AC: "This is a very, very polished politician."

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Length: 5:50

ANDERSON COOPER: More now on what America is up against in Iraq.

In a moment, we will you about tens of millions of dollars wasted on making Iraq a better place, and, by extension, a safer place for Iraqis and Americans alike.

First, though, the man President Bush is counting on to hold a country together, Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, talking today with CNN's Michael Ware. He said he might request even more Americans help, if circumstances call for it. He also had a warning about using Iraq in America's confrontation with Iran.

Here's Michael's report.


MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a man caught between two great enemies. His country, he says, has become a battleground for a hidden struggle between Iran and the United States.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We have told the Iranians and the Americans, we know you have a problem with each other, but we're asking you to please solve your problems outside of Iraq.

WARE: In an exclusive interview with CNN, Prime Minister Maliki chose his words carefully, agreeing with U.S. intelligence assessments of Iranian meddling in Iraq, yet supporting neither Washington, nor Tehran, urging both powers to leave his country be.

(on camera): Is American intelligence wrong when it says Iran is working to kill American soldiers in your country?

AL-MALIKI (through translator): Why is it wrong? I didn't say it does not exist. When the Americans say their intelligence says Iran is killing their soldiers, it means their intelligence is based on information they have got. This is not an obscure thing.

WARE (voice-over): Though his government only came into being through U.S. intervention, Maliki says he won't allow the U.S. to use Iraq as a base to attack either Syria or Iran.

AL-MALIKI (through translator): And we will not accept Iran using Iraq as an opportunity to attack the American forces. But does this not exist? It exists. And I assure you it exists, because it is based on the struggle between the two countries.

WARE: And all of this amidst an unrelenting war against his government and the occupying U.S. forces by a homegrown insurgency and al Qaeda; enemies, he claims, strengthened by U.S. blunders.

AL-MALIKI (through translator): We say that a big part in the existence of the terrorist organizations are the mistakes that have been committed in the process of building the Iraqi security forces.

WARE: Mistakes he insists have also compromised attempts to dismantle Iraq's powerful militias.

(on camera): Your own security forces are heavily penetrated by the very militias that you are going after. Do you have their loyalty?
AL-MALIKI (through translator): They exist. And I pointed to that, because we, unfortunately, inherited this from the wrong process of building the troops that started after the fall of the regime. Nevertheless, we have taken a number of measures and operations to cleanse these forces.

WARE (voice-over): As for the White House plan to send 21,000 additional troops to Iraq, Maliki believes the new strategy will work, but says that's not his only option.

AL-MALIKI (through translator): If there seems to be more need, we will ask for more troops, because the success of the Baghdad security plan for us and for the U.S. administration is an important and sensitive job.

WARE: More troops, political deals, and reconciliation -- anything, he says, to avoid drowning the country in blood.


COOPER: Michael joins us now from Baghdad.

Michael, how relevant is Maliki now? I mean, does he have real power?

WARE: Well, this is the question. This is the litmus test for America's partner here in Iraq.

We saw President Bush, in his State of the Union address, turn to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and say that this new strategy that was being undertaken is going to demand more of this government.

What President Bush was saying is that Nouri al-Maliki has promised to deliver time and time and time again, and he has failed to do so. Is that because he's incapable or because he's complicit with these militias that he's failed to address?

We do know that he was put into power through a political deal by one of the most powerful militias in the country, the Mahdi army, led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Now, in a country where political power, the currency of power, still comes at the end of a barrel of a gun, this prime minister has no militia. Yet, his government is an alliance of armed militias.

So, him trying to exert any kind of authority is an extraordinarily difficult thing. Yet, this is America's key to withdrawing from Iraq.

COOPER: Very quickly, Michael, just on a personal basis, what's he like?

WARE: This is a very, very polished politician.

Yet, he also appears very strong, very measured, obviously, in his words. Yet, he comes with a bearing. I mean, he doesn't betray the fact that this man is under intense pressure.

Yet, you can still see within him the cracks beginning to emerge. And you could hear in his -- in what he had to say the strains that are obviously appearing in the relationship with the United States.

COOPER: All right. Michael Ware -- thanks, Michael.

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Length: 4:43

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