Iraq Points to Pullout in 2010

Sen. Barack Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad Monday. Obama said the conversation was 'very constructive'. Video by AP
By Sudarsan Raghavan and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

BAGHDAD, July 21 -- Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama conferred with senior Iraqi leaders, U.S. officials and military commanders Monday, as a spokesman for the Iraqi government declared that it would like U.S. combat forces to complete their withdrawal by the end of 2010.

The comments by spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh mark the second time in recent days that a senior Iraqi has endorsed a timetable for U.S. withdrawal that is roughly similar to the one advocated by Obama. Dabbagh suggested that a combat force pullout could be completed by the end of 2010, which would be about seven months longer than Obama's 16-month formulation.

Dabbagh made the statement after Obama's meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has faced pressure from the White House in recent days to clarify published comments that he supported Obama's 16-month plan.

Dabbagh said that his government is working "on a real timetable which Iraqis set" and that the 2010 deadline is "an Iraqi vision."

"We can't give any schedules or dates, but the Iraqi government sees the suitable date for withdrawal of the U.S. forces is by the end of 2010," he told reporters.

The White House responded quickly to Dabbagh's remarks, which along with Maliki's earlier comments have been a thorny political problem for an administration that has opposed attaching firm dates to troop withdrawals as it negotiates the future U.S.-Iraqi relationship.

"We don't think that talking about specific negotiating tactics or your negotiating position in the press is the best way to negotiate a deal," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, suggesting that Dabbagh was responding to domestic pressure.

Obama's visit comes at a time when American troops levels, the timing of withdrawal and overall U.S.-Iraq strategy have become central issues in the U.S. presidential campaign, as well as in Iraqi politics.

Dabbagh said Maliki did not discuss troop withdrawals with his visitor. "Senator Barack Obama is a candidate, and we are talking to the administration which is in power," he said. But in many ways -- from the red carpet rolled out at Maliki's residence to Obama's seat of honor next to Maliki during formal consultations -- he was treated like a visiting head of state.

The White House said Friday that Maliki and President Bush had agreed to set a "time horizon" for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. But administration officials have steadfastly declined to indicate what that time horizon might be, saying only that it will be based on security conditions on the ground.

Perino said Monday that an agreement with "an aspirational time horizon" could include dates of when Iraqi security forces should be able to take control of given provinces. At the same time, she said: "It will not have any discussion about troop levels. The next commander in chief is going to have to make those decisions."

U.S. officials have emphasized in recent days that the security gains in Iraq are reversible. "I think that they think they've done very well over this past year," Perino said of the Iraqis. ". . . But they have got a long ways to go, and I think that they recognize that. They know that the American troops have been critical to helping them get where they are."

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