US, Iraq building long-term partnership: Obama

Updated: 2011-12-13 06:35


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WASHINGTON - The United States and Iraq are building a long-term and comprehensive partnership, US President Barack Obama said on Monday after meeting with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the White House.

The president made the remarks as the US troop withdrawal from Iraq enters its final days, with nearly all forces scheduled to be pulled out by the end of this year.

"After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq ends this month," Obama said at a joint press conference with al-Maliki. "Today, only several thousand troops remain there. And more are coming home every day."

The number of US troops in Iraq has been reduced to about 6, 000, down from 170,000 at the war's peak in 2007.

It was time to "begin a new chapter in the history between our countries. A normal relationship between sovereign nations. An equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect," Obama said.

Iraq has "a strong and enduring partner in the United States of America," he said. "Simply put, we are building a comprehensive partnership."

Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, met with al-Maliki in the Oval Office Monday morning, with discussions centered on the next phase of bilateral relationship in the wake of US military withdrawal.

"Iraq is following a foreign policy in which it does not intervene in the affairs of others and does not allow others to intervene in its affairs," the Iraqi leader said at the press conference.

There will be future meetings about the exact details of the relationship between US and Iraq, he said.

Both leaders recognized that they sometimes differed with each other on certain issues like Syria. The Obama administration has called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, while Iraq abstained from imposing sanctions on Syria.

There are "tactical" differences in Iraq and America's approach toward Syria, Obama said. But he added that "every decision I believe Prime Minister al-Maliki is making, he's making on the basis of what's best for the Iraqi people."

A deal to leave thousands of US troops in Iraq beyond the end of this year to train Iraqi security forces fell apart primarily due to disagreement on whether US troops should be granted legal immunity. This led to an October announcement by Obama that the US will pull out all troops from Iraq by year's end.