The Iraqi prime minister has shot down the Bush administration - and McCain's - Iraq policy by announcing publicly that there will be a timetable, an
August 24, 2008

Surgin The Iraqi prime minister has shot down the Bush administration - and McCain's - Iraq policy by announcing publicly that there will be a timetable, and it will contain a fixed date. The White House and the pro-war lobby are spinning like tops, but it's impossible to put disguise their humiliation.

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," Maliki said in a speech to tribal leaders in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

... In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said there had been a draft agreement but that it needed to "go through a number of levers in the Iraqi political system before we actually have an agreement from the Iraqi side." "Until we have a deal, we don't have a deal," he said. He declined to comment on the 2011 withdrawal date.

Spin, spin, spin - but Maliki's having none of it.

Maliki said no agreement would be signed that did not respect Iraqi sovereignty, and said any deal would need to include a "specific date, not an open one" for withdrawal. "An open time limit is not acceptable in any security deal that governs the presence of the international forces," he said.

Maliki also said no foreigners would be given full legal immunity. Washington is seeking to avoid allowing its soldiers to be tried in Iraqi courts. In many countries where the United States has bases, treaties allow the forces to be governed by U.S. military law rather than placed under local jurisdiction. "We will not accept to put the lives of our sons on the line by guaranteeing absolute immunity for anybody, whether Iraqis or foreigners," Maliki said. "The sanctity of Iraqi blood should be respected."

Maliki also said an agreement had been reached that would prohibit U.S. military operations "without the approval of the Iraqi government and American forces."

Despite claims by war-boosters that all this can only happen because Bush was right - that the Iraqi Army would stand up so the US could stand down - Bush and McCain both are on record so many times saying that there should be no timetable and that it would only encourage "the enemy" that it's going to be impossible for them to wriggle out of this one. And in any case the war-boosters all know that they're in a race to declare victory in Iraq and take the subject off the debating table before the fecal matter hits the fan there. (Or at the very least, distract with the prospect of a new struggle of Great Powers. "Hey look, over there!")

That's because it looks very like the Surge will in fact turn out to be only a temporary downturn in violence. A large part of the reason for that, says Brian Katulis of the Center For American Progress, is that it gave Iraqi leaders an out on having to do any outreach to their colleagues in other factions. In particular, whether or not the Sadrist movement and the Sunni Awakening movement would be given the space to rejoin the mainstream of Iraqi politics was always going to be crucial if the Surge was to be more than a flash in the pan. We all know what happened with the Sadrists - and Maliki has announced his intention to crack down on the Awakening in much the same way. In fact, he's already started - with arrests of key Awakening leaders in Baghdad, Diyala province and elsewhere. There are 100,000 "Sons of Iraq" who will soon be without their weekly American paycheck with the Shiite led central government looking to take away their weapons. It will only take a fraction of them to react badly for security in Iraq to break down once more. Recall that we were told for years that the entire Sunni insurgency amounted to at most 20,000.

Which, in turn, will have a knock on effect on the Sadrists, the Kurds and all the littler factions, who will want to ensure they get a piece of the pie after all the shooting is done. Sistani, the other offtimes troublesome Iraqi cleric (he was the one who forced the original elections on Viceroy Bremer) has popped up to say he ain't deaded yet and President Talibani, a Kurd, hasn't been seen in public since August 3rd when he came to the US for emergency heart surgery. he doesn't even seem to have left the US at all, and didn't turn up for a scheduled meeting in Iran. That opens up the prospect of a struggle for the presidency as well as a struggle for power in the Kurdish North.

All in all, it's difficult to find an expert right now who is optimistic about the reduction in violence continuing untroubled and unabated. Meanwhile, Afghanistan is now more dangerous for US troops and their allies than Iraq ever was, the Taliban are resurgent, allies like Sarkozy are quite openly saying that NATO is losing there - and the Afghan president Karzai has just announced that his government too will seek to renegotiate the terms of foreign forces in their country after a US airstrike allegedly caused severe civilian casualties - one of many but it seems to have been the very last straw. Karzai's government has the same problems Maliki's does - incredible corruption and featherbedding coupled with a partisan approach to reconstruction where his friends get and his not-friends dont - but it seems likely that he too will call for a fixed timeline for foreign withdrawal along with more constraints on what foreign troops can do with impunity. And the US and its allies will have no option but to agree.

All of which means that the Bush/McCain line of foreign policy is in complete tatters. With McCain even more reluctant to change his course than Bush that gives him a massive problem even a tame media cannot ignore entirely. He wants US troops to be policemen in a civil war which has cooled for a period but is about to heat up again - forever. McCain's one high note is that Obama flipped from his original statements that the Surge would fail, under media pressure, just before his original thinking looks about to be proven correct - but even that won't be enough to absolve McCain of the charge that, after all, his judgement all along was atrocious.

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