WHILE John McCain and Barack Obama are differing sharply over the future of America's role in Iraq and the timing for the withdrawal of US troops, Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has made some proposals of his own. Although they related mainly to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which President Bush wants to conclude very soon they are also likely to be seen as an indirect intervention in the US election. For the first time Mr al-Maliki said on Monday that Iraq wants a timetable drawn up for US withdrawal before he can consider signing SOFA. He also rejected US proposals for immunity against prosecution for US troops and civilian security forces and for overflying rights for the US Air Force.

McCain and Obama are not the only ones concerned with Iraqi issues that affect their election prospects. Mr al-Maliki faces an election towards the end of the year and he knows that taking a tough stance against continued US influence will be a vote-winner. That's democracy! His suggestion of a timetable for US military withdrawal is probably closer to Mr Obama's original position on Iraq than to Mr McCain's but neither of them will relish having deadlines proposed by Baghdad. If President Bush is unable to sign SOFA before he leaves office his successor will have yet one more toxic issue to deal with when he enters the White House.