President Bush keeps clinging to his politically driven deadline of June 30 for handing over symbolic sovereignty in Iraq to an Iraqi entity. While everyone is eager for the country to be turned over to its people, simply sticking to a timetable is not the same as making real progress toward self-government.

So far, the June 30 date is only a space on a calendar in Iraq and some election-year symbolism back home. No one knows what the new Iraqi governing body will look like. The UN, whose involvement the administration desperately needs, is not committed to taking part, and does not seem to have been told what kind of decision-making structure it is being invited to join. Meanwhile, the majority Shias, the minority Sunnis and the estranged Kurds have shown scant interest in cooperating with each other. The US and its occupation partners are thus in real danger of handing over Iraq to a government that is divided internally.

Allowing the June 30 deadline to slip could anger Shiites who remain publicly supportive of the transition, but it would hardly amount to a capitulation to forces that want to "decide the course of democracy by the use of force," as Bush claimed. It would be heartening to

see the president spend less time defending his timetable and more preparing for a real transfer of power. — The New York Times