Monday, July 21, 2008

What I Meant Was…

The White House tells the Iraqi government what they really meant to say.

The statement by an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling his remarks in Der Spiegel “misinterpreted and mistranslated” followed a call to the prime minister’s office from U.S. government officials in Iraq.

Maliki had expressed support for a withdrawal plan similar to that of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in an interview with Der Speigel. U.S. troops should leave Iraq “As soon as possible, as far as we’re concerned,” Maliki had said. “U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.”

But after the Spiegel interview was published and began generating headlines Saturday, officials at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad contacted Maliki’s office to express concern and seek clarification on the remarks, according to White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

Later in the day, a Maliki aide released a statement saying the remarks had been misinterpreted, though without citing specific comments.

Yeah, except Der Spiegel is standing by its story.

A Baghdad government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that SPIEGEL had “misunderstood and mistranslated” the Iraqi prime minister, but didn’t point to where the misunderstanding or mistranslation might have occurred. Al-Dabbagh said Maliki’s comments “should not be understood as support to any US presidential candidates.” The statement was sent out by the press desk of the US-led Multinational Force in Iraq.

A number of media outlets likewise professed to being confused by the statement from Maliki’s office. The New York Times pointed out that al-Dabbagh’s statement “did not address a specific error.” CBS likewise expressed disbelief pointing out that Maliki mentions a timeframe for withdrawal three times in the interview and then asks, “how likely is it that SPIEGEL mistranslated three separate comments? Matthew Yglesias, a blogger for the Atlantic Monthly, was astonished by “how little effort was made” to make the Baghdad denial convincing. And the influential blog IraqSlogger also pointed out the lack of specifics in the government statement.

SPIEGEL sticks to its version of the conversation.

So there.