On Sunday, the Iraqi cabinet “overwhelmingly approved” a security agreement requiring the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by 2011. The agreement’s meaning was clear to Iraqis: The New York Times reported that “Shiite legislators could barely conceal their delight” at the agreement, and noted that “they referred to the pact as the ‘withdrawal agreement.'” As proof of its determination to a firm withdrawal date, the Iraqi government even required that the U.S. “scrap the language that would have allowed the American troops to stay beyond 2011 if Iraq requested.”
Iraqi officials made it perfectly clear that they would take the withdrawal agreement seriously:
— Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh: “The total withdrawal will be completed by December 31, 2011. This is not governed by circumstances on the ground.”
— Deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiya: The “Americans have responded positively on two important amendments. The first one is the Americans should withdraw from cities and suburbs on June 30, 2009, and the second one is that Americans should leave Iraq in 2011.‘”
The Pentagon, however, seems to view things differently. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said today that he still supports “conditions-based” withdrawal only, and indicated that the agreement could always change long before 2011:
MULLEN: Three years is a long time. Conditions could change in that period of time. … [W]e will continue to have discussions with them [the Iraqis] over time as conditions continue to evolve.
Q: So you could change the agreement, is what you’re saying?
MULLEN: Well clearly that’s theoretically possible.
Earlier today, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino insisted the security agreement included only “aspirational” dates for withdrawal.