BAGHDAD -- Iraq's prime minister said Saturday that his security forces are ready to protect the country once the American military withdraws by the end of this year, and played down any suggestion that Iraq would become a follower of Iran.
Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Saturday that he has "no concerns whatsoever" about security after all American troops withdraw by Jan. 1. Iraqi security forces have proven themselves capable and able to protect their own country, he said.
"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 prime minister said Iraq has been largely responsible for security ever since the American military pulled out of the cities in 2008 and withdrew to bases outside the cities, leaving the Iraqi military largely responsible for their own internal security.
He said he was not worried about the type of sectarian warfare that almost destroyed Iraq in the years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
"I assure the world that the Iraqi forces and the general situation in the country hasn't changed and will not change," the prime minister said.
The prime minister also dismissed fears that Iraq would fall under neighboring Iran's sphere of influence, once the American military leaves Iraq. 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. Many Iraqi politicians spent time in exile in Iran under Saddam Hussein's repressive regime.
Al-Maliki vowed that Iraq will chart its own policies in the future that conform to Iraqi national interests.
"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.