Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld paid an unannounced visit to Baghdad Wednesday, after telling reporters the Iraqi government is not yet ready to determine the pace of U.S. troop reductions. "We haven't gotten to that point," he said.
So much for Iraqi sovereignty.
It's perhaps no accident that Rumsfeld's visit comes as the Iraqi Parliament prepares to vote on a measure that would demand a timeline for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
The U.S. military has been cracking down on proponents of the measure.
The U.S. military launched an assault last week on the movement of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, conducting separate raids in Baghdad and Babylon and killing and arresting dozens of people.
"We asked them to put a timetable on their withdrawal, and they think that they should stay. This is the main reason of the conflict," explained Sadr movement spokesman Fadil el-Sharra, adding it was Sadr's representatives in Parliament who had put forward the resolution demanding a timeline on a U.S. troop withdrawal.
U.S. military officials deny the raids have anything to do with Sadr's political stance.
"I'm not very concerned at all that there's a political element to this," Major Todd Brasseale said, "because frankly there's a political element to whenever we start up a Humvee over here. But our actions are done to counter the terrorist threat and provide security and stability in Baghdad."
Sadr has millions of followers across Iraq with dozens of seats in the Iraqi Parliament. Early on in the occupation, his Mehdi militia clashed with the U.S. military, but in the summer of 2004 he signed a peace agreement and agreed to join the political process.
"The Sadr movement hasn't fought the Americans since we reached a peace agreement two years ago," said Sharra. "But we still think the Americans are an occupation force. We didn't change our mind. Resistance is our right. So we will try to communicate with them politically to withdraw their troops. Otherwise, they push us to resist again."
Nearly everyone in Iraq supports a timeline on an American troop withdrawal. Majid al-Samarrai, a well-respected journalist and television commentator, says if the U.S. troops leave Iraq, the situation couldn't possibly be worse than it is now.
"The students are now taking their final exams and the parents are not saying that it's important if the students pass or not," he said, "but that it's important just to come back alive."
Like most Iraqis, Samarrai is losing hope that peace will ever come to his country. Despair has set in.
"The American people are full of compassion and will try to help the weak people," he said, "but Bush never listens to anyone. He only listens to the devil. And if the 50 states demonstrate tomorrow and the Iraqis in the 51st state do too, he will never listen. He'll just continue what he's doing. He has his own agenda. He doesn't care what people say."
Pacifica radio network reporter Aaron Glantz is author of the new book "How America Lost Iraq" (Tarcher/Penguin). More information at www.aaronglantz.com.