Wednesday, August 27, 2008

So About That Timeline...

Last week it appeared that the Maliki government and the Bush administration had come to some sort of agreement about a timeline for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. However, it appears now that American and Iraqi negotiators might have meant two slightly different things by "withdrawal", as while the Bush administration took it to mean combat troops only, Maliki appears to have meant ALL American and otherwise foreign troops:

US and Iraqi officials said last week that negotiators had reached an agreement to withdraw American combat troops from Iraqi cities by next year, and pull out the rest by 2011 if the security situation is stable enough.

"There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date, which is the end of 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," said Mr Maliki yesterday, speaking at a gathering of tribal leaders in the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Actually, this doesn't not appear to be the agreement "actually" reached, at least not in the minds of American negotiators:

“These discussions continue, as we have not yet finalized an agreement,” a White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said on Monday. “We’re optimistic that Iraq and the U.S. can reach a mutual agreement on flexible goals for U.S. troops to continue to return on success, based on conditions on the ground, and allow Iraqi forces to provide security for a sovereign Iraq.”

As you can see, our officials are in a position only to point out that this isn't actually what anyone has agreed to. But it's difficult to publicly argue that our troops should remain in Iraq even if the government of Maliki doesn't want them there, and Maliki knows this. As Marc Lynch observes, the Iraqis are playing a game of chicken here, and they are willing to hold as long as it takes to get what they want...and that may be longer than we are willing to hold out. But as Lynch also points out, things are still up in the air at this point and it's hard to say exactly what the final agreement will look like. Or what that might even mean next year, or the year after, or the year after that, depending how the situation changes on the ground in Iraq. As has been stated before, this insistence on the withdrawal of American forces along with recent moves against the Sunni Awakenings movement, makes it appear that Maliki is ready to consolidate power in Iraq and feels strong enough to do it (thanks to the determined effort on our part over the last five years to bolster Iraqi/Shiite security forces) whether we are willing to help or not. Whether he's actually capable of it or not will greatly determine the future of our military and political mission in Iraq.

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