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Iraq Transition

Iraqi PM tells U.S., Iran to take their fight elsewhere

Story Highlights

• Nuri Al-Maliki says Iraq cannot be a proxy battleground for the U.S., Iran
• U.S. officials say Iran may have been involved in the recent Karbala attack
• Al-Maliki says he supports President Bush's plan to add U.S. troops in Iraq
• The prime minister says he'll apply law evenly, won't stand for sectarian divide
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is telling the United States and Iran to keep their fight out of Iraq.

Al-Maliki said he believes Iran is targeting U.S. forces in Iraq.

A U.S. official said Tuesday that the Pentagon is investigating whether Iran was behind a January 20 attack in Karbala that left five U.S. troops dead.

"We believe it's possible the executors of the attack were Iranian or Iranian-trained," the U.S. official said.

The sophistication of the attack, in which English-speaking guerrillas in American-style uniforms drove sport utility vehicles past checkpoints to attack a government compound, was beyond what insurgents in Iraq have shown they are capable of, U.S. officials said.

Whether Iran proves to be responsible for that attack or not, al-Maliki said his country cannot be a proxy battleground for Washington and Tehran. (Watch debate on whether Bush has right to target Iran Video)

"Iraq has nothing to do with the American-Iranian struggle, and we will not let Iran play a role against the American Army and we will not allow America to play a role against the Iranian army, and everyone should respect the sovereignty of Iraq," al-Maliki said.

"We will not accept Iran to use Iraq to attack the American forces."

Iran was a major topic Wednesday during CNN correspondent Michael Ware's wide-ranging, exclusive interview with al-Maliki.

The prime minister said Americans are basing their hunches about Iranian activities in Iraq on intelligence they've amassed. (Watch al-Maliki talk about the situation in Iraq Video)

The United States accuses Iran of fomenting terror attacks worldwide and pursuing a nuclear program that could lead to the development of weaponry. Iran has denied those assertions.

"We have told the Iranian and the Americans, 'We know that you have a problem with each other, but we are asking you please solve your problems outside Iraq.' We don't want the American forces to take Iraq as a field to attack Iran or Syria," the prime minister said.

Al-Maliki said Iraq doesn't want its sovereignty to be violated by any of its neighbors, which include Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey.

All could find a reason to interfere in Iraq, he said, including opposition to the U.S. troop presence, and sectarian and political differences.

"Iran is Shiite, and we are Shiite and we have many Shiites in Iraq, but this does not justify Iran interfering in Iraq. We respect this relation, but we will not allow such interfering to exist. Also, Iraq is an Arab country, the majority are Arabs, but this also will not justify for the Arab countries to interfere in Iraq."

Al-Maliki also addressed his government's position toward militias and troop levels in his country.

He said he supports President Bush's plan to bolster troop numbers in Iraq by more than 20,000 soldiers and Marines.

"We believe that the existing number, with a slight addition, will do the job, but if there seems to be more need we will ask for more troops."

Al-Maliki reiterated his intention to go after any or all entities that foment violence, including the militia of a supporter, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. And he indicated that troop-level adjustments must be based on prevailing conditions.

Some observers question whether al-Maliki has the political will to take on al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, thought to be behind much of Iraq's violence between Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. Al-Sadr helped al-Maliki become prime minister last year.

The prime minister said al-Sadr's movement is committed to banning armed groups and not interfering with the new security plan. He said the group's commitment is "a good incentive for others who have militias to announce their support to the Baghdad security plan."

Nevertheless, he put all groups and people on notice: Everyone must respect the law.

"I will apply the law to everyone ... on militias, political parties, on participants in the political process," he said. "The law rules and who is on my side in respecting the law and the government's will be an ally and a partner and who rebels against the law and the government's will, will be a foe."

Al-Maliki emphasized his political detachment and fairness. While he has been a member of the Shiite Dawa Party -- a part of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance -- he said he is the leader of all the people, not just Shiites.

Iraq -- which has about a 60 percent Shiite population -- is also made up of Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, Christians and others.

"I'm talking now as a prime minister and not as a member of the party. ... The membership of a party stops at the boundaries of the state," he said.

Al-Maliki said the effort to foster and bring about peace is not just a military one. He said it's political as well and requires national will, an implication that Iraqis need to put aside their ethnic, tribal and religious allegiances to help the state survive.

"We do not want to kill the people and drown the country in blood, and we welcome every step that brings a setback for militias or terrorists and a desire to join the political process so we can minimize the losses and blood," he said. "But this all has to happen under the umbrella of national will, the government and the law."

CNN's Michael Ware, Thomas Evans, Jomana Karadsheh, Yousif Bassil and Joe Sterling contributed to this report


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"Iraq has nothing to do with the American-Iranian struggle," Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said.

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