Damien Cave’s Iraq roundup leads with the mystery surrounding Muqtada al-Sadr’s whereabouts. Cave misses IraqSlogger’s scoop that Sadr insiders said he had slipped away even from them. Cave’s report describes relatively smooth operations in the Baghdad crackdown, with isolated fighting in some neighborhoods. He also files a roundup of the day’s violence: Car bombs in Dora, Sadr City, and Jamaa districts; twenty murdered bodies recovered. The juxtaposition could be made more explicit: Smooth US-Iraqi operations in Baghdad do not mean that Iraq’s problems with violence will be solved.
Ernesto Londoño leads his article in the Post with the late-breaking story of the wounding of the alleged leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and the death of his aide, which Londoño confirmed with phone interviews. He also carries speculation about Sadr’s whereabouts, noting that Secretary Gates said that he had not seen “factual proof” that Sadr had traveled to Iran. Londoño closes with an important but under-reported Iraq story: Conflicting reports of raids on a well-known Baghdad mosque associated with the SCIRI party.
The Iran file
“For the umpteenth time,” says Robert Gates, “we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran,” according to David Cloud’s report in the Times. Cloud advances the story of the dispute over US allegations that Iran is arming Iraqi militias with quotes from Gates and Gen. Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who said Thursday that an anonymous US presenter at the controversial Baghdad briefing “didn’t make a clear enough break between fact and assessment . . . or those listening didn’t hear the break between fact and assessment.”
The Senate continues to debate debating, and as Jeff Zeleny and Robin Toner report, that’s what’s really on the agenda for the unusual Saturday vote. The first order of business will not be an Iraq bill, but the same procedural politics that dogged the chamber before. No scoops about what the political outcome might be in Reid’s attempt to force the GOP’s hand and keep up with the House on Iraq. Note how some longtime senators, such as Arlen Spector, are concerned about the effect that lagging behind the House on Iraq will have on the upper chamber itself.
The House will vote today on the nonbinding Iraq legislation, but consensus is that the most divisive debates will come when the House takes up the Bush budget legislation. Speaker Pelosi has linked her support of the budget request to “benchmarks” and “targets” that sound a lot like what Rep. Murtha has been drawing up for the Democratic strategy, Jonathan Weisman and Shalaigh Murray write for the Post. Sen. Biden has also proposed that the Congress renew debate on Iraq force authorization, also with the goal of adding targets and conditions.
Weisman and Murray point out that a constitutional confrontation may result from these Democratic challenges, but there may be a more immediate political question facing the Democratic leadership: Gail Russell Chaddock points out in the Monitor that the next round of Iraq debates in Congress will be polarizing within the Democratic party, as the debate shifts from nonbinding resolutions to the funding of the war. Murtha’s strategy is designed as much to squelch any backbench antiwar rebellion as much as to do battle with Bush and House Republicans.
Paul Kane challenges conventional wisdom with a report that checks the facts on the House GOP members who are siding with the Dems on the nonbinding resolution. Kane writes that the common-sense interpretation on the Hill has been "that those Republicans facing the most tenuous political hold on their seats would be in open revolt against Bush's unpopular decision to send more troops into Iraq. But the lion's share of GOP opponents of the Bush plan come from comfortable to very safe congressional districts."
Michael Abramowitz explores constitutional issues surfacing in congressional Iraq legislation, and makes the smart point that these questions are not confined only to the power of the purse, but also to other congressional and executive war powers.
In other coverage:
NEW YORK TIMES
In one of his last appearances on the Hill, outgoing Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker voiced concern about troop readiness levels and the strain of raising the number of forces in Iraq. Ann Scott Tyson reports that Schoomaker told Congress that commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq were adding to military problems with maintaining adequate levels of equipment and support. "We are in a dangerous period," he said, before warning that China is watching US military capabilities carefully.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
With the UNHCR visit to Washington, Iraqi refugees have been in the news lately, and much of the reporting has treated them as somewhat nameless and faceless. Ilene Prusher’s report, on the other hand, connects the reader directly with a refugee family living in Jordan. She conveys the family’s sense of insecurity as they are unable to work in Jordan and are watching their savings dwindle. The discussion of economic effects on Jordan is also very informative.
Scott Peterson writes a profile of young Iraqi men who tried to travel to Sweden to reach safety and only made it as far as Turkey before being turned back. This is the second of two well-done pieces of enterprise reporting in the Monitor today that give real insight into what life is like for some Iraqis today.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
Journal editors attempt to fire another salvo in the Iran arms debate today, but end up shooting their credibility in the foot. The WSJ's staff editorial picks up on an article in the British press reporting that Steyr-Mannlicher Austrian rifles were found in Iraq, and alleges that, because Iran also has purchased Steyr-Mannlicher rifes, it is actively supplying Iraqi militias with arms. They call for a comparison of the serial numbers on the rifles to the receipts from the 2004 Austrian sale to Iran. Journal editors deliberately ignore that this investigation would have happened anyway, and seem to be more interested in firing off some anti-Iran (and pro-Bush administration) rhetoric while they have the chance, rather than wait for a proper investigation.
USAT editors lash out at both the White House and Democrats for not seeking consensus on what they feel should be the most important issue: Getting out of Iraq soon. They call for Congress to set “benchmarks” for the Bush plan, not just for the Maliki government, with binding consequences.
Tom Vanden Brook preps for the upcoming budget debates with a short piece on the Pentagon’s $100 million request for a “rapid acquisition fund,” intended to overcome supply difficulties exacerbated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.