Friday, August 8, 2008

Iraq's nationalist surge

Barack Obama was lucky in the timing of his visit to Iraq. He arrived just after the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki had rejected a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) institutionalizing the US occupation. The Iraqi government is vague about when it wants the final withdrawal of US combat troops, but its spokesman Ali al-Dabagh said that they should be gone by 2010. This is within the same time frame as Obama’s promise to withdraw one combat brigade a month over 16 months. Suddenly John McCain’s claim that US troops should stay on until some undefined victory sounded impractical and out of date.

The Iraqi government seemed almost surprised by its own decisiveness. It is by no means as confident as it pretends that it can survive without US backing, but it unexpectedly found itself riding a nationalist wave. The US occupation has always been unpopular among Iraqi Arabs since 2003. A poll by ABC News, the BBC and other television networks in February 2008 showed that 61 per cent of Iraqis say that the presence of US forces makes security worse in Iraq and 27 per cent say they improve it. The only large pocket of support for the US occupation is among the Kurds who are about a fifth of the population.

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