Shockingly deadly bombings in Hilla and elsewhere disrupted Iraqi Shi'as observance of a traditional holiday, and the Walter Reed scandal continues to send seismic waves through Washington, all because of two articles in the Washington Post.
Survivors of the twin suicide blasts that killed scores of Shi'a faithful in Hilla faulted the Iraqi police for not allowing the assembled pilgrims to conduct searches of unknown individuals in their midst, Richard Oppel Jr. writes in the Times. The authorities were intent, according to surviving eyewitnesses, to prevent the Mahdi Army from providing protection of the pilgrimage to Karbala to observe the traditional holiday falling on the fortieth day after the anniversary of the death of Imam Husayn. Locals said that no Mahdi Army militiamen were present. Bombers apparently lured their victims to gather around by distributing sweets, as is customary on the pilgrimage route. Around one million pilgrims are expected to gather in Karbala on Saturday to observe the festival, Oppel writes. At least 109 were killed in attacks today.
In a phone interview, the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, Ernesto Londoño and Sudarsan Raghavan write in the Post. The group’s spokesman Abd al-Rahman al-Ghrairy claimed that two Saudi volunteers perpetrated the attacks to avenge the highly publicized alleged rape of a Sunni woman two weeks ago. Ghrairy called the attacks “more successful than we had expected,” although he also said that a son of SCIRI leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim had been a target of the attack. (Ghairy’s claims could not be verified, the reporters note.) Attacks on other Shi'a pilgrims occurred around the country. The Post contacted Sadrist leaders for its report, who deplored the attacks but maintained that they would follow the orders of Muqtada al-Sadr not intervene, much as they would like to protect their fellow Shi'a Iraqis.
About 1,000 Iraqi families have returned to their homes since the start of the security plan, Rick Jervis writes in USAT a small but hopeful figure. “"We're witnessing the largest displacement in the region since the movement of the Palestinian population in 1948," said a UNHCR official about the catastrophe that has befallen Iraqi refugees.
Inside the Beltway
House Dems are still unable to reach a consensus over their Iraq strategy, Jeff Zeleny and Robin Toner write for the Times. The 75-member Out of Iraq Caucus is advocating for restrictions to be placed on the president’s war funding measure now before the Congress. Rep. Emaneul suggested that the majority would reach consensus on a plan within two weeks.
David Rogers notes a growing partisanship over war issues, especially the president’s $100 billion funding package. GOP legislators are threatening to vote against the funding bill if Democrats add policy restrictions into the measure. If the bill were not to pass, it would be an embarrassment for the Dems, which, as Rogers notes, was “inconceivable weeks ago.”
Walter Reed Hospital
Legislation is afoot to reverse the closure of Walter Reed, Steve Vogel writes in the Post. In 2005 the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendation that Reed be closed and its patients moved to an expanded naval medical center in Bethesda was signed into law. Critics claim that the impending 2011 closure has led to “instability” at the facility. Others in the Congress would oppose the reversal, preferring to expedite the facility’s transfer to Bethesda.
President Bush appointed ex-Sen. Bob Dole and ex-HHS Sec. Donna Shlala to chair a nine-member commission to examine the care that soldiers receive as they return from the combat zone, Josh White writes in the Post. Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings into Walter Reed’s conditions that echoed yesterday’s House proceedings.
Times editors lambaste the Bush administration over Walter Reed, but draw attention to the broader scandal of the treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan vets: “Is it any surprise that the war’s wounded have been hidden away in the shadows of moldy buildings by an administration that refused to let photographers take pictures of returning coffins?”
Monitor editors applaud Sec. Gates’s handling of the Walter Reed affair, but write that more needs to be done to take care of wounded veterans” “ome corrective steps were taken, but obviously, not enough. And beyond the Pentagon's medical centers lies a huge network of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics that is also overburdened – an open secret reported on by the media.”
The Libby trial has been less of an Iraq story than one might have expected. As such, we haven't been tracking the ins and outs of the trial in this column, but we would be remiss not to record the whopping seventeen stories and opinion pieces today in our papers today that focus on the Libby verdict, including three major papers weighing in with editorials, left (NYT), right (WSJ), and center (WaPo).
Peter Baker makes a similar observation in the Post, writing that both Bush and Libby will have choices to make now: Libby will need to choose if he will flip to avoid serving a sentence, and Bush will decide whether or not to issue a pardon.
According to the prosecutor’s post-trial summation, Cheney’s actions were the real target of Fitzgerald’s investigation. Libby was prosecuted primarily because his perjury stood in the way of a clear legal shot at the VP, R. Jeffrey Smith writes in the Post.
Post editors seem just as happy to see the trial over with, writing that “Mr. Fitzgerald was, at least, right about one thing: The Wilson-Plame case, and Mr. Libby's conviction, tell us nothing about the war in Iraq.”
Times editors come on a little stronger, writing that the trial produced “some of the clearest evidence yet that this administration did not get duped by faulty intelligence; at the very least, it cherry-picked and hyped intelligence to justify the war.”
The Journal’s coverage seems to center on minimizing the political damage to the Bush administration. Jess Bravin and Ashby Jones write that the lesson of the trial was that Libby should have taken the Fifth, since he “wasn't committing an underlying crime, but lying to investigators.”
Still here? In other coverage:
President Bush said yesterday that there were “encouraging signs” of successful results of the Iraq security plan, Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weisman report in the Post. Even some GOP insiders “cringed” at these remarks, they write, against the backdrop of the bloody Hilla attacks and the uncertainty of the effects of the plan by most observers, even on the part of US military officials in Iraq.