Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamel al-Maliki told ABC News today that he is moving to disarm militias in Iraq, and expects his forces to be ready to take over from the U.S. command in June, 2007.
"I can say that Iraqi forces will be ready, fully ready, to receive this command and to command its own forces, and I can tell you that by next June our forces will be ready," Maliki said in an interview with Charles Gibson.
Maliki and Gibson spoke after the prime minister met with President Bush in an effort to devise a plan to halt the increasing sectarian violence in Iraq.
Maliki said his government will increase training of Iraqi troops in January, and that no sectarian militias -- including the one aligned with Moqtada al-Sad -- would be tolerated. "My position is clear. I reject and refuse any militia within the state," he told ABC News.
"Are you saying to me that the al-Sadr brigades should be disarmed and you will set about to do that?" Gibson asked Maliki.
"Definitely. And the government is doing that with all militias, with no exception. There will be only the arms for government troops," he said.
When asked about skepticism in the U.S. that some members of the Iraqi forces remain loyal to Shia or Sunni groups, Maliki rejected that assertion. "Our constitution stipulates that we will have only one army, not an ethnic army … the reality is that Kurdish or Sunni or Shia soldiers are soldiers for Iraq, and I am the supreme commander of the Iraqi forces."
President Bush arrived in Jordan Wednesday for a series of meetings with Maliki and King Abdullah II of Jordan, but Maliki was absent from a dinner that evening.
The Iraqi leader insists he did not snub Bush.
"It was not anything like that. We have all the respect for the president and we have all the respect for his majesty," Maliki said. "We had bilateral meetings with his majesty, we discussed affairs between our two countries … so in our judgment there was no need for a trilateral meeting. We had discussed everything with our Jordanian brothers and we had a bilateral meeting with the U.S. president."
The White House also rejected the notion Maliki's absence at the dinner was a sign of disrespect. When Gibson asked Maliki if he was aware the cancellation would appear like a snub, he replied "No, not at all."
"We had discussed our bilateral affairs and also we said there is no need for another meeting," Maliki said.