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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday dismissed concerns that U.S. forces have been marginalized since leaving Iraqi cities on June 30, saying he’s confident they can still perform their missions.

He said the two countries remain on course for a full withdrawal of American combat brigades by the end of 2011, although he warned of “tough days ahead” for troops still stationed there.

“There will be attacks on Iraqi security forces and the American troops supporting them,” Obama said during a White House news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “There are still those in Iraq who would murder innocent men, women and children. There are still those who want to foment sectarian conflict.

“But make no mistake: Those efforts will fail.”

On Tuesday, the commander of American forces in Baghdad acknowledged “friction” since the June 30 pullback, as military officials try to balance their new support role with ongoing security missions.

Last weekend, an Iraqi military commander in Baghdad said U.S. forces are essentially under “house arrest” since they left the cities, and will remain that way for the next two years.

But Obama said Gen. Ray Odierno, the top military officer in Iraq, has delivered only positive news on the move thus far, noting that Iraqi forces are showing “greater capacity and improved confidence” in their new role.

“What we’ve seen is that there are going to be, at times, differences in strategy,” he said. “The Iraqi security forces [may be interested] in setting up a checkpoint at some point, and our armed forces suggest that from our experience a checkpoint might create a target. ...

“There are going to be those kinds of strategic and tactical discussions that are continually taking place between the two sides. But overall, we have been very encouraged by the progress that’s been made.”

Al-Maliki echoed those comments, saying the goal of the changes “is not to marginalize the role of any side” in securing the country.

“If the Iraqi forces would require the support from the American forces, they will ask the American side,” he said. “And I believe what’s happening is organizing the roles between the two sides and cooperation. ... We are still under a joint responsibility to face any threats Iraq is facing.”

The meeting between the leaders was the first since April, and al-Maliki’s first visit to the Obama White House. The prime minister said the two have discussed a host of issues during his visit, including lifting international sanctions still facing Iraq that limit the country’s future economic opportunities.


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