Editorial: A timetable for Iraq

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Now that Moqtada al-Sadr is onboard, is there anyone who hasn't endorsed Barack Obama's timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq?

Sadr, the radical cleric whose Mahdi Army has waged bloody battles against U.S. troops

and the Iraqi military and controlled large swaths of Iraqi territory, said through a spokesman last week that he would dissolve his militia if the U.S. started withdrawing troops according to a set timetable.

A cease-fire called by Sadr last year helped reduce violence in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq dramatically. Sadr, whose party controls 10 percent of the seats in the Iraqi parliament, appears to have decided to exercise his power in the political sphere instead of the streets.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has also endorsed a 16-month timetable for withdrawal. That has a political context as well. Iraq's voters want the Americans to leave, and elections are coming up. Maliki has demanded a timetable be included in the agreement he is now negotiating with the Bush administration to govern the status of U.S. forces after the U.N. mandate under which they are now operating expires at the end of the year.

Those demands have forced the Bush administration to endorse a "time horizon" for withdrawal. The Iraqis want to be more specific, the administration wants to be less specific, and whether they will find a way to meet in the middle remains to be seen.

By coincidence or not, Maliki's 16-month timetable matches up nicely with the position Obama has long advocated. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also explicitly endorsed Obama's timetable.

We don't mean to give Obama credit for this turn of events. The Democratic nominee has had no role in negotiations, let alone the military strategy that has brought Iraq to this point. If anything, we'd like Obama to be less grudging in his appreciation for what Gen. David Petraeus has accomplished in Iraq.

Obama and Petraeus may disagree on the timetable and on other points, and Obama is correct that the actions of Maliki, Sadr and other Iraqi players were as important as the "surge" of 30,000 additional U.S. troops introduced in 2007. But Petraeus' counter-insurgency strategy stands in sharp contrast to the failed strategies of the generals who preceded him, and Obama should give credit where it's due.

Obama deserves credit as well. Smart politicians know how to spot a parade forming and get out in front of it. In this case, Obama put himself and his timetable in place at least a year before the conditions in Iraq made his timetable feasible. That's either incredible luck or sound judgment.

There is much in Iraq that could still go wrong, and any timetable will come with asterisks attached. Whether the leaders they say so or not, conditions on the ground may force adjustments to the schedule.

But conditions on the ground now justify the adoption of a schedule. With the possible exception of John McCain, who still seems wedded to an open-ended occupation in pursuit of an undefined "victory," everyone seems to agree the time for a timetable has arrived.

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