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Daily Column
US Papers Thursday: To Die a Hero
Doomed Bill Passes House; UN Report Stirs Controversy
By GREG HOADLEY 04/26/2007 02:02 AM ET
The appropriations-timetable bill moved one step closer to its near-assured veto yesterday as the House approved a version of the measure agreed by the leadership of both chambers of Congress.

If it had the choice, the administration might also like to veto a newly released human rights report criticizing Iraqi treatment of detained persons.

Meanwhile, Iraq-datelined reporting enjoys light duty today, with reporters focusing on the important controversy over the UN human rights report, but sending in little by way of serious on-the-ground updates. The one exception is the Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan, who makes an important point about the “benchmarks” strategy evolving in Washington: While DC might see “benchmarks” as political lifelines, in Baghdad they are live wires.

The Monitor lands the best read of the day: Surviving families -- not just the Tillmans -- accuse the Pentagon of whitewashing the circumstances of their relatives’ deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A UN. Assistance Mission for Iraq human rights report has criticized the Iraqi government’s handling of detainees, Kirk Semple reports for the Times. 3,000 detainees have been picked up since the start of the security plan, and the UN report is critical of the government’s “apparent lack” of judicial procedures for detaining Iraqis. The US and Iraqi forces detain Iraqis without warrants and without fixed trial procedures, the UN found. Such practices are also found in the Kurdish areas, the report found. The report also faulted the Iraqi government for detainee abuse and torture. The Iraqi government criticized the report, saying it lacked balance and credibility. The report did not include official casualty counts, as the Iraqi government withheld these figures from the UN. President Talibani and Muqtada al-Sadr both opposed the wall being built in Adhamiya. The US military announced that it killed a “security emir” of al-Qa'ida in eastern Anbar province, Muhammad Abdullah Abbas al-Issawi. A suicide bomber killed four police in Diyala, and an Iraqi Army captain was shot dead in the province. At least five people died in Baghdad attacks and fighting, and 18 bodies were recovered in the capital. Two police were killed in Kirkuk, and two headless corpses were found floating in the Tigris near Kut.

Rick Jervis writes up the UN report for USAT, noting that the absence of data on civilian deaths made it difficult to make independent assessments of the security plan.

Joshua Partlow notes the critical response from the US embassy in Baghdad to the UN report. US diplomats also characterized the report as not credible and inaccurate, Partlow writes in the Post.

As Congress and the US president move toward a strategy of requiring “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government, Washington may not understand just how politically thorny its goals will be in Iraqi society. In the Post, Sudarsan Raghavan explores the contradictions inherent in Washington’s “benchmarks” for Iraq, sketching the political standoffs over the draft oil law, the de-Ba'thification law, and various amendments to the Iraqi constitution. For close Iraq watchers, there is little new here, but Raghavan presents a useful overview, and loads up on quotes from several key Iraqi political figures, which make the article worth a full read. Raghavan mistakenly identifies Adnan Pachachi as “a secular Shiite.” Pachachi is of Sunni background, for the record.

Howard LaFranchi presents a very interesting overview of the administration’s problems filling the so-called “czar” position for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Washington point person would be a “thankless task” according to one observer, being responsible for policy but not having a say in formulating it. Larry Diamond, another observer, says that "One of the problems in Iraq from the beginning – and really even before we entered Iraq – has been this lack of sufficient integration and coordination between the military and political tasks.” US policy is heavily reliant on military and technical answers to political problems, several observers remark.

A Hero’s death

Gordon Lubold sends in the most interesting read of the day, following up in the Monitor to Monday’s testimony on the Hill from Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman’s family and colleagues. Lubold writes that several military families have come forward to allege that the Pentagon whitewashed the circumstances of their family members’ deaths. Lubold chalks it up to more than just procedural errors: “At the heart of the controversy: families' demand for the truth versus a military that instinctively wants all its fallen soldiers to be seen as heroes,” he writes. Lubold documents several Tillman-esque stories, beginning with of official Pentagon stories of heroic deaths on the battlefield, only for families to later discover that their family member died from friendly fire or accidental causes, or even in combat under circumstances other than what they were told by the military. Lubold notes that the military is adjusting its procedures for reporting combat deaths to surviving families in the wake of the Tillman scandal.

USAT editors also follow up on the Tillman and Lynch testimony, writing that “Americans have known for some time that the stories of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, the two most famous faces of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, were embellished by the Pentagon. Even so, details revealed at congressional hearings this week were shocking.” The eds fault the military for not conducting a more thorough investigation into the Tillman affair, and for fabricating the stories about the casualties in the first place.

On the Hill

As the war of words continued over the all-but doomed emergency military appropriations bill, which has a withdrawal timeline bundled with it, the House passed the conference version of the bill by a vote of 218 to 208, Jonathan Weisman writes in the Post. Democrats are angling to place the bill on the president’s desk on Monday “almost exactly four years after President Bush declared an end to major combat in a speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. That would be a particularly pungent political anniversary for Bush to deliver only the second veto of his presidency.” The next appropriations legislation may contain “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government, Weisman writes, and an upcoming defense policy bill or the Pentagon budget bill, expected in June, may become battlefields for the more controversial provisions such as binding withdrawal timetables. The Bush veto seems to be galvanizing both ends of the Democratic coalition, with antiwar groups planning widespread protests over the veto, and a conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat quoted in the article saying, "He's not getting what he wants."

Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny round up action on the Hill for the NYT, noting that the vote took place hours after Gen. Petraeus presented his case to congressional leaders. Petraeus’s presentation seemed to do little to sway the vote. In press conferences, Petraeus distanced himself from the legislative debate, saying “I don’t think that is something military commanders should get into.” He gave examples of progress and reversals on the ground in Iraq. Looking past the veto, Rep. Murtha said he favors the strategy of ladling out the war money piecemeal in two-month increments.

David Rogers has the story for the Journal, and writes that after the veto, the Bush administration may be interested in a compromise in order to avoid losing more control over the war debate in continuing legislative skirmishes. Rogers reports that ex-Rep. Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, said that Defense Sec. Gates “could emerge as a very important broker." Rogers also writes that “a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll indicates far more public concern that the president will be too inflexible on Iraq policy than that Congress will be too aggressive in demanding troop reductions.”

Tom Vanden Brook writes up Petraeus’s Hill appearance in USAT, noting that “Members' reaction to Petraeus mirrored the partisan divisions over the future of the war.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an ardent backer of the Bush Iraq policies, contributes an op-ed in the Post, disagreeing with the likely result of the Senate’s vote today on the final appropriations bill. Lieberman’s article turns on al-Qa'ida, which, he argues, is the biggest threat to Iraq and to the region, not the lack of a political solution as the Democrats say. Referring to the recent bombings that killed over 170 in Baghdad, Lieberman writes, “to the extent that last week's bloodshed clarified anything, it is that the battle of Baghdad is increasingly a battle against al-Qaeda. Whether we like it or not, al-Qaeda views the Iraqi capital as a central front of its war against us.” Elsewhere, he argues against the idea of a political solution, writing. “Even as the American political center falters, the Iraqi political center is holding,” later adding, “But if tomorrow Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were to achieve the "political solution" we all hope for, the threat of al-Qaeda in Iraq would not vanish.”

Times editors back the current legislation, and call upon the Bush administration to strike a compromise in the next round. “It is actually Congress that is proposing a different and healthier approach by insisting on a serious political strategy, one that requires a genuine turn from the deliberately divisive policies of the radical-Shiite-led Iraqi government, policies that have been fueling civil war,” they write. “If Mr. Bush has problems with the withdrawal dates Congress proposes, those can be negotiated. But if he refuses to insist on policy changes from Baghdad and acts as if American troops can stay in Iraq indefinitely, he throws away all leverage. That invites the worst kind of endgame: more chaos inside Iraq and, we fear, more chaos for the region when American troops leave, as they inevitably will.”

In other coverage:

WASHINGTON POST

Rep. Waxman’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has issued a subpoena to Sec. Rice to testify before the committee about the now-discredited claim that Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Niger, Dan Eggen and Paul Kane write in the Post.

Dana Milbank sketches the partisan scene at the “Subpoenafest” committee hearing, noting that the GOP had not shied away from using its subpoena powers during the Clinton years.

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