Nouri al-Maliki
Karim Kadim  /  AP
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday that disagreements about legal protection for U.S. soldiers scuttled months of negotiations to keep American troops in Iraq beyond this year.
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updated 10/22/2011 1:58:39 PM ET 2011-10-22T17:58:39

Iraq's prime minister said Saturday that U.S. troops are leaving Iraq after nearly nine years of war because Baghdad rejected American demands that any U.S. military forces to stay would have to be shielded from prosecution or lawsuits.

The comments by Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, made clear that it was Iraq who refused to let the U.S. military remain under the Americans' terms.

A day earlier, President Barack Obama had hailed the troops' withdrawal as the result of his commitment — promised shortly after taking office in 2009 — to end the war that he once described as "dumb."

"When the Americans asked for immunity, the Iraqi side answered that it was not possible," al-Maliki told reporters in Baghdad. "The discussions over the number of trainers and the place of training stopped. Now that the issue of immunity was decided and that no immunity to be given, the withdrawal has started."

Story: Obama: All US troops out of Iraq by end of year

Nearly 40,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, all of whom will withdraw by Dec. 31 — a deadline set in a 2008 security agreement between Baghdad and Washington.

But continued violence across Iraq, coupled with growing influence by the Shiite power Iran over the government in Baghdad, prompted the Obama administration earlier this year to push to keep thousands of U.S. troops here for years to come. The two nations negotiated for months over whether U.S. forces should stay — a politically delicate issue for Obama and al-Maliki, both of whom faced widespread opposition from their respective publics to continue a war that was never popular in either nation.

U.S. officials, from Obama to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, stressed that Washington will continue to have a strong diplomatic relationship with Baghdad despite the absence of military forces to help guide Iraq to stability.

Washington has long worried that Iranian meddling in Iraq could inflame Sunni tensions with Iraq's Shiite-led government and set off a chain reaction of violence and disputes across the Mideast.

Iran stresses deepening ties with Iraq
In an interview released Saturday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Tehran has "a very good relationship" with Iraq's government, and that this relationship will continue to grow.

Maya Alleruzzo  /  ASSOCIATED PRESS
U.S. Army soldiers from 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division board a C-17 aircraft at Baghdad International Airport as they begin their journey to the United States.

"We have deepened our ties day by day," Ahmadinejad said in an interview broadcast Saturday with CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

Al-Maliki told reporters he still wants American help in training Iraqi forces to use billions of dollars worth of military equipment that Baghdad is buying from the United States. He did not say if the prospective U.S. trainers would be active-duty troops, and said any immunity deals for them would have to be worked out in the future.

About 160 U.S. troops will remain at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to help oversee training plans — a duty that is common at most American diplomatic posts worldwide.

Michael O'Hanlon, an expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington said continued violence in Iraq was always a threat, whether or not U.S. troops remain.

"But it's true that their frequency may increase absent U.S. help in areas of intelligence and special operations," said O'Hanlon, who was among a group of Bush administration officials and academics who called on Obama to keep a robust U.S. force in Iraq. "In addition, I do fear the residual risk of civil war goes up with this decision, as the north in particular will become more fraught."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama: After nearly 9 years, Iraq war is over

  1. Transcript of: Obama: After nearly 9 years, Iraq war is over

    SNOW: Good evening. I'm Kate Snow in tonight for Brian .

    KATE SNOW, anchor: After nine years of bloody war costing thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of American dollars , President Obama says it is ending. The last American troops in Iraq are packing up and getting out by the end of the year. Home, he says, in time for the holidays. It was March of 2003 when President George W. Bush announced the start of the war against Iraq with shock and awe. Saddam Hussein 's rule soon collapsed. The president famously announced "mission accomplished," but as we know, even with the capture of Saddam himself, the mission would take much, much longer with more violence, some awful revelations, uplifting victories, and finally today's White House announcement. There is a lot of news to cover on all fronts tonight. We begin with our chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd . Chuck :

    CHUCK TODD reporting: Good evening, Kate . You know, opposition to the Iraq war was among the central reasons why candidate Barack Obama became nominee Obama , then President Obama , and promises to bring the troops home were a campaign staple, something not lost on the president today.

    President BARACK OBAMA: As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America 's war in Iraq will be over. As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. And to date, we've removed more than 100,000 troops. Iraqis have taken full responsibility for their country's security. The United States is moving forward from a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home . Here at home the coming months will be another season of homecomings. Across America , our servicemen and women will be reunited with their families. Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays .

    TODD: And while reaction came fast and furious from politicians of all stripes, we did reach out to former President George W. Bush for a comment, and his office said they would not be releasing a statement or issuing a comment about today's news. Kate :

    SNOW: Chuck Todd at the White House . Stay with us, Chuck ,

Photos: 2010 drawdown

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  1. U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicles cross the border from Iraq into Kuwait on Wednesday, Aug. 18. The U.S. Army's 4th Stryker Brigade is the last combat unit to leave Iraq as part of the drawdown of U.S. forces. President Barack Obama had set a goal of reducing the number of American troops in Iraq to 50,000 troops by Sept. 1. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A U.S. soldier waves from his Stryker armored vehicle after crossing the border into Kuwait. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A soldier dismantles a machine gun mounted on his Stryker immediately after crossing the border on Aug. 16. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. U.S. Army soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade race toward the border on Aug. 18. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Stryker armored vehicles through southern Iraq en route to Kuwait on Aug. 15. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Soldiers from C Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division gather before the convoy to Kuwait. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A member of the U.S. Army's 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, carries an American flag after a departure ceremony at Forward Operating Base Constitution in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, on Aug. 7. (Moises Saman / The New York Times via Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division band plays during a ceremony marking the formal withdrawal from the last checkpoints they helped staff in the Green Zone of Baghdad on June 1. (Holly Pickett / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. U.S. military Humvees are ready to be shipped out of Iraq at a staging yard at Camp Victory on July 6 in Baghdad. Everything from helicopters to printer cartridges are being wrapped and stamped and shipped out of Iraq in one of the most monumental withdrawal operations the American military has ever carried out. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Workers sort through broken computer equipment that will be destroyed at a demilitarizing facility for unusable, un-transportable U.S. military equipment at Camp Victory on June 24 in Baghdad. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Workers operate machinery that destroys damaged concrete blast walls at the U.S. Joint Base Balad, north of Baghdad, on July 3. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Soldiers from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, clear their weapons before boarding a military aircraft in Baghdad, as they begin their journey home on Aug. 13. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Soldiers from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, board a military aircraft in Baghdad on Aug 13. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Air Force airman talks on a radio as Army soldiers from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division prepare to board a military aircraft in Baghdad on Aug 13. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Soldiers from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, are seen on board a military aircraft in Baghdad on Aug. 13, as they begin their journey home. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. U.S. Army soldiers carry the flag-draped transfer case containing the remains of a U.S. soldier out of a C-17 during a dignified transfer on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base on Aug. 17 in Dover, Del. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (16) US troops leave Iraq - 2010 drawdown
  2. Image:
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    Slideshow (5) US troops leave Iraq - 2011 drawdown

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