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Daily Column
US Papers Friday: Questioning Feith
Pentagon Report Rubbishes Saddam - Qa'ida Link
By GREG HOADLEY 04/06/2007 01:58 AM ET
On Tuesday, it was dodgy documents. Today, rubbished reports: Following up on its must-read account of the the Niger scandal in the Bush administration’s Iraqi WMDs case, the Post scores again with a front-pager on the other pillar of the Bush administration’s argument for the Iraq invasion: Saddam Hussein’s alleged links to al-Qa'ida.

Elsewhere, the papers wrap up the UK-Iran drama as the former captives arrived in Britain, and questions begin to be lobbed about the performance of the government, the military, and even the captives, througout the affair.

Be sure to check out the Monitor’s account of the US backlog of Iraqi detainees, with the size of the detained population set to as much as triple in the coming months.

Three joint US-Iraqi security stations across the city, in Sadr City, Khudraa’, and Mansour, came under attack in what may have been a coordinated offensive, Kirk Semple writes for the Times. The Red Crescent opened a camp in Mosul for Iraqis fleeing Tal 'Afar after last week’s massacre. 1,300 people, mostly women and children, have been admitted. Semple counts at least 12 civilians dead, along with 13 members of the security forces, and at least 13 bodies recovered.

Eight US soldiers died over the last three days, Joshua Partlow reports in the Post. Four UK soldiers were killed in Basra yesterday, along with a civilian interpreter. A Black Hawk made a hard landing south of the capital, injuring four. The cause is under investigation. A US precision-guided airstrike killed five civilians in Ramadi. The body of broadcast journalist Khamail Khalaf was found, with a gunshot to the head. Khalaf worked for Radio Free Iraq since 2004.

Saddam Hussein’s regime “was not directly cooperating” with al-Qa'ida before the US invasion, a newly released Department of Defense report concludes. Based on captured Iraqi documents, and on the interrogation of Saddam and top officials, the document audits reports generated by the Pentagon office of then-Undersecretary Douglas Feith, and widely publicized by key Bush administration officials, especially VP Cheney. The new Pentagon report finds Feith's conclusions untenable, R. Jeffery Smith writes for the Post. untenable, R. Jeffery Smith writes for the Post. Prepared by Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble, the report was declassified at the request of Sen. Levin. The report reviews prewar conclusions of key intelligence agencies, including the CIA and DIA, as well as newly obtained evidence based on interrogation of with Ex-Ba'thist officials Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, and Mani al-Rashid al-Takriti, and al-Qa'ida operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, as well as documents obtained by US intelligence and finds that the conclusions of the intelligence community were in agreement with the new evidence. Gimble and Feith went a round in February when a summary of the report was released, in which Gimble alleged that Feith had “inappropriately” authored intelligence documents. The full version of the report adds information which was previously unreleased. Remarkably, VP Cheney repeated the Saddam-al-Qa'ida-link allegation on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program yesterday. By far the day's must read.

The combination of the mass arrests associated with the security plan as well as the “hobbled” nature of the Iraqi judicial system, has led to a growth in the detained population at a rate faster than the system can process them, Gordon Lubold reports for the Monitor. With a large number of the cadre of Iraqi judges assassinated or in exile, this won’t change any time soon. The US now holds 18,000 Iraqis in custody, up from 13,000 before the security plan, and Gen. Petraeus is planning for up to 40,000 detainees in coming months. This backlog will be compounded, as the Iraqis’ ability to pick up more detainees will also grow as new policemen are churned out. A new police academy opening soon in Anbar province will churn out 1,000 new officers a month. Most US detainees are held at two facilities: Camp Cropper in Baghdad, and Camp Bucca, south of the capital. The US is keen to avoid another Abu Ghraib-type scandal as well. 2,000 military police are being dispatched to Iraq, to join the 3,000 MPs already there.

Leading with a look at the Shi'a cleric Iyad Jamaleddin as he commends the victory of Shada Hasoun on "Star Academy," the Post’s Joshua Partlow explores the efforts of secularist and opposition forces in Iraq to build a coalition to topple the governing Shi'a-based UIC and to break its alliance with the Kurdish bloc. Slogger readers will be familiar with the issues and personalities at hand. Partlow runs down some of the key players, and some of the well-known difficulties that any would-be secularist coalition faces, such as internal contradictions, lack of seats in parliament compared to the well-represented Shi'a parties, and the wild card of the Kurdish parties, the parliamentary kingmakers, for whom Kirkuk appears to be the deciding factor. Raise your hand if you are not in negotiations with the Fadhila party over something somewhere.

Sailors fly home

With the 15 British sailors safely returned to the UK, two sets of questions are arising in Britain over the capture and release, John Ward Anderson reports from London in the Post. One set of question is diplomatic in nature: What was the substance of any communication between the Blair administration and the Iranians, and what is the relationship if any to the release of Iran’s diplomat in Iraq. A second set of questions concerns military operations: Why was the HMS Cornwall so far from its boarding party, why did it fail to detect Iranian ships in the area, why did it not provide helicopter support to its crew members, and why did the 15 themselves not engage their Iranian captors in a firefight?

Sarah Lyall of the Times extends the list of questions that some Britons have raised, including: Were the 15 coerced into their “confessions”? Others have queried their behavior and demeanor in the presence of their Iranian captors. Lyall notes that once the 15 were safely en route to the UK, Tony Blair’s tone “became tough, almost antagonistic,” as he addressed his allegations of Iranian support for Iraqi militias, noting that four UK solders were killed in Iraq. Blair said he did not hold Iran responsible for the death of the four, but repeated charges of Iranian involvement with “terrorism inside Iraq.”

On a similar note, David Sanger reports in the Times that US officials have signaled that the administration’s attitudes towards Iran will not shift as a result of the incident. “We just don’t see it as a new opportunity,” one State Department official said. Some officials wondered if this would be the beginning of a pattern of Iranian operations, especially in light of the US decision to pursue Iranians inside Iraq.

Jeffrey Stinson has the story for USAT., noting that UK newspapers were split over the meaning of the affair, just like US papers were.

Speaking of, USAT editors write that the lesson may be to watch Iran's domestic politics for clues to its international behavior: “For all of Ahmadinejad's bluster, his hard-line faction clearly lost out to the pragmatists . British Prime Minister Tony Blair's approach helped.”

In other coverage:


Speaking at the Pentagon, Sec. Gates told reporters, "I think that there is a great reluctance to engage in happy talk about this," Gates said, referring to the progress of the security plan. "It's a tough environment. . . . And I think we'll just have to wait several more months before we're in a position to make any real evaluation." Gates said the Iraq troop increase would last months not years, and he repeated administration warnings against congressional efforts to impose a timetable for withdrawal, saying that early withdrawal would lead to "a dramatic increase in sectarian violence." Josh White reports.


USAT editors give a heavy scolding to Speaker Pelosi over her trip to Damascus: Pelosi surely knew that as speaker -- third in the succession line to the presidency -- her high-profile presence in Damascus would be read as a contradiction of Bush's no-talk policy. . . . miling photos of Pelosi and the Syrian president convey the unspoken message that while the U.S. president is unwilling to talk with Syria, another wing of the government is.” The editors argue that Pelosi’s move undermined US diplomacy and sent mixed signals to Syria.


No Iraq coverage today.


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