Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki doesn't say so directly, well not quite, but he makes it clear that he thinks Barack Obama's plans for Iraq are superior to John McCain's:
Iraq Leader Maliki Supports Obama's Withdrawal Plans, Speigel: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki supports US presidential candidate Barack Obama's plan to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months. When asked in and interview with Speigel when he thinks US troops should leave Iraq, Maliki responded "as soon as possible, as far as we are concerned." He then continued: "US presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."
Maliki was careful to back away from outright support for Obama. "Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans' business," he said. But then, apparently referring to Republican candidate John McCain's more open-ended Iraq policy, Maliki said: "Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems." ...
Maliki has long shown impatience with the open-ended presence of US troops in Iraq. In his conversation with Speigel, he was once again candid about his frustration over the Bush administration's hesitancy about agreeing to a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. But he did say he was optimistic that such a schedule would be drawn up before Bush leaves the White House next January...
"So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat," Maliki told Speigel. "But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias."
He also bemoaned the fact that Baghdad has little control over the US troops in Iraq. "It is a fundamental problem for us that it should not be possible, in my country, to prosecute offences or crimes committed by US soldiers against our population," Maliki said.
Ezra Klein adds:
To really understand the importance of Maliki's comments, you need to consider their opposite. Imagine if Maliki had walked in front of the cameras and said, "at this stage, a timetable for withdrawal is unrealistic, and we hope our American friends will not bow to domestic political pressures and be hasty in leaving Iraq just as the country improves." It would be a transformative moment in this election. John McCain would talk of nothing else. The cable shows would talk of nothing else. Magazines would run thousands of covers about "Obama's Iraq Problem." Obama would probably lose the race.
Instead, the opposite happened.
Without the kid glove treatment the press gives McCain, the race would be all but over.
Here's part of the interview:
'The Tenure of Coalition Troops in Iraq Should Be Limited', Spiegel: The situation in Iraq seems to be improving. Spiegel spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki about his approval of Barack Obama's withdrawal plans and what he hopes from US President Bush in his last months in office.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, the war and its consequences have cost more than 100,000 lives and caused great suffering in your country. Saddam Hussein and his regime are now part of the past. Was all of this worth the price?
Maliki: The casualties have been and continue to be enormous. But anyone who was familiar with the dictator's nature and his intentions knows what could have been in store for us instead of this war. Saddam waged wars against Iran and Kuwait, and against Iraqis in the north and south of his own country, wars in which hundreds of thousands died. And he was capable of instigating even more wars. Yes, the casualties are great, but I see our struggle as an enormous effort to avoid other such wars in the future. ...
SPIEGEL: Germany, after World War II, was also liberated from a tyrant by a US-led coalition. That was 63 years ago, and today there are still American military bases and soldiers in Germany. How do you feel about this model?
Maliki: Iraq can learn from Germany's experiences, but the situation is not truly comparable. Back then Germany waged a war that changed the world. Today, we in Iraq want to establish a timeframe for the withdrawal of international troops -- and it should be short. At the same time, we would like to see the establishment of a long-term strategic treaty with the United States, which would govern the basic aspects of our economic and cultural relations. However, I wish to re-emphasize that our security agreement should remain in effect in the short term.
SPIEGEL: How short-term? Are you hoping for a new agreement before the end of the Bush administration?
Maliki: So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat. But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias. The American lead negotiators realize this now, and that's why I expect to see an agreement taking shape even before the end of President Bush's term in office. With these negotiations, we will start the whole thing over again, on a clearer, better basis, because the first proposals were unacceptable to us.
SPIEGEL: Immunity for the US troops is apparently the central issue.
Maliki: It is a fundamental problem for us that it should not be possible, in my country, to prosecute offences or crimes committed by US soldiers against our population. But other issues are no less important: How much longer will these soldiers remain in our country? How much authority do they have? Who controls how many, soldiers enter and leave the country and where they do so?
SPIEGEL: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the US troops will finally leave Iraq?
Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned. U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.
SPIEGEL: Is this an endorsement for the US presidential election in November? Does Obama, who has no military background, ultimately have a better understanding of Iraq than war hero John McCain?
Maliki: Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans' business. But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that's where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited.
SPIEGEL: In your opinion, which factor has contributed most to bringing calm to the situation in the country?
Maliki: There are many factors, but I see them in the following order. First, there is the political rapprochement we have managed to achieve in central Iraq. This has enabled us, above all, to pull the plug on al-Qaida. Second, there is the progress being made by our security forces. Third, there is the deep sense of abhorrence with which the population has reacted to the atrocities of al-Qaida and the militias. Finally, of course, there is the economic recovery. ...