Obama: U.S., Iraq Forge New Relationship

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.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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