Iraqi Government Wants US out by 2010


While analysts are still trying to digest Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's embrace of Barack Obama's 16 month timetable for withdrawal (despite a White House sponsored effort to get Maliki to withdraw that remark) a spokesman for the government told reporters that the Iraqis would prefer to see American combat troops leave by 2010 which would be very close to Obama's proposed timetable.

Ali al-Dabbagh has emerged the last couple of weeks as an interesting spokesman for Maliki. He has twice come out and tried to "correct" what he has termed twice now "misinterpretations" and "mistranslatations" of Maliki's words.

Each time, the "correction" was made when a firestorm broke out here in the US over what Maliki said. On July 7th, the PM made it be known that he wanted a timetable included in any Status of Forces agreement with the US. Ali al-Dabbagh emerged shortly afterwards to issue a clarification saying that Maliki had been misquoted. That may have been so but the Bush Administration announced on Friday that the two governments had agreed to a "time horizon" for the withdrawal of American forces - a big change in Bush Administration policyy.

Then just this past weekend with the controversy over Maliki embracing Obama's plan in the pages of Der Speigel was at its height, a statement was issued by CENTCOM and confirmed by Ali al-Dabbagh  that Maliki's remarks were mistranslated and that he didn't mean to make it appear that he had embraced Obama's position. Der Speigel stood by its story and translation. And to make matters even more muddy, it was discovered that CENTCOM's statement had come after the White House had spoken to Maliki.

Is  Ali al-Dabbagh trying to alter the PM's remarks and make them more palatable to the White House? It certainly appears that way. The real question is if he has Maliki's blessing in doing so. And from this AP report, it looks like he does.

AP reports that Maliki has settled on a strategy of trying to thrust his government into the presidential race. He is using the election as leverage to get a better deal on the Status of Forces agreement according to sources in the Iraqi government.

This makes perfect sense. We note that already he has gotten the White House on board with the makings of a timetable. And he has successfully gotten Bush to agree that no long term agreement will be signed this year, only a "Memorandum of Understanding" about US troops.

This leaves Maliki free to bargain with the incoming president - a tricky business given the sensitivity of the White House. Hence, Maliki has Ali al-Dabbagh running interference for him, trying to muddy the waters enough that the PM can be all things to both sides.

So far, the strategy has worked well. But given the borderline readiness of the Iraqi army to alone assume control of the nation's security, Maliki is playing a dangerous game. If he gets the next president to agree to a timeline - and say that president is Obama - the US leader may be more in love with the idea of following the timeline than helping Iraq with security. In other words, Maliki better hope things keep getting better because if they turn south and Obama is president, he may be left facing a deteriorating security situation and no American troops to save him.

But it appears to be a gamble Maliki is willing to take in order to establish full soverignty over Iraq. Put that way, one can hardly blame him for seeking to use the American election to his advantage.