Saghir: Timetable Demand not a Tactic; 53 Dead, 76 Wounded;

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the chances that a Status of Forces Agreement will be concluded between Baghdad and Washington have declined substantially. The intention is now to sign a memorandum of understanding instead of a SOFA, according to Shaikh Jalal al-Din Saghir, an MP, a member of the Policy Council for National Security and a leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the main pillar of PM Nuri al-Maliki’s government. He said that the Iraqi government sent a secret draft to Washington a few months ago that contained a request for a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. Iraqi politicians have told al-Hayat that the request for a timetable came as a result of pressure from Iraqi Shiite clerical leaders who insisted on an affirmation of the principle of national sovereignty in any agreement signed with Washington.

Al-Maliki was the first to make the request public, on a trip to Abu Dhabi on Monday. His comments were followed up on by Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, a national security adviser, from Najaf after he had spoken with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Saghir said that the recent successes of al-Maliki’s military campaigns in Basra, Sadr City, Mosul and Maysan, made it more plausible that Iraqi troops could handle the security problems by themselves. He said that Iraqi negotiators at the table with the Americans had pointed out that a withdrawal of foreign troops was realistic under the new circumstances.

Saghir said that bringing up a timetable for withdrawal was not a negotiating tactic on al-Maliki’s part.

AFP points out that the demand for a timetable for withdrawal of foreign troops is also a campaign pledge for al-Maliki and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq in the upcoming provincial elections. In many provinces, the US troop presence is unpopular.

Salah al-Ubaidi of the Sadr Movement told al-Hayat that the Iraqi government is responding to pressure from the Shiite clerical authorities and from the people. He said he doubted that al-Maliki would actually implement his promise to secure a withdrawal timetable.

53 Iraqis were killed or found dead on Wednesday, and 76 were wounded in bombings and other attacks.

A US soldier was killed and 2 others wounded in a roadside bombing in Samarra.

In Mosul, a suicide bomber attacked an Iraqi military convoy in an attempt to assassinate General Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, chief of Mosul security operations. The bomber was stopped before he could get close and detonated his payload, killing 8 Iraqis and wounding 41, including 7 troops. An operation of this sort bespeaks a sophisticated guerrilla organization in Mosul that can identify and track its primary enemy. Mosul is full of ex-Baath officers who view the al-Maliki regime as a puppet of Christian foreign occupiers. While the organization is lying lower for the moment, it should not be thought vanquished. The guerrillas in Mosul also killed a policeman in a drive-by shooting.

Earlier this week, guerrillas targeted a bus full of civilian US contractors employed by Kellog, Brown and Root, killing 4 persons and wounding 13. Again, that operation was no accident.

Robert Burns of AP reports from the ground on Mosul, Iraq’s northern metropolis of 1.7 million and capital of Ninevah Province. He finds massive unemployment and farmers hurt by the end of state subsidies for the purchase of seeds and fuel. He does note a recent reduction in violence, and the formation of agricultural cooperatives that encourage better relations among feuding tribes. If the provincial elections are actually held this fall, they could bring to power provincial authorities who actually represent someone and so might have the ability to get something done.

In Fallujah, two bombs killed 6 and wounded 18 at a bank.

In Baghdad, a guerrilla shot up a mosque at Abu Ghraib, killing 6 and wounding 8. There was scattered violence in Diyala and Kirkuk provinces as well.

In Ramadi, workers found 22 bodies estimated to have been dead for about a year.

On another front, see Tom Engelhardt’s essay on why Cheney et al. won’t attack Iran.