American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2011 – With the last U.S. troops leaving Iraq, a new relationship between Iraq and the United States will stand front and center, President Barack Obama said at the White House today.
Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki spoke at a news conference as the last 5,500 U.S. troops in Iraq prepare to leave. When Obama took office there were 150,000 American forces in the country.
“This is a season of homecomings, and military families across America are being reunited for the holidays,” Obama said. “In the coming days, the last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq, with honor and with their heads held high.”
The president and the prime minister discussed the continuing U.S.-Iraqi relationship, and plans to “normalize” relations between the two countries. Obama called for “an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”
Iraq has made tremendous progress since the coalition toppled Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. There have been free and fair elections, Iraq’s economy is growing faster even than that of China, and Iraqi security forces “have been in the lead for the better part of three years, patrolling the streets, dismantling militias, conducting counterterrorism operations,” Obama said.
“Today, despite continued attacks by those who seek to derail Iraq's progress, violence remains at record lows,” Obama said. “And Mr. Prime Minister, that's a tribute to your leadership, and to the skill and the sacrifices of Iraqi forces.”
As the war ends, Iraq will not stand alone, the president said.
“Today, the prime minister and I are reaffirming our common vision of a long-term partnership between our nations that is in keeping with our Strategic Framework Agreement, and it will be like the close relationships we have with other sovereign nations,” Obama said. “Simply put, we are building a comprehensive partnership.”
Obama and Maliki discussed how the United States could help Iraq train and equip its forces the same way America helps other nations around the world. “Given the challenges we face in a rapidly changing region, we also agreed to establish a new, formal channel of communication between our national security advisors,” the president said.
The U.S.-Iraq relationship, he said, will boost regional security.
“Just as Iraq has pledged not to interfere in other nations, other nations must not interfere in Iraq,” Obama said. “Iraq’s sovereignty must be respected.”
The drawdown in Iraq has allowed America to refocus resources and achieve progress in Afghanistan, put al-Qaida on the path to defeat and to better prepare for the full range of challenges that lie ahead, the president said.
Maliki thanked Obama for America’s commitment to his country.
“Anyone who observes the nature of the relationship between the two countries will say that the relationship will not end with the departure of the last American soldier,” Maliki said through a translator.
The United States and Iraq worked together to defeat terrorism and al-Qaida in Iraq, the prime minister said. Now the two countries can work together in peace to put in place the Strategic Framework Agreement “in the economic sphere, as well as in educational and commercial and cultural and judicial and security cooperation fields,” Maliki said.
Iraq still needs U.S. help to bulk up its security forces -- especially in areas of training and equipping. Iraq has ordered 18 F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft and plans to order another 18.
Obama saluted the sacrifices of U.S. and Iraqi service members, noting the two countries will continue to work together toward a promising new future.
“A war is ending, a new day is upon us,” the president said. “And let us never forget those who gave us this chance, the untold number of Iraqis who have given their lives, more than 1 million Americans -- military and civilian -- who have served in Iraq, nearly 4,500 fallen Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion, tens of thousands of wounded warriors and so many inspiring military families.
“They are the reason we stand here today,” Obama continued. “And we owe it to every single one of them -- we have a moral obligation to all of them to build a future worthy of their sacrifices.”
After the news conference, Obama and Maliki travelled to Arlington National Ceremony, Va., to pay respects to the fallen. Maliki placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. They were joined by Vice President Joe Biden and Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, U.S. commander in Iraq.