Speaking today in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Iraqi Prime Minister (as well as Defense Minister, Interior Minister and Internal Security Minister) Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the continuation of the US occupation of Iraq past 2011, saying every last US troops would have to leave exactly as mandated in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
The comments came as a number of US officials have been privately conceding that no one in the US government is operating under the assumption that the SOFA will be abided by, and everyone assumes that the US military will continue operations in Iraq for years to come.
This, however, assumed that they could push the new “broad coalition” government to submit to US calls to stay through the agreed-to deadline, but Maliki’s comments all betray a strongly confident position (as well he might, as he current holds every single portfolio that controls any security forces).
Maliki also downplayed the threat posed by Shi’ite militias, insisting that Sadr’s Mahdi Army was “now part of the government” because Sadr’s faction within the Iraqi National Alliance had joined the government.
And while Maliki’s ability to retain his position as minister of virtually everything remains in doubt, the Obama Administration is increasingly seen as a liabiliy in the country, particularly after publicly condemning Maliki for launching a raid against al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) forces without getting permission from the US commanders first. This may well have convinced him that consolodating his rule will be easier without US proconsuls looking over his shoulder.