In the Monitor, Peter Grier confirms from Washington that the Baghdad plan is indeed underway, “with glitches.” According to US military sources, Monday Feb. 5 was the first day of the plan. Iraqi forces have established ten “joint security stations” in Baghdad neighborhoods, with more expected. The first additional US brigade is in Baghdad and a second is beginning to arrive. Iraqi brigades did show up to Baghdad according to the deadlines, but at least one is at only about 60% strength, and other units may also be short-handed. The other glitch that Grier notes is the ongoing manpower dispute between the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom.
Controversial US Raids in Iraq
Iraqi and US forces raided the Iraqi health ministry yesterday and seized the deputy minister, Hakim al-Zamili, the NYT’s Damien Cave reports from Baghdad. In a statement, the US accused the official, with ties to the Sadrist bloc, of diverting health ministry funds to support rogue elements of the Mahdi Army and for using the resources of his ministry to support sectarian violence, including the murder of health ministry officials. Cave contrasts the raid with the new checkpoints appearing across the city as a part of the security crackdown, noting the contradictions of the US alliance with a government that includes elements who may be closely affiliated with the targeted militias. The raid on a government institution prompted harsh responses, with some, especially Sadrists, referring to the US-led raid as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. An even more deadly controversy unfolded in Amiriyah, in Anbar Province, where the US claimed that airstrikes killed 13 foreign fighters in two safe houses, while eyewitnesses claimed that four houses were destroyed in the air raids, killing 35 people, including women and children. Fourteen members of a Sunni family were shot dead in Baghdad, and the US announced that four more marines had died on Wednesday, in addition to the seven killed in a helicopter crash.
Ernesto Londoño files for the Post from Baghdad with more detail on the controversial US operations yesterday. In a phone interview, a physician at Falluja General Hospital said that more than 30 people killed or wounded by the air raids in Anbar Province were brought to the hospital. Londoño also provides the names of two locals who witnessed the scene and claimed that there were civilian casualties. US officials were equally assertive, saying that the military had sent a team to survey the scene of the strike and observed no civilian casualties. It was suggested by Amiriyah residents that Abu Sihail al-Zubaie, an alleged leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq was the target of the strikes. Londoño runs down other violence from Thursday, including two events involving private security contractors. Snipers working for an as yet unknown company shot and killed three guards working for the state television broadcaster al-Iraqiya. A witness said that the guards had not fired a shot. A KBR driver was also mistakenly killed by US military personnel in Balad. Londoño also adds detail on the fighting in Balad that left a 16 members of a Sunni family dead, writing that neighbors reported that armed men in Iraqi military uniforms arrived in twelve vehicles at the family’s farmhouse and heavy gunfire ensued.
House Democrats may have hashed out a consensus on the first steps, at least, of their approach to the Iraq debate, Jeff Zeleny reports for the Times. After a Democratic caucus today, the leadership announced that a nonbinding anti-escalation resolution would be the first matter submitted. Some House Dems who support more aggressive antiwar legislation, including the use of the House’s power of the purse, have indicated that they may accept that they recognize the nonbinding resolution as a “first step.” Whether the Democrats have reached a common strategy or only postponed factional splits over Iraq remains to be seen. House Republicans have acknowledged that many of their party’s representatives may vote for a nonbinding anti-escalation resolution, but Zeleny writes that GOP leaders have said that, “through the course of the debate, they would seek to highlight deep differences among their rivals.”
Shailagh Murray reports for the Post on the House developments, noting that Democrats have stated that they will allow House Republicans to bring a resolution to the floor. The debate will last for three days, with each member allowed five minutes to speak. She also writes that the GOP leadership is considering two options: A resolution opposing the cutoff of funding, and a second resolution that would establish a bipartisan monitoring panel.
In other coverage:
NEW YORK TIMES
Damien Cave files a second piece from Baghdad which makes for one of the most interesting reads of the day. The vast Saddam-era slum of Sadr City has been transformed into one of the more stable areas of the capital. Cave writes, “The neighborhood, which is Baghdad’s largest Shiite area and was named in honor of Mr. Sadr’s father, is a web of contradictions, at once a test of whether its progress can be sustained, a flash point for sectarian tensions and the heart of the government’s political and military base.” Reconstruction spending has poured into the neighborhood, thanks to close political ties with the new government, and residents attribute the relative, but not total, calm to the vigilance of the Mahdi Army. Sewers have been repaired, markets are bustling, and even the US is funneling reconstruction funds into the area. At the same time, the Mahdi Army is on the US list of militias to be neutralized, and Cave quotes a neighborhood saying: “If you anger the Mahdi, “They’ll throw you in the trunk.” Moreover, the progress in Sadr City contrasts markedly with the undoing of other, often predominantly Sunni or middle-class neighborhoods in the capital. Cave suggests that the Mahdi Army may be undergoing a political transformation into a regular political party, but it is unclear if this is merely a strategy to wait out the US-Iraqi crackdown. Cave’s article gives a sampling of some of the contradictions of the new Iraq.
Kristin Henderson contributes an op-ed calling for a “war tax,” not to support the war effort per se, but to deliver counseling, respite child care, part-time work, and other services to families struggling with life during and after a family member’s deployment.
The Post scoops with a front-pager reported by Walter Pincus and R. Jeffrey Smith, who report that the Pentagon inspector general has examined key intelligence reports provided by former Pentagon official Douglas Feith during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, and found them to contain “reporting of dubious quality or reliability.” Feith’s office, the report says, overstated the case for an association between Iraq and al-Qaeda and even presented different versions of its reports to different federal offices to undercut the assessments of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. In comments, Feith has pointed out that the report does not accuse his office of illegal activity, only “inappropriate” actions.
Joshua Partlow writes in the Post that a report released by the Baghdad Institute for Public Policy Research has released a report which recommends that the Iraqi government conduct negotiations with militias, especially key Shi`a groups, rather than armed confrontation. Partlow quotes from the 18-page document: "The tense situation between the Mahdi Army militia and the U.S. military means that it would be unwise for multinational forces to go into Shia strongholds at this stage." The origins of the report are unclear and controversial. Some say it was based on a consensus reached at a roundtable discussion of a diverse group of Iraqi politicians, but the only Sunni Arab to participate objected in being associated with the document and called it a project of the prime minister’s Da`wa party. Some have suggested that the paper reflects the thinking of PM Maliki, who may want to concentrate US firepower on Sunni groups and leave the relationship with key Shi`a militias as an internal Iraqi affair. Sunni Arab MPs were quoted saying that acceptance of the policies in the report would be a departure from previously agreed understandings over the conduct of the crackdown.
John White reports that the Senate has confirmed Gen. Casey to the post of Army chief of staff. He writes that debate before the 83-14 vote allowed some Senate Republicans to speak out against the conduct of the war without making a break with their leadership. Most Senators praised Casey’s record, but more than one-fifth of GOP Senators voted against his confirmation. Democrats, on the other hand, tended not to accuse Casey of responsibility for any failures during his tenure as US commander in Iraq, instead preferring to lay blame on the Bush administration.
Glenn Kessler reports that the Turkish government has warned against a planned referendum on the status of Kirkuk. Turkey is keen to avoid Kirkuk falling into the hands of an autonomous or independent Kurdish area. After lunching with the Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, Kessler writes: “Turkish officials have warned that they may intervene if the vote goes against their interests. Gul declined to say what would happen, but he pointedly noted that Turkey currently provides Kurdistan with its electricity and 90 percent of its gasoline. He said Turkey is eager for Kurdistan to thrive as part of a stable Iraq.”
Mary Otto and Fredrick Kunkle write an obituary for soldiers killed in the recent Marines helicopter crash, writing that some of the men had served earlier tours in Iraq and had requested to return there for further service.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
From Cairo, Dan Murphy files a lengthy review of the issues facing Gen. Petraeus and his advisors. The counterinsurgency doctrines of the “warrior scholar” from New York state seem to be out of step with the resources and troop numbers that the general will have to work with. Petraeus’s philosophy is to prioritize local law-and-order operations that put his forces in neighborhood police stations out among the local population, leaving behind the older emphasis on “force protection” which necessarily separated US forces from Iraqi civilians. Citing the general’s time in Mosul, military tacticians suggest that Petraeus’s plan may have a fighting chance of success, but that the time frame within which Washington and the US public are expecting results are unrealistic.
Oren Dorell writes a short insightful article on the fate of once-mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad, where various militia campaigns have forced residents to flee to more homogeneous parts of the country. He cites a report prepared by the International Medical Corps which estimates that “more than 540,000 Iraqis have left their homes over the past year because of sectarian violence.”
WALL STREET JOURNAL
No new Iraq reporting today.