Some righty bloggers are having fun with this but it’s not far-fetched to think he’d hold back good news — if it might lead to better news.

The Bush administration is starving for good news out of Iraq, and it may finally have some: new U.S. government statistics showing that violent attacks of all kinds are down to levels not seen since 2005. But until recently, the administration appears to have resisted acknowledging a key element of the new data, because it flies in the face of President George W. Bush’s ongoing rhetorical confrontation with Iran’s clerical regime. According to three senior U.S. officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, the decline in Iraq violence also includes a decrease in the number of attacks attributable to insurgents backed or armed by Iran. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell confirmed to Newsweek that “there has indeed been a drop” in such attacks, but he added that “it’s not entirely clear what the reason for that is.”

After more than a year of reports from Iraq ranging from the grim to the horrendous to the well-nigh catastrophic, they want you to believe Bush is now worried that good news might jeopardize that bombing run on Iran that Seymour Hersh has been telling us is imminent for the past, oh, 18 months or so. To take that seriously, you’d have to believe that hitting Iran is more important to the administration than (a) the bump in support for the war that would surely come if the information was known; (b) tangible progress to trumpet before Congress ahead of another round of debate over Iraq spending; and (c) its usefulness as a rhetorical bludgeon in the war of words with Tehran, as evidence that their influence is waning. But what if he was sitting on those casualty figures for another reason? Consider the possibility that we’ve reached some sort of nascent understanding with the Shiite militias and he doesn’t want to spook it by publicizing info that might expose their diminishing influence and humiliate them into a resurgence. Michael Yon wrote just this morning that:

I saw an American battalion commander, LTC Patrick Frank, in a meeting yesterday with 19 local Iraqi leaders. Often the Iraqis would break down into conversations among themselves, but each time the LTC Frank spoke, the room went silent. I have seen this repeated over and over and over in different areas of Iraq. Our battalion commanders are operating in a capacity of local leaders. They get serious respect. Even from enemies. (Perhaps especially from enemies, which clearly is part of the reason so many people are coming to the table.) The battalion commanders are the quarterbacks who are pulling this place together. Their words carry great clout.

The Iraqis know we want to leave and this is working in our favor, and in their favor.

That last sentence is an expression of both hope and fear, since we don’t want to leave a dormant terrorist framework in place just because it’s willing to play dead for a bit while we quiet things down. But it may explain the drop in attacks among Shiites. Recall also that the key event in the momentary pacification of Basra was reportedly a “deal” struck between the various militias and the new Iraqi army commander in the city. Obviously some form of negotiations is happening and bearing fruit; it’s stupid to think we’re not party to them somehow.

Here’s the latest, just hitting the wires at AFP. There were reports a few days ago that U.S. troops killed upwards of 50 militiamen in a battle in Sadr City. Outrage time for Sadr? Not quite:

“Some groups within the Jaish al-Mahdi are not following the suspension order,” the cleric said in a statement issued by his office in the central holy city of Najaf.

“We are urging everybody to implement the suspension at all the levels or they will be fired from the movement. There is no place for traitors.”

The call to order came after US troops killed 49 suspected fighters during a raid on the cleric’s Baghdad bastion of Sadr City on Sunday.

The US military claims many of Sadr’s militants have split from the main force and are participating in “criminal” activities, including the killing of Sunnis.

The fact that he’d react to something like that by insisting that his guys stand down, and in strong language, is suspicious and lends more credence to speculation about a deal. He’s also protecting his brand, though: revisit the Times article linked in this post about the transformation of the JAM from a disciplined paramilitary force into a sort of teenage mafia brigade that’s begun to alienate many local Shiites. They’re ruining Sadr’s reputation among his base and driving some Shiite tribesmen into the arms of the United States for help, which risks an Anbar-type backlash that’s probably more threatening to him long-term than a direct confrontation with the U.S. military. He may have decided that for the moment he can’t trust his people to do more good than harm so he’s willing to sit on his hands and let the Americans deal with the troublemakers in his ranks. That would explain the declining attacks. The question now is whether there’s any grander, more formal bargain that’s been reached behind the scenes.