Obama said the postwar partnership will comprise programs to strengthen Iraq’s still-brittle democratic institutions, expand trade and commerce between the two countries, increase education exchanges and enhance Iraq’s security.
That will include U.S.-funded military training programs similar to ones the United States carries out in other countries. On Monday, the Obama administration announced plans to sell an additional 18 F-16 jets to Iraq to patrol its vulnerable airspace, raising the total to be sold to 36 for about $5.3 billion.
Both leaders also cited the thousands of Iraqis and Americans killed in a conflict that deposed Saddam Hussein but also set in motion a sectarian conflict suppressed for decades by his brutal rule.
“They are the reason that we can stand here today,” Obama said. “And we owe it to every single one of them — we have a moral obligation to all of them — to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.”
The president announced in October that he would bring all U.S. troops home from Iraq, still fragile and fractured along ethnic and sectarian lines, by the end of the year, declaring that “after nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.”
The decision provoked sharp criticism from most Republican presidential candidates, who have suggested that the move was motivated more by domestic politics than by military advice. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last month found that 78 percent of Americans support Obama’s decision to leave Iraq at the end of the year.
The withdrawal timeline was set by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. But negotiations between Iraqi and U.S. officials to extend the presence of several thousand American troops, for training and counterterrorism operations, collapsed when Iraq’s parliament refused to grant U.S. military personnel immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts past the deadline.
In a statement, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday that “the meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki today cannot obscure the fact that both men have failed in their responsibilities with regard to our shared security interests.”
Maliki’s visit marks the start of a week in which Obama and other U.S. officials plan to commemorate the war, which Obama opposed as a candidate, with events scheduled in the United States and in Iraq.
On Wednesday, the president and first lady Michelle Obama travel to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to speak to the troops about the war. After his Monday meeting with Obama, Maliki headed to Arlington National Cemetery, where he laid a wreath in honor of Americans killed in the war.