The Maliki Surge: Iraq's PM's Power is Growing

The past several months have seen a new assertiveness by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Beginning in March 2008, Maliki launched a series of offensives against rival militias and political movements, projecting government authority in formerly lawless areas as well as consolidating the power of his Shi'a ruling coalition. Maliki has also held a hard line against the United States in negotiating a status of forces agreement, insisting that any agreement contain a firm date for an eventual withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq. After years of condemning timelines, the Bush administration now seems ready to acquiesce, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicating that the U.S. has agreed to an "aspirational timetable" for withdrawal. Reuters reports that "the United States asked Iraq for permission to maintain a troop presence there to 2015," but Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said that "U.S. and Iraqi negotiators agreed to limit their authorization to 2011." Lawrence Korb writes, "While American officials argue that these timetables for withdrawing American combat forces depend on conditions on the ground" the Iraqis "do not see it as conditional." Having extracted such a guarantee from his U.S. benefactor, Maliki looks to have co-opted one of the few issues upon which there is a strong consensus among Iraqis -- getting the U.S. out. Questions remain, however, as to how he will use this new political capital.

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