As United States troops prepare for departure from Iraq, President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met at the White House Monday for talks focusing on the future relationship between the two countries.
The withdrawal of all American troops on Dec. 31 marks the end of a nearly nine-year war; as of Sunday, only 6,000 troops were left in the country. Obama will mark the milestone Wednesday when he speaks to troops at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where he is expected to thank the troops for their sacrifices.
Almost 4,500 U.S. troops have died since President George W. Bush ordered the invasion in 2003, based on claims of weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaida ties, Reuters reported.
Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, met with Maliki in the Oval Office Monday morning. The meeting was expected to focus on how the U.S. and Iraq will continue to cooperate on security issues without the presence of American troops, The Associated Press reported. The White House said cooperation on energy, trade and education would also be on the discussion table.
Obama and Maliki will also a hold a joint news conference at the White House and then lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery, where some of the nearly 4,500 Americans killed in the Iraq war are buried.
Maliki was accompanied by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Culture Minister and acting Defense Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi, Transport Minister Khayrullah Hassan Babakir, Trade Minister Hadi al-Ameri and National Security Adviser Falah al-Fayadh.
The U.S. leaves behind an Iraqi security force with more than 900,000 troops.
Still, some of Maliki's allies say he will still need American help if he is to check Iranian moves in the country, the Washington Post reported.
Iran is our neighbor and it has influence, but America ... has a big embassy and it is a huge power in the region, so if Maliki is looking for balance, America is still there and its troops are not far away, said Sami al-Askari, a legislator and close aide to Maliki.