Iraq: Maliki hedges on US withdrawal; Sadr back in the saddle

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has maintained for months that he’ll stand by his agreement for the withdrawal of all US troops from the country by the end of this year, has in recent weeks done a turnaround—now saying he’d support keeping some troops in Iraq after the deadline. Maliki outlined his position at a press conference, saying he’s willing to meet Iraq’s elected officials and consider whether some US troops should stay beyond this December. “We won’t get unanimous agreement on this issue,” Maliki said. “But if we get 70 or 80 percent, isn’t that the will of the people? Isn’t this the democracy we have worked so hard for?” (NPR, May 29).

Three days earlier, tens of thousands of followers of radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr staged a military-style parade in Baghdad to demand that US troops leave the country as scheduled by Dec. 31. Dressed in t-shirts emblazoned with Iraqi flags, the men marched in groups of 100, swinging their arms in a military fashion as they passed a reviewing stand filled with clerics in the impoverished Sadr City section of Baghdad, named after Muqtada’s father. “No, no, America. No, no, Israel,” they chanted. To set the tempo, they punctuated their march by calling out “Mahdi,” a reference to the disbanded Mahdi Army militia—an implicit warning that it could be reconstituted if US forces remain after year’s end. (McClatchy, May 26)

See our last posts on Iraq and the politics of withdrawal.

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