BAGHDAD — Weeks before the U.S. pullout, Iraq's prime minister confidently predicted Saturday that his country will achieve stability and remain independent of its giant neighbor Iran even without an American troop presence.
Nouri al-Maliki also warned of civil war in Iran's ally Syria if Bashar Assad falls — a view that puts him closer to Tehran's position and at odds with Washington. The foreign policy pronouncement indicates that Iraq is emerging from the shadows of U.S. influence in a way unforeseen when U.S.-led forces invaded eight years ago to topple Saddam Hussein.
"The situation in Syria is dangerous," Maliki said. "Things should be dealt with appropriately so that the spring in Syria does not turn into a winter."
Maliki also insisted his forces were ready to take over security ahead of the Dec. 31 departure of U.S. troops.
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.
Maliki said he wasn't worried about a resumption of the type of sectarian warfare that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in the years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
On the contrary, he said violence would fall because the Americans' departure eliminates a primary reason for attacks.
Some U.S. officials have suggested that Iranian influence in Iraq would inevitably grow once American troops depart, but Maliki insisted that Iraq will chart its own policies.
"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.