Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has closed the door on any possibility that American troops might be asked to stay in Iraq beyond the mutually agreed end of 2011 pullout date.
Maliki says his country's security forces are more than up to the task of taking on whatever security threats remain in Iraq.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Maliki said the security deal with the U.S. will not be renegotiated.
"The last American soldier will leave Iraq," he told the Journal. "This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed."
In late 2008, the Bush administration and Maliki's government agreed on a security pact that required U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
Working within that agreement the Obama administration set its own timetable to reduce the number of U.S. troops to 50,000 by September of this year. The remaining troops would carry out a training and advisory mission until the agreed upon pullout date at the end of 2011.
U.S. officials have always said that they would be willing to renegotiate the security agreement and discuss the possibility of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq beyond that date, but only if the Iraqis were willing to discuss such an option.
Addressing concerns that his government might seek to align itself with Iran, Maliki said, "For Iraq to be dragged into an axis or an orbit, that's impossible, and we reject it whether this comes from Iran, Turkey or the Arabs."
There are currently 48,500 American troops left in Iraq conducting a training and assistance mission that is scheduled to conclude at the end of 2011. These forces are organized into six Advisory and Assist Brigades. A U.S. Defense official tells ABC News the plan is to maintain these force levels through the summer of 2011 at which point the size of the force could be reduced by a brigade. Further force reductions would not occur until the end of the year.
Though al Qaeda insurgents continue to launch high profile bombings in Iraq, Maliki told the Wall Street Journal that the ongoing security threat was something Iraqi security forces could handle.
Iraq's Maliki Says U.S. Troops Must Leave at End of 2011
"Not a single militia or gang can confront Iraqi forces and take over a street or a house," Maliki told the paper. "This is finished; we are comfortable about that."
The U.S. security agreement with Iraq also calls for continued long-term defense cooperation between the two countries .
Maliki's comments to the paper was his first in-depth interview with a media outlet since he recently formed a new government after a protracted nine month struggle since the elections in March.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Chris Perrine said of Maliki's comments, "The Department of Defense intends to withdraw all U.S. units from Iraq by the end of 2011 in accordance with the security agreement."