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Daily Column
US Papers Tuesday: Another Four-year Mark
Thousands Rally to Sadr's Call; White House Mum
By GREG HOADLEY 04/10/2007 01:59 AM ET
Today's papers carry a full spectrum of reactions to the four-year anniversary of the fall of the Ba'thist regime: In Iraq, a massive rally in Najaf called for US withdrawal, while in Washingon, the White House marked the day with a tribute to adorable antics of Clifford the Big Red Dog. With the Bush administration silent on the "catastrophic success" that it had touted with much pomp as it happened, Iraq's ambassador to the US placed an op-ed in the Journal, saying: "Mission not accomplished."

Monday’s rally in Najaf, in response to Muqtada al-Sadr’s call three weeks ago, was an extraordinary display of the influence of the Sadrist movement, Edward Wong writes for the Times. Although Sadr did not appear at the rally, “tens of thousands” of Iraqis turned out for the largest demonstration in Najaf since 2003. The rally represented an attempt on the part of the young cleric to portray himself as nationalist who can voice resistance across Iraq’s sectarian divides, which has been doubted by many Iraqi Sunnis as Mahdi Army members are implicated in sectarian attacks. Wong reports that a statement attributed to Sadr was read over the loudspeakers at the rally, decrying four years of occupation and blaming sectarian strife on the Americans. Somehow US forces in Iraq tried to put a positive spin on the event, saying it was an expression of democracy, which the US supports. The US coordinated security behind the scenes before the event with Iraqi forces. Wong misses the irony: In a statement issued over the weekend, Sadr called for Iraqi forces to stop their cooperation with the US. Meanwhile hospital officials in Diwaniya said they were short on supplies and said that ambulances could not reach the conflict zone to extract the wounded. A suicide bomb killed three in Diyala on Sunday, a local politician was fatally shot in Hibhib, and three bodies were recovered in Khalis.

Although the rally’s participants were preponderantly Shi'a supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, “Monday's marchers included some Kurds in traditional dress as well as Sunni clerics, many of whom were bused by Sadr's movement from the city of Basra in the south,” Sam Dagher writes in the Monitor. A Sadrist aide said that the Diwaniya fighting was intended to provoke the movement into a fight, while the ousted head of local security blamed the conflict on a power struggle between the Sadrists and SCIRI.

Karin Brulliard and Sudarsan Raghavan write up the Najaf rally for the Post, noting that Mahdi Army members also provided security for the rally.

Baffled by the murky presence of the Sadrist militia, US Soldiers patrolling Sadr City play a frustrating cat-and-mouse game with the Mahdi Army every day, Karin Brulliard reports for the Post. Most interesting is the soldiers’ relationship to the local security forces, upon whom they are dependent for information, but at the same time, are suspected of maintaining are secret affiliation with the militia, providing operational information back to it to frustrate US operations. The language barrier exacerbates this situation: for a GI who doesn’t understand Arabic, an Iraqi on the phone next to him (perhaps to his wife, or for all he knows to Muqtada himself) could be saying anything to anyone.

British reversal

The UK Ministry of Defence has reversed its decision to allow the former captive sailors and marines to sell their stories, Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan report for the Post. However, Leading Seaman Faye Turney has already appeared on ITV and interviewed with the Sun, while Arthur Batchelor has interviewed the Daily Mirror.

Alan Cowell reports the story for the Times, capturing some of the “howls of protest” that the MoD elicited with its decision one day before to allow the captives to sell their stories, for its effect on public perception of the UK military and morale. Even a former editor of the tabloid Sun called that decision a “catastrophic error.”

Stretching the Guard

13,000 reservists in Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, and Oklahoma have received notice that they should prepare for deployment to Iraq by the end of this year or in 2008. This is earlier than they were expecting, Lisette Alvarez reports for the Times. Alvarez interviews some Guardsmen for reaction.

The early deployment of the 13,000 is a part of a larger pattern: “stretching” the Guard in terms of manpower and equipment in ways that has some observers very concerned, Gordon Lubold writes in the Monitor, looking especially at the crucial domestic functions that the Guard performs. 88 percent of National Guard units have “less than half” the equipment they need to perform their duties at home, a Congressional commission found.

In other coverage:

NEW YORK TIMES

Gen. Petraeus has recommended that US troop levels in Iraq remain high at least through September, the Times reports in an unsigned article.

WASHINGTON POST

The Bush administration was silent on the four-year anniversary of the fall of Iraq, instead devoting space on the White House website to an Easter “egg roll” featuring such beloved cartoon characters as Clifford the Big Red Dog and Charlie Brown on the White House Lawn, Dana Milbank writes. The president was in Arizona, speaking on immigration. Milbank then reviews the program of Iraqi government advisor and author Ali Allawi, who spoke at the National Press Club, presenting his new book which lashes out at the “monumental ignorance” of the war planners, and proposes a way forward in Iraq.

A rider bundled with the appropriations-withdrawal-timetable bill has sparked a political struggle between trial lawyers and chemical manufacturers, Jeffrey Birnbaum writes.

John McCain’s bid to reenergize his campaign on the platform of the Iraq war is off to a rocky start, EJ Dionne writes in his column.

WALL STREET JOURNAL

In a message well calibrated for readers of the WSJ opinion pages, Samir Shakir Sumaida’ie, Iraq’s ambassador to Washington, writes, “The struggle in Iraq is the sharpest visible part of a monumental, world-wide confrontation between forces committed to the values of an open society and those opposed to such values.” He goes on to argue that “The forces of darkness . . . must be defeated.” He continues, “It is essential that Americans do not lose the will to win.” Sumaida’ie touts achievements of the Iraqi government in reconciliation, reform of the security forces, and combating corruption, as well as adopting familiar GOP talking points on the success of the security plan, and urging America to stay the course. How long before this WSJ op-ed shows up in White House speeches? Last time it took 26 days.

Chlorine gas attacks in Iraq leads Journal editors to declare that “WMDs” are present in the country, writing, “Many of the same human-rights activists who urged the West to act against Saddam Hussein's use of poison gas against the Kurds now keep silent as chemicals are used by the terrorists who want to restore Baathist rule in Baghdad.”

USA TODAY

Some analysts fear that sectarian conflict could "spill over" from Iraq into other areas of the region, Andrew Mills and Brian Winter write.

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