Max Boot, writing in the Washington Post, offers an explanation for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political games.
A few particularly relevant points:
The prime minister has political motives for what he's saying -- whatever that is. An anonymous Iraqi official told the state-owned Al-Sabah newspaper, "Maliki thinks that Obama is most likely to win in the presidential election" and that "he's got to take preemptive steps before Obama gets to the White House." By smoothing Obama's maiden voyage abroad as the Democratic nominee, Maliki may figure that he will collect chits that he can call in later.
Keep in mind also that Maliki has no military experience and that he has been trapped in the Green Zone, relatively isolated from day-to-day life. For these reasons, he has been a consistent font of misguided predictions about how quickly U.S. forces could leave.
In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, "Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half."
In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be "only a matter of months" before his security forces could "take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role."
But Maliki's public utterances do not provide a reliable guide as to when it will be safe to pull out U.S. troops. Better to listen to the military professionals. The Post recently quoted Brig. Gen. Bilal al-Dayni, commander of Iraqi troops in Basra, as saying of the Americans, "We hope they will stay until 2020." That is similar to the expectation of Iraq's defense minister, Abdul Qadir, who says his forces cannot assume full responsibility for internal security until 2012 and for external security until 2018.
Max Boot also notes--with only a touch of irony--that Democrats never viewed Mr. al-Maliki as a statesman until he voiced general support for the Obama withdrawal timetable. Until recently, Democratic senators and congressman used terms like “American puppet” and “incompetent” to describe the Prime Minister, who has suddenly emerged as their favorite Iraqi politician