WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama renewed his vow Tuesday to have all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by next August, while nudging Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to see that his parliament quickly passes a critical election law essential to a nationwide vote in January.
Without an election law, the vote could be delayed, snarling American plans to begin significantly scaling back U.S. troop presence after the national referendum.
“We have seen in the last several months a consolidation of a commitment to democratic politics inside of Iraq,” Obama said. “We are very interested, both of us, in making sure that Iraq has an election law that is completed on time so that elections can take place on time in January.”
Vice President Joe Biden also pressed al-Maliki on the election legislation when they met a day earlier.
As Obama promised to hold to U.S. withdrawal plans, which would see all troops leave Iraq by the end of 2011, Obama also told al-Maliki that he was glad the two leaders were now able to expand their talks beyond warfare to the “enormous opportunities for our countries to do business together.”
The Iraqi leader was in the United States in conjunction with a conference designed to boost international business and investment in Iraq, where six years of war have devastated the national infrastructure, factories and all-important oil sector.
“We didn't just talk about military and security issues,” the president said. “What is wonderful about this trip is that it represents a transition in our bilateral relationship so that we are moving now to issues beyond security and we are beginning to talk about economy, trade, commerce.”
The U.S. negotiated a status of forces agreement in the latter months of the Bush administration which commits the United States to having all combat troops out of the country by the end of August and all other forces — counterinsurgency and support troops — gone by the end of 2011.
Beyond its significance for the U.S. pullout, the January election will be critical for the Iraqis with the potential for important political and power realignments. It could threaten al-Maliki's hold on power after the powerful political bloc of his Shiite Islam co-religionists excluded him from its coalition going into the vote.
It that estrangement holds, it would require that al-Maliki turn for political allies among Sunni Muslims, whose insurgency took the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007, and secular parties.
Al-Maliki also repeated his call for help from the Obama administration in the cancellation of all U.N. sanctions and resolutions adopted after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, saying Iraq is a democracy and has no weapons of mass destruction .
“This is important to move Iraq forward and to promote investment,” the Iraqi leader said.
Obama nodded as he listened to a translation of al-Maliki's remarks, but neither leader took questions after their brief statements in the White House Oval Office.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.