I think you had to regard some effort at walking back Nouri al-Maliki’s strong endorsement of Barack Obama’s plans for Iraq as inevitable. Thus, the only thing really surprising about this development is how little effort was made to make it convincing:
Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, issued a statement saying Mr. Maliki’s statement had been “as not conveyed accurately regarding the vision of Senator Barack Obama, U.S. presidential candidate, on the timeframe for U.S. forces withdrawal from Iraq,” but it did not address a specific error. It did soften his support for Mr. Obama’s plan and implied a more tentative approach to withdrawing troops. More of the statement, which came from the U.S. military’s Central Command press office: […]
You can read the full statement at the link, but this summary really tells you what you need to know, namely that the walkback (a) doesn’t involve Maliki on the record, (b) says the reports are inaccurate but doesn’t name inaccuracies, and (c) was issued through CENTCOM. Basically, this morning we saw Maliki speaking in person and endorsing Obama’s plan to end the occupation in no uncertain terms. By the late afternoon, an Iraqi government spokesman was pretending this never happened in a statement released by the occupying army. That’s hardly even a serious effort at bamboozlement.
Now the question becomes: what happens when the CODEL currently in Afghanistan makes its way to Iraq? Meetings with Maliki are presumably on the agenda.