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Iraqi PM to Visit White House Next Week

4926253Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visits the White House next Wednesday for the first time since President Obama took office.

The meeting comes three weeks and a day after American troops formally withdrew from Iraqi cities and towns as required by the Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Iraq.

A spokesman says the security situation in Iraq will be discussed by the two leaders, but the agenda also includes the need for further political reconciliation among Shia, Sunni and Kurds, and the timeline for withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Despite some recent "high-profile bombings" in Iraq, Mr. Obama believes the security situation there "has continued to dramatically improve."

He said last month that his top diplomat and military commander in Iraq, Ambassador Chris Hill and Gen. Ray Odierno respectively, "continue to be overall very positive about the trend lines in Iraq."

But Mr. Obama thinks al-Maliki needs to continue strengthening Iraqi security forces to wipe out – what he calls – "the last vestiges of AQI: al-Qaida in Iraq and other extremist organizations."

"I'm confident that Iraqis don't want to return to the spiraling violence that we saw a couple of years ago," said Mr. Obama in an interview July 2nd with the Associated Press.

But what appears to concern him most at the moment is continuing friction between the leading ethnic groups in Iraq.

"I think what's still going to be critical is to have politicians in Iraq reconcile their respective communities on things like the oil laws, on issues like how much power provincial governments have versus the federal government," he told AP.

With another national election coming up in Iraq, Mr. Obama said he's not seeing as much compromise and cooperation as he would like to.

He still plans to have all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by the end of next summer and all remaining troops out by the end of 2011. But as Commander-in-Chief, he says he reserves the right to alter that schedule "based on changing circumstances to protect U.S. security."

Mr. Obama has met face-to-face with al-Maliki only once before as president: during his visit to Baghdad on April 7th. He has occasional phone calls and secure video teleconferences with Iraqi leaders as warranted, said a spokesman.

He also met with al-Maliki last summer on his trip to Iraq as a candidate.

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here:
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