We reported earlier this month that American officials had been privately expressing concerns about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s growing independence. Two weeks have passed, but little has happened to change this trend, and the Los Angeles Times is reporting today that Maliki is still moving increasingly outside of America’s ability to control.
The report cites an anonymous US embassy official heavily, who claims that while Maliki’s growing confidence was not entirely unexpected, it has come with growing influence from Iran, who has become an important trading partner for its newly friendly neighbor to the west. The official is quoted as saying he doesn’t believe Maliki “is anti-American per se”.
This comes hot on the heels of last week’s announcement that the United States will maintain 146,000 troops in Iraq past the end of the year, which the Times article describes as “a sort of military veto power over any efforts to oust them before the White House is ready”.
Iraq’s government yesterday declared its financial independence from the US, and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has insisted his government doesn’t need a status of forces agreement with the United States if it comes at the cost of Iraq’s sovereignty.
The agreement sought by Maliki would require a full US withdrawal by 2011. The Bush Administration has long opposed any deal which sets a firm date for the pullout, instead preferring to make 2011 a sort of best case scenario based on an “aspirational time horizon”. Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin has warned unspecified events might “slow down their (the Iraqi Army’s) evolution,” providing a reason for the United States to further delay its troop cuts.