View Full Version : Maliki Claims he helped Obama Win: Will Hold Obama to Withdrawal Timetable

11-06-2008, 08:14 PM

Iraq leader claims he helped Barack Obama seize the presidency

Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has claimed privately that embracing Barack Obama's plans to withdraw from Iraq was instrumental in securing the US presidency for the Democratic candidate.

By Damien McElroy in Baghdad
Last Updated: 11:31PM GMT 05 Nov 2008

A senior Western diplomat in Baghdad said that Mr Maliki told close aides he would hold the new president to an obligation to oversee a rapid withdrawal of US troops, a key Iraqi government demand in recent talks.

"Maliki has said he took the Iraq issue 'off the table' for Obama by endorsing his timetable during his visit to Baghdad in July," the diplomat told The Daily Telegraph.

"Maliki firmly hoped for an Obama victory and has used expectations of such to drive a very hard bargain with the US over its presence in Iraq.

"The prime minister has extracted an unbelievable number of concessions from the Bush administration and thinks Obama will be even more generous in implementing the deal."

Mr Obama made a congressional fact-finding tour of Afghanistan and Iraq in July after coming under heavy Republican criticism over his signature pledge to pull out combat troops within 16 months of taking office.

Iraq quickly waned as a campaign issue as the economy replaced an unpopular war that had ranked as the top voter concern since the 2006 congressional elections. Just 10 per cent of voters said Iraq was the most important factor on Tuesday, according to exit polls.

Baghdad's foreign minister warned that negotiations over an agreement allowing US forces to operate in Iraq until 2011 had reached a final stage.

"The deal has been stretched to the limit, compromises have been exhausted," said Hoshyar Zebari. "We are waiting for the US response to our amendments and changes. We are hopeful that within the next few days or couple days we will receive answer."

At an election celebration hosted by the US ambassador Ryan Crocker, the pro-American politician predicted that security conditions in Iraq rather than Mr Obama's campaign rhetoric would dictate the level of its involvement in Iraq.

"There won't be quick disengagement here," he said. "A great deal is at stake. We don't think there will be change in policy overnight."

There was subdued mood among US soldiers at the Victory Base Complex, the largest in Baghdad. The traditional American desire to support a new president was to the fore and there were few mentions of Mr Obama's race. "I hope it'll be positive," said Sergeant Chris Smith, a Michigan army reservist. "I know that with the economy going down back home while we've been boosting the economy over here, it needs to be. You know, we all need to back up our president. That's what it is to be American."

Pro-Iranian politicians in Iraq described Mr Obama's triumph as a vote to pull US forces out of Iraq.

"We consider his victory as a wish of the American public to withdraw forces from Iraq," said Sheikh Saleh al-Obeidi, the chief spokesman for the extremist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Mr Obama has given few hints how he will deal with Iran's aggressive interference in Iraq or stop the country's quest for a nuclear weapon.

In a thinly veiled gesture of defiance in the wake of the results, Iran's official newsagency, IRNA warned it was prepared to shoot down US helicopters operating within range of its guns in Iraq. "Recently US army helicopters have been spotted flying close to the borders of Iraq with the Islamic Republic," a military statement said. "Given the risk of their invasion, the Islamic Republic's defence forces will respond to any invasion."