The US military’s “historic” withdrawal will not affect Iraq’s security, and any future American military training will be incorporated into arms deals, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said yesterday.
At a news conference in Baghdad’s heavily-guarded Green Zone, the premier said the pullout, announced on Friday by US President Barack Obama, would transform relations between the two countries.
Washington’s decision came after Iraq failed to agree to legal immunity for a small residual force that Washington had hoped to keep in the country to train the army and counter the influence of neighbouring Iran.
“The security situation has nothing to do with the withdrawal of US forces,” Maliki told reporters. “The withdrawal will remove all justification on which Al-Qaeda and armed groups base their attacks.”
Levels of violence in Iraq are markedly down from their 2006-2007 peak during a brutal insurgency and sectarian war, but attacks remain common. A total of 185 Iraqis were killed in violence in September, according to official figures.
Maliki added that US negotiators stopped giving “suggestions” about numbers of trainers and other details after Iraqi political leaders announced this month that while they backed a training mission, they would not grant US forces legal immunity.
“The training issue will be added to contracts of purchasing weapons,” he said. “The issue will be easy.”
He was speaking a day after Obama said all American troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, bringing to a close a conflict which cleaved deep political divides and estranged the US from its allies.
“The withdrawal is a historic occasion for the Iraqi people and the armed forces, because it is a commitment to withdraw all US forces,” Maliki said. “Our forces have become able to control the security situation.”
“With the withdrawal, we (Iraq and the US) will turn a page that was dominated by military (relations), and start a new stage built on diplomatic cooperation.”
Around 39,500 US troops remain in Iraq on 18 bases, down from a peak of nearly 170,000 soldiers on 505 bases, and all must withdraw by the end of the year under the terms of a 2008 security pact.
US and Iraqi officials assess that while domestic forces are able to handle internal security, they cannot yet defend the country’s borders, its air space or its territorial waters.
Politics remains deadlocked since an inconclusive March 2010 general election. Maliki has yet to appoint a permanent minister of defence or interior.
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