After Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki endorsed Sen. Barack Obama’s plan for withdrawing from Iraq (“U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.”), Iraq is now desperately backpedaling, presumably after coming under intense pressure from the Bush administration. An Iraqi government spokesman is trying out a pair of excuses: that Maliki’s remarks “were translated incorrectly” by Der Spiegel and that statements by any member of the Iraqi government “should not be seen as support for any U.S. presidential candidate.”
Maliki was quick to back away from an outright endorsement of Obama, saying “who they choose as their president is the Americans’ business.” But he then went on to say: “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.”
A Baghdad government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that SPIEGEL had “misunderstood and mistranslated” the Iraqi prime minister, but didn’t point to where the misunderstanding or mistranslation might have occurred. Al-Dabbagh said Maliki’s comments “should not be understood as support to any US presidential candidates.” The statement was sent out by the press desk of the US-led Multinational Force in Iraq.
A number of media outlets likewise professed to being confused by the statement from Maliki’s office. The New York Times pointed out that al-Dabbagh’s statement “did not address a specific error.” CBS likewise expressed disbelief pointing out that Maliki mentions a timeframe for withdrawal three times in the interview and then asks, “how likely is it that SPIEGEL mistranslated three separate comments? Matthew Yglesias, a blogger for the Atlantic Monthly, was astonished by “how little effort was made” to make the Baghdad denial convincing. And the influential blog IraqSlogger also pointed out the lack of specifics in the government statement.
SPIEGEL sticks to its version of the conversation.
This leaves Sen. John McCain in a tight spot. For McCain to stick to his guns, continuing to criticize Obama’s withdrawal plan, he must now implicitly criticize Maliki and, by extension, Iraqi’s right to self-determination.