Iraq PM sets off for US ahead of pullout

Iraq PM Nouri al-Maliki is to hold wide-ranging talks with US President Barack Obama during his two-day visit.

Updated: Dec 11, 2011, 14:21 PM IST

Baghdad: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki headed to Washington on Sunday, for the first time as the leader of a country virtually empty of foreign troops as the US withdrawal from Iraq nears its final days.

Maliki is to hold wide-ranging talks with US President Barack Obama during his two-day visit, which comes less than a month before the complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and more than eight years after the launch of the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

"This will be the first visit where he is going as the chief of a country empty of foreign troops that can count totally on itself," Ali Mussawi, media adviser to Maliki said.

"We will discuss all the fields of collaboration ... and open a new phase of relations between Baghdad and Washington, which used to be dominated by military affairs."

Maliki was accompanied by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, acting Defence Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi, Transport Minister Khayrullah Hassan Babakir, Trade Minister Hadi al-Ameri, and National Security Adviser Falah al-Fayadh.

Also on the trip are National Investment Commission chief
Sami al-Araji, and Maliki`s chief adviser and former oil minister Thamer al-Ghadban.

The Iraqi premier is to hold talks with Obama, Vice US lawmakers, on issues including security, energy, education and justice.

"The two leaders will hold talks on the removal of US military forces from Iraq, and our efforts to start a new chapter in the comprehensive strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"The president honours the sacrifices and achievements of
all those who have served in Iraq, and of the Iraqi people, to
reach this moment full of promise for an enduring US-Iraq
friendship, as we end America`s war in Iraq."

Baghdad and Washington are expected to maintain close ties
after the military withdrawal, when the focus will shift to
the work of the 16,000-strong US mission in Iraq.

The US-Iraq relationship, "long defined by the imperative
of security alone, is now giving way to a new, more normal
partnership between sovereign nations seeking to build a
future together," US Vice President Joe Biden said on a visit
to Iraq this month.