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Daily Column
US Papers Thurs: Attacks Exploit Iraqi Rifts
State, DoD Clash over Reconstruction Plan B; Veto Near Certain
By GREG HOADLEY 04/19/2007 01:57 AM ET
It’s getting harder and harder to say that the results of the security plan are “mixed.” The track record of the security plan had been positive, until recently, on one note: reducing the numbers of murdered corpses discovered in the streets. There were 58 bodies discovered yesterday across Iraq, according to the New York Times. Moreover, the increase in bomb attacks, using cars and suicide belts, has meant that civilian casualty rates are higher than before the security plan began, Kirk Semple writes in the Times, citing US military commanders. Yesterday’s five bomb attacks in predominantly poor Shi'a areas of Baghdad that killed over 170 people will stoke an ongoing political crisis for the Maliki government, as the hopes of “imposing law” fade into frustration and anger with the government’s inability, and that of its American allies, to protect Iraqi citizens. The bombs also seem calculated to exploit the opening rift between the Sadrist current and the government. A blast in Sadr city killed 30 people yesterday. Such attacks not only slaughter innocent Iraqis, they increase pressure on the Shi'a political factions in Iraq to strike out in reprisal or to at least take up arms to protect Shi'a neighborhoods. The worst attack, in Sadriya, killed at least 140, wounding 150 more. At least one more Iraqi was killed by a sniper, apparently in the neighboring Fadl district, who fired on rescue operations. Maliki ordered the arrest of the general in charge of the area, Semple reports. US commanders stressed that “The plan is not even fully implemented yet,” but Iraqis are going to be wondering if they really want more of the security plan.

The Sadrist current certainly is talking that way, Karin Brulliard reports in the Post. "The Iraqi government is incapable of establishing security as long as occupation forces are still present," said a Sadr spokesperson from Najaf, adding, "We are pessimistic and afraid of the coming days, because Iraqis are getting fed up. And when nations are provoked, governments cannot stop them," he added. Al-Kindi hospital, where many of the dead and wounded were taken after the Sadriya attack, was overwhelmed with the dead and injured, Brulliard writes.

Rick Jervis reports on yesterday’s bombings in USAT, noting that US officials pressed the case for continuing commitment to the security plan: "These attacks are not a reason to give up on the plan. For us, these attacks are an attempt to destroy that confidence people are starting to feel in the Iraqi security forces," said Maj. Gen. Caldwell, top US military spokesman in Iraq. The US reported finding 3,000 gallons of nitric acid, which can be used in explosives or acid attacks, in a search in Baghdad. There is also some discrepancy over the number of bodies recovered in the capital in recent days, Jervis reports. “U.S. officials had counted 19 executions and murders around Baghdad from Sunday to late Tuesday, Caldwell said. The Associated Press reported that 25 bodies, most showing signs of torture, were found dumped in the capital on Tuesday alone. Caldwell said he could not explain the discrepancy.”

A dispute is emerging between the State Department and Pentagon over how the US should administer reconstruction projects in Iraq, Yochi Dreazen reports in the Journal. “The State Department is trying to push more responsibility for reconstruction onto the Iraqi government. The Pentagon believes in keeping projects under American control and completing them quickly, to win the loyalty of the Iraqis,” he writes. After the failure of reconstruction Plan A, that is, reliance on subcontractors such as Halliburton, Bechtel, and others, State and Defense are grappling over Plan B, against the backdrop of a general sense of the Iraqis’ patience running out, and in the wake of the personnel dispute over staffing the State department’s provincial reconstruction teams earlier in the year. State officials say that their approach of involving Iraqis in the reconstruction activities builds local capacity, and stretches reconstruction budgets because Iraqi companies are cheaper to hire. State also maintains that Iraqi society is more likely to use new facilities if it has been engaged in their planning and construction. The military, on the other hand argues that the State Department approach wastes precious time: “You need to grab the low-hanging fruit," said Capt. Dan Cederman, a civil-affairs officer for the 82nd Airborne. "You need to knock down some short, quick goals to show the Iraqis they have something to gain." Some Pentagon officials in Iraq complain that some Iraqi firms hired on reconstruction contracts do shoddy work, with little oversight. Sounds a lot like what happened with Plan A. Worth a full read.

Bush and the Dems

The Democrats are ready to compromise -- not with the White House, but rather with each other. Peter Baker and Jonathan Weisman write in the Post that word from the continuing conferencing to reconcile House and Senate appropriations-timetable bills has it that party leaders are leaning toward making the withdrawal deadlines “advisory” only. The party leadership may consequently lose antiwar votes in its own ranks, the reporters write, but hope to pick up some GOP votes in exchange. It seems very unlikely that the bill will enjoy the two-thirds majority needed to override a promised veto. Congressional leaders made the trek down Pennsylvania Avenue today, but positions seemed unchanged after the White House Cabinet Room meeting between the president and the bicameral leadership of both parties. “Most of the talk appeared aimed at positioning for the next phase of the fight after a veto,” Baker and Weisman write. It appears the next phase of the fight will be over just exactly how to shift the burden to the Iraqis while still doing political damage to the other party, with both the administration and the Democratic leadership expressing support for the idea of “benchmarks.” The Dems, they write, want to make the benchmarks binding.

David Rogers has the story for the Journal, noting that avoiding a veto fight was unlikely, even though some still pushed for compromise. In addition to the issue of “benchmarks,” the next stage in the funding fights might involve shorter-term bills that only fund the war effort for a couple of months at a time.

Along with the president and the bipartisan congressional leadership, VP Cheney, White House staff chief Bolten, and NSA Hadley were also present, Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg write in the Times. Only Bush spoke from the administration. Gen. Petraeus is due in Washington “to press the adminstration’s case,” they write. Democratic leaders initially declined to meet with the general, but later recanted, in order to avoid the public relations consequences.

In other coverage:


Speaking in Tel Aviv, Sec. Gates said the attacks in Baghdad yesterday were intended to “make the (security) plan a failure or make the people of Iraq believe the plan is a failure,” adding, “We intend to persist to show that it is not.” Earlier, from Cairo, Gates said, “I believe that faster progress can be made in the political reconciliation process,” without mentioning Iraqi PM Maliki by name. David Cloud reports that in Cairo Gates also warned that the states of the region had an interest in Iraq’s outcome.


In 300 attacks since January 2006, no Marine has died while riding in new fortified armored vehicles of the type that the Pentagon is working to bring to Iraq, Tom Vanden Brook writes, citing the deputy US commander in Anbar Province. Injury numbers are also substantially lower per attack in the vehicles compared to regular Humvees. The Marines operate approximately 100 of the vehicles, known as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) in Anbar. MRAPs have V-shaped hulls and are higher off the ground than Humvees. The Pentagon wants 3,000 more for the province, and about 7,700 overall. The Pentagon seeks $8 billion in 2007 and 2008 for MRAPs. $4 billion is contained in the disputed appropriations-timetable measure for such vehicles.


No Iraq coverage today.


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