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Daily Column
US Papers Saturday: Building a Wall
Bush Quotes WSJ Op-eds Again; Haditha Slayings Revisited
By GREG HOADLEY 04/21/2007 01:58 AM ET
As the US continued construction on a three-mile concrete wall to separate Adhimiya from the rest of Eastern Baghdad, the president was in Michigan with maps and photos explaining his upbeat assessment of the security plan. Secretary Gates, actually in Iraq, couldn't adopt the same spin as he pressed the Maliki government on implementing "reconciliation" measures -- and as the Maliki government continued to press back.

The Post is a day ahead of the Times with its coverage of new developments related to the 2005 Haditha slayings, and the Wall Street Journal doesn't file any Iraq news at all today, but President Bush managed to put the paper in the news, once again looking to its friendly op-ed pages -- without saying so -- for evidence that the Baghdad plan is working.

The US began construction of a 12-foot-high, three-mile-long wall around the Sunni district of Adhamiya last week, Edward Wong and David Cloud report for the Times. As covered earlier on IraqSlogger, the wall is a radical new part of the US security plan to physically separate Baghdad’s “sectarian fault lines.” But the plan is controversial with Adhamiya residents to say the least: “The wall has already drawn intense criticism from residents of the neighborhood, who say that it will increase sectarian tensions and that it is part of a plan by the Shiite-led Iraqi government to box in the minority Sunnis,” Times reporters write. “It’s unbelievable that they treat us in such an inhumane manner,” said a doctor residing in the neighborhood in a telephone interview. “They’re trying to isolate us from other parts of Baghdad. The hatred will be much greater between the two sects.” After a wave of sectarian cleansing in the capital, Adhamiya is now one of the few Sunni enclaves in Baghdad’s eastern half. The wall consists of a series of 14,000-pound concrete barriers trucked in by flatbed from Camp Taji.

Sec. Gates conveyed a sense of urgency to Prime Minister Maliki in Baghdad yesterday, Ann Scott Tyson and Sudarson Raghavan write for the Post. "Our commitment to Iraq is long-term, but it is not a commitment to have our young men and women patrolling Iraq's streets open-endedly," Gates said at a press conference. He also described the results of the security plan, now in its third month, as “mixed.” Gates urged Maliki to implement a list of US demands, intended to promote national reconciliation. The Maliki government is endorsing some of the legislation in question, including the oil sector law and a reversal of the de-Ba'thification policy, but has signaled that the parliament is “independent” and that it is unable to push through the legislation at the pace that the US is requiring. The Iraqi Health Ministry has said it will withhold this month’s casualty figures from the United Nations, saying that the UN publishes “wrong numbers,” and instead will publish the numbers itself. A marine died in a rocket attack in on a base in Mahmoudiya on Thursday.

Gates sounded far more guarded in his assessment of the “surge” than his boss did today, according to reporting in both the Times and the Post. Both papers carry reports from Michigan where the president addressed an audience at an event sponsored by the local World Affairs Council. Michael Fletcher writes in the Post that the president employed a new, more detailed, style of discussing the war, using maps of troop movements and images of terrorist attacks in Iraq to make his case that, in Bush’s words, “Day by day, block by block, Iraqi and American forces are making incremental gains in Baghdad.”

Sheryl Gay Stolberg has a similar piece in the Times, noting that a long-distance spitting match was underway between the president and the Democrats. From Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Friday, “The longer we continue down the president’s path, the further we will be from responsibly ending this war,” In Michigan, Stolberg writes, “Mr. Bush chided Democrats for suggesting they had an ‘alternative strategy,’ adding, ‘Withdrawal is not a strategy’.”

To bolster his case against the Dems, Bush cited “a Middle East scholar” who, the president said, drew a contrast between “the gloomy despair in Washington and the cautious sense of optimism in Baghdad.” Neither Bush nor the articles in the Times and the Post name the source of the quote.

The phrase, in fact, comes from an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, written by Fouad Ajami. Ajami is a long-time supporter of the war and the administration. It is noteworthy that Bush once again lifted text from a Journal op-ed to support his assessment of the case in Iraq without naming his source. Bush earlier quoted unnamed Iraqi bloggers to press his case on Iraq. "They have bloggers in Baghdad, just like we've got here," Bush said. It was later disclosed that the president’s speechwriters had cribbed from a Journal op-ed by the Fadhil brothers, authors of the pro-US “Iraq the Model” blog.

The Wall Street Journal opinion pages are among of the last outlets in the major US media where Iraq news is nearly uniformly upbeat, and it is at least noteworthy that text from these pages keeps appearing in Bush speeches.

Coincidentally, Fouad Ajami receives an upbraiding from Raghida Dergham in today’s edition of the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat

The Post scores a scoop with Josh White’s write-up of a previously undisclosed report on the 2005 slayings of 24 Iraqi civilians by US Marines in Haditha. The report, prepared by Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell, is “scathing” in its assessment of the Marines’ conduct, from the enlisted men who committed the slayings to the officers in the command chain who looked the other way. “Though Bargewell found no specific cover-up, he concluded that there also was no interest at any level in investigating allegations of a massacre,” White writes. Bargewell found that in the November 19, 2005 shootings, which occurred after a Marine vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, Marines "did not follow proper house and room techniques." After the shootings, the events were marked by "inattention and negligence, in certain cases willful negligence," the report says. Click through for a full read. The Post also carries excerpts from the report.

Paul von Zielbauer reports in the Times, as Josh White wrote in yesterday’s Post, that the First Lt. William T. Kallop, the commanding officer on duty at the Haditha slayings, has been granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for full testimony. The deal, Zielbauer writes, “could bolster the defense of the three enlisted men charged with murder in the case, lawyers said, because it would show that they were following orders.”


No Iraq coverage today.


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