Did Sadr make a deal with Maliki to set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal?

Probably not, but that’s the word on the street from Al Hayat by way of Badger at Missing Links:

Aswat al-Iraq published yesterday the bare bones of the Sunday press-conference at which the president of Parliament announced the return of the Sadrist bloc to parliamentary and government activities, citing an agreement to study the Sadrist demands by a five-party parliamentary committee, and a remark by a non-Sadrist in the UIA to the effect all the parties agree on the essence of what the Sadrists are demanding, and the differences have to do with technical issues of implementation. Al-Hayat this morning adds important details. Among the demands are a resolution to the effect that the American military presence in Iraq will not be extended (beyond its current UN justification) without the approval of the Iraqi parliament, and that there will be deadlines for the handover of security to the Iraqi forces.

And one of the Sadrist members at the press conference said there was also agreement with the government that Sadrist persons arrested will be released over the coming weeks, starting with Abdul Hadi al-Darraji who will be released “in the coming hours”.

The post was published yesterday; Darraji’s still being detained (so far as we know) as of this writing. As for the timetable, the current UN authorization expires on December 31, at which point we’ll probably be on our way out one way or another anyway. So it’s not a huge deal, except as a gauge of Sadr’s continuing influence with the government. I’m skeptical that he’d be issuing ultimatums to Maliki at a time when the U.S. is looking for an excuse to target him, but maybe the Shiite MPs are willing to trade some not terribly onerous promises re: U.S. troop levels for the unfortunate imprimatur of legitimacy that comes with the Sadrists’ participation in parliament. Or, maybe they’re calculating that Bush is on borrowed time and, when the smoke clears next year, Sadr will still be there with his forces intact. If you think he’ll be the strong horse later, it makes sense to accommodate him now. Debka games it out: “His tactic is to keep his powder dry in the coming months until the Iraqi-US forces massing Baghdad pull back. He will then re-activate his militia and send them into battle to take over parts of the capital. He hopes the US and Iraqi forces, seeing the Shiites falling back, will turn their guns on the Sunni insurgents instead.”

Petraeus reportedly wants to begin the surge in mixed neighborhoods where resistance is light to establish a beachhead and build early momentum (and PR). Some troops are already stationed inside the city, though, and in some of its most dangerous neighborhoods to boot. Your must-read of the day is this harrowing Times piece about a company from the 12th Cavalry setting up an outpost in Ghazaliya known ominously as “the Alamo.” To the north: the Mahdi Army. To the south: Al Qaeda.

Captain Peterson was under no illusions that establishing security and training the Iraqis to maintain it would be a difficult operation that could take time. He said he was initially skeptical about the plan, thinking the risks might be too great. But looking back over his experiences this fall patrolling the neighborhood, he said he had changed his mind.

One recent event in particular swayed him. When the Americans canceled their usual patrol on Jan. 3, Sunni extremists used the opportunity to bait militiamen by waging war on the small Shiite civilian population in Ghazaliya.

“They just went into the streets and started killing as many people as they could,” he said. Captain Peterson was at the main American base for western Baghdad, three miles away near the airport, and it took him nearly an hour to respond to pleas for help.

“It was such a helpless feeling for me,” he said.

Read it all. There’s A/V at the link, too.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops arrested four men today in connection with the ambush in Karbala. Your quote of the day, from the local Iraqi police spokesman:

Asked why Iraqi police didn’t stop the gunmen from fleeing [after the attack], al-Mishawi said: “They assumed it was American-on-American violence and wanted to stay out of it.”

Omar at Iraq the Model scoffs appropriately and theorizes that it was an inside job perpetrated by the local (Shiite) government.