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US Papers Monday: Plan B is Plan A
GIs in Sadr City; "It Is Just Not Walter Reed"
By GREG HOADLEY 03/05/2007 04:39 AM ET
With its Walter Reed Hospital series continuing to rattle the military establishment, the Washington Post fires another volley today, broad-siding the White House with two more front-page reports that question the administration’s fitness for command: one extending the Walter Reed allegations to the rest of the veterans' care system, and another alleging that the Bush administration has no "Plan B" for Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraq-datelined coverage in the major East Coast dailies is dominated by two joint operations: the US-Iraqi push into Sadr City, and the British-Iraqi raid on an Iraqi government intelligence facility in Basra, which revealed prisoners who appear to have been tortured by the Iraqi state. Be sure to catch the Monitor’s skeptical op-ed about Iraq’s draft oil legislation, which predicts that the law may not even pass parliament, and the story in the USAT that the Iraqi Interior Ministry claims to have purged 10,000 from its ranks.

More than 1,100 US and Iraqi troops entered Sadr City yesterday, Sudarsan Raghavan reports in the Post. The Mahdi Army is nowhere to be seen. “We feel upset, but what can we do?” a 34-year-old Mahdi Army fighter said, “We have orders not to act.” Residents of Sadr City appear apprehensive about the influx of US and Iraqi troops, fearing a spark that could set off a confrontation between the Mahdi Army and the joint forces. The Sadrist parliamentary bloc also signaled that it would resist any attempt on the part of the prime minister to wrest any of its cabinet-level portfolios from its control.

In Basra, British and Iraqi forces stormed an office belonging to the Iraqi central government and found about 30 prisoners, some of whom showed signs of torture, Kirk Semple reports in the Times. UK forces described the site as the “headquarters of Iraq’s government intelligence agency.” The Maliki government issued a statement condemning the raid, without commenting on the apparent evidence of state-sponsored torture. The statement also said that the Baghdad government has ordered an investigation into the raid.

There is no well-articulated “Plan B” for Iraq, Karen DeYoung and Thomas Ricks conclude in the Post. While this may be what many people had thought already, DeYoung and Ricks comb through the evidence and describe the “mix of optimism and evasion” that appears whenever the subject of a backup strategy is broached with an administration official. "Plan B was to make Plan A work," Tennessee Governor Philip Bresden recalled after a White House meeting last week. “Over the years of U.S. involvement in Iraq," they write, "new plans have been launched with assurances of success -- the return of sovereignty to a handpicked Iraqi administration in the summer of 2004; a democratically elected government in January 2005; "Plan Baghdad," designed to retake the capital from insurgents and militias, in the summer of 2006. The current Plan A is arguably already Plan D or beyond.” While no one in the administration is talking about full withdrawal, the list of suggested alternative courses of action in case of "Plan Baghdad's" failure include very drastic moves, such as redeploying US forces to isolated bases in the Iraqi desert.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry has ousted 10,000 employees who have been implicated in the torture of prisoners, half of whom had been involved in militia activity, Rick Jervis writes in the USAT. The ministry is set to release a full report on human rights abuses in its ranks this week.

Walter Reed Hospital -- and beyond

"It is just not Walter Reed," Ray Oliva, a veteran in Kelseyville, Calif., wrote to the Post after the recent outpatient care scandal emerged. Anne Hull and Dana Priest, who opened the Walter Reed story in their investigative series two weeks ago, describe the flood of hundreds of emails and phone calls that the Post received from veterans all around the country, in which they describe abusive or neglectful conditions in other veterans’ hospitals. While some refer to problems in the system that go back to the Vietnam era, others warn of the system’s inability to cope with the tide of returning wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. "The hammer is just coming down, I can feel it," wrote one veteran, describing his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder after his time in Iraq -- and the inability of the veterans’ health system to support him. Many veterans also said that they had made appeals before but felt that their concerns were neglected. "I have been trying to get someone, ANYBODY, to look into my allegations" at the Dayton VA, Darrell Hampton pleaded.

Congressional hearings into conditions at Walter Reed will open today, Josh White reports for the Post, and the spotlight will be on the controversial Lt. Kevin Kiley, who commanded at Walter Reed from 2002-2004 and is currently the surgeon general of the Army.

Congress and the Army are each scrambling to get to the bottom of the Walter Reed affair, Gordon Lubold writes in the Monitor, but for very different reasons. On the Hill, legislators are wondering if the problems at Walter Reed extend out into other veteran care facilities. (According to today’s Post, they do.) The Army, meanwhile, is under pressure from the press, from Secretary Gates, and from Congress and is scrambling to do damage control. Some in Congress, such as Rep. Murtha, are also pointing to the resource-hogging expenses of the Iraq war as one of the causes of the deterioration in care at Walter Reed.

Paul Krugman piles on in the Walter Reed affair, writing in his Times opinion column that the scandal of poor care for vets at the military-run hospital “is another Hurricane Katrina: the moment when the administration’s misgovernment became obvious to everyone.” Anticipating the Post’s front-page report today, Krugman lists several Bush administration policies that have “undermined” health care in the Veterans Health Administration.

In other coverage:

WASHINGTON POST

With a style that contrasts sharply to that of his predecessor, Robert Gates has been largely welcomed at the Pentagon, Tom Ricks reports. However, doubts remain if anyone, regardless how well liked, could turn Iraq into a successful US adventure.

Some World Bank employees are wondering if the Bank had kept quiet the news of shooting of a Bank driver in Iraq, in order not to interfere with the Bank’s efforts to recruit employees to work there, Al Kamen writes. The driver had been caught in a cross-fire and evacuated to Amman for treatment. Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, a former Pentagon official heavily involved in the war planning, has stated his intention to involve the World Bank heavily in Iraqi reconstruction. Kamen also writes that Laura Bush told Larry King on CNN that the war in Iraq was “wearying” and would “probably” continue after Bush leaves office. She also accused the media of making the situation in Iraq seem worse than it is.

WALL STREET JOURNAL

While some might say that it’s much too early to predict the results of the security plan or the future of Iraq, Omar and Muhammad Fadhil contribute an op-ed in strong support of the plan, writing that the early results “are encouraging.”

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

David Francis casts some doubt over the much-touted oil law, citing industry and area experts. In the words of oil economist A.F. Alhajji, the draft law as written “is so broad and loose, it has no significance." Alhajji also argues that without a census, there is no workable per-capita formula for the distribution of revenues, and that oil companies are leery of investing in war-torn Iraq. Another regional expert, Rashid Khalidi, anticipates that the law will not pass parliament, or if it does, it will be repudiated later by nationalist forces. Alhajji also suggests that contracts signed while the country is under occupation could be annulled after the occupation ended.

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