting of all legally binding resolutions against his country stemming from Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

During his stay in the United States, Maliki is expected to try to shift the focus to increasing American private investment in Iraq.

At the White House press conference, he noted that the Iraqi government would be holding an investment conference in October 'that will combine all foreign investors and all companies that would like and wish to work in Iraq."

No surprise, then, that his next stop in Washington will be a speech before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.