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Iraqi Prime Minister: U.S Troop Withdrawal in 2011 ‘Is Sealed’

December 28, 2010 at 4:29 PM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: The Iraq story is next, with a new vow from that country’s leader that all American troops will be gone in a year.

Throughout the past year, the American military force in Iraq has been shrinking. A year ago, there were 110,000 U.S. troops in country. By August, it was down to 50,000, and all U.S. combat missions were ended.

Now comes the last deadline. By the end of 2011, all American forces are supposed to be withdrawn. In recent months, U.S. and Iraqi officials have said privately they expected Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to seek an extension of the deadline.

It’s part of a schedule laid out under the 2008 status of forces agreement, or SOFA, with the Bush administration. But, in an interview published today in The Wall Street Journal, Maliki appeared to nix that expectation.

“The last American soldier will leave Iraq,” he said. “The agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed.”

It was Maliki’s first interview since finally announcing a new governing coalition last week, nine months after the national elections. Tellingly, his new government now includes supporters of the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr has long called for all U.S. troops to leave.

At a meeting of his new cabinet ministers last week, Maliki said the new government has much work to do.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, Iraqi prime minister (through translator): Difficult tasks require an exceptional effort. The previous phase was difficult, a phase of big challenges. But we are still in need of an exceptional effort to develop all the sectors that need to be developed.

MARGARET WARNER: One of those sectors is Iraq’s newly rebuilt military and police, which the U.S. is helping equip and train. Under the 2008 agreement, some U.S. personnel would remain at the huge American Embassy in Baghdad to oversee those efforts.