Obama Marks Final Days of U.S. Troop Withdrawal from Iraq

By Melanie Arter | December 13, 2011 | 11:07 AM EST

President Barack Obama and Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shake hands in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki marked the final days of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq on Monday, noting that Iraq “is on track to once again be one of the region’s leading oil producers” and its economy is expected to grow “faster than China’s or India’s.”

“This is a season of homecomings. Military families across America are being reunited for the holidays. In the coming days, the last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq with honor and with their heads held high. After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq ends this month,” Obama said.

The president described Iraq as “sovereign, self-reliant and democratic.”

“We’re here to mark the end of this war, to honor the sacrifices of all those who made this day possible and to turn the page, begin a new chapter in the history between our countries, a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” Obama said.

If the player does not load, please check that you are running the latest version of Adobe Flash Player.

Obama said despite the “great challenges” the country faces, Iraq “reflects the impressive progress that Iraqis have made.”

“Millions have cast their ballots, some risking or giving their lives to vote in free elections. The prime minister leads Iraq’s most inclusive government yet. Iraqis are working to build institutions that are efficient and independent and transparent,” Obama said.

“With respect to security, Iraqi forces have been in the lead for the better part of two years, patrolling the streets, dismantling militias, conducting counter-terrorism operations. Today, despite continued attacks by those who seek to derail Iraq’s progress, violence remains at record lows. Mr. Prime minister, that’s a tribute to your leadership and to the skill and sacrifices of Iraqi forces,” he added.

“Across the region, Iraq is forging new ties with trade and commerce with its neighbors, and Iraq is assuming its rightful place among the community of nations. For the first time in two decades, Iraq is scheduled to host the next Arab League summit, and what a powerful message that will send throughout the Arab world.”

“People throughout the region will see a new Iraq that’s determining its own destiny, a country in which people from different religious sects and ethnicities can resolve their differences peacefully through the democratic process.

Iraq will not stand alone, Obama said. It has “a strong and enduring partner” in the U.S. Obama and al-Maliki reaffirmed their “common vision of a long-term partnership” between Iraq and the U.S.

“It is in keeping with our strategic framework agreement, and it will be like the close relationships we have with other sovereign nations. Simply put, we are building a comprehensive partnership,” Obama added.

Iraq will still need assistance with security, fighting terrorism, training and providing equipment to their military, education and developing wealth, al-Maliki said, adding that there were “very high aspirations” for their relationship.

The last of 6,000 remaining U.S. troops are expected to leave Iraq by the New Year’s Eve. In 2007, during the war’s peak, 170,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq.