President Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the White House this Monday for a formal end to the nine-year war in Iraq. The two leaders appeared at a news conference after a morning filled with meetings and a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to honor the 4,400 U.S. troops who lost their lives in Iraq. “We’re here to mark the end of this war,” Obama said, and to “begin a new chapter in the history between our countries. A normal relationship between sovereign nations.”
Six thousand U.S. troops still remain in Iraq, compared to 170,000 at the war’s peak in 2007, all of whom will be out of the country by December 31. After that, the U.S. will maintain a diplomatic presence with approximately 16,000 personnel assigned to Iraq. The U.S. will be tasked with training Iraqi security forces and advising in how to productively utilize Iraq’s oil wealth. However, the plan as to how best accomplish these tasks has not yet been revealed.
While Obama confidently declared Iraq a “sovereign, self-reliant and democratic” nation that could be used as a model of democracy for others in the Middle East, controversy still stirs over what a post-war Iraq with a significantly decreased American presence will look like. U.S. withdrawal could mean a weakened security situation and result in an upsurge in violence. Fear also runs high that a power vacuum will be created with the troops’ leave, granting neighboring Iran the opportunity to increase its sphere of influence.