Hailing the impending end of the nine-year Iraq war, President Obama on Monday said the United States will continue to support Iraq's security and economic interests long after the last of the American troops return from there this month because a stable Iraq could inspire democratic reforms across the Arab world.
"Our goal is simply to make sure that Iraq succeeds, because we think a successful, democratic Iraq can be a model for the entire region," Obama said after a White House meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Obama promised the U.S. would continue to train Iraqi security forces and said he would urge American companies to invest in Iraq and to tap its abundant oil supply, as the country seeks to rebuild its war-trodden economy. Obama also said he would supply Iraq with additional F-16 fighter jets to help rebuild its air force, which Maliki said was destroyed during the war.
"Just as Iraq pledged not to interfere in other nations, other nations must not interfere with Iraq," Obama said. "Our view is a sovereign Iraq that can protect its borders, protect its airspace, protect its people."
Obama opposed the Iraq war at its outset, though he was a state senator in Illinois at the time and had no vote. He promised in the 2008 campaign to end U.S. involvement there.
"After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq ends this month," Obama said, pledging to return home the last of the U.S. troops stationed there by the end of December. But Obama left open the possibility of future training missions and other security-related assistance in Iraq.
Maliki, speaking through a translator, confirmed that Iraq "now has become reliant completely on its own security."
But the country will continue to rely on assistance from the U.S., especially in training and equipping its military, he said.
"The relationship will not end with the departure of the last American soldier," the Iraqi leader said.
Obama and Maliki also discussed President Bashar al-Assad's violent crackdown in Syria, which borders Iraq.
Obama has condemned Assad's government and called on him to relinquish power -- a demand Maliki said he does not support.
While he supports the "aspirations of the Syrian people," Maliki said he fears interfering in Assad's government will threaten Iraqi security.
Obama said he believes Maliki's position on Syria is based on the Iraqi leader's concerns for his country's security and not because Iran is pressuring Iraq on the issue.
"I expressed to Prime Minister [Maliki] my recognition that given Syria is on Iraq's borders - Iraq is in a tough neighborhood - that we will consult closely with them as we move forward," he said. "Even if there are tactical disagreements between Iraq and the United States at this point in how to deal with Syria, I have absolutely no doubt that these decisions are being made based on what Prime Minister Maliki believes is best for Iraq, not based on considerations of what Iran would like to see."