Maliki Backs Off?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office is backing off his endorsement of Barack Obama’s Iraq timeline yesterday.

Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, issued a statement saying Mr. Maliki’s statement had been “as not conveyed accurately regarding the vision of Senator Barack Obama, U.S. presidential candidate, on the timeframe for U.S. forces withdrawal from Iraq,” but it did not address a specific error. It did soften his support for Mr. Obama’s plan and implied a more tentative approach to withdrawing troops. More of the statement, which came from the U.S. military’s Central Command press office:

Al-Dabbagh explained that Mr. al-Maliki confirmed the existence of an Iraqi vision stems from the reality with regard to Iraq security needs, as the positive developments of the security situation and the improvement witnessed in Iraqi cities makes the subject of U.S. forces’ withdrawal within prospects, horizons and timetables agreed upon and in the light of the continuing positive developments on the ground, and security that came within the Strategic Plan for Cooperation which was laid and developed by Mr. Maliki and President George Bush. The Iraqi government appreciates and values the efforts of all the friends who continue to support and supporting Iraqi security forces.

Al-Dabbagh underscored that the statements made by the head of the ministerial council (Prime Minister al-Maliki) or any of the members of the Iraqi government should not be understood as support to any U.S. presidential candidates.

As Matt Yglesias notes, this is hardly convincing

You can read the full statement at the link, but this summary really tells you what you need to know, namely that the walkback (a) doesn’t involve Maliki on the record, (b) says the reports are inaccurate but doesn’t name inaccuracies, and (c) was issued through CENTCOM. Basically, this morning we saw Maliki speaking in person and endorsing Obama’s plan to end the occupation in no uncertain terms. By the late afternoon, an Iraqi government spokesman was pretending this never happened in a statement released by the occupying army. That’s hardly even a serious effort at bamboozlement.

Also, unsurprisingly, der Spiegel stands by their interview and its translation. Plus, it is awfully hard to believe that Maliki didn’t mean what he said about Obama given that elsewhere in the same interview he said

SPIEGEL: Germany, after World War II, was also liberated from a tyrant by a US-led coalition. That was 63 years ago, and today there are still American military bases and soldiers in Germany. How do you feel about this model?

Maliki: Iraq can learn from Germany’s experiences, but the situation is not truly comparable. Back then Germany waged a war that changed the world. Today, we in Iraq want to establish a timeframe for the withdrawal of international troops — and it should be short. At the same time, we would like to see the establishment of a long-term strategic treaty with the United States, which would govern the basic aspects of our economic and cultural relations. However, I wish to re-emphasize that our security agreement should remain in effect in the short term.

That sounds a lot like Obama, and nothing like McCain. Let’s see, what else did Maliki have to say?

SPIEGEL: How short-term? Are you hoping for a new agreement before the end of the Bush administration?

Maliki: So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat. But that isn’t the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias. The American lead negotiators realize this now, and that’s why I expect to see an agreement taking shape even before the end of President Bush’s term in office. With these negotiations, we will start the whole thing over again, on a clearer, better basis, because the first proposals were unacceptable to us.

Hmmm…Again, doesn’t sound much like McCain.

Maliki: Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans’ business. But it’s the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that’s where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited.

Granted, that was after being asked if he was endorsing Obama, but again, that does not sound like McCain. Plus, the fact that al-Maliki didn’t immediately back off his endorsement of Obama’s policy, and in fact reiterated his support for a quicker withdrawal, makes it hard to believe that Maliki really was misquoted.

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