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Barack Obama, Iraqi leader Nouri Maliki appear to be on the same page

July 21, 2008 | 10:46 am

John McCain's campaign could not have seen this coming -- the presumptive Republican presidential nominee forced on the defensive by, of all people, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Presumptive Democratic presdiential nominee Barack Obama met today with Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki Much as McCain and his staff wanted to hammer home their view that Barack Obama is clueless about Iraq, Maliki seemingly gave the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee a big dose of credibility when word surfaced over the weekend that, as quoted by the German magazine Der Spiegel, he said he would like to see U.S. troops leave his country "as soon as possible."

Maliki, Der Spiegel reported, went on to say: "U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.”

Maliki's office, suddenly finding him thrust smack in the middle of the U.S. campaign, issued a somewhat half-hearted demurral, insisting something got lost in the translation of what he said.

But an audio recording of his comment, vetted by the New York Times, showed that Der Spiegel essentially got it right. And in the initial readout from Obama's visit today with Maliki in Baghdad, the Associated Press reported that the Iraqi government would like to see American combat units gone at some point in 2010 -- a timeframe, the story noted, that "falls within the 16-month withdrawal plan proposed by Obama." [UPDATE: The L.A. Times has the story, as well.]

McCain, during a round-robin set of appearances this morning on the major morning talk shows, did his best to try to change the subject by focusing on how wrong, in his view, Obama was for opposing the U.S. troop surge in Iraq last year, which has been widely credited with restoring a semblance of security there.

On ABC's "Good Morning America," for instance, McCain chided Obama for a "fundamental misjudgment" on the surge. And on NBC’s “Today” show, he said his rival "badly misjudged" what was needed in Iraq.

McCain, though, did not escape unscathed during his interview sessions. In a verbal flub that will spark renewed recollections of his Shiite/Sunni miscue earlier this year while he was visiting the Middle East, he erroneously reconfigured the map of the world.

Asked on ABC about the uptick in violence by Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, he replied: "We have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border."

Iraq borders several nations, but Pakistan is not among them -- looming between the two is Iran. (Pakistan's neighbors, however, include Afghanistan).

The Note, ABC's daily political summary, opined that by "appearing to confuse Iraq and Afghanistan" McCain ended up committing "the first big gaffe" since Obama embarked on his overseas trip amid much speculation about mistakes he might make.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: AFP / Getty Images

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