Guest blogged by Jon Ponder, Pensito Review.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki dropped a bombshell into the American presidential campaign yesterday when he stated publicly that it was time for U.S. troops to leave his country.
“The current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or to put a timetable on their withdrawal,” al Maliki said, while on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates.
The U.S. government is currently negotiating with the Iraqis on an agreement that would keep U.S. forces in the country on a long-term basis. But members of the parliament and the al Maliki government are said to be unhappy with the proposal because it would undermine Iraq's sovereignty.
Al Maliki's announcement can be seen as a direct challenge to the Iraq policy of George Bush and his presumptive heir, John McCain, both of whom insist that the U.S. cannot withdraw until Iraq is secure. McCain is on the record saying U.S. troops could remain in Iraq for a century or more, if conditions warrant.
Reacting to al Maliki's announcement, Barack Obama said the Iraqi government is more in sync with his view of future U.S.-Iraq relations.
"I think that his statement is consistent with my view about how withdrawals should proceed," Obama said to reporters on Monday. "I think it's encouraging ... that the prime minister himself now acknowledges that in cooperation with Iraq, it's time for American forces to start sending out a timeframe for the withdrawal.
"I hope that this administration as well as John McCain is listening to what Prime Minister al Maliki has to say."
If the Iraqis take the next step and officially request a withdrawal, and Bush declines the request, it will the myth that U.S. troops are not forces of occupation in Iraq.
It's unclear whether the Iraqis will take that step, but no matter what happens, the Iraqi government's position on withdrawal will make it harder as the fall campaign plays out for McCain and Bush to smear Obama and the Democrats as advocates of "surrendering" and "cutting and running" from the Iraq civil war.