Saturday, July 19, 2008

Iraq End Game Tilting To Barack

Photo: Maliki Greets Ahmadinejad Note: since this was written, 'spokemen' for Maliki tried to spin this as not intended to endorse a candidate.

Maliki Backs
Obama Timeline

For Withdrawal

By Tom Hayden
Huffington Post

In a stunning diplomatic breakthrough for Barack Obama, Iraq's prime minister yesterday endorsed the Democratic candidate's 16-month timeline for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki endorsed the Obama approach in a July 18 interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, just as President Bush and Sen. John McCain were touting a vague new commitment to a "horizon" for withdrawal. The New York Times did not report the Maliki statement in its July 19 edition.

Uncertainty about Maliki's surprise statement persists since his top political spokesman told the Times only one week ago that troop withdrawals would take three to five years, if not longer. [NYT, July 11]. The number of American troops he would request as counter-terrrorism units, trainers and advisers could be tens of thousands.

But as Obama's plane touched down in Afghanistan, Maliki's comments were having a far-reaching effect on the war and presidential politics, with the Maliki government withdrawing from George Bush and making McCain appear foolish.

This could be the "Philippine option" predicted in Ending the War in Iraq, in which the US arranged behind the scenes for the Manila government to request the departure of the American fleet.
While the sequencing may be accidental, it appears that the Obama forces could reap a windfall. Obama will seem more successful than Bush in managing the last stages of the war, depriving McCain of the claim to superior foreign policy experience. Obama's imminent arrival in Baghdad could seem like a victory lap in the foreign policy "primary."

Why would Maliki break so sharply with his long-time US partner in the White House? Are the Iraqis more adept at playing American politics than the White House is?

As noted before at this site, Iraqi public opinion -- Shi'a and Sunni -- strongly favors a deadline for American troop withdrawal. The provincial elections to be held later this year [at the insistence of the US] will produce victories for candidates who demand ending the occupation, both in Sunni areas like Anbar and Mahdi Army areas like Sadr City. Maliki's coalition must appear to stand for Iraqi sovereignty and the departure of US forces.

Somewhere in the background is Iran with its strong ties to the entire Shi'a community in Iraq. The Iranian interest is in keeping Shi'a factions unified in a demand that the US troops and bases are folding up and returning home. Iran believes that a retreating US will be less able to strike from positions of strength on the ground if a US-Iran conflict takes place.

Besides Iran and the Shi'a bloc, the big winners in this scenario would be the multinational oil companies now subtly assuring themselves access to Iraq's oilfields after thirty years of absence.
The Bush Administration could mask defeat in claims of "mission accomplished", perhaps with garlands of flowers provided by Maliki at a joint ceremony.

Though genuine peace would a blessing, the real losers stand to be the Sunni minority which is the backbone of the insurgency, and the long-suffering Shi'a poor in Sadr City whose social-economic needs are little recognized by the dominant Shi'a party. In the region's geo-politics, Saudi Arabia would be angered at the rise of greater Shi'a and Iranian power in potentially competitive oil fields. And despite their alarm about Iran's nuclear plans, Israel would welcome an Iraq shorn of its power in the Sunni world.

As for al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, they could claim a victory in helping drive the American forces out of Iraq, but their narrow public support would shrink further if Iraqis recover sovereignty. A loophole in the Obama plan, certainly endorsed by Maliki, would allow American counter-terrorism units to go after alleged al-Qaeda units operating in Iraq as US combat forces draw down.

The huge "if" hovering over this sudden development is simply whether the Bush Administration can force Maliki to back down from his statement, or at least retreat from going further.

Here is Maliki's statement, delivered as Obama's visit to the region was beginning:

Whoever is thinking about the shorter term [for withdrawal] is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems... As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned... 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. U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.

Tom Hayden is the author of Ending the War in Iraq [2007].


Bill Baar said...

I think the time line thing is becoming a moot point.

Obama's claims the surge would fail a year ago is fair game as is the whole decision to go in the first place. Those were judgements and people can debate whether the outcome was worth it.

But the outcome is pretty clear now and I don't think Obama or McCain or Malikis positions are going to be all that different.

The real foreign policy question is going to be on Afganistan (where I think Obama and McCain seem to be converging) and Iran...

...It will be interesting to see how that plank in the platform you folks hope to inspire.

Maliki by the way is saying he was misinterpreted but as SecState Wright says in the link a time horizon becomes a moot point with the tempo of success in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Oh I get it now! P4O are not against US imperialist wars, they are just against the Iraq war, for some reason. But they are OK with Obama's promise to give us a bigger, better war in Afghanistan. They also seem to be OK with Obama's backing for Israel's cluster bombing of Lebanon and starvation of the Palestinians. I see the strategy now: free up the army in Iraq so Obama can expand America's other wars. Now THAT'S progress. By the way, the Iraq war did not start in 2003. It started in 1991, and through the Clinton years more than half a million Iraqis were killed by sanctions. Yay, for Clinton's foreign policy "experts" who are all coming back with Obama.

Carl Davidson said...

No, you still don't get it at all, 'Anon.'

Let me try to make it clear, once again.

Obama has his positions.

We have ours.

They're not the same.

They have some points in common, and not so on many others.

Read our initial statement for our views, but bear in mind we're a mixed bag, from solid left to Progressive Democrats, and all points in between.

We want to see him defeat McCain anyway, because we think the differences between the two are important on several matters.

And we want to prepare the ground for struggle against the White House in 2009 no matter who is in it.

We are organizing WITH the Obama insurgency and independently of the Democratic apparatus to do so.

You're welcome to disagree, but if you want to disagree with US, rather than something you made up, this is what it is.

It's really not that hard, unless you have other axes to grind.

Bill Baar said...


You have to admit it's tough chasm to straddle. Be careful doing these splits!


Anonymous said...

Here's a little tidbit on how Barack's visit is being seen by Iraqi citizens on the street.

Courtesy LA Times, via (

Among Iraqis, Obama is Not Topic No. 1

Ordinary citizens appear skeptical that the differences between the U.S. presidential candidates have anything to do with them.

by Said Rifai and Saif Rasheed, LA Times

BAGHDAD - During his brief visit to Iraq, Barack Obama has been greeted by busloads of Iraqi cameramen vying for shots of his arrivals and departures at meetings with government officials.

But on government-sponsored Al Iraqiya television Monday, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee received second billing to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s departure for Europe. Only Al Hurra, the U.S.-sponsored channel, led with the story.

The situation has been similar on the streets of Baghdad, where Obama’s visit has been duly noted but is not the No. 1 thing on people’s minds.

Iraqis tend to be jaundiced about American politics and skeptical that the differences between the presidential candidates have anything to do with them.

“If either McCain or Obama visits Iraq, it would be for campaign purposes, and therefore at this point in time it won’t have any effect on the situation in Iraq,” said Khalil Ibrahim, 34, a perfume shop owner.

Obama has gained cachet in Iraq with his proposal for a 16-month timetable to withdraw U.S. troops.

Just before his arrival, that plan touched off an international media storm when a German magazine quoted Maliki as saying that period seemed about right, one day after he and President Bush had agreed to a nonspecific “time horizon” for withdrawal.

Maliki’s spokesman quickly issued a clarification saying the prime minister had been misquoted and was not endorsing Obama. On Monday, the same spokesman told reporters that Iraq’s vision was for withdrawal by the end of 2010.

But the flap hasn’t generated much excitement in the streets. Iraqis have more immediate concerns — and long memories.

“I remember Iraqis being very hopeful that Clinton would lift the sanctions [against then-President Saddam Hussein’s regime] when he came to power in the ’90s,” said truck driver Amer Abdullah, 38. “But history will tell us that this was not the case.”

“I just hope that the Iraqi government will have the sense not to shut down streets and enforce a curfew,” said clothes vendor Ali Aboud, 26. “That’s probably the only effect it could have on us, and it would be devastating.”

Aboud thought Obama might be a good candidate for Americans, but he had no preference himself.

“I couldn’t care less if either of them visited Iraq,” he said. “They [the Americans] practically own this place. They’re occupying the country, after all, and besides, they’re doing it for their own benefit, not for the Iraqi people.”

Iraqis’ perceptions of Obama often parallel their own political affiliations and their views on the presence of U.S. troops in the country.

Nassar Rubaie, a member of parliament in the bloc of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr, had an especially cynical analysis of the U.S. presidential campaign, characterizing any outcome as nothing more than “tactical change.”

“The nature of the U.S. elections will not affect the political situation in Iraq,” Rubaie said. “On the other hand, the situation in Iraq has a great effect on the U.S. elections. The candidates are concentrating on the situation in Iraq . . . to win the elections.”

A lawmaker from the Kurdish Alliance, Ali Hussein Balo, had the opposite view.

“As Kurds we think that Iraq has been liberated by the Republicans and Bush, so we prefer to continue the same policy to end the problems in Iraq,” Balo said

However, ambivalence best describes the feelings of many Iraqis, both in and out of government, about the U.S. military presence.

“I agree that the Iraqi government and its security forces have made lots of progress during the last several months,” said Ahmed Adnan, 29, sitting behind the desk of a construction contractor in the Jadriya neighborhood.

“But this tends to be overstated by the media,” Adnan said. “I still think that the situation could suddenly revert because Iraq still needs a long time to heal.”

Carl Davidson said...

I have no problem with this story. I'm sure there are more, with a range of views.

But what's YOUR point? An Iraqi worker can be indifferent about US elections, but what about you? What outcome would you like to see and work for?

A McCain victory is OK? An Obama victory slightly better? A larger vote for McKinney that takes down Obama better still? No on it matters?

All of those, including the last are choices you are accountable for. Unlike Pilate, you can't wash your hands and say, 'what is truth?'

So again, what's your point in this context?

Bill Baar said...

My experience in Baghdad was important visits invited explosions.

Between that and celebratory fire after soccor games... I would find a bunker.

I suspect most Baghdadis shared this view.

Worth noting Obama's visit was pretty calm. Tremendous progress has been made.

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