US troops must stand by the plan to depart Iraq at the end of 2011, Iraq's PM tells the Wall Street Journal in a lengthy interview. Despite wide expectations that nine months of post-election turmoil would extend the US presence, “the last American soldier will leave Iraq” as scheduled, he said. “This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed.” The country’s own government and troops can handle lingering threats, he said.
Meanwhile, Maliki notes that he won't get sucked into an alliance with Iran, though some in his government back the idea. “For Iraq to be dragged into an axis or an orbit, that's impossible.” He also discussed the portion of his government made up of followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, saying it was “taking part in the government, renouncing violence and abandoning military activity, and that's why we welcome it."