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Maliki Feints

What is Prime Minister Maliki up to with his seeming endorsement of Obama’s 16 month withdrawal timetable, followed by a quick backtrack by his spokesman, and then another reversal of sorts today? The most persuasive answer I’ve seen comes in this Associated Press analysis by Robert Reid. In good AP style, his first few paragraphs sum up his thesis:

The Iraqi prime minister’s seeming endorsement of Barack Obama‘s troop withdrawal plan is part of Baghdad’s strategy to play U.S. politics for the best deal possible over America’s military mission.

The goal is not necessarily to push out the Americans quickly, but instead give Iraqis a major voice in how long U.S. troops stay and what they will do while still there.

It also is designed to refurbish the nationalist credentials of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who owes his political survival to the steadfast support of President Bush. Now, an increasingly confident Iraqi government seems to be undermining long-standing White House policies on Iraq.

In other words, Maliki is not really trying to push U.S. troops out by mid-2010, as Senator Obama proposes. He is playing politics-Iraqi politics. The fact that it’s having an impact on U.S. politics is probably an unintended byproduct from Maliki’s viewpoint.

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