Looks like that September deadline was optimistic. Some of you will scoff at believing anything NBC has to say, but the AP’s reporting the same thing and its sources include some of the congressmen at the meeting.
They don’t say what precipitated the meeting, exactly, but I think Russert gives us a clue with his perfectly fair closing question: how can U.S. troops be expected to fight for Iraq when Iraqi MPs want to head to the beach for the summer? That’s what Cheney allegedly was in Baghdad today to discuss. Iraqi NSA Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, who was actually in Washington yesterday to lobby Murtha and Carl Levin, insists the vacation won’t last more than a week.
Needless to say, this is bound to bolster the Democrats’ plan for a two-step spending bill with funds to be cut off as early as July if the Iraqis don’t meet their benchmarks. Click the image to watch.
Update: Per Iraqslogger, there’s a report out that Sadr’s MPs might withdraw from the Maliki government and form a new coalition with … the Sunnis (and some other Shiite parties). Even stranger: it comes from Al-Hayat, a Saudi paper owned by a member of the royal family. Supposedly the idea is to change their image from Shiite sectarians to Iraqi nationalists by reaching across the aisle; I can’t imagine why they’d care to do that, unless they expect us to be gone soon and want to make their own job of filling the power vacuum a touch easier by building goodwill. This makes two conspicuous attempts now by Shiite fundamentalists to collude with their supposed enemies, the other of course being Iranian funding of Sunni insurgents. What gives? The only answer I can think of is that, unlike Maliki, the Sadrists and Sunnis both want the U.S. out ASAP. Why the Sunnis would prefer to take their chances with Sadr instead of us is beyond me, but hey — if everyone wants us to leave, they don’t have to ask twice. And in light of tonight’s meeting at the White House, they may not have to.
McClatchy’s hearing the same rumors as Al-Hayat and claims the Sunnis have given Maliki one week to rein in the Shiite militias. If they really are talking to Sadr, presumably that’s part of some grand bargain: i.e., an agreement not to partition Iraq lest the oil-poor Sunni areas in the west be cut out of federal oil-revenue-sharing (the Sadrists, being avowed nationalists, are against partition anyway) plus some sort of informal understanding about sectarian boundaries with mutual promises to rein in the violent nuts on each side.
Update: As expected, many commenters are denying that it happened. Here’s another report from the Times:
Participants in the Tuesday meeting between Mr. Bush, senior administration officials and 11 members of a moderate bloc of House Republicans said the lawmakers were unusually candid with the president, telling him that public support for the war was crumbling in their swing districts.
One told Mr. Bush that voters back home favored a withdrawal even if it meant the war was judged a loss. Representative Tom Davis told Mr. Bush that the president’s approval rating was at 5 percent in one section of his northern Virginia district.
“It was a tough meeting in terms of people being as frank as they possibly could about their districts and their feelings about where the American people are on the war,” said Representative Ray LaHood of Illinois, who took part in the session, which lasted more than an hour in the residential section of the White House. “It was a no-holds-barred meeting.”…
Representative Charles W. Dent of Pennsylvania, a co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, an alliance of about 30 moderate Republican lawmakers, helped arrange the meeting. He said lawmakers wanted to convey the frustration and impatience with the war they are hearing from voters. “We had a very frank conversation about the situation in Iraq,” he said. Even so, the Republicans who attended the White House session indicated that they would maintain solidarity with Mr. Bush for now by opposing the latest Democratic proposal for two-stage financing of war, which is scheduled for a vote on Thursday in the House.
Boehner was at the meeting too, although he says he let the moderates do most of the talking.