President Bush has been embarrassed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Bush had set a goal of July 31 for a security agreement with Maliki’s government. The key to negotiating such an accord, for Bush, was to avoid setting a firm date for withdrawal of United States combat troops. Bush has insisted that the timing and pacing of a withdrawal had to be determined solely by conditions on the ground.

But now Maliki is demanding a “specific deadline” for the withdrawal of all US forces of any kind. Maliki’s aides are saying that the latest date for the departure of the last American soldier from Iraq must be the end of 2011. Maliki himself told an audience of tribal sheikhs Monday, “There can be no treaty or agreement except on the basis of Iraq’s full


If Bush continues refusing to accept the timetable that Iraqis want, he will make a mockery of his claim to have invaded and occupied Iraq to spread democracy there. Iraqis have pretty well crushed Al Qaeda with American help, and they are beginning to sort out their factional power struggles.

If they want a sure date for US withdrawal, they should get it. Otherwise, Bush will only vindicate those critics of the war who said he invaded Iraq to establish permanent military bases and gain control of the country’s oil.