After Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki met with Barack Obama on Monday, his spokesman dropped a bombshell: Iraq had a vision, Ali al-Dabbagh said, that most US combat troops would withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2010.
Here in CNN's Baghdad bureau, producer Jomana Karadsheh caught Dabbagh by phone as he boarded a plane with Maliki heading for Germany. Yes, he told her, the Iraqi Government's "vision" is that most US combat troops would be out of Iraq by 2010.
And, he added, this was nothing new.
Well, not so fast.
Just a couple of weeks ago, when I interviewed Dabbagh, we had this exchange:
Dabbagh: "Iraq should not be left alone, Iraq had to fight all al-Qaeda on behalf of all the region and all the international community, so it is very risky to have any premature steps which affect the security of the United States and Europe and all the region ... Whoever is coming White House will notice this reality and then accordingly will decide."
Q: Is that a message for Barack Obama?
Dabbagh: "I think so yes." (smiling)
So which is it? Is Sen. Obama's plan for withdrawal too fast for the prime minister's taste, as it appeared just a few weeks back? Or does Maliki really agree with his plan, as the latest comments indicate?
Well for now, it looks to be the latter. But there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First the prime minister is a politician, and he's under a great deal of political pressure here–an agreement that appeared to authorize an open-ended US troop presence would provoke a furious reaction.
Second, Iraq is in the midst of negotiations on a long-term security agreement with the US that could set the parameters for the two countries' relations for years to come, and it's hard not to see in the prime minister's position a healthy dose of old-fashioned negotiating tactics.
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