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US and Iraq negotiators are now very near an agreement for a projected or "aspirational" date to withdraw US combat forces.

Iraq is asserting its sovereignty, President Bush has adopted a new flexible stance, and both Obama and McCain should find something to claim as confirming of their positions. Conceivably, even John ("I'm not a NEO-Con") Bolton might see something to like--such a shrunken and dispersed force configuration would offer a smaller target for Iranian retaliation should the US or Israel feel the need to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, which the hawkish former ambassador to the UN sees as inevitable.

Prime Minister Maliki was impressively deft in his reported recent suggestion that (depending on your translation) "Mr. Obama's suggestion of eighteen months sounds about right." The Iraq government has been dependent the last few years on stalwart support from Bush, McCain, and like-minded Republicans as a bulwark against Democratic pressure to remove US troops immediately, come hell or high water... or come invasion, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Iraq, and the civil society growing there, has in the meantime been shamefully kicked about like a football on a muddy playing field, with the stakes becoming a matter of partisan gain rather than the welfare of the Iraqi people.

With that statement, Maliki drained, in a single stroke, the Democrats' cynical investment in the failure of Iraq's reconstruction. One wonders whether the counsel, and understanding of the US political system, of Achmed Chalabi might have played a part in the statement's formulation.

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