Iraq PM rejects Iran effect after US pullout

Iraq PM rejects Iran effect after US pullout

BAGHDAD - The Associated Press
Iraq PM rejects Iran effect after US pullout

AP photo

Weeks before the U.S. pullout, Iraq’s prime minister confidently predicted on Dec. 3 that his country will achieve stability and remain independent of its giant neighbor Iran even without an American troop presence.

Iraq has been much more circumspect and abstained from key Arab League votes suspending Syria’s membership and imposing sanctions on the country. That has raised concern that Baghdad is succumbing to Iranian pressure to protect Assad’s regime. Tehran is Syria’s main backer. Nouri Al-Maliki insisted that Iraq will chart its own policies in the future according to national interests, not the dictates of Iran or any other country.

Some U.S. officials have suggested that Iranian influence in Iraq would inevitably grow once American troops depart. Both countries have Shiite majorities and are dominated by Shiite political groups. “Iraq is not a follower of any country,” al-Maliki said.

He pointed out several areas in which Iraq had acted against Iran’s desires, including the signing of the security agreement in 2008 that required all U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of this year. Iran had been pushing for all American troops to be out of the country even sooner. “Through our policies, Iraq was not and will not be a follower of another country’s policies,” he said. But he also took pains to emphasize that Iraq did want to maintain good relations with Iran as the two countries share extensive cultural, economical and religious ties.

“Clearly, we are no enemy to Iran and we do not accept that some who have problems with Iran would use us as a battlefield. Some want to fight Iran with Iraqi resources as has happened in the past. We do not allow Iran to use us against others that Iran has problems with, and we do not allow others to use us against Iran,” he said.

Al-Maliki also insisted his forces were ready to take over security during a wide-ranging discussion on where his country stands ahead of the Dec. 31 departure of all American troops. “Nothing has changed with the withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq on the security level because basically it has been in our hands,” he said.

The U.S. withdrawal has occurred in stages, with the American military pulling out of the cities in 2008, leaving the soldiers largely confined to bases as Iraqi security forces took the lead. About 13,000 U.S. troops are still in the country, down from a one-time high of about 170,000.

Al-Maliki said he was grateful to the United States for overthrowing Saddam.”We appreciate that, no doubt,” the prime minister said, adding he was not worried about a resumption of the type of sectarian warfare that pushed his own country to the brink of civil war in the years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

On the contrary, he said violence would decline because the Americans’ departure would remove one of the main reasons for attacks. “What was taking place during the presence of the American forces will decrease in the period after the withdrawal,” he said. “Some people find a pretext in the presence of the American forces to justify their acts, but now what justification will they come up with?”