There are still more than 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Under the security pact the two countries signed, combat troops would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30 and the soldiers who remained would coordinate, train and advise Iraqi security forces at their request, the U.S. military has said.
“Overall, we have been very encouraged by the progress that has been made,” said President Obama, but he acknowledged that there are still security problems inside Iraq and militants who “still resort to killing innocents and senseless bombings.”
Al-Maliki said Iraqi forces have become “highly capable” after working alongside American troops.
It was Mr. Obama’s first meeting with al-Maliki at the White House. They last met in Iraq in April.
Al-Maliki said they talked about “every possible area” where the U.S. could play a role in working with the Iraqi government. “We are about to activate such a strategic framework agreement,” he said, reported the Associated Press. And he pledged to work to ease sectarian unrest in his country among rival Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.
In addition to discussing security issues, al-Maliki was seeking to boost economic cooperation and encourage foreign investment in his country.
His government has opened up the oil sector and is trying to coax major firms into Iraq to modernize power plants, build apartment blocks, overhaul sewage systems and more. But efforts to secure Western investment, even in the lucrative oil sector, have been halting as investors are concerned that Iraq’s legal and regulatory framework is not robust enough to protect their rights and property, reported the Washington Post.
In addition to meeting with President Obama, al-Maliki planned to meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
He also planned to lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday to pay homage to the more than 4,300 American soldiers who have died in Iraq since 2003.
Earlier Wednesday, the Iraqi premier met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier Wednesday to try to lift Iraq’s Chapter 7 status under a U.N. Security Council resolution from 1991.
According to the resolution, Iraq is required to pay a specific percentage of its oil revenues to several countries as war reparations for the 1991 Gulf war, most of which goes to Kuwait.
Baghdad’s government views the size of the payments, 5 percent of its oil revenues, as an unfair burden created by former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, and would like them reduced, but Kuwait has lobbied key council members to oppose the idea, according to Reuters.
As the meetings in New York and Washington, D.C., were taking place, several bombings rocked Baghdad, Ramadi and Baquba, killing two dozen people, underlining security threats that insurgents still pose to the al-Maliki government, news agencies reported.