By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Obama made the announcement at the White House shortly after conferring with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a secure video conference between Washington and Baghdad.
“I reaffirmed that the United States keeps its commitments,” Obama said. “He spoke of the determination of the Iraqi people to forge their own future. We are in full agreement about how to move forward.”
“As of January 1st, and in keeping with our Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq, it will be a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” Obama said.
In the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement reached between the Iraqi government and then President George W. Bush, all U.S. military forces were to be withdrawn from the nation by the end of 2011.
Obama said that over the next two months the remaining 40,000 military members will pack up and return to the United States.
“In today’s conversation, Prime Minister Maliki and I agreed that a meeting of the higher coordinating committee of the Strategic Framework Agreement will convene in the coming weeks,” Obama said. “And I invited the prime minister to come to the White House in December, as we plan for all the important work that we have to do together.”
Obama said the way ahead for the United States is to help the Iraqi people strengthen the institutions of government, build new ties of trade and commerce and expand culture and education.
“As I told Prime Minister Maliki, we will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces … just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world,” Obama said. “There will be some difficult days ahead for Iraq, and the United States will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure and self-reliant.”
Obama also said that efforts have been refocused on Afghanistan to eventually bring military operations there to a successful conclusion. “When I took office, roughly 180,000 troops were deployed in both of these wars,” Obama said. “And by the end of this year that number will be cut in half.”