It seems that with the Bush administration now agreeing to a "time horizon" for the withdrawal of US forces, the Iraqis are ready once again to talk about a Status of Forces Agreement. This, as I've been saying, is both as it should be and reflects the Iraqi-side case for a withdrawal timeline. American troops clearly aren't going to leave immediately so some kind of SOFA is needed. And the Pentagon will demand that the SOFA include provisions that are reasonable for a combat situation. But those conditions necessarily undermine the notion of a sovereign Iraq, so it's vitally important -- both politically and substantively -- for the Iraqi government to make clear that this is a temporary situation with an endpoint. That's why Maliki wants a timetable, it's one of the reasons Barack Obama's proposed a timetable, and it's why Bush and McCain seem to be getting dragged kicking and screaming in the direction of a timetable.
Meanwhile, it can't be said often enough that despite the reductions in violence over the course of the past 18 months an awful lot of the underlying conflicts that could lead to violence are still lurking. Brian Katulis and Peter Juul did a nice look at Kirkuk the other day in the wake of bombings in the north. One hopes that different Iraqi factions will have the good sense to avoid destructive conflict over this and other lingering issues, but they might not and I don't think it's smart to leave the Army sitting around in the middle of things waiting to find out.
DoD photo by Spc. Richard Del Vecchio