In an audio recording of his remarks, heard by the BBC, the prime minister did not use the word "withdrawal".
What he actually said was: "The direction is towards either a memorandum of understanding on their evacuation, or a memorandum of understanding on programming their presence."
The confusion was caused by a mistranslation on the part of Iraqi interpreters. This confusion may have been deliberate.
Read the whole thing here.
The impression of a hardening Iraqi government line was reinforced the following day by comments from the National Security Adviser, Muwaffaq al-Rubaie.
He was quoted as saying that Iraq would not accept any agreement which did not specify a deadline for a full withdrawal of US troops.
Significantly, Mr Rubaie was speaking immediately after a meeting with the senior Shiite clerical eminence, Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
But in subsequent remarks, Mr Rubaie rode back from a straightforward demand for a withdrawal deadline.
He said the talks were focused on agreeing on "timeline horizons, not specific dates", and said that withdrawal timings would depend on the readiness of the Iraqi security forces.
So in essence the position of the Iraqi government is the same as that of the Bush adminstration.
It sounds as though al Maliki's team is setting themselves up for serious negotiations while tossing a few rhetorical bones to extremist elements within their own regime. Few in the MSM noted that in the explanatory rhetoric following the PM's remarks Iraqi officials accepted a continuing American presence in their country, but insisted that they retain sovereignty over any permanent bases in which those troops would be housed. The nub of this argument would seem to be the "Green Zone" which has become something like a little piece of America in the middle of Baghdad. The Iraqis want it dismantled and their sovereignty over their own capital recognized. Not an unreasonable position when you think of it.
Not that the MSM is going to make much of this. Negotiations over a permanent US troop presence in Iraq don't fit into the Democrat narrative, and this is an election year.