By Michael McAuliff
Daily News Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON—Touchdown! Barack Obama landed in Baghdad today for the first time as a presidential hopeful—and scored a major political victory.
After meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani, Iraq's official spokesman declared the government likes Obama's plan to pull U.S. forces from the country by 2010.
"We are hoping that in 2010 that combat troops will withdraw from Iraq," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told reporters after the meeting the heavily fortified Green Zone.
He qualified the timeline some, though, saying it was subject to change if violence resurges in the country. Insurgent attacks have fallen dramatically since the start of President Bush's surge over a year ago.
The GOP and its standard bearer, John McCain, have been hammering Obama for insisting he would yank most American forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office, allowing only for tactical refinements in the timeline.
His scheme would have U.S. troops out of Iraq by the spring or summer of 2010, and allowing for the possibility refinements—nearly mirroring the wishes of the Iraqis.
Still, McCain ripped Obama for sticking to his plan regardless of conditions on the ground, arguing that Obama irresponsibly opposed the surge that has helped quell violence in Iraq recently.
"I hope that the people will have a better focus on the fact that we have succeeded in our strategy in Iraq. We are winning the war and Sen. Obama was wrong," McCain told CBS News this morning.
"He railed against it, he voted against the surge, and he said it would fail. He was wrong there, and there's very little doubt in my mind that he will see for himself that he had a gross misjudgment," McCain said.
McCain has been arguing for a more open-ended engagement, saying any kind of timetable would aide the enemy. But even the White House shifted closer to Obama's position last week, when President Bush said a "general time horizon" for getting out was in the works.
Today's announcement in Iraq is a political coup for Obama. The Illinois senator traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan on a fact-finding mission with fellow Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) after being mocked relentlessly by the GOP for never visiting Afghanistan and last going to Iraq over 900 days ago.
Obama's political rise was fueled in large part by his adamant opposition to the Iraq war, and he leaves the country today having his withdrawal policy affirmed.
"It's a big plus for Obama," said the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato. "You never know how long something like this lasts in the Middle East, but it's certainly good news for him now."
And it leaves McCain with very little argument. "About all he can say is the only reason we can think about withdrawing in 2010 is because the surge worked," Sabato said.
Obama—along with Reed and Hagel, who have both been mentioned as possible running mates—spent the previous two days in Afghanistan, which Obama says is the real central front in the war on terror.
He wants to send at least two more U.S. brigades to hunt Osama Bin Laden and shore up the deteriorating battle there against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Military officials say attacks against U.S. forces in the eastern part of the country, where Bin Laden and his allies have regrouped, are up 40% compared to a year ago.
Obama began his day in Iraq with a stop in Basra for a briefing by military officials there. He was expected to meet U.S. Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus later in Baghdad. After his stop in Iraq, Obama is heading on to Israel, Jordan, and Europe.
With News Wire Services