by dday

Not exactly; three years is a long time. But while we've been hearing that the US-Iraq agreement on troops would have a "general time horizon" (as John Stewart said, something you move toward but never gets closer), this sure sounds like a timeline to me.

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators reached agreement on a security deal that calls for American military forces to leave Iraq's cities by next summer as a prelude to a full withdrawal of combat troops from the country, according to senior American officials.

The draft agreement sets 2011 as the goal date by which U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq, according to Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Haj Humood and other people familiar with the matter. In the meantime, American troops will be leaving cities, towns and other population centers by the summer of 2009, living in bases outside of those areas, according to the draft.

This is of course entirely dependent on the implementation, this only talks about combat troops, and many parts of the Iraqi government must agree to this (only Bush has to give this a thumbs up, because as you know we don't have a Congress). But clearly, the Iraqi Parliament has been able to wring more concessions out of the Administration than anyone ever has, and they did it by using the Administration's own tactics - getting close to the deadline and being stubborn - against them.

Iraq has plenty of its own problems - the looming powderkeg in Kirkuk, a more assertive Nouri al-Maliki pushing around prominent Sunnis throughout the country and muscling out Shiite rivals before provincial elections, the very real threat of spasms of violence if the elections are seen as rigged, and most troubling, Maliki simply won't integrate the security forces.

A key pillar of the U.S. strategy to pacify Iraq is in danger of collapsing because the Iraqi government is failing to absorb tens of thousands of former Sunni Muslim insurgents who'd joined U.S.-allied militia groups into the country's security forces [...]

But the Iraqi government, which is led by Shiite Muslims, has brought only a relative handful of the more than 100,000 militia members into the security forces. Now officials are making it clear that they don't intend to include most of the rest.

"We cannot stand them, and we detained many of them recently," said one senior Iraqi commander in Baghdad, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue. "Many of them were part of al Qaida despite the fact that many of them are helping us to fight al Qaida."

He said the army was considering setting a Nov. 1 deadline for those militia members who hadn't been absorbed into the security forces or given civilian jobs to give up their weapons. After that, they'd be arrested, he said.

Some militia members say that such a move would force them into open warfare with the government again.

These struggles are localized and, honestly, inevitable in the jockeying for power, and our troops there are serving no national interest for the United States OR Iraq. In fact, it's very clear that their presence is allowing Maliki to edge out the competition, secure in the knowledge that our military will protect him. He figures he needs two or three more years to crush everyone, at which point the American combat troops he's using as a proxy can leave (it also strengthens his hand to show his people that he ended the occupation). And so we are enabling authoritarianism and the building of a strongman. This endangers Iraq in the medium and long-term, but it sure makes the place safe for the multinationals for the time being.

A speedier withdrawal would remove that cover and, while making the country more chaotic in the short term, might actually force them to reconcile their differences (obviously we'd remain engaged diplomatically). Our troops are too precious and our military too broken to have them being used as a nascent dictator's paramilitary with no strategic benefit to the United States.

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman has some good thoughts on the politics of this.