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Maliki: Immunity Key Issue in US Withdrawal

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (file photo).
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (file photo).

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Elizabeth Arrott

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says his country's refusal to grant immunity from prosecution to U.S. troops led to President Barack Obama's decision to withdraw the remainder of American forces by the end of the year.   Some in Iraq say they worry about continued fragile security, while many others say that nearly nine years after the U.S.-led invasion, it's past time the Americans go home.

Prime Minister Maliki said the pull-out was according to schedule and that both sides were obliged to carry it out.

But, speaking Saturday, he noted that any chance of extending the mission collapsed over the issue of immunity.

The prime minister said Iraqi political factions rejected the notion of U.S. forces in Iraq working outside Iraqi laws.  That ban on immunity appeared to extend to any American military personnel sent to Iraq after this year to provide training.

The U.S. had been adamant that its forces would have immunity, a protection provided by other countries where American troops are stationed.

Despite the impasse, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday that the withdrawal will not end American commitment to Iraq. During a visit to Tajikistan, Clinton added that instead, it marked a new phase of U.S.-Iraqi relations and that American would have a continuing, "robust" presence in the region.

In the streets of Baghdad, the reaction to news of the withdrawal was generally positive.

Resident Bilal says the U.S. made the right decision to pull out: the Americans leave behind destruction and sedition, but Iraqis will rebuild the country.

While many Iraqis welcomed the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, that soon faded as the oppression of the Saddam years was replaced by the unleashing of sectarian violence and near civil war.

The U.S. had promised three years ago to leave by the end of this year, so the decision did not take some people by surprise.

But Abdullah al Agili, also in Baghdad, says he thinks the American presence is still needed, arguing the Iraqi army is weak and divided on sectarian lines.

Sectarian violence still flares across the country, with bombings and shootings claiming dozens of lives each month.

American officials also worry that the continuing unrest may make it easier for neighboring Iran to gain a greater foothold in the Arab nation once the troops leave.

Iraqi and U.S. officials had long speculated that several thousand troops would stay beyond 2011.

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