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Daily Column
US Papers Friday: Turning the Timetables?
House Passes Two-Step Plan; Ten Years of Tony at No. 10
By GREG HOADLEY 05/11/2007 01:59 AM ET
If any one Iraq-related story dominates today's papers, it would have to be Tony Blair's announced departure, which released a flood of ready-written retrospectives about the long-serving PM's contradictory legacy, and looks ahead to the Brown premiership.

Tearing a page out of the Democratic playbook, Iraqi MPs endorsed a bill calling for a timetable for US forces to withdraw from the country. As the Post reports, the measure seems to fall shy of the support needed to pass in the Iraqi Parliament.

Meanwhile, House Democrats, in a move apparently not backed by their Senate counterparts, passed a bill which would fund the Iraq war in two two-month cycles.

In the Iraqi Parliament a majority of Iraqi MPs signed onto a draft bill demanding US withdrawal from Iraq. The measure seems destined to be either voted down or diluted, it appears from Joshua Partlow’s report in the Post. The bill, advanced by the Sadrist bloc and signed by somewhere between 138 and 144 MPs, depending on which key Sadrist MP’s tally you accept.

Partlow’s report significantly advances the story, noting that the measure seems to be opposed, at least as written, by key constituencies who would be required for its passage, including members of the 15-seat Fadhila Party, the Iraqi List, and the Kurdish Coalition, to say nothing of the governing United Iraqi Alliance. From Partlow’s report, only the Sadrists and the Tawafuq Front seem to back the measure among the major blocs, and even the Iraqi Islamic Party, which sits inside the Tawafuq Front, has been reluctant on the question of withdrawal. Together, the Sadrists and Tawafuq would muster 74 votes, far short of the majority in the 275-seat body. “And even if such dates were fixed, it is unclear whether that would compel the United States to obey them,” Partlow writes. The bill would establish a timetable for US drawdown in Iraq and would require parliamentary approval of any extension of the UN mandate for the multinational forces after it expires at the end of the year. The measure appears not to be a major turning point, but it does speak to “growing division between Iraq's legislators and prime minister that mirrors the widening gulf between the Bush administration and its critics in Congress,” Partlow writes.

US Vice President Dick Cheney was the highest-ranking Bush administration official to spend the night in Iraq, Alissa Rubin writes for the Times. In remarks to US forces near Tikrit, Cheney sounded somber tones, linking the US occupation of Iraq to the “war on terror.” He also called recent extensions of troops’ tours “vital to the mission.” Cheney’s remarks were a contrast to his words two years ago that the Iraqi insurgency was “in its last throes,” Rubin writes. Cheney heard closing arguments at the Anfal trial as well. “People who live in Tikrit were unaware of the vice president’s visit until after he had left, when it became public on television and radio. Camp Speicher, at the site of the former Iraqi Air Force academy, is about seven miles outside the town. It is heavily secured and covers a huge area, making it possible to keep a high-profile visitor all but invisible,” Rubin writes. The so-called Islamic State of Iraq apparently released a video in which nine putative hostages from the Iraqi security forces, allegedly taken in Diyala. were shown shot in the head and killed. 20 bodies were found around Baghdad and another 20 were killed or found dead. A US marine was killed on Wednesday in Western Iraq.

On the Hill

The House voted on two Iraq-related measures yesterday, Jonathan Weisman reports for the Post. One would have all but ended the war within nine months, failed by a vote of 255 to 171, but the 171 figure was higher than many observers, including one of the bill’s sponsors, Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, were expecting. The second measure passed handily, 221 to 205, amid a renewed threat of a veto by the White House. Allowing the vote on the first bill was a concession by Speaker Pelosi to antiwar Democrats, in order to bring them on board for the second, Weisman writes. Bush has acceded on the issue of “benchmarks,” Weisman writes, and has empowered White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten to “find common ground” on such stipulations for any final bill. Karl Rove was “furious” that moderate House Republicans had revealed a confrontational meeting with the president on Tuesday, but GOP conservatives echoed the sentiment that the Iraq war was “ruining the party.” Even so, only two Republicans voted for the funding measure that passed, which would divide the war funding into two two-month installments, with a vote required in July to release the second pot of funding. On the Senate side, Majority Leader Reid “faces two legislative hurdles. First, he must gain Republican support for a placeholder bill, so he can start negotiations with the House. Then he will have to strike a final agreement with Pelosi that can attract enough Senate GOP support to avert a filibuster,” Weisman writes. Movement on that front may not be clarified until early next week.

Carl Hulse and Jim Rutenberg write a Capitol Hill roundup for the Times, leading with the Bush concession on benchmarks, and noting that the president spoke at the Pentagon yesterday.

David Rogers also leads his Journal article with Bush’s benchmarks concession, but adds, “Absent some such checkpoint, however, the White House will be under pressure to show more willingness to put teeth in the benchmarks endorsed by the president.”

Kathy Kiely and David Jackson have the story for USAT, noting that differences between House and Senate leaders, and between the Democrats and the White House are holding up legislation while negotiations proceed and the self-imposed Memorial Day recess deadline approaches.

Haditha hearings

Hearings continued in the military’s investigation of the November 2005 slayings of 24 civilians in Haditha, Paul von Zielbauer reports for the Times. Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, who was Second Marine Division commander in Iraq at that time, testified that he quickly learned about the attacks, but did not think they were worth investigating, dismissing them as the result of insurgent activity. He did say, however, that he was “irritated” with his subordinates who did not inform him for three weeks after a Time reporter began making inquiries about the killings. First Lt. Adam P. Mathes, a company commander said that he and other company brass had been dismissive of the Time reporter’s questions, as well as the complaints of the Haditha civilian leadership, viewing them as politically motivated.

Sonia Geis has the story for the Post, writing, “Reports of the killings went up and down the chain of command, said Huck, who led the 2nd Marine Division in Iraq at the time. Yet no one -- from the company commander to Gen. George W. Casey Jr., then commander of multinational forces in Iraq -- indicated they wanted a preliminary inquiry into why so many civilians had died.”

Blame Tenet, please

Hours after his visit to Iraq, Vice President Cheney dismissed a number of charges that former CIA Director George Tenet made in his recent memoirs, Peter Baker writes in the Post. Contra Tenet, Cheney said that there was indeed extensive discussion of the invasion of Iraq before the war. Cheney also disagreed with Tenet’s presentation of the notorious “slam dunk” remark. "The president asked him that question specifically: 'How good is the evidence, George?'” said Cheney, continuing, "And George says, 'It's a slam dunk.' It's an honest, accurate statement of what transpired. . . . I never said it was a tipping point (in the decision to go to war)," Baker writes.

Richard Perle contributes an op-ed to the Post arguing that stories Tenet claims concern him in the book are untrue. “Understandably anxious to counter the myth that we went into Iraq on the basis of his agency's faulty intelligence, Tenet seeks to substitute another myth: that the decision to remove Saddam Hussein resulted from the nefarious influence of the vice president and a cabal of neoconservative intellectuals. To advance that idea, a theme of his book, he has attributed to me, and to others, statements that were never made,” Perle writes, adding, “George Tenet and, more important, our premier intelligence organization managed to find weapons of mass destruction that did not exist while failing to find links to terrorists that did -- all while missing completely the rise of Islamist fundamentalism. We have made only a down payment on the price of that failure.”

From Blair to Brown

As Tony Blair announced he would stand down on June 27, several papers print tributes and retrospectives to the outgoing prime minister and junior partner in the Iraq war. His assumed successor, Gordon Brown, also gets some press today, as many wonder how Brown's relationship with the US will play out, and what direction he will take on Iraq.

From London, Mark Rice-Oxley submits a Blair retrospective for the Monitor, noting that 7 in 10 Britons said in a poll that Iraq would tarnish the PM’s legacy.

Tony Blair is due for one more trip to the US before he resigns, the Post’s Kevin Sullivan writes. Sullivan, who sneaked in his lengthy Blair retrospective yesterday, carries the news of the PM’s formal announcement, noting that Blair said that his most difficult decisions in office involved Iraq. “Putting the country first does not mean doing the right thing according to conventional wisdom or the prevailing consensus, or the latest snapshot of opinion; it means doing what you genuinely believe to be right," Blair said. Some in the UK might wish that Blair’s decision to invade Iraq had been even harder.

Alan Cowell writes up the Blair declaration for the Times, noting that, on Iraq, Blair said “Removing Saddam and his sons from power, as with removing the Taliban, was over with relative ease . . . But the blowback since, from global terrorism and those elements that support it, has been fierce and unrelenting and costly. For many, it simply isn’t and can’t be worth it. For me, I think we must see it through.” Blair continued, “They, the terrorists, who threaten us here and round the world, will never give up if we give up. It is a test of will and of belief. And we can’t fail it.” Cowell writes that Blair did not mention the original WMDs argument for the invasion, nor explain the link he appeared to make between Iraq and 9/11 in his speech.

Jeffrey Stinson writes up the Blair announcement in USAT, noting that President Bush and White House spokesperson Tony Snow offered supportive words for the PM. Blair’s unpopular Iraq policies may be tempered by his brokering of a power-sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland last week, one observer said.

In the Post, Kevin Sullivan files a lengthy profile of Blair’s likely successor, Gordon Brown, who, along with Blair, engineered the Clintonesque transformation of the Labor party in the 1990s. Sullivan notes Brown’s peculiar relationship with the United States and his extremely close relations with key Democratic actors. Brown has given little indication of his expected relationship with Bush or the US. "The Labor Party does expect some clear blue water between Brown and Blair in order to start the healing process after Iraq," said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. "But Brown will have a subtle balancing act in the near term. He's not going to be a poodle; he is going to assert British interests. But there will be no open breach with the White House," Leonard continued.

Mark Champion of the Journal looks at Brown’s challenges, noting that the PM-to-be will have a difficult time making a break from Blair’s most unpopular policy, the Iraq war.

If you don’t get it by now, EJ Dionne writes in his Post column that Blair’s legacy will be overshadowed by the Iraq war. England watchers may appreciate the William Blake references and the discussion of Blair’s domestic agenda.

In his Times column, David Brooks sounds a contrarian note: “The conventional view of Tony Blair is that he was a talented New Labor leader whose career was sadly overshadowed by Iraq. But this is absurd. It’s like saying that an elephant is a talented animal whose virtues are sadly overshadowed by the fact that it’s big and has a trunk.” Brooks argues that Blair’s political philosophy compelled him to invade Iraq, because of his strong communitarian faith in shared global values in an interdependent world. Brooks juxtaposes Blair’s philosophies to Samuel Huntington’s idea of a clash of civilizations, and wonders who will prove to be right in the end. Brooks does not seem to allow for the possibility that both Blair and Huntington could be wrong.

In other coverage:

NEW YORK TIMES

Times eds seize on the revelations that moderate GOP lawmakers are losing patience with the Bush administration, writing that “the difference between mainstream hawks and mainstream doves on Iraq seems to have boiled down to two months, with House Democrats now demanding visible progress by July while moderate Republicans are willing to give White House policies until September, but no longer, to show results.” They turn their fire on President Bush: “If Mr. Bush hopes to salvage anything from his 20 months left in office, and, more to the point, if he wants to play a constructive role in the accelerating Iraq endgame, he needs to understand how much has changed in this country, and how tragically little has changed in Iraq.”

WASHINGTON POST

In an upcoming “60 Minutes” broadcast, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney will say that the Bush administration erred in its conduct of the war, Michael Shear writes. "I don't think we were adequately prepared for what occurred. I don't think we did enough planning. I don't think we considered the various downsides and risks," Romney told CBS’s Mike Wallace, according to a transcript of Sunday's show. The former Massachusetts governor also said that he supported the Bush “surge” policy.

Gen. Petraeus posted an open letter to US forces in Iraq on a military website yesterday, Thomas Ricks writes in the Post. The letter admonished US forces not to engage in illegal activities of brutality and torture. Petraeus was reacting to a recent survey of US forces, which showed that many US troops support the use of torture and would not inform superiors if they observed their comrades abusing Iraqi civilians.

Pres. Bush nominated Navy Vice Adm. Eric T. Olson to replace Army Gen. Bryan "Doug" Brown as the head of US Special Operations Command (Socom), Ann Scott Tyson reports. Recently about 80 percent of deployed Socom forces have been in Iraq and Afghanistan.

USA TODAY

Tom Vanden Brook quotes an anonymous Pentagon official who says that the US Army has decided to request 18,000 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) from Sec. Gates. MRAPs outperform Humvees against roadside bombs. Vanden Brook reported yesterday that Sec. Gates had decided to phase out Humvees in Afghanistan and Iraq.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

David Peck contributes an op-ed arguing that in the debate about “benchmarks” for success in Iraq, the president should also be developing “a yardstick for failure.”

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