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Daily Column
US Papers Saturday: What’s in a "Lull"?
House Resolution Passes: Now the Real Debate Begins
By GREG HOADLEY 02/17/2007 01:56 AM ET
In a country of 26 million souls, it would stand to reason there could be stories out there that don’t have to do with detonating explosives or firing guns. Even so, Iraq-based reporting seems to be generally thinner in the US media on days with no massive bombings to grab headlines.

The Journal and the Post make admirable use of the so-called “lull” to print two must-see pieces, penned by Sarmad Ali and Jonathan Partlow, respectively, that elucidate Iraqis’ lives in a way that daily violence roundups just can’t do.

In fact, the term “lull” is misleading, because there was plenty of bombs-and-soldiers news all over the country that didn’t make it into the papers. For example, the Times and the Post again ignore the major lockdown in Basra, now in its second day and involving thousands of British and Iraqi troops. Nor does either paper cover US forces' total lockdown in the Anbar Province city of Hit, which is to last four days.

As expected, the House passed its nonbinding resolution, opposing the president’s Iraq plan, and the Times, Post, and Journal all print editorials sounding in on the bitter debate that is to come.

Must-read accounts

Sarmad Ali, studying in the US writes a personal and moving WSJ story of his life in Iraq and in the US, where his connection to his war-torn family is handled by telephone. Ali’s father has been missing since December. After Ayub Nuri’s op-ed in the Times yesterday, this is the second personal account in our US papers in as many days by an Iraqi student in New York while the war rages on back home. Both are very riveting and poignant.

Jonathan Partlow made use of the "lull" to travel to a high school in Kadhimiya to discover the stories of three teenage girls who were displaced from their homes in other parts of Baghdad. Essential reading for those who want to cut through the staggering figures released recently on about displaced Iraqis to understand the human toll. Read also between the lines for the cost of the displacement on Iraqi educational services, housing markets, and infrastructure.

Iraq-datelined roundups

The Iraq-datelined roundups run down yesterday’s events rather quickly.

Abu Ayyab al-Masri was wounded on Thursday, Iraq’s interior ministry spokesperson insisted Friday, according to Marc Santora’s brief Iraq report for the Times. The alleged chief of al-Qaeda in Iraq was injured in a firefight and managed to flee, they said, even though other Iraqi officials contradicted that claim. Santora’s article leads with PM Maliki’s assessment of the security plan as a “dazzling success” during a video link with President Bush. Santora also mentions raids in Hilla arresting 34 alleged Soldiers of Heaven members (which Slogger reported yesterday along with another raid against the group in Wasit Province in which 26 were taken captive).

The 1000-person HQ of the 3rd Infantry Division will deploy early to Iraq to support the ten US brigades that will be operating in Baghdad, according to Ernesto Londoño’s roundup of Iraq news. Londoño’s report is parallel to Santora’s in most other ways, although the two disagree on one issue: Did Maliki tell Bush the security plan’s success was “dazzling,” or “fabulous?” Londoño does juxtapose this sentiment with an assessment by a US military official on the ground, who says, “We do expect there are going to be some very rough, difficult days ahead.” Londoño also reminds the reader of his contribution to the al-Qaeda in Iraq story: Londoño got telephone confirmation from a al-Qaeda in Iraq of the death of al-Masri’s deputy, Abu Abdullah al-Majamiai. This underplayed detail even IraqSlogger overlooked in its update on the controversy.

Nonbinding resolution

The House resolution passed yesterday opposing the Bush Iraq plan could be historic and meaningless at the same time. Jeff Zeleny and Michael Luo write for the Times that it is rare in US history that Congress has weighed in on the executive’s battlefield plans in wartime. Meanwhile, the resolution is nonbinding and there is no indication that the president has any intention of implementing Congress’s advice. Moreover, debate in Washington has already moved on to the more contentious issue of funding the war, with Rep. Murtha’s plan at the center of the Democratic strategy.

Even as Speaker Pelosi was closing the “grueling” 44-hour debate, House GOP leaders left the chamber, joining Senate colleagues in speaking against the Murtha plan, Jonathan Weisman reports in the Post. GOP leaders also appeared pleased that they kept defections lower than they had expected, with 17 Republicans crossing the aisle to vote for the measure. Two Democrats voted against. The Senate will meet today to try out an Iraq resolution.

At stake in the bitter debate to come is not just the “surge” plan, but “Bush's overall stewardship of the war in Iraq and, more broadly, of his leadership in the world,” Peter Baker writes in the Post. He describes the historic dimensions of the debate over the president’s war powers, and comments on the “political perils” facing the participants.

“Constitutional hardball” could be the name of the game in the upcoming clash, Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the Times.

In other coverage:

NEW YORK TIMES

Scott Shane profiles Iran’s Quds Force, which has been at the center of US accusations about Iranian arms in Iraq. Apparently, US intelligence, and even US-based Iran scholars, know even less about this organization than the very little bit you thought that they knew.

Yesterday’s vote “was the easy part,” the Times writes in a lengthy staff editorial that calls upon Congress to link “benchmarks” for the Maliki government to the issue of funding. Most importantly, Times editors express concern and skepticism about the Murtha plan, calling it a “clever maneuver” that fails to deal directly with the Iraq issue. Congress “must impose tough requirements and deadlines on the Iraqi government, and link the future of all American troops in Iraq to the timely achievement of these goals,” they conclude.

WASHINGTON POST

On the Hill yesterday, Secretary Rice faced tough questioning over the $6 billion in supplemental spending that the White House has requested, Karen DeYoung reports. Some of this money will go to fund Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which, once implemented, would create 40,000 jobs in Iraq, she said, funded by $10 billion in previously unspent Iraqi money. Rice told the House Appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations, that the Bush administration would see to it that the Iraqi government spent the funds, with at least $2 billion going to provinces outside Baghdad.

Post editors also express disapproval of the Murtha proposal, saying it “would stop the surge by crudely hamstringing the ability of military commanders to deploy troops.” They assail Murtha’s tactics, fault his knowledge of the situation in Iraq, and suggest that his plan is irresponsible. The editors also are reluctant to dismiss yesterday’s resolution as meaningless, saying it has political significance in the larger debate about the war, and that the House discussion featured “intelligent and heartfelt interventions, especially from veterans of Iraq and Vietnam.”

WALL STREET JOURNAL

Journal editors lament the House resolution in a staff editorial that equates an aye vote with “heading for the tall grass.” However, they take comfort in the narrower-than-expected GOP turnout in favor of the bill, and write that the Dems will have to advance their next raft of Iraq proposals without much Republican support. The GOP’s “slow-bleed” moniker for the Murtha proposals finds its way into the piece.

USA TODAY

No Saturday edition.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

No Saturday edition.

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