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Iraqis Continue To Insist On Timetable For Withdrawal

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Earlier this week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stated that forthcoming agreements with the United States would include a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. At the time, State Department spokesman Sean McCormick joined with the Bush administration in pretending to not know what al Maliki was talking about:

Well, that's really the part - the point at which I would seek greater clarification in terms of remarks. I've seen the same press reports that you have. But I haven't yet had an opportunity to get greater clarity as to exactly to what Mr. Maliki was referring or if, in fact, that's an accurate reporting of what he said.

Here's that greater clarity for you!

Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in Baghdad on Wednesday that a U.S. pullout could be completed in several years. "It can be 2011 or 2012," he said. "We don't have a specific date in mind, but we need to agree on the principle of setting a deadline."

That comes buried deep in a story in today's Washington Post, titled "U.S. General: Iraqi Forces to Be Fully Ready in '09." That sort of hints that we should be thinking in the very short-term for the end of the Iraq occupation, right? Why then, is al-Dabbagh's statement equated with the duration of "several years?" A timetable that fixes on completing the withdrawal in 2011 is just six months longer than the withdrawal plan that Senator Barack Obama has long favored.

That's probably why the White House is still weaseling around. Tony Fratto greeted the remarks thusly: "We'd like to have a date that we can reach for as a goal when coalition forces can make this transition, but it should be based on ground conditions." But what's to be gained by refusing to leave? I'd say that when the sovereign government of Iraq is telling you the end of the party is drawing nigh, that qualifies as a "ground condition."