The troop escalation [surge], which actually allowed the ethnic cleansing of the Sunnis of Baghdad and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from the country, has largely been pushed as propaganda by the White House and the AEI. Here’s an example of how their propaganda works. As is usual with news it does not like, the Bush administration attempted to muddy the waters this weekend regarding the interview of PM Nuri al-Maliki with Der Spiegel in which he expressed approval of Barack Obama’s plan to get US troops out of Iraq within 16 months of next January. Al-Maliki told Der Spiegel in response to a question about how long US troops would be in his country, ‘Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we’re concerned. U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.
SPIEGEL: Is this an endorsement for the US presidential election in November? Does Obama, who has no military background, ultimately have a better understanding of Iraq than war hero John McCain?
Maliki: "Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans’ business. But it’s the business of Iraqis to say what they want."
Ali al-Dabbagh, who is usually described as al-Maliki’s spokesman but actually seems to work for the CENTCOM or Pentagon Middle East command, was trotted out to make vague statements about Der Spiegel’s having mistranslated or misinterpreted what al-Maliki said. This denial was issued through CENTCOM! When the original demand came from al-Maliki for a timetable for US withdrawal, it was al-Dabbagh who reinterpreted it as a ‘time horizon.’ Al-Dabbagh was contradicted by National Security Counsellor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, who seems actually closer in this thinking to al-Maliki. My guess is that al-Dabbagh has been recruited by some agency in Washington, DC, to explain away al-Maliki’s statements whenever they contradict Bush’s.
Der Spiegel stood by its story. . . . It turns out that the translator involved works for al-Maliki, not for Der Spiegel, and so presumably knew what the prime minister’s words meant in Arabic. And for the piece de resistance, it turns out that Der Spiegel has an audiotape of the Arabic of the interview, which they leaked to The New York Times.
Juan R. I. Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Distinguished University Professor of History at the University of Michigan, and President of the Global Americana Institute.