Before leaving Washington last week to deliver a major foreign policy speech in Germany, [Vice President Joseph] Biden chided Baghdad for failing to settle disputes over the city of Kirkuk and to enact a law dividing oil revenue, among other issues.
"I think our administration is going to have to be very deeply involved. We are going to have to get in there and be much more aggressive in forcing them to deal with these issues," Biden said.
Asked about Biden’s remarks on Tuesday, [Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-]Maliki, an increasingly assertive leader whose followers won surprise victories in provincial elections last month, fired back.
"I believe talk about applying pressure on the Iraqi government or taking hard measures against it no longer works," he said at a news conference in Baghdad with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The New York Times version is even more blunt:
“The time for putting pressure on Iraq is over,” Mr. Maliki said in answer to a reporter’s question about Mr. Biden’s remarks. “The Iraqi government knows what its responsibilities are.” [. . .]
According to political advisers, Mr. Maliki is intent on changing the nature of Baghdad’s relationship with Washington, shifting Iraq’s role from a client state to a more equal partner.
This is a point I kept trying to make last year, when I wrote that Maliki & Co. had every reason to sincerely push for U.S. concessions in the SOFA negotiations — including endorsing Obama’s proposed withdrawal timeline. Rather than begging for a neocon occupation to prop them up, I wrote last July, the Shiite clerical powers who put Maliki and his allies in office wanted to
… use the American military as a contractor of sorts to help cement a Shiite-led government’s power, then nudge us aside when the task was more or less complete. Maliki’s newfound spine, if anything, just means that they think that time is drawing closer.
And it’s drawing closer still now. Anyone on the U.S. side who imagines we’re still in a position to impose our will on Iraq, whether it’s Biden, Obama, or Gen. Petraeus and his cronies, is likely to spend the coming months finding out how irrelevant their plans are.