Obama Warns Iraq's Sovereignty Must Be Respected
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President Obama has fulfilled one of his most significant campaign promises, to end the war in Iraq. And yesterday, to mark that, he hosted the prime minister of Iraq. They made a somber visit to Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony, and had a day of meetings and news conferences.
NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports the president is warning other nations, particularly Iran, not to interfere in Iraq now that the U.S. military presence is over.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The White House has choreographed a series of events to drive home one message: The deployments to Iraq are over. At a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the White House yesterday, Mr. Obama reminded Americans that when he came into office there were 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and that he had pledged to bring them home.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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.
LIASSON: The president had campaigned against the war in Iraq, famously calling it a dumb war. When asked if he still agreed with that description, Mr. President only said history will judge the original decision to go into Iraq. He never mentioned, by name, the man who made that decision, but Mr. Obama is, in effect, carrying out the withdrawal agreement negotiated by his predecessor George W. Bush.
Mr. Obama had tried to get the Iraqis to allow a few thousand U.S. troops to remain, but that deal fell thru when Iraq refused to grant legal immunity to the Americans who stayed behind.
Now, President Obama is looking ahead and addressing concerns that Iran could take advantage of the vacuum left by the departing U.S. military.
OBAMA: For just as Iraq has pledged not to interfere in other nations, other nations must not interfere in Iraq. Iraq's sovereignty must be respected.
LIASSON: Prime Minister Maliki was also asked about Iran's influence and why Iraq hasn't sided with the U.S. in calling for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally of Iran's, to step down.
Speaking through an interpreter, Maliki seemed to want to have it both ways.
NOURI AL-MALIKI: (Through Translator) We honor the aspirations of the Syrian people. But I cannot have - I do not have the right to ask a president to abdicate. We must play this role and we cannot give ourselves this right.
LIASSON: Mr. Obama acknowledged that there have tactical disagreements between Iraq and the United States about how to deal with Syria, but he defended Maliki.
OBAMA: 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.
LIASSON: The ending of the war in Iraq may never be as important an issue as the economy in next year's presidential election, but President Obama is claiming credit. He never used the words mission accomplished, but he made it clear that the removal of U.S. troops was a promise fulfilled. This is a historic moment the president said, a new day is upon us.
OBAMA: And let us never forget those who gave us this chance, the untold number of Iraqis who've given their lives; more than one million Americans, military and civilian, who have served in Iraq; nearly 4500 fallen Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion; tens of thousands of wounded warriors, and so many inspiring military families. They are the reason that we can stand here today.
(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)
LIASSON: After their press conference, the two leaders traveled by motorcade across the Potomac River to Arlington Cemetery. They didn't visit Section 60, where the dead from today's warS in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. It's sometimes called The Saddest Acre in America. Instead they went to the Tomb of the Unknowns and laid a wreath together.
On Wednesday, President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki will travel to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to greet the troops returning from Iraq.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.
INSKEEP: One of the first Americans killed in Iraq was Marine Captain Ryan Beaupre. And as the last troops return, let's take a moment to remember a letter that Captain Beaupre wrote to his parents before his deployment.
It reads in part: If you're reading then things didn't go well for me. Please don't be upset with the Marine Corps, the military, the government or the president.
Captain Beaupre goes on to write: Realize that I died doing something I truly love and for a purpose greater than myself.
Ryan Beaupre is one of more than 4,000 U.S. servicemen and women to be killed in Iraq.