Iraq faces multitude of security challenges after U.S. exit   2011-12-13 10:58:57            

by Xinhua writer Wang Fengfeng

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama met here on Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over the drawdown of U.S. troops and the bilateral relationship afterward.

Some U.S. experts warned that the war-torn Mideast country might face a multitude of security challenges after the U.S. pullout.

Following a whole morning of talks at the White House, Obama said at a joint press conference with al-Maliki that as the war ends this month, it is time to "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."

Iraq has "a strong and enduring partner in the United States of America," Obama said. "Simply put, we are building a comprehensive partnership."

But that relationship does not include U.S. troops inside Iraq. Obama said the two countries will "partner for our shared security," not by stationing U.S. troops or keeping U.S. bases in Iraq, but rather by "the kind of training and assistance" the United States offers to other countries.

He also said the two leaders agreed to establish a new, formal channel of communication between their national security advisors.

Obama argued that Iraqi forces have been in the lead for the better part of the past three years, patrolling the streets, dismantling militia and conducting counterterrorism operations.

"Violence remains at record lows" in Iraq, noted the president.

Obama may be right. But Iraq's own problems may resurge after the departure of U.S. troops. In a recent testimony to the Congress, Kenneth Pollack, director of Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said Iraq remains "deeply troubled, and retains the potential to cause great harm to the rest" of the Gulf region.

Michael O'Hanlon, a security expert at Brookings, told Xinhua in an interview that he believes it will be "a little bit better to keep a small American or international presence" in Iraq.

"But Iraqis didn't want that," he said.

During the White House press conference, Obama commended al-Maliki for leading the country's "most inclusive government yet." But according to Pollack, the truth is far from rosy.

"Iraq remains weak and fractious ... Its political leadership has not demonstrated anything like the maturity that will be required to prevent the country from sliding back into civil strife," he said during the same Congressional testimony.

O'Hanlon said that after the U.S. exit, there could be internal tensions in Iraq among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, which might escalate into actual violence. "Obviously the situation is very worrisome right now," he said.

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