As the last U.S. combat troops prepare to leave Iraq, the question of whether neighboring Iran will try to fill any vacuum looms large.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says that as American soldiers depart, Iran is actually going to be less interested in meddling with his country's affairs and that he won't stand for such interference anyway.
"If the excuse [of Iran] was that the presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil posed a threat to [Iranian] national security, then this danger is over now," al-Maliki tells the Journal. "With it ends all thinking, calculations and possibilities for interference in Iraqi affairs under any other banner."
Al-Maliki also says:
"I'll confront the meddling of any country in the world. For me, Iraqi sovereignty is above all else. I am a friend to all countries. A friend of America; a friend of Russia; a friend of Iran; a friend of Turkey; and a friend of the Arabs, even those that insist on boycotting us. But what separates us is the interest of Iraq and its sovereignty. Here, relations come to an end. When relations with those countries clash with the sovereignty of Iraq, that's when relations come to an end."
The Iraqi leader is in Washington this week and is scheduled to meet with President Obama at the White House today. According to The Associated Press, "Monday's meeting ... is expected to focus heavily on how the U.S. and Iraq will continue to cooperate on security issues without the presence of American troops. Iraqi leaders have said they want U.S. military training help for their security forces but have been unable to agree on what type of help they'd like or what protections they would be willing to give American trainers."
-- "Maliki Heads To U.S. For 'Post-War' Consultations." "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flew to Washington on Sunday for talks with President Obama aimed at cementing a new, postwar era in U.S.-Iraqi relations," The Washington Post writes. "The visit kicks off a week in which the administration will trumpet the imminent end of the war, and the fulfillment of Obama's election pledge to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq. With only 6,000 troops left in the country on Sunday — waiting their turn to board planes or drive south — the Iraq war is already effectively over."
-- "Detainee In Iraq Poses A Dilemma As U.S. Exit Nears." The New York Times looks at the case of Ali Musa Daqduq, "a Lebanese suspected of being a Hezbollah operative," who is the last detainee being held by the U.S. military in Iraq. The Obama administration is debating whether to turn him over to Iraqi authorities or take him out with the departing U.S. forces.
-- "U.S. Troops Leaving Iraq This Year; Obama Could Benefit Next Year." On Morning Edition, NPR's Ari Shapiro reported that according to pollsters at the Pew Research Center the withdrawal of U.S. forces is "unambiguously a [political] win for Obama" even if both the Bush and Obama administrations had a hand in it happening.