Friday, July 18, 2008

Iraq Asserts Adolescent Independence

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has finally succeeded in getting president Bush to agree on setting a timetable for troop withdrawal.

The AP says:
The two leaders agreed that improvements in security should allow for the negotiations "to include a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals, such as the resumption of Iraqi security control in their cities and provinces and the further reduction of U.S. combat forces from Iraq," the White House said.

Bush repeatedly has vetoed legislation approved by Congress setting deadlines for American troop cutbacks.
It's like when your teenage children keep pushing the limits in their natural drive to become independent.

And then there's a surprise move where they help each other save face:
Friday's White House statement was intentionally vague and did not specify what kind of timelines were envisioned. That allows Iraqi officials, who are facing elections in the fall, to argue they are not beholden to Washington or willing to tolerate a permanent military presence in Iraq. For Bush, it points the way toward a legal framework for keeping American troops in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31.
Bush ought to be proud.

But in the Middle East, al-Maliki is not exactly seen this way.

Al Jazeera says:
There's a rumor going around that Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is feeling his oats, flexing his muscle, and displaying a newfound confidence that has allowed him to challenge the American occupation of Iraq. As a result -- so the story goes -- Maliki has suspended talks with the United States on a long-term security agreement, and has spoken out in favor of a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces.

But that's mostly wrong. From the start of his reign as prime minister in 2006, Maliki has been a weak and ineffectual leader. His political base is exceedingly narrow, and his Dawa Party is virtually nonexistent as a political force in Iraq today.
It seems that standing up to Bush will not be enough to gain him respect in his own part of the world. He's dealing with pressure from all sides:
Both Maliki and ISCI want to maintain U.S. support for the army and police, which have grown astronomically, from 337,000 in 2007, to 556,000 in 2008. So they can't afford to alienate Washington. At the same time, Maliki and ISCI are responding to strong pressure from Iran, which wants the Americans out of Iraq, and from Iraqi nationalists, who feel the same way. (Of course, the nationalists also want Iran to get out of Iraq.) That is not a formula for political strength.

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