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Daily Column
US Papers Wednesday: Timetables Struck Down
Congress Looks to Next Steps After Veto; Doubts about al-Masri Death
By GREG HOADLEY 05/02/2007 01:58 AM ET
Two stories dominate Iraq-related news today, the much-anticipated Bush veto of the Iraq funding bill, and the confusion about the claimed death of the chief of Al-Qa'ida in Mesopotamia, Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

Even so, there are a couple of interesting reads that slip in under the radar, both about the health of the US military and diplomatic apparatus: the Monitor sounds an early warning about the state of the military ranks, and USAT prints up a story on the mental health of diplomats returning from Iraq.

From Iraq, the Post prints an interesting piece on the strategies Iraqis employ to adapt to the deteriorating situation in Baghdad.

The announced death of the head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq dominates the Iraq news roundups today, along with US military and diplomatic officials’ caution over the news: “We seem to capture or kill al-Masri every month,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver. Kirk Semple reports in the Times that after several miscues involving the claimed kill or capture of leaders, US officials say they are waiting for clear confirmation before accepting the claim. At the same time, Amb. Crocker cautioned against expecting radical changes on the battlefield if Masri is confirmed dead. Ten people were killed by gunfire on a minibus in Mahmudiya, and three civilians were killed in Latifiya in gunfire on pedestrians and cars. Seven people died in mortar attacks around the capital. Mortar shells fell again on the Green Zone, which Semple says were launched from “a Shiite district of eastern Baghdad.”

Accounts conflict on the cause of Masri’s alleged death, but Joshua Partlow and Sudarsan Raghavan write in the Post that: “A local leader from a village near Taji, Muhammad Fadhil of Nibaie, said he heard explosions and gunfire from Monday night through Tuesday morning. He believed the sounds came from clashes between al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters and men from the Falahat tribe and a tribal coalition known as the Anbar Salvation Council. Fadhil also said U.S. and Iraqi forces eventually cordoned off the area.” 15 bodies were recovered in Ba'quba, and 35 corpses were found in Baghdad.

“From the boys selling black-market gasoline from donkey carts, to the abandoned movie theaters, restaurants and liquor stores, from the overflowing sewage to the dwindling food rations, Baghdad has lost its place as a pinnacle of Middle East modernity. Existence has become more rudimentary.” Joshua Partlow of the Post captures snapshots of Iraqis adapting to life in the current economic and security conditions, which are unrecognizable by the standards of their pre-invasion lives. Water taxis are an answer to the constant gridlock caused by the security measures and bridge destruction. “But this is no paddle boat cruise among the lily pads. Stray bullets plunge into the water and at times lodge in the boats. The ferries must navigate past the occasional bloated, blindfolded corpse. After the Sarafiya bridge explosion, Iraqi soldiers fired warning shots at the water taxis to keep them away from the bridges, several people said,” Partlow writes. Worth a full read.

The US and Iran are unlikely to engage bilaterally on substantive questions during the upcoming ministerial conference in Sharm al-Shaykh, Egypt, Robin Wright writes in the Post. Iranian FM Manouchehr Mottaki is not considered to enjoy enough clout in the Iranian government to be an appropriate US talking partner, US officials said. An Iranian government spokesperson said "Until the Americans stop their arrogant, one-sided and evil approach, we won't negotiate with them." Neither party ruled direct talks out completely, but both suggested that the were not likely.


Congressional leaders from both parties are due at the White House today to discuss the way forward on funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars after Bush’s veto, issued as promised, of the much-discussed “timetable” bill, Michael Abramowitz and Peter Baker report for the Post. “Discussion yesterday centered on the idea of revised spending legislation that would abandon the Democrats' withdrawal mandate but cut back nonmilitary U.S. aid to the Iraqi government if it does not meet certain benchmarks for political reconciliation, a proposal advanced by House Minority Whip Roy Blunt,” the two reporters write. Now the clock seems to be ticking: “Democrats have indicated they see June 1 as a drop-dead date for finishing the bill,” Post reporters write.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jeff Zeleny cover the veto for the Times, noting some political theater all around: Democrats staged a “signing ceremony” replete with “Mission Acomplished” banner, while Bush played the “heavy is the crown” card with a journey to Centcom headquarters in Florida, returning to issue his veto with a pen given to him by the father of a fallen Marine. They note that Dems might quickly pass a spending bill to fund the war to buy more time for a fuller Iraq debate.

Leave it to Dana Milbank to review and critique the Washington political theater. In his Post column, Milbank describes the scene at the Capitol on the fourth anniversary of the "Mission Accomplished" moment, where Democratic lawmakers quoted from Warren Zevon to score points against the Bush administration. Meanwhile, in their own political stunt the Republicans decried the Dems actions on the four-year anniversary as a political stunt. As for the "enrollment ceremony" for the doomed appropriations bill, "Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did everything but seal the parchment with hot wax and send it off in a horse-drawn carriage with a team of buglers," Milbank writes.

David Jackson and Kathy Kiely have the story for USAT, noting that compromise is in the air at the Capitol.

In other coverage:


Hearings continued in the case of Lt. Col. William H. Steele, the former Camp Cropper commander in custody for violating the military codes, Damien Cave reports for the Times. “Colonel Steele, the testimony showed, took pride in trying to make Camp Cropper the antithesis of Abu Ghraib, where prisoners were tortured and abused. One military investigator said Colonel Steele told him he was willing to “do things under the table” to complete his mission,” Cave writes. Prosecutors seemed to try to establish that Steele took it too far, providing unmonitored cell phone calls to detainees and computer software to the daughter of an Iraqi in custody. In his defense, Steele’s counsel argued that the commander was acting within the norms established at Camp Cropper and that many of the charges result from compassion for the detainees, many of whom were innocent. The software, Steele said, was for the Iraqi woman’s studies in architecture and could not be obtained in Iraq. Steele had once been reprimanded for brandishing a pistol to tower guards, and classified documents were found to be improperly handled, although prosecutors did not say that he had improperly transferred such documents to others. The hearings are now complete and Col. Elizabeth Fleming will decide if Steele is to be court-martialed, pending the approval of Lt. Gen. Odierno.

Tom Friedman, who supported the invasion of Iraq when the winds were blowing in its favor, writes in his column that President Bush should apologize “sincerely” for the Iraq invasion and for his alienation of other world powers to build a global alliance against al-Qa'ida.

Maureen Dowd has no pity for George Tenet: “If Colin Powell and George Tenet had walked out of the administration in February 2003 instead of working together on that tainted U.N. speech making the bogus case for war, they might have turned everything around,” she writes in her column. “If he was really running around with his hair on fire, knowing the Osama danger, shouldn’t he have set off alarms when W. and Vice went after Saddam instead of the real threat?”


Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidates reacted to the expected veto with recommendations ranging from resubmitting the same bill, to de-authorizing the war, with Clinton and Obama sounding the most cautious and focused on the current legislation, Dan Balz and David Broder write. .

In his column, EJ Dionne notes that Democrats are working out their foreign policy positions in the primaries, often trying to establish themselves as able to act “toughly” on the world stage. Dionne points out that this could present a dilemma, as the electorate may be looking for “tougher” candidates than Democratic primary voters.

In his column, David Ignatius improvises on the theme of Wolfowitz’s difficulties at the World Bank to impugn the management style of the top tiers of the Bush administration, noting that “disdain for career staff officers -- whether at the Pentagon, the CIA, the Justice Department or an international agency such as the World Bank -- is a defining characteristic of the Bush administration and a big reason for its undoing.” He compares the scandal at the World Bank to the conduct of the administration in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Richard Cohen, writing in his column, considers Rep. Kucinich’s calls to impeach VP Cheney. Cohen salutes Kucinich for his sense of mission, but does not endorse the goal of impeaching the vice president.


“U.S. diplomats are returning from Iraq with the same debilitating, stress-related symptoms that have afflicted many U.S. troops, prompting the State Department to order a mental health survey of 1,400 employees who have completed assignments there,” Barbara Slavin writes. "What was never made clear to us was what it would be like to serve in a war zone," one ex-Green Zone diplomat said, "I thought I was strong. I was totally unprepared."

Slavin prints a second article on the topic, looking at the overall effects on the strength of the diplomatic corps: “The war has placed deep strains on many of the 56,000 people who work around the world for the State Department. Some diplomats such as Schneller return home from the war with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Others say resources are being drained from posts elsewhere to cover the growing costs in Iraq.” A former director general of the Foreign Service says, “Without immediate increases of new recruits and money, Iraq could be doing long-term damage" to the State Department.

From Indiana, Oren Dorell checks in with the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, as they train on a shorter schedule before deploying to Iraq. The Pentagon is implementing shorter training schedules before deployment. Dorell writes that the availability of equipment is as much of a concern for the units as the length of the training period.


As Tony Blair prepares his depature, his legacy will be heavily tempered by his military and diplomatic decisions, especially the Iraq war, which distracted from the domestic agenda on which he was elected, Marc Champion writes.


While the US Army is retaining enough soldiers “overall,” mid-level enlisted soldiers are leaving at a much higher rate than in the past, Gordon Lubold writes in the Monitor. “The Army has seen the reenlistment rate of mid-grade enlisted soldiers drop 12 percentage points, from 96 percent during the first quarter of 2005 to a low of 84 percent for the first quarter of 2007, according to Pentagon data,” Lubold writes. Observors are split over the long-term implications of the change, but the Army is increasing its “pay-to-stay” programs in response.

Monitor eds call on presidential candidates to articulate their foreign policy agendas as 2008 approaches. “While the candidates' views on the war provide a useful fault line to distinguish between them, it should not be the only touchstone for picking a president. Their overall approach to foreign affairs is far more important in the decade ahead,” they write, before profiling some of the candidates’ positions on US foreign policy.


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