By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
Thursday, 23 July 2009
President Obama yesterday vowed that the US would meet its scheduled goal of withdrawing all of its troops from Iraq by 2011. He also supported the Baghdad government's efforts to persuade the United Nations to cancel the $25bn (£15bn) it owes Kuwait under reparations imposed after the 1991 Gulf war.
Speaking alongside the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at the White House yesterday, Mr Obama said that while a reparations deal could only be done through the UN and that Iraq "should not continue to be burdened with the sins of a deposed dictator".
Under existing sanctions, Iraq must set aside 5 per cent of its oil revenues for reparations, most of which go to Kuwait, the direct victim of Saddam Hussein's invasion 18 years ago. But Iraq was now a democracy and no longer a threat to the international community, Mr Maliki declared at a joint press conference in the Rose Garden. Earlier, he made the same argument in private talks in New York with representatives of Britain, France, the US, Russia and China, the five permanent members of the Security Council. The sanctions, he told reporters, "were not needed anymore".
Mr Maliki seems confident that Iraq will prevail in the argument, despite lobbying from Kuwait that the sanctions, imposed under Chapter Seven of the UN charter, should stay in place. Baghdad's goal is to exit from Chapter Seven by the end of the year, at which point it would be able to renegotiate the debt.
Mr Obama also played down complaints from some of his military commanders in Iraq that US forces were excessively constrained after their withdrawal from Iraqi cities last month.
There would be "some tough days ahead," the President warned. But both he and Mr Maliki were confident the transition envisaged by the Status of Forces agreement – for the removal of US combat troops within 12 months, and of all American forces by the end of 2011 – would go as planned. "We have proved wrong those who believe that when the US leaves, Iraq will be in chaos," the Mr Maliki said.
Washington is still worried how slowly political and ethnic reconciliation is proceeding in Iraq, and Mr Obama warned yesterday that the country faced continuing dangers. "There are still those in Iraq who want to foment sectarian conflict. But those efforts will fail."