Maliki to Bush: Time to Leave the Island

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 10:39 PM EDT

MALIKI TO BUSH: TIME TO LEAVE THE ISLAND....This sure doesn't sound like an "aspirational" timeline to me:

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki said Monday there would be no security agreement between the United States and Iraq without an unconditional timetable for withdrawal — a direct challenge to the Bush administration, which insists that the timing for troop departure would be based on conditions on the ground.

"No pact or an agreement should be set without being based on full sovereignty, national common interests, and no foreign soldier should remain on Iraqi land, and there should be a specific deadline and it should not be open," Maliki told a meeting of tribal Sheikhs in Baghdad.

Maliki said that the United States and Iraq had agreed that all foreign troops would be off Iraqi soil by the end of 2011. "There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date, which is the end of 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," Maliki said.

Obvious caveat: Maliki is a politician, and politicians spin things differently to different audiences. If he were speaking at a joint press conference with President Bush, I'll bet his tone would be a little softer.

That said, Maliki's been pretty consistent on this point for weeks, ever since he first endorsed Barack Obama's 16-month timeline in an interview with Der Spiegel. The final wording of the SOFA will probably contain just enough equivocal language to allow George Bush to save some face, but don't kid yourself: Maliki wants a firm commitment from us that we're going to leave. There's only a limited amount of spin that Bush and McCain can put on that.