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US Papers Thursday: Surging Until 2008?
Libby Wrapup; Parliamentary Games Afoot
By GREG HOADLEY 03/08/2007 01:57 AM ET
Iraq-datelined coverage is somewhat limited today; even with a parliamentary shakeup in place and spiraling violence, it’s tough to compete with the postgame coverage of the Libby trial.

The Times and USAT score a couple of little scoops, with the NYT obtaining information about Odierno’s anticipated time frame of the troop level escalation, and the USAT using a FOIA request to learn about the Pentagon’s ill-preparedness to deal with the increasing numbers of brain trauma injuries.

The Journal sticks in a provocative piece on the legal aspects of the military's heavy reliance on hired guns, and be sure to check out Helena Cobban’s long commentary on Damascus’s regional role in the Monitor, in which she describes her interview with the Syrian foreign minister.

Unfortunately, the Washington Post website was down for several hours before our deadline, so the Post’s coverage won’t appear in today’s column -- which is a shame on Libby Day + 1.

In Iraq, attacks on Shi'a pilgrims continued yesterday, as pilgrims continued their journey to Karbala to observe Arba'in, the fortieth day after the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, Alissa Rubin writes in the Times. 70 people of all backgrounds were killed on Wednesday across Iraq, the worst attack coming in Ba'quba where 30 people were killed by a bomb in a cafe in a predominantly Shi'a area. The violence follows Tuesday’s attacks in Hilla, which left at least 108 pilgrims dead, Iraqi Shi'a expressed anger at the regime and frustration that they cannot rely on the Mahdi Army for protection. Rubin also carries the news of the Fadhila Party’s secession from the governing coalition, and the formation of a new opposition coalition involving Iyad Allawi’s party and the Sunni Tawafuq Front.

Rick Jervis describes the new opposition coalition in USAT, noting that Allawi’s goals include a purge of interior ministry forces, imposing two years of martial law, and a reversal of de-Ba'thification programs. Jervis predicts that the parliament’s kingmakers will be the Kurdish parties, who are considering a defection from their alliance with the governing Shi'a parties, if the Allawi coalition gains enough support to capture the majority. The role of the US in the political maneuvers is also suspect, as it has been noted many times that Amb. Khalilzad accompanied Allawi on his recent trip to meet with Kurdish leaders.

Democrats have come close to solving their internal stalemate over the war funding package in Congress, David Rogers writes in the Journal. Rather than withhold funding to the Bush administration, the Democratic leadership plans to legislate that the White House verify that the Iraqi government has met certain requirements by an October 1 deadline. If so, US involvement in Iraq would continue into Spring 2008. If not, the bill would require withdrawals over the next 180 days. Rogers suggests that this position might enjoy support of the different Democratic factions, which have so far failed to agree over the next steps in an Iraq opposition strategy. Rogers also notes a new NBC/WSJ poll which 55 percent of respondents strongly opposed the “surge” and only 23 percent strongly supported it. Most interesting result: 51 percent feared that Congress would not go far enough in opposing the war, whereas 41 percent feared lawmakers would go too far.

The increased US troop levels in Iraq should stay in place until February 2008, Gen. Odierno, the US’s number two in Iraq has recommended, David Cloud and Michael Gordon report for the Times. They note that only two of the planned five additional brigades have arrived in the country to date. They suggest that this recommendation, meant to be secret, will add to the political storm over the strain of the Iraq war on US military capabilities. While no decision has been made yet, one will need to be arrived at soon, in order to allow for the time to arrange the deployments. This could mean that decisions about the future of the security plan will be made in the absence of conclusive evidence about its effects.

Libby verdict postmortem

After yesterday’s long list of Libby verdict coverage, today’s papers hit the issue just as hard. If this list doesn’t look like intimidating reading, just remember that it doesn’t include the Post’s coverage (see above).

If you were too daunted by yesterday’s the Libby coverage blowout to take it all in, Linda Feldmann’s roundup of the political fallout of the verdict for the Bush administration in the Monitor might be a good place to start.

Scott Shane of the Times reports on the “to and fro” over the issue of a presidential pardon.

The NYT’s Adam Liptak considers the consequences of the Plame-Libby-Fitzgerald affair for the relationship between government and the press.

After her outing, and now after the trial, Michael Powell looks into Valerie Plame’s personal life for the Times, as she prepares to leave the CIA.

In her Times column, Maureen Dowd describes her longtime acquaintance with one of the Libby jurors.

In his NYT column, David Brooks sheds a tear for his friend Scooter Libby, and concludes, without a hint of sarcasm, that the Bush administration has learned from the experience.

With the ink hardly dry on the verdict, Libby supporters are already pressing for a pardon, writes Ken Dilanian in the USAT. Actually, Dilanian is one day late. Conservatives began pushing for a pardon as soon as the verdict was issued.

In other coverage:

NEW YORK TIMES

In his column, Bob Herbert decries the situation of wounded veterans in the aftermath of the Walter Reed scandal, writing “The outpatient fiasco at Walter Reed is just one aspect of a vast superstructure of suffering.”

WALL STREET JOURNAL

The Pentagon’s increasing reliance on private contractors in combat areas has opened the new legal frontier of the liability of such companies to lawsuits by military personnel, Jonathan Karp writes. While a 1950 Supreme Court ruling bars military personnel and their families from suing the armed forces over injuries or death resulting from military service, private contractors who provide support services to the military are not covered by the decision. Several suits are pending against firms such as Blackwater for deaths of soldiers or contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq. The outcome of the cases could change the nature of the relationship between the Pentagon and private contractors.

USA TODAY

The Pentagon has little planning in place to treat the growing problem of soldiers’ traumatic brain injuries, according to a memo obtained by USAT, Gregg Zoroya writes. The memo, issued by the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board (now part of the Defense Health Board), says that mild and moderate brain injuries pose the greatest challenge, because they are more difficult to detect. The memo, dated August 11, was obtained by USAT after a FOIA request.

USAT editors argue that the Bush strategy to escalate troop levels in already in place, and won’t be stopped, and urge instead that Congress develop a strategy that involves “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government, and that hews to the goals of the Iraq Study Group. “Trying to end the war instantly is futile, so zero in on ending it over the next year, which also happens to be the wiser course,” they write.

Opposite the USAT editors’ call for a gradual strategy to end the war, Rep. Maxine Waters, a founding member of the Out of Iraq Caucus (along with Reps. Lee and Woolsey) contributes an op-ed to declaring that she will only support the funding bill if it includes a December 31 withdrawal deadline. Waters writes, “Day after day, from Fallujah to Sadr City, our troops are placed in the midst of a civil war that cannot be contained by American forces.”

Jim Michaels describes Gen. Petraeus’ long studies of counterinsurgency and his relationship to the Vietnam War.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

Fresh from a trip to Damascus, during which she interviewed the foreign minister, the Monitor's Helena Cobban contributes a lengthy op-ed arguing for US engagement with Syria, over Iraq and other regional issues. In the interview, Syrian FM Walid Mouallem pointed to his country's desire for an “honorable withdrawal” of US forces, and expressed Syria’s interest in improving the situation in Iraq, as Syria faces the influx of over one million refugees from Iraq, and fears that the sectarianism manifest in Iraq’s instability could spread to Syria. On her discussions with Syrian opposition activists, she writes, “From these people, I learned that the failure of the Bush administration to remake Iraq and the fact that the US now seems so bogged down there have sent a strong signal to all Syrians that their country is no longer at risk of undergoing any American project for coercive regime change. Indeed, it seems that Washington has come close to concluding that it needs Damascus's help if it is to minimize the damage from the imbroglio in Iraq.” A worthwhile read that helps position Syria’s interests in the Iraq imbroglio.

WASHINGTON POST

See note above.

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