In a stunning diplomatic breakthrough for Barack Obama, Iraq's Prime Minister has endorsed the Democratic candidate's sixteen-month timeline for withdrawing combat troops for Iraq.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki endorsed the Obama approach in a July 19 interview with the German magazine, "Der Spiegel", just as President Bush and Senator John McCain were touting a vague new commitment to an unspecified "horizon" for withdrawal.
The New York Times did not report the Maliki statement in its July 19 edition.
Uncertainty about Maliki's surprise statement persists since his top political spokesman told the Times only one week ago that troop withdrawals would take three to five years, if not longer.
The two men's positions also allow thousands of counter-terrorism units, trainers and advisers to remain in Iraq as 140,000 US combat troops depart.
But as Obama's plane touched down in Afghanistan, Maliki's comments were having a far-reaching effect on the war and presidential politics, with the Maliki government withdrawing from George Bush and making McCain appear foolish...
Obama is pleased, but McCain certainly is not. In an interview with SPIEGEL, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki expressed support for Obama's troop withdrawal plans. Despite a half-hearted retraction, the comments have stirred up the US presidential campaign. SPIEGEL stands by its version of the conversation....
In the interview, Maliki expressed support of Obama's plan to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months. "That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of changes."
Maliki was quick to back away from an outright endorsement of Obama, saying "who they choose as their president is the Americans' business." But he then went on to say: "But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that's where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited."
A Baghdad government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that SPIEGEL had "misunderstood and mistranslated" the Iraqi prime minister, but didn't point to where the misunderstanding or mistranslation might have occurred. Al-Dabbagh said Maliki's comments "should not be understood as support to any US presidential candidates." The statement was sent out by the press desk of the US-led Multinational Force in Iraq.
A number of media outlets likewise professed to being confused by the statement from Maliki's office. The New York Times pointed out that al-Dabbagh's statement "did not address a specific error." CBS likewise expressed disbelief pointing out that Maliki mentions a timeframe for withdrawal three times in the interview and then asks, "how likely is it that SPIEGEL mistranslated three separate comments? The Atlantic Monthly was astonished by "how little effort was made" to make the Baghdad denial convincing. And the influential blog IraqSlogger also pointed out the lack of specifics in the government statement.
SPIEGEL sticks to its version of the conversation.
Maliki's comments immediately hit the headlines of US papers and Web sites across the country, partly the result of a White House employee inadvertently sending out a news alert to its full media distribution list. The White House said it was an error and that it was meant to be sent internally only.
BY BRANDON TWICHELL AND ADNAN S. KHAN
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Shape up or ship out - that’s what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is telling the his cabinet. The prime minister is giving the government ministers 100 days to end corruption or risk being fired.
The ultimatum comes after Iraqi protesters took to the streets during the so-called “Day of Rage”. Iraqi citizens are demanding less government corruption, more jobs and better access to basic services and electricity. (Video: Al jazeera)
Iraq’s Alsumaria seems to appreciate the changes the prime minister is making -- seeing it as an attempt to legitimately improve living standards and end corruption.
“Al Maliki proposed to reduce retirement age from 63 to 61. The Iraqi Prime Minister called to dissolve the municipal council and to hold early provincial elections.”
But NPR reports - the government is not getting the message.
“Officials still seem unnerved. Last week, state TV launched a campaign suggesting protesters are loyalists of Saddam Hussein, or worse, terrorists. Journalists and intellectuals have been detained, interrogated, and beaten.”
The speaker of Iraq’s Parliament is also taking action - calling for new elections in three months. A reporter for Al-Jazeera says - early elections would be a mixed bag.
“Al-Nujaifi's comments are a sign that politicians in the country are taking notice of protests. However, al-Nujaifi is a member of the opposition, and it would also be two years early to replace provincial councils.”
And the Voice of Russia commends how well the Iraqi government has handled the protest -- but adds the government still has a gun to its head.
“If the government fails the real national revolution will begin. As we see, the Egyptian-Libyan scenario in Iraq has been postponed but not for good.”
Maliki also says he will no longer be seeking a third term as Iraq’s prime minister.
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CENAB-I ALLAH'IN İSİMLERİ; MALİK-İ YEVMİDDİN
El primer ministro de Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki, aseguró que no impedirá el retiro de tropas de ocupación estadunidenses de su país en 2011. El premier garantizó capacitación para las fuerzas de seguridad internas. TeleSur
El primer ministro iraquí, Nuri al Maliki, reiteró hoy que su gobierno demandará a la compañía de seguridad Blackwater, después de que un juez de EEUU desestimara los cargos contra varios agentes. TeleSur
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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki essentially endorsed Senator Barack Obama's plan for withdrawing troops from Iraq in an interview with the German magazine, "Der Spiegel".
"U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months," Mr. Maliki said, according to the magazine's online English edition. "That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."
Naturally, Mr. Maliki did not want to imply he was backing one candidate over another in a foreign election:
"Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans' business," he said.
But then, apparently referring to Republican candidate John McCain's more open-ended Iraq policy, Maliki said: "Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic.
Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems."
On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain told a town hall, "I know how to win wars. ... I will turn around the war in Afghanistan. ... I know how to do that."
The next day, CNN's John Roberts asked Senator Joe. Biden (D-DE), "Do you believe Senator Obama knows how to win wars? And if he does, how?"
"He has a much more centered view on what our problems are," Biden replied. "John McCain was wrong about the war in Iraq. John McCain says the surge worked — but remember the purpose of the surge ... was to create 'breathing room' for a political settlement in Iraq. ... We're not closer to a political settlement."
"John McCain has finally acknowledged he has to put more troops in Afghanistan or we're going to lose Afghanistan," continued Biden. "John McCain's now realizing the desperate situation in Afghanistan, says we need more troops. ... He first said we have to take them out of Iraq. ... Then he says no, we'll have NATO do it. Then he came back and corrected again, NATO can't do it, we have to do it."
"The truth of the matter is, Barack Obama has been centered," Biden stated firmly, "and the central war on terror is in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not Iraq."
Roberts then cited an ABC/Washington Post poll which indicates that Americans think McCain has a better knowledge of world affairs by 63%-26% and that 72% think McCain would make a good commander-in-chief, while only 48% believe Obama would.
Biden's response was that Obama is "leading John McCain on every area except the one where experience just intuitively suggests that people think: "if you're experienced, then you MUST know more".
"But 20 years of experience that has not been very solid in terms of projecting what was going to happen doesn't make you a better commander-in-chief."
"We don't need as a commander-in-chief a war hero," Biden emphasized.
"John's a war hero. We need someone with some wisdom. ... President Bush's policy, which John McCain has embraced on Iraq and foreign policy generally, has been an abject failure." ...
The president of Iraq's Kurdish region has accused Prime Minister Nouri Maliki of drifting toward authoritarian rule, in the latest sign of the dangerous rift that has emerged between the Iraqi leader and his partners in the country's ruling coalition.
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After eight months of a political stalemate, Iraqi officials have brokered a power-sharing agreement between Sunni Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi and incumbent prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
On March 7, Allawi garnered two more seats than Maliki in Iraq’s Parliament, but until November 11, neither leader was able to form a coalition government. (BBC)
Now with al-Maliki remaining as prime minister and Allawi as parliamentary speaker, the U.S. is praising the power-sharing agreement. But some are skeptical. The BBC shares Allawi’s speculation on whether working with Maliki would give him any real power.
ALLAWI: “In line with the principal of national power-sharing, we have to be partners in making strategic and political decisions. Without the participation of all Iraqi political blocs, there will be no partnership that reflects Iraqi interest as we struggle to help the country.”
But France 24 reports the potential for Maliki to unify rival parties.
“In theory, Shiite Muslims and Kurds could band together around al-Maliki to form a government but the inclusion of Sunni Muslims is essential if the government is to avoid further unrest between rival factions.”
Iraqi newspaper Rudaw, reports Kurdish support was the key factor in keeping Maliki in power -- specifically because his implementation of Article 140 in Iraq’s Constitution that could keep the oil rich region of Kirkuk under Kurd control.
“...Allawi's bloc, which is largely made up of Sunni leaders, refused to meet as many Kurdish demands as Maliki did. The Sunni Arabs are particularly against Article 140 since it is expected to annex Kirkuk to the Kurdish region.”
Before the power-sharing deal, Al Jazeera reports frustration and uneasiness was widespread among Iraqi citizens who say the government squandered public money in the deadlock.
Some say they will demand solutions in the form of $40 million in pay and allowances, from the newly elected leaders.
WALEED AL MASHHADANI: “The delay in government formation has meant a hiring freeze. There are no jobs, no services, nothing. We’re not after political gains, this is at the heart of our role as civil society members.
This is just one more challenge the new government faces alongside the recent attacks on Iraqi Christians by Muslim extremists. CNN brings the view of one Kurdish lawmaker who is holding his breath before praising the political agreement.
"We reached a power-sharing deal but it is like assembling a car with different parts and hoping it will work.”
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