Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Positive Steps Forward

It was all rather sudden, formal, and expected. Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Maliki was only given a five-minute warning before meeting the guest for talks at the US embassy in the fortified Green Zone. The quest was none other than President George W. Bush.

The trip, indeed, the very plan had been secret. That is something this particular Administration is good at doing so the news should not be a shock. The president had been chairing talks in the US on future policy in Iraq and had been due to speak to Mr Maliki via videophone from Camp David.

Once the story broke, most correspondents said the trip comes amid a rare mood of optimism in the White House about events in Iraq. This is true, last weeks killing of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the appointment of ministers in the Iraqi government for defense, security and the interior are seen as giant leaps forward for progress in Iraq.

Though the Administration would also like to capitalize on the nine-point jump to 49% a recent poll result on American attitudes toward “winning the war in Iraq” I would caution readers on this. The surprise visit might have Administration officials hoping for continued momentum, but all they will get out of this visit is the residual effect of what the official visit really did. Recent developments and President Bush’s visit has buttressed the credibility of Iraq's new government.

The visit was the correct strategic move for a crucial foreign leader facing immense domestic pressure. Such a visit has given legitimacy to Mr. Maliki’s recent security crackdown in Baghdad following the death of Zarqawi, including measures such as a curfew from 2100-0600 and a ban on all vehicle traffic on Friday lunchtimes to try to curb attacks during Friday prayers. Amidst the pomp and flare of such a visit further unrest around the country, the latest, at least 16 people were killed in a wave of blasts in the northern city of Kirkuk. So, as the leaders discussed the next steps for Iraq in talks with their advisers and the Iraqi Cabinet with Mr Maliki saying he hoped the suffering of Iraq would come to an end and all foreign troops would return home and the president saying to reporters afterward that Iraq was part of the US “war on terror” for the short term, at least, nothing will change.

President Bush told the Iraqi prime minister, "Iraq's future is in your hands". It is also still in the United State’s. We should remember what the president said next, "when America gives its word, it will keep its word…it's in our interest that Iraq succeeds." One hopes that real troop withdrawals were discussed privately and a timetable agreed upon. In the meantime, positive steps forward for all.

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