August 26, 2008
PRESIDENT BUSH has been embarrassed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Bush had set a goal of July 31 for a security agreement with Maliki's government. The key to negotiating such an accord, for Bush, was to avoid setting a firm date for withdrawal of US combat troops. Bush has insisted that the timing and pacing of a withdrawal had to be determined solely by conditions on the ground - a mantra that GOP presidential candidate John McCain has echoed faithfully.
But now Maliki is demanding a "specific deadline" for the withdrawal not only of American combat troops but of all US forces of any kind. Maliki's aides are saying that the latest date for the departure of the last American soldier from Iraq must be the end of 2011. Maliki himself told an audience of tribal sheikhs Monday, "There can be no treaty or agreement except on the basis of Iraq's full sovereignty." To make clear his utter rejection of the Bush formula, Maliki insisted that "no foreign soldier remains in Iraq after a specific deadline," saying he would not settle for "an open time frame."
Maliki does not want an American president to decide when conditions are ripe for even a partial withdrawal of US forces. Maliki's allusion to Iraqi sovereignty also means that he is still resisting American demands that US forces - though not private contractors - enjoy immunity from Iraqi laws. To grant the Americans "open immunity," he told the tribal sheikhs, would be to betray the "sanctity of Iraqi blood."