Barack Obama is trying to capitalize on the tentative US-Iraq agreement that includes a timetable for withdrawing US troops from cities in 2011, asserting that it isolates Republican rival John McCain.
Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan would be quicker than the agreement, while McCain opposes any deadline for a pullout, saying the military situation should determine when US troops leave.
“I am glad that the Administration has finally shifted to accepting a timetable for the removal of our combat troops from Iraq," Obama said in a statement this afternoon. "Success in Iraq depends on an Iraqi government that is reconciling its differences and taking responsibility for its future, and a timetable is the best way to press the Iraqis to do just that. I welcome the growing convergence around this pragmatic and responsible position.
“This agreement is still draft and vital pieces of it must be finalized, so I will reserve final judgment on the agreement until it is complete. The agreement needs to be carefully reviewed, and must include immunity for U.S. troops and Defense Department personnel from Iraqi jurisdiction. I continue to believe that in consultation with our commanders and the Iraqi government, we can safely redeploy at a pace that removes our combat brigades in 16 months, with a residual force to target remnants of al Qaeda; to protect our service members and diplomats; and to train Iraq's Security Forces if the Iraqis make political progress.
“Senator McCain has stubbornly focused on maintaining an indefinite U.S presence in Iraq, but events have made his bluster and record increasingly out of touch with reality. While Senator McCain continues to offer unconditional military and economic support for Iraq, I strongly believe that we need to use our leverage with the Iraqi government to ensure a political settlement."
UPDATE: McCain issued this statement tonight: "I am pleased that, following the surge strategy led by General David Petraeus and our brave men and women in uniform, security in Iraq has improved to the point at which we can responsibly talk with our Iraqi allies about U.S. troop withdrawals. Because of the hard-won success of this strategy, the Iraqi security forces are able to take on ever greater responsibility for security in their country. We should not forget that this is possible only because of the surge -- a strategy many predicted would fail and that some cannot, even today, recognize as a stunning success.
"While negotiations with the Iraqi government are ongoing, reports indicate that all dates included in the draft security agreement are aspirational goals, based on conditions on the ground. Conditions-based withdrawals of U.S. troops are the precise opposite course of that advocated by Senator Obama. Senator Obama seeks to withdraw all U.S. combat forces regardless of the consequences for Iraq or for American national security, and in disregard of our commanders' best counsel. Had we followed his course, Iraq could have easily descended into chaos and America would have suffered a catastrophic defeat. Instead, we are today negotiating a conditions-based agreement that will enable us to withdraw troops in victory and with honor."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.