Iraqi Leader Visits Washington Amid US Troop Drawdown

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. President Obama hosted Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki at the White House today. They met to discus what comes next in the relationship between the United States and Iraq. That relationship is entering a new phase as the last U.S. troops leave Iraq by the end of this month and that, as Obama noted after the meeting with Maliki, will end the Iraq war after almost nine years.

President Obama: A war is ending, a new day is upon us and let us never forget those who gave us this chance. The untold number of Iraqis who have given their lives, more than one million Americans, military and civilian who have served in Iraq, nearly 4,500 fallen Americans who gave their last, full measure of devotion. Tens of thousands of wounded warriers and so many inspiring military families, they are the reason that we can stand here today.

Werman: President Obama speaking at the White House earlier today. Jane Arraf reports from Iraq for the Christian Science Monitor and Al Jazeera International, she's in Baghdad. President Obama spoke of a relationship as equal partners between the United States and Iraq. How does it look, Jane, from where you're sitting in Baghdad?

Jane Arraf: Well, a little more equal, certainly, at the end of this month than it has been in more than eight years. Now this is because, of course, the U.S. military is actually out of here and that was one of the things that Obama and Maliki emphasize, they also emphasize that new relationship but it's a very complicated relationship. It's complicated mostly because what the United States wanted here, a democracy, is the very thing that led to U.S. troops actually not staying. The Parliament that said they would not allow U.S. forces to remain here so there are a lot of things to discuss, a lot of challenges, as the like to put it, diplomatically going forward and not quite sure how a lot of those issues are going to be resolved.

Werman: Well as we note, U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year, I'm wondering though, who is left? What will be the U.S. presence in Iraq now?

Arraf: It is a huge footprint, it is going to be the biggest U.S. Embassy in the world. Now the U.S. Ambassador here said a few months ago publicly, that he expected the Embassy which currently had 8000 people in it, to double by next year so we're talking 15,000 or 16,000 people, a number they don't like to throw around anymore just because it sounds so huge. Essentially what that will be is foreign services officers, very small part of it, an awful lot of security, more than 5000 security contractors and that there, again, is one of the issues that still has not been resolved. Things that should be a matter of course such as security contractors ability to carry weapons is still an issue here and as soon as Maliki returns here he's going to have to talk to Parliament and answers questions about why there's such a big U.S. Embassy.

Werman: So a long term deal whereby U.S. and NATO advisors would continue to train Iraqi soldiers, that fell apart over the issue of providing legal immunity for U.S. troops, is there a serious threat of Americans getting caught up in the Iraqi legal system? And remind us of some of the charges Americans some Americans might have faced.

Arraf: Absolutely. This is a country where some of the worst incidents of the war are incidents where if U.S. soldiers had not had immunity they would be, certainly in jail here and they would be standing trial and subject to execution. Now we're talking about cases where civilians have been killed and they found to have been killed deliberately. As well as things like security contractors opening fire in the famous case that killed more than a dozen Iraqi civilians, those are the things that haunt Iraqi's and those are the reasons why there was such a backlash against immunity. Now the other thing about this is, that even though it is a new relationship, the U.S. troops are leaving, it still does remain a dangerous place. Violence is down but recently there was a kidnapping threat specifically against American diplomats and the green zone, which is at the best of times barricaded and a fortress, became even more of a fortress, their mobility is very limited.

Werman: With all the U.S. troops just about gone from Iraq and this visit by Nouri al-Maliki to the White House, feeling kind of like his Washington swan song, what's the mood in Baghdad right now? How do Iraqis feel about this?

Arraf: Iraqis feel it's a really uncertain time. The U.S. military is pulling out, a lot of people are happy about that but a lot of them also don't believe that they're really pulling out. We've spoken to some members of Parliament for instance, who say the U.S. forces are just pulling out to Kuwait and other countries, they're just waiting in the wings to invade again. But the other part is that there are still killings going on. There are political assassinations, there is continued repression and all of the things that President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki spoke about are really things that Iraqis would like to see, a real democracy, transparent institutions that serve everyone but they're not institutions that they have yet.

Werman: Jane Arraf who reports from Iraq for the Christian Science Monitor and Al Jezeera International, Jane, thanks very much indeed.

Arraf: Thank you.

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