There is some irony in the fact that Democrats, after years of deriding Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a hopeless bungler and conniving Shiite sectarian, are now treating as sacrosanct his suggestion that Iraq will be ready to assume responsibility for its own security by 2010. Naturally this is because his position seems to support that of Barack Obama.
A little skepticism is in order here. The prime minister has political motives for what he’s saying—whatever that is. An anonymous Iraqi official told the state-owned Al-Sabah newspaper, “Maliki thinks that Obama is most likely to win in the presidential election” and that “he’s got to take preemptive steps before Obama gets to the White House.” By smoothing Obama’s maiden voyage abroad as the Democratic nominee, Maliki may figure that he will collect chits that he can call in later.
Giving the Iraqi prime minister an added motive to posture about troop withdrawals, even while he explicitly eschews binding timelines, is that he is engaged in contentious status-of-forces negotiations with the United States. He may figure that threatening to boot us out gives him more leverage over our troops. Beyond the negotiations, there is the imperative of Iraq’s provincial elections, supposed to take place this year. Maliki no doubt expects that his Dawa party will reap political benefits from appearing to stand up to the Americans.
This is part of a pattern for Maliki, who, though he won office and has stayed alive (literally and politically) with American support, has hardly been an unwavering friend of the United States—at least in public.