Tips, questions, and suggestions
Sign up for emails
Daily Column
US Papers Sunday: Refugee Nation
GIs Missing; Washington Struggles to Define "Progress" in Iraq
By GREG HOADLEY 05/13/2007 01:58 AM ET
Better put on some coffee. This week's Sunday papers deliver some excellent Iraq-related reading, led by a crackerjack enterprise report on Iraqi refugees in the Times magazine, but also including an important discussion of the Washington debate about measuring "progress" in Iraq, and a slice-of-life snapshot of the destruction of the former Iraqi elite, along with several other interesting reads.

Iraq-datelined hard news from is dominated by an attack in Mahmudiya that killed a number of US soldiers and left an Iraqi interpreter and three other GIs unaccounted for.

The assault on a company of seven US soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter killed at least five in the group, and left three missing, Damien Cave writes in the Times. The US military launched a wide search operation as soon as the five bodies were recovered. 17 bodies were recovered in the capital, mostly in the predominantly Sunni western half of Baghdad. Two Iraqis were killed by gunfire in Adhamiya, Mortar shells fell on the Green Zone, without reports of injuries. An IED in Mosul killed one. A prominent doctor was also murdered in the northern city, and three bodies were recovered. An IED in Baquba killed two Iraqis.

Sudarsan Raghavan and Joshua Partlow report in the Post that only one of the five corpses found after the Mahmudiya attack has been identified as a US soldier. A curfew is in force in Mahmudiya, and the US has apparently made arrests in the area. “Residents said many insurgents had fled the city as U.S. forces entered it,” they write. No confirmation or claim of responsibility has emerged regarding the Mahmudiya attack Another US soldier died from injuries sustained in a bomb attack on Friday in the same rural area south of Baghdad.

IraqSlogger contributor Nir Rosen presents an epic account of the Iraqi refugee experience in Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, with a keen eye for the threads of Iraqi and regional politics and conflict that still run through the lives of the displaced. Disclaimers aside (the author is a founding member of the IraqSlogger team), Rosen’s cover story in the Times Magazine is by far the day’s must-read. From the new Iraqi neighborhoods of Cairo, Damascus, and Amman, to the twice-displaced Palestinians living in stateless limbo in border camps, Rosen describes the evolving nature of the Iraqi refugee crisis, the different fate of Iraqi refugees in different host nations, and the very little-discussed story of the political relationships of various Arab regimes to Iraqi refugee populations. The story is the result of extended travel and research in the region and at once presents both a much-needed human face to the Iraqi refugee question and grapples with the fascinating and critical political contours of the situation. Essential reading. See also the online photo and video features on the Times website.

A “Dow Jones” of Iraq? Sheryl Gay Stolberg places an important article in the Times Week in Review, presenting the debates in Washington over the development of “metrics” for progress in Iraq. A consensus seems to be emerging that the important Iraq decisions will be postponed until September, but on what basis will the decisions be made then? The White House has been vague about how “progress” (and its opposite) would be measured, to the dismay of even some supportive Republicans on Capitol Hill. Others, such as scholars at Brookings, have developed a statistical “index” of Iraq, including such a large array of indicators that many refer to it as unworkable as a basis of political decision. At the same time, as an author of the Brookings Iraq Index says, “we can’t be exactly precise about which indicators are the conclusive ones.” With Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker already preparing their approach for September’s anticipated testimony to Congress, and the debate about Iraq becoming “more democratic” as GOP lawmakers begin to distance themselves from the White House, the question of indicators of Iraqi “progress” will continue to fester. Worth a full read.

The Post’s Karin Brulliard Visits the Alwiyah Club, an exclusive organization serving Westernized Iraq elites, and finds that this institution founded by British colonial official Gertrude Bell in 1924 has not escaped the changes washing over Iraqi society. Although the club still serves Western spirits and holds its trademark bingo games, the elite clientele has been decimated by emigration and “despair” has sunk in.

In other coverage:


The Pentagon seeks to expand initiatives to train and equip foreign security forces that grew out of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Walter Pincus reports. The “Building Global Partnerships Act of 2007,” which the administration proposed to Congress, would give the Defense and State Departments authority and funding to enhance the police and military capabilities of other nations, in the name of combating terrorism and insecurity.

The Edwards campaign intends to make an antiwar statement on Memorial Day, demanding an end to the Iraq war as the best way to honor US forces, Anne Kornblut reports.

Tom Ricks’s Inbox this week features excerpts from a “tart” email exchange between Ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey and former Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita. “I suspect that those involved in taking the nation to war in Iraq in 2003 will be writing similar notes for the rest of their lives,” Ricks writes.

To say Europeans (including the French) “hate” America is a gross oversimplification, writes William Drozdiak, former Post editor and president of the American Council on Germany. In a contributed op-ed, Drozdiak argues that the “Western alliance” is stronger than many Americans seem to believe. Yet if the next American president is to “infuse a new sense of purpose and destiny into the Western alliance,” he writes, then “there is plenty of work to be done to repair the damage inflicted on America's moral leadership by the debacle in Iraq and the sordid images from Abu Ghraib prison,” among other tasks.

The word “Iraq” is starting to mean more than just the country, but rather a larger condition, much the way some, whether consciously or unconsciously, use the term “Vietnam.” See David Ignatius’s column today in which he describes the invasion of Somalia as “Ethiopia’s Iraq.”

L. Paul Bremer, former administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, contributes an op-ed, defending the CPA’s record in Iraq, writing that the “conventional wisdom” that de-Ba'thification and disbanding the Iraqi Army were disasters for US policy. “No doubt some members of the Baath Party and the old army have joined the insurgency. But they are not fighting because they weren't given a chance to earn a living. They're fighting because they want to topple a democratically elected government and reestablish a Baathist dictatorship. The true responsibility for today's bloodshed rests with these people and their al-Qaeda collaborators,” he concludes.

As Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac both prepare to bow out of their long political careers, Jim Hoagland contrasts the two leaders’ style and vision in his column, including their opposing positions on the Iraq invasion. Hoagland argues that Blair’s leadership and vision wrought more lasting changes in Britain than Chirac’s in France, even though the French premier was “right about Iraq.”


Damien Cave reports the recent changes in the party formerly known as SCIRI, writing that some observers see the changes are more symbolic than substantive. “It is unclear, however, if the Supreme Council’s platform changes will be more than just symbolic. The platform change neither repudiates the party’s support for a form of government that would allow Muslim clerics to overrule elected leaders, nor does it disavow Iran’s support,” Cave writes. See IraqSlogger’s analysis. Much remains murky about the Supreme Council’s decision and the overall significance and context is very much unknown outside the party.

Thom Shanker profiles retired US general John Batiste, who quit his post in 2005 out of dissatisfaction with the conduct of the Iraq war, and who recently starred in a controversial television spot opposing President Bush’s Iraq policies. While some in the military express discomfort with Batiste’s open challenge to the civilian leadership, “he says he has received no phone calls, letters or messages from current or former officers challenging his public stance, although he occasionally gets an anonymous e-mail message with the heading ‘Traitor’,” Shanker writes.

In his op-ed column, Tom Friedman argues that a Democratic exit strategy for Iraq should be accompanied by a comprehensive energy policy designed to reduce the price of oil to the point that Middle Eastern regimes can no longer rely exclusively on the commodity for state revenues. Politically, Friedman neglects that most of the oil-exporting regimes are close US allies, many hosting massive US military installations and naval fleets. Economically, he doesn’t seem to understand that oil is a global commodity, and that petroleum prices respond to world demand, not just US consumption.

In his column, Frank Rich speculates that “the Iraq fiasco, disastrous to American interests as it is, actually masks the magnitude of the destruction this presidency has visited both on the country in general and the G.O.P. in particular.”


No Sunday edition.


Wounded Warrior Project