Biden says U.S. pullout brings new phase with Iraq
Posted on 30 November 2011 | 12:56 pm
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year opened a new phase in relations between the two countries, including a robust security partnership.
The remaining 13,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are scheduled to leave by the end of the year when a bilateral security pact expires, nearly nine years after the U.S. invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
"We are embarking on a new... and a comprehensive relationship between the United States and Iraq as sovereign partners," Biden said after meeting with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials.
Violence in Iraq has fallen sharply since the height of the sectarian slaughter in 2006-2007, and Maliki leads a fragile power-sharing government that still struggles to balance the interests of Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish political blocs.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced last month that U.S. troops would come home at the end of the year as scheduled after talks to keep a small number of American soldiers in Iraq as trainers fell apart over the issue of immunity.
U.S. officials had asked for around 3,000 U.S. troops to stay in Iraq, but Maliki's government did not have the political capital to push any agreement on immunity through parliament.
Around 200 U.S. trainers will be attached to the embassy's Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq and 700 civilian trainers will help Iraqi forces train on new U.S. military hardware they have purchased such as F-16 fighters and Abrams tanks.
"No doubt, U.S. forces have a role in providing training for Iraqi forces," Maliki said at the end of the meeting of a bilateral coordinating committee. "The relationship we establish today is based on the will of two countries."
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