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Obama sticks to Iraqi pullout schedule, presses leader on vote

Law needed for nationwide January election

By Steven R. Hurst
Associated Press / October 21, 2009

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WASHINGTON - President Obama renewed his vow yesterday to have all US combat troops out of Iraq by August, while nudging Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to see that his Parliament quickly passes a critical election law essential to a nationwide vote in January.

Without an election law, the vote could be delayed, snarling American plans to begin significantly scaling back US troop presence after the national referendum.

“We have seen in the last several months a consolidation of a commitment to democratic politics inside of Iraq,’’ Obama said after meeting with Maliki in the Oval Office.

“We are very interested, both of us, in making sure that Iraq has an election law that is completed on time so that elections can take place on time in January.’’

Vice President Joe Biden also pressed Maliki on the election legislation when they met a day earlier.

The January election will also be critical for the Iraqis with the potential for important political and power realignments. It could threaten Maliki’s hold on power after the powerful political bloc of his fellow Shi’ites excluded him from its coalition going into the vote.

As Obama promised to hold to US withdrawal plans, which would see all troops leave Iraq by the end of 2011, Obama also told Maliki that he was glad the two leaders were able to expand their talks beyond warfare to the “enormous opportunities for our countries to do business together.’’

The Iraqi leader was in the United States in conjunction with a conference designed to boost international business and investment in Iraq, where six years of war have devastated the national infrastructure, factories, and all-important oil sector.

“We didn’t just talk about military and security issues,’’ the president said.

“What is wonderful about this trip is that it represents a transition in our bilateral relationship so that we are moving now to issues beyond security and we are beginning to talk about economy, trade, commerce.’’

Maliki also repeated his call for help from the Obama administration in the cancel- lation of UN sanctions and resolutions adopted after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, saying Iraq is a democracy and has no weapons of mass destruction .

“This is important to move Iraq forward and to promote investment,’’ the Iraqi leader said.