The House measure could set up yet another veto confrontation with the White House -- or at the very least delay Dems' plans to get an Iraq-Afghanistan funding bill through by Memorial Day, given apparent Senate reluctance to go along with the House plan.
Outside the Green Zone, Cheney's "impromptu" visit was welcomed by impromptu protests by supporters of the Sadrist current.
On his unannounced visit to Iraq, US VP Dick Cheney met with Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talibani, FM Hoshyar Zebari, and VP Tariq al-Hashemi, among others, Joshua Partlow reports for the Post. Cheney pressed for Iraqi implementation of key US goals, including passing the draft oil law and sectarian reconciliation. US officials also said that they were pressing the Iraqi Parliament not to take a proposed two-month summer recess. A truck bomb in the Kurdish city of Irbil killed at least 14 (the death toll has since climbed) and wounded over 80. The suicide bomber’s explosives were hidden inside a load of bottles of liquid soap. Partlow’s report does not mention Cheney’s meetings with US officials, including Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker.
John Burns leads off the Times’s Iraq news roundup with the Cheney visit, noting that “Mr. Cheney said his talks with Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, and with leaders of Sunni and Kurdish factions, had left him with a sense that the Iraqis understood the importance of resolving differences that have threatened to collapse the government.” In addition to the Iraqi officials listed in the Post, Burns writes that Cheney met with Lt. Gen. Aboud al-Maliki, the Iraqi military commander in Baghdad; and with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the SCIRI party, as well as Petraeus and Crocker. Ten Iraqis died in a minibus shooting in Latifiya, south of Baghdad, and a US soldier was killed in Diyala Province. US command issued a statement acknowledging that five Iraqi civilians, among them two children, had been killed on Tuesday by Apache helicopter fire, which the statement said was directed at men planting a roadside bomb near Diyala Province’s Mandali town. US Maj. Gen. William Caldwell however, denied that US missiles had hit a school. Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr gathered in Karbala and Najaf (also Baghdad's Kadhimiya district) to denounce Cheney’s presence in the country, and Sadr issued a statement which called the VP “one of the world’s most evil infidels,” who had come to Iraq “for no purpose other than killing and destruction.”Howard LaFranchi surveys the pitfalls and pressures facing the PM in the Monitor. Iraq watchers will be familiar with the basic issues, but the article is worth a full read for an impressive array of quotes from key MPs, and an update on the long-promised but as-yet-unseen Maliki political offensive to build broad consensus around a political project under his government’s leadership. A senior MP from Maliki’s Dawa party said that such an initiative is due “within days” and would include reaching out to extraparliamentary players like tribes and insurgent groups. "If Maliki does something different quickly to show he has initiatives, then he can stay in, but I'm not optimistic," said Othman, adding "If he doesn't, this government has no more than three months, it can't survive more." Othman predicted a military dictator in Iraq by the end of the year if the Shi'a-dominated government cannot make progress on security issues or find a more nationalist footing.
Tony Blair is expected to announce today that he is will leave 10 Downing Street in July. Kevin Sullivan of the Post writes a lengthy piece on the prime minister’s legacy, noting that Blair’s domestic policies will be overshadowed by his close and controversial association with the Bush administration on Iraq and other Middle Eastern issues. "Tony Blair's Iraq problem stems from his America problem. Blair took the view that Britain was nothing without its relationship with America, and that precluded any form of criticism of the United States at any time," said John Kampfner, editor of the New Statesman and an author of a book on the PM. Sullivan notes that Blair also sided with the Bush administration against world opinion on other Middle Eastern questions: “Last summer, Blair again sided with Bush against world opinion during the month-long war between Israel and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. As foreign governments, one after another, demanded an immediate cease-fire, Bush and Blair declined. Analysts said Blair's stance ran counter to long-held British policy in the Middle East.”
On the Hill
The House is slated to vote on an emergency military appropriations bill that would fund the war on Iraq in two installments, as the White House issued the threat of another veto, Shailagh Murray and Ann Scott Tyson write in the Post. The bill would fund the war for two months but would require a vote of Congress to approve Bush’s evaluation of Iraqi performance on “benchmarks” contained in the legislation to release the second tranche of funding, for another two months of the war. Some Senate Dems expressed reservations about the measure; Sen. Levin called the two-month funding periods “unrealistic.” If House and Senate approaches clash, it could throw off the Democratic goal of sending a bill to the White House by Memorial Day. Meanwhile, Sec. Gates warned that he would have to "shut down significant elements of the Department of Defense in August and September because I wouldn't have the money to pay salaries" if funding is not approved. Gates also opposed the House bill, saying it was not appropriate for the needs of the Defense Department. On the Senate side, leaders of both parties met with White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, who apparently signaled that the president would only accept “benchmarks” without negative consequences for the Iraqi government. Three possible consequences under consideration by White House critics in the Senate link “benchmark” performance to war funding, to reconstruction aid, and to US troop levels in Iraq, respectively.
Moderate Republican lawmakers are growing restive on the Iraq question, Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny report in the Times. In a meeting of the GOP’s centrist “Tuesday club,” 11 legislators “were unusually candid with the president, telling him that public support for the war was crumbling in their swing districts.” The two reporters note that much hangs in the balance while Congress awaits the promised autumn reports from US commanders in Iraq.
USAT’s Kathy Kiely profiles Rep. Chet Edwards, a pro-military Democrat from Texas, whose district includes the Crawford ranch. Edwards has urged the Bush administration to adopt a flexible position on Iraq legislation.
The visit of Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie may have ended in “disconnect,” Robin Wright writes for the Post. While Rubaie said he thought he had influenced Iraq war critics on the Hill such as Rep. Murtha and Sen. Levin to adopt a go-slow approach, those same lawmakers said that their positions were unchanged by Rubaie’s visit this week.
House Democrats plan to introduce a bill that would allow at least 20,000 more Iraqi refugees to be eligible for resettlement in the US in the next two years. The measure would also allow the entry of 15,000 “special immigrant status” Iraqi nationals into the country, along with their families, over each of the next four years. Nora Bustany reports for the Post that “special status” Iraqis include interpreters and others who have worked with the US occupation in Iraq. Current law allows entry of only 50 interpreters per year, from Iraq and Afghanistan. Refugees International praised the bill but called for bipartisan support. “The refugee category would include female heads of households, members of religious communities such as Chaldo-Assyrian Christians, Jews, Sabean Mandeans, Yazidis, Bahais and other vulnerable minority groups such as gay Iraqis and Iraqis with family members in the United States,” Bustany writes.
In other coverage:
Linton Weeks and Richard Leiby profile Shaha Ali Riza, the woman best known now for her relationship with Paul Wolfowitz, ex-deputy Defense secretary and current head of the World Bank. The two reporters provide some background on Riza’s pre-war involvement with the neoconservatives and Iraqi expatriates who were advocating a US invasion in the name of spreading democracy in the Middle East.
Two UK ex-government employees were convicted of violating British secrecy laws by leaking a transcript of a Bush-Blair exchange which allegedly included remarks by Bush suggesting that al-Jazeera’s Qatar headquarters be bombed, Kevin Sullivan writes. The two apparently leaked the transcript with the intention of embarrassing Bush and stoking debate over the Iraq war. A UK court found that the action violated Britain’s Official Secrets Act. US officials called the report of Bush’s alleged remarks “outlandish and inconceivable.”
Rend al-Rahim, Iraq’s representative to the US in 2003-2004, and US Institute for Peace fellow, contributes an op-ed arguing that an Iraqi reconciliation process should be modeled on the Dayton process of the Bosnia conflict. “First, there must be a strong and credible driving force behind the process; the United States is best placed to be that driving force but need not be alone in this task. Second, the process must have a credible sponsor, such as the United Nations, and high-profile, skilled facilitators. Third, the single objective must be producing a Sunni-Shiite agreement as the cornerstone of the national compact. Fourth, Iraqi groups must be represented at the highest decision-making level. Fifth, the discussions and negotiations should be sustained until the necessary compromises have been made and agreements reached. Sixth, mechanisms for implementing the agreement have to be spelled out -- with a timetable. Finally, concerned countries, including Iraq's neighbors, must ratify this accord and agree to respect it,” she writes.
From London, Alan Cowell has the Bush-Blair memo leak conviction story for the Times.
The Pentagon will replace armored Humvees with “MRAPs,” Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, Tom Vanden Brook writes. Sec. Gates announced the switch to MRAPs yesterday. Gates will meet with other Pentagon officials Friday to see how many of the vehicles the military will purchase. “The new vehicles feature a V-shaped hull that disperses explosions from below. All services have ordered a total of 7,700 MRAPs for $8 billion over the next 18 months, but Gates indicated the Pentagon could buy many more,” Vanden Brook writes.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
No Iraq coverage today.