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Daily Column
US Papers Wednesday: The Washington Clock?
Questions Emerge over Diyala Deaths; Spinning Private Lynch
By GREG HOADLEY 04/25/2007 01:58 AM ET
US personnel in Iraq seem fond of talking about the "Washington clock," in contrast to the "Baghdad clock."

While most suggest that time on the Washington clock is elapsing faster than the Baghdad clock, these few days, the Washington clock seems to be ticking painfully slowly, as the appropriations bill creeps closer to its assured fate in the dustbin, Washington's players seem to have little better to do than to lob insults at each other and jockey for position for the next phase of the debate.

No single Iraq-datelined story dominates today's papers. The death of nine US soldiers in Diyala province on Monday elicits follow-up coverage today as an extremist group claims credit for the attack and US forces analyze what happened.

A suicide truck bomb in Ramadi killed at least nine Iraqis, wounding 25, among the policemen, Edward Wong reports in the Times. Two bombs in the Green Zone near the Iranian embassy wounded four. A bomb exploded in the Baghdad University locker of the son of the Iraqi minister of electricity, killing his friend and wounding the son, Fadi Karim Wahid, and two others. Two bombs on Palestine Street killed at least two. A Shi'a mosque was blown up by Sunni militants in the Jihad neighborhood, without casualties. Seven members of a Shi'a Iraqi family were shot dead in Jaraa, south of the capital, and seven were killed or found dead in Diyala province. The al-Qa'ida-linked umbrella group “Islamic State of Iraq” claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack on a US outpost at Sadah, near Ba'quba, that killed nine GIs, Wong reports. The group, which has recently announced a new “cabinet,” claimed that its “ministry of war,” led by a man known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (also the head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq), planned the attack. A US soldier was killed Monday in Anbar province.

Monday’s attack on the US outpost in Diyala highlights the vulnerability of US forces as they deploy into smaller, more exposed bases in Iraqi population centers, Sudarsan Raghavan and Thomas Ricks write in the Post. US forces said the attack would have been more deadly if the truck driver had detonated his payload inside the base. They also note some question as to whether a “T-wall,” that is, concrete barriers were built too close to the building that housed the base. One official said that the barriers “crushed” the building, causing deaths. Commanders said that such bases would be “hardened” in response to recent attacks. The attack, and a similar attack in Tarmiya in February, were “probing actions to determine vulnerabilities," said a former Army commander.

The US and Iraq are facing an uphill climb to convince Iraq’s major debtholders to erase Iraqi debt obligations, Robin Wright writes in the Post. The two countries are advancing a declaration calling for 100% debt forgiveness which they hope to have signed by May 3 before the upcoming summit in Sharm al-Shaykh, Egypt. Russia, Iran, Kuwait, and China are all expressing reluctance about wiping off Iraq’s debt.

A question you’ve never thought of before: How do you remove a mutilated body from a three-foot deep pool of sewage? David Finkel’s front-page article in the Post describes the absurd horror of a US company moving to take up position in an abandoned spaghetti factory that had been used as a torture chamber, with a body of one of the apparent victims floating in a cesspool beneath. Worth a full read.

War of words while Washington waits

VP Cheney and Sen. Majority Leader Reid mixed it up today in a quipping match over the emergency war appropriations measure that includes an Iraq withdrawal timetable, Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny write in the Times. Click through for the cherry bombs. In other news, the two write that Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Iraq, said in a phone interview that he had said to Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki, “There is Iraqi time and American time,” said Mr. Crocker. “And American time is running away from us, while Iraqi time is running at a slower place.” Crocker warned the PM that “failure to show results would undermine the administration’s efforts to buy him more time.”

Even as the two parties continue their squibbing over the doomed-to-be-vetoed appropriations measure, it appears that the administration and the Democrats will adopt a compromise position that turns on the application of “benchmarks” to shift the political burden to the Iraqi government, each side likely calculating that it could claim credit for success if the Iraqis somehow meet the benchmarks, and more importantly, each side angling to blame the failure on the other party if the Maliki government fails in the tasks assigned to it from Washington.

Ken Dilenian and David Jackson write up the day’s polemics in Washington for USAT, noting that House Majority Leader Hoyer has promised to deliver the appropriations measure to the president by Monday.

CSM’s Gail Russell Chaddock rounds up the congressional challenge over the Iraq war, noting that Gen. Petraeus is due to address members of Congress in closed session.

Shalaigh Murray of the Post explores the role of Harry Reid in the ongoing debate, writing that the majority leader has become one of the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration, after being one of the Democrats in the Senate that voted to authorize the invasion.

President Bush gave “mixed reviews” of the situation on the ground in Iraq, Peter Baker and Michael Abramowitz write in the Post, summarizing the president’s public and television appearances on Tuesday.

Journal editors sharpen their long knives for Harry Reid, arguing that the majority leader has used the war for partisan gain, and that therefore “he and the Democrats are taking ownership of whatever ugly outcome follows a U.S. defeat in Iraq.” The eds score some points against the Dems, but they overplay their hand with their analysis of events in Iraq, writing, for example, “Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has been politically marginalized, which explains his apparent departure from Iraq and the resignation of his minions from Mr. Maliki's parliamentary coalition -- a sign that moderate Shiites are gaining strength at his expense.” Such predictions about Sadr’s political strength are at best premature, as are the Journal’s other optimistic predictions about the emergence of “moderate Shiites” and “Sunni tribal sheikhs.”

Spinning Private Lynch, and Ranger Tillman

Mary Tillman, mother of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, continues to argue that the Pentagon fabricated the story surrounding her son’s 2004 death in Afghanistan order to distract from the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq, Josh White writes for the Post. Tillman, the former NFL player, was killed by “friendly fire,” but the Pentagon announced that he had been killed in combat by hostile forces. Tillman’s family testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday in part of an ongoing investigation into the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch affairs.

Tom Vanden Brook has more on the hearings in USAT. The committee also heard testimony from Jessica Lynch that her story had been fabricated. Lynch said she had been too badly wounded to fight off capture like "little girl Rambo," she said ,contrary to the story released by the Pentagon after her capture in Iraq in 2003. Although the Army blamed the false story released about Tillman on “procedural” problems, Tillman’s fellow soldier testified that he had been instructed to keep quiet about the circumstances of his death. Army Spc. Bryan O'Neal also said that his testimony about the events of Tillman’s death had been altered by the military.

In other coverage:

NEW YORK TIMES

Dexter Filkins compares the late David Halberstam’s experience in Vietnam to the experience of correspondents in Iraq, noting parallels.

USA TODAY

USAT editors warn about escalating tensions in Kirkuk, where, they write, emboldened Kurdish provinces cast their irredentist eyes. They fear that Kurdish expansionism and Turkish interventionism could set off another front in the Iraq war. The eds call for the referendum to be postponed, to allow the Iraqi government the freedom to address issues in the Arab provinces.

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