Read the whole thing here.
Iraq said for the first time yesterday that it wanted to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from its territory.
President Bush has long resisted a schedule for pulling his 145,000 soldiers out, arguing that it would play into the hands of insurgents. Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia Prime Minister, who boasted last week that he had crushed terrorism in the country, suggested that it was time to start setting time-lines.
“The current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or to put a timetable on their withdrawal,” Mr al-Maliki said during a visit to the United Arab Emirates. He rejected efforts by Mr Bush to hurry through an agreement on vital issues such as the immunity of US troops in Iraq and use of the country’s airspace. Mr Bush had hoped to sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by the end of July to establish the basis for a long-term presence of US troops in the country.The Iraqi parliament has bridled at pushing through such a binding deal with the outgoing and unpopular Bush Administration, saying that the negotiations have been secretive and could undermine Iraq’s sovereignty.
This was inevitable. At some point Maliki had to show that he was not a stooge of the Americans and was in fact the legitimate leader of a united Iraq. Now that the Sunni insurgency has been quelled, al Sadr isolated, and al Qaeda in Iraq nearly crushed, it is time for him to stand up and assert the sovereignty of his nation. Bush's position was always that the US would stand down as the Iraqis stood up. Well, they have now stood up.
There will continue to be an American presence in Iraq, what needs to be negotiated now is the terms. The goal of American intervention was never an "occupation". It was liberation. Bush has always been sincere on that, although many in Washington have not been. What happens now is of supreme importance. A negotiated troop drawdown, and a mutually satisfactory agreement on a continued American presence [as allies rather than occupiers] will demonstrate for the world, and particularly the Islamic world, to see that American intentions in this conflict were anything but imperialistic.
Congratulations to President al Maliki. Now the ball is in Washington's court.