Obama in Iraq Again Pledges Troop Withdrawal

President Barack Obama made an unscheduled stop in Baghdad on Tuesday, meeting with US troops and also with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Obama told US troops there,

‘ this is going to be a critical period, these next 18 months. I was just discussing this with your commander, but I think it’s something that all of you know. It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. (Applause.) They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty. (Applause.)

And in order for them to do that, they have got to make political accommodations. They’re going to have to decide that they want to resolve their differences through constitutional means and legal means. They are going to have to focus on providing government services that encourage confidence among their citizens.

All those things they have to do. We can’t do it for them. But what we can do is make sure that we are a stalwart partner, that we are working alongside them, that we are committed to their success, that in terms of training their security forces, training their civilian forces in order to achieve a more effective government, they know that they have a steady partner with us.’

Note the placement of the “applause” indications in parentheses above. I saw one news story that seemed to suggest that US troops in Iraq might be annoyed if they were reminded that Obama opposed sending them off on multiple rotations to a seething cauldron of ethnic factionalism where they would be forced to run a gauntlet of roadside and sticky bombs along with a rogue’s gallery of snipers, end-time militiamen, serial murderers, and enraged vigilantes who are simultaneously homicidal and suicidal. I think the article confused US troops’ brave willingness to undertake any mission assigned to them with enthusiasm for civilian-ordered SNAFUs. In fact, all the evidence is that Obama is wildly popular with the troops.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that al-Maliki blamed the rash of bombings in Baghdad this week on the Baath Party, given that members are commemorating the founding of the party these days. Iraqi politicians often speak of the danger of Baathism, while it is never implicated by Washington in continued Iraqi violence, presumably because Americans don’t want to know that they are still fighting elements of the same enemy they claim to have overthrown in 2003, and which is unrelated to al-Qaeda. President Jalal Talabani, in contrast, warned that “al-Qaeda in Iraq” was gunning for the leadership of the (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party, which is part of the federal government. Since the recent bombings have mainly hit Shiite neighborhoods, the Iraqi leadership seems motivated to stress that there are Sunni victims and also to reduce the ethnic dimension (al-Maliki blamed the Baath, which was cross-sectarian, while Talabani emphasized Sunni on Sunni violence). Al-Hashimi warned that attempts were being made to sow social discord and reignite sectarian passions.

(There was even a crackpot theory put forth that the Badr Corps of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq was behind the outbreak of violence. Note to Reuters: single-sourced articles are shoddy journalism and unbelievable claims should not be reported without a great deal of corroboration.)

Al-Zaman [the Times of Baghdad], which has a Sunni Arab editorial line, emphasizes the “making political accommodations” language in Obama’s speech, implying that he was calling for more Sunni representation in the government. The newspaper says that Obama’s call comes in the wake of the total collapse of the reconciliation process in Iraq between the Shiite-dominated government and the Sunni Arabs. It also reports members of Obama’s team in Iraq saying that the president was eager to meet al-Maliki and Talabani because he is convinced that only a political settlement can truly lead to social peace in Iraq. Al-Zaman, which is critical of al-Maliki, says that Obama wanted to impress on the prime minister the need to follow through on his pledges of reconciliation (with the Sunnis.)

Over two-thirds of Americans support Obama’s plan to withdraw militarily from Iraq.

Meanwhile, guerrillas detonated a car bomb in the Shiite Kazimiya district of north Baghdad, killing 9 and wounding 18.

AP adds, “In other violence, a suicide car bomber killed three policemen and wounded six civilians and an officer at a police checkpoint in Fallujah, a Sunni city 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad. An officer in Fallujah said the attack targeted the convoy of a local Sunni official, who escaped unharmed.”

These attacks came on the heels of a coordinated bombing campaign involving 7 or 8 bombs on Monday, against Shiite neighborhoods.
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