- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009


President Obama said Wednesday the United States will stick to its schedule and remove all its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, even though there will be “tough days ahead.”

Standing in the Rose Garden alongside Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Mr. Obama said the two nations were in the midst of a “full transition” that would be based on mutual interest and respect.

He brushed off some American military complaints that Iraq was placing too many limits on what U.S. troops could do after their recent withdrawal from Iraqi cities.

Mr. Obama cited differences in strategy between Iraqi security forces and U.S. troops, which have pulled back from the cities but remain in the country. More than 130,000 U.S. forces are in Iraq.

“Overall, we have been very encouraged by the progress that has been made,” Mr. Obama said.

He said that doesn’t mean there aren’t persistent dangers inside Iraq and militants who “still resort to killing innocents and senseless bombings.”

It was Mr. Obama’s first meeting with Mr. al-Maliki at the White House. They met in Iraq in April.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq’s cities should “send an unmistakable signal that we will keep our commitments with the Iraqi people.”

“We’ll move forward with our strategy to responsibly remove all American combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next August and to fulfill our commitment to remove all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011,” Obama said.

He said both he and the Iraqi prime minister “have no doubt that there will be some tough days ahead. There will be attacks on Iraqi security forces and the American troops supporting them. There are still those in Iraq who would murder innocent men, women and children. There are still those who want to foment sectarian conflict.”

“But make no mistake, those efforts will fail,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama said the United States does not seek any military bases in Iraq and makes no claim on Iraqi oil resources or territory.

For his part, Mr. al-Maliki said the two presidents talked about “every possible area” where the United States could play a role in working with the Iraqi government.

“We are about to activate such a strategic framework agreement,” he said.

Mr. al-Maliki is in the United States partly in an effort to encourage foreign investors to return to doing business in his country.

He said Iraqi forces have become “highly capable” after working alongside American troops.

Mr. al-Maliki also pledged to work to ease sectarian unrest in his country among rival Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.

With insurgent bombings and attacks still a major danger, U.S. officials have voiced concerns about continuing violence unless Mr. al-Maliki and his Shiite Muslim political allies do more to share power with minority Sunnis and to ease government control over Sunni regions and those dominated by ethnic Kurds.

“Overall, we have been very encouraged by the progress that has been made,” Mr. Obama said.

Both Mr. al-Maliki and Mr. Obama said they supported moves toward lifting a U.N. sanction — known as Chapter Seven — that requires Iraq to pay 5 percent of its oil revenues as reparations for the 1991 Gulf War.

Mr. Obama said he was committed to working with Iraq to get the United Nations to lift the sanctions. He said it would be “a mistake for Iraq to continue to be burdened by the sins of a deposed dictator.”

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