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Daily Column
US Papers Tuesday: Brazen Attacks
Debate Begins over Security Plan Progress
By GREG HOADLEY 02/20/2007 01:53 AM ET
The tactical sophistication of a militant attack on the US outpost in Tarmiya carries the major Iraq-datelined articles today, and the Baghdad security plan’s early progress is assessed in the USAT and Monitor. The Times scores a tiny scoop with its update on the dispute between the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom over staffing, and the Journal goes geopolitical with an assessment of Iran’s regional strategy and what that might mean for the US in Iraq.

Dramatic violence outside of Baghdad drew reporters’ attention outside the capital today, with a well coordinated attack on a US installation in Tarmiya described as “brazen” in both the Times and the Post. The combination multiple-car-bomb, firearms, and IED attack was directed at an outpost that US forces had taken over from Iraqi forces last year after Iraqi Army operations there collapsed in the face of heavy armed opposition in the area. “By nightfall, American forces had sealed off all entrances to the town and imposed a curfew, leaving residents worried that they would be cut off from basic supplies,” Marc Santora of the Times writes.

US military officials have been tight lipped as they review the attacks, no doubt concerned about the new tactical audacity. Ernesto Londoño and Thomas Ricks point out in the Post that “the coordinated frontal attack -- which occurred as hundreds of American soldiers are being deployed to small, similarly vulnerable inner-city posts -- appeared to be a shift toward more aggressive tactics.”

The matter of the Sunni woman who appeared on al-Jazeera alleging that she was raped by Interior Ministry officers also receives attention in Times and Post coverage.

Plan Baghdad

The military says that attacks on US and Iraqi troops in Baghdad are down, Oren Dorell and Rick Jervis write in USAT. Mohamed Al Daiyni, a member of the largest Sunni-based coalition in the parliament, suggested that the reason for this is that "all the fighting groups are hiding. . . If there is any lull in violence, it will be temporary," Al Daiyni said. "I am not optimistic at all, and I know the chaos will be back." Military officials respond to such critiques with the suggestion the security plan is giving a chance for “the security to take hold.”

The Monitor presents a more thoughtful assessment in Scott Peterson’s lengthy analysis of the security plan operations so far. Peterson weaves the stories of two displaced families into his account of the operations as a whole, in a way that gives an on-the-ground assessment of the progress of the operations, and provides some perspective on the way that Iraq’s staggering problems of displacement and forced migration are threaded through the conflict. The reader comes away doubtful that Operation Imposing Law will solve the pressing questions of displacement and refugees in Iraq, and agnostic about the outcome of the Baghdad security plan.

NEW YORK TIMES

The Defense and State departments have hammered out an agreement to use military personnel in the so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams while State looks for civilians to fill the posts, Thom Shanker writes in a minor scoop for the Times. Secs. Rice and Gates have not revealed specifics of the deal, but Shanker writes that technically skilled military staff could be working in Iraq on loan to Foggy Bottom for up to four months.

On a visit to Mount Vernon, George Bush likened the Iraq war to the American War of Independence, and himself to George Washington, Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes.

Times editors assail the creeping expansion of “moral waivers” in military recruitment, saying this practice should be reserved for those with misdemeanors, and should not be extended to serious felons. They argue that enrollment rates have been flagging since the Iraq war, but suggest other means of boosting troop intake.

WASHINGTON POST

From Tetouan, Morocco, Craig Whitlock looks at some of the factors that have resulted in at least two dozen people from this region traveling to the opposite side of the Arab world to fight with radical militants in Iraq, focusing on the recruiting networks and practices of groups affiliated with al-Qaeda. Once recruited, the trip to Iraq isn’t simple, either: The men are smuggled into Spain and travel overland through Europe to Turkey or Syria, before crossing into Iraq.

Dana Priest and Ann Hull follow up to their devastating weekend two-parter on Walter Reed Hospital, writing that since the publication of the articles, the Army has rapidly started to give the place a face lift. Those who read the disturbing series about this Army facility for injured vets will know that it’s going to take more than a coat of paint.

Priest and Reed’s reporting also spurred a criminal investigation into the activities of the former chief fundraiser for Walter Reed. The ex-official is suspected of using his position at Walter Reed to generate funds for his own charity. The Post’s investigation last month raised enough eyebrows to yield a conflict-of-interest inquiry.

Dividing the GOP on the Hill is the only way forward for antiwar Democrats, EJ Dionne writes in his column. He suggests that the most effective Democratic strategy would be the Biden proposal to revisit the force authorization measure, as it would “push Republicans who are quietly doubtful about Bush's path out into the open.”

WALL STREET JOURNAL

“Fresh opposition” to the draft oil legislation is emerging, Chip Cummins and Hassan Hafidh, write, citing opposition from a major workers’ union in the oil sector. They note that foreign penetration of Iraq’s oil wealth is opposed by many Iraqis, and that “U.S. officials and petroleum experts have been advising Iraqi politicians almost from the start of the American occupation nearly four years ago about how to build a legal framework that would enable foreign oil-field development.”

Jay Soloman and Yochi Dreazon consider the major flashpoints in the US-Iran relationship. No surprise, they argue that the biggest issue is in Iraq. However, they only mention the issue of recent arms allegations, and not the whole gamut of Iranian economic and geopolitical interests in its western neighbor. Nor do they mention the strategic game in the Persian Gulf that the two countries have played for decades. Don’t miss this, just after the description of a bus bombing last week in Iran claimed by Balochi separatists: “ . . . some U.S. officials say, the U.S. should exploit Iran's ethnic fissures to restrain Tehran. Ethnic Kurd, Turk and Arab minorities have historically opposed Iran's largely Persian central government.” So having nearly disintegrated Iraq, Washington should now work to dissolve Iran as well?

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