Maliki Switches Stance on Timetable

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki told ABC News he does not want to set any timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, a major shift in his position.

"Anything specific I can not give, neither us nor the U.S. government can set up a timetable," Maliki said.

Watch Terry McCarthy's interview tonight on "World News with Charles Gibson" at 6:30 p.m. EDT.

Just eight months ago Maliki told ABC News anchor Charles Gibson that he wanted Iraqi security forces to take over from U.S. troops by June of this year -- that is, last month. (Click here for that story)

In Thursday's interview in his office in the heavily protected Green Zone Maliki said he wouldn't rule out U.S. troops still being in Iraq in five years time.

"It all depends on the success and the agreements between us … neither we nor the U.S. government want to lose all the progress we have made," Maliki said.

Working as Bombs Continue to Blow

Maliki's life is a stressful one, with the prime minister sleeping just five hours a night and working seven days a week. This week has been particularly hectic.

On Sunday the national soccer team won the Asian cup, prompting nationwide celebrations. Four days later the principal Sunni block of politicians withdrew from the government, accusing Maliki's supporters of arrogance and preventing any serious reform.

That same day 69 people were killed by four car bombs in central Baghdad. We met on Thursday morning. Several minutes after sitting down for our interview, we heard an explosion some distance outside his office.

I asked Maliki how he was able to concentrate on his work when constantly surrounded by so much violence, but he didn't appear fazed. "Certainly there are difficulties," he said, "but I believe they are within tolerable limits."

Changing View on Iraq Security Handover

In the past Maliki has seemed impatient for the Iraqi army and police to take over from the United States, perhaps to emphasize his nationalism in the face of an occupying army.

But with the United States now making some progress on the ground against al Qaeda, Maliki may have changed his views.

In fact, he said that if the United States were to withdraw too soon, Iraq could be plunged into civil war. "When we can establish security … then our security forces will be ready through training to take over," he said.

When asked when he thought the last U.S. soldier would leave Iraq, Maliki was unsure. "This depends on the success we can achieve," he said.

Maliki admitted that the Iraqi parliament was not moving ahead to pass laws as quickly as he would like, but he said this was due to political infighting among different groups in the parliament.

Yet he seemed strangely unconcerned about the mounting pressure in the U.S. Congress for a troop withdrawal based on the apparent lack of political progress in Baghdad.

"I don't think there is a correlation between the presence of U.S. forces and the Iraqi parliament."

When asked about Defense Secretary Robert Gates' recent comments regarding his frustration at the lack of political progress in Iraq -- even as more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers have died in the country -- Maliki said "Iraq has just emerged from dictatorship into a national unity government … it is progressing, but very slowly."

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