, WASHINGTON, July 22 – US President Barack Obama welcomes Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to the White House on Wednesday hoping to push for stronger reconciliation efforts in the conflict-wracked country.
It will be the first meeting between Maliki and Obama since US troops withdrew from Iraqi cities at the end of June, a milestone in Iraq’s rehabilitation since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Maliki also arrives in Washington having overseen a considerable transformation in his country from when he took office three years ago amid sprawling interfaith violence.
The leaders, who met in Baghdad in April, "will have frank conversations and we will have discussions on the need to keep the political process going (to avoid) any back-sliding or deterioration," said a senior administration official on Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The United States "will not dictate the solutions to the Iraqi government," stressed the official, but will offer to support Baghdad’s "efforts to address political issues and build national unity."
Over the course of his visit, Maliki is also set to meet all of the top players in Obama’s administration, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"This visit is a sign of a comprehensive and long term partnership between Iraq and the United States; it goes beyond security cooperation, we are not just looking at the short term, this is the beginning of a long-lasting, normal bilateral relationship with the sovereign nation of Iraq," said the official.
Maliki is hoping to drum up investment for a country in dire need of rebuilding after years of sanctions and war, and his visit will include an investment conference at the US Department of Commerce.
The prime minister’s visit "is an opportunity to make progress on questions (regarding security), and to discuss economic, industrial and education cooperation," Ali Moussawi, one of Maliki’s advisors, told AFP in Baghdad on Monday.
The Iraqi president is keen to stress the early success of his country’s security forces since the US pullback just weeks ago, although relations with Washington have hit a bump over Baghdad’s failure to improve relations between its Shiite, Sunni and Kurd communities.
On a trip to the Iraqi capital earlier this month, Biden urged Iraqi leaders to make more progress on reconciliation between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurd communities.
But the Iraqi government at the time refused a US offer to intervene, describing the process as an internal matter and warned that outside interference could cause additional problems.