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Daily Column
US Papers Thursday: A "Complex" Attack
Clashes Erupt across Iraq; Haditha Hearings; Senate Turning Point?
By GREG HOADLEY 05/17/2007 01:59 AM ET
As it has for the last several days, the story of the three missing GIs takes the lead in Iraq-datelined coverage: On Wednesday, US officers revealed more about their assumptions about what happened at the scene of Saturday's attack in Mahmudiya, and residents in the area continue to report harsh search tactics.

Events in Iraq have not relented, however, and the Times does the best job of covering non-manhunt stories. Major clashes broke out in at least three different cities in Iraq, from north to south; the NYT carries the best coverage of our five papers.

The Times also includes analyses of two sets of ongoing legal proceedings: The trials of former Ba'thist officials in Iraq, and the hearings at California’s Camp Pendleton on the November 2006 Haditha slayings.

Back in DC, two papers profile Bush’s pick for the position of Iraq and Afghanistan “czar.” Meanwhile, on the Hill, Senate Dems failed to pass an antiwar measure tacked on to a water-resources bill. The fiscal 2008 draft budget has seen daylight, and, for now, the Post reports, it includes all the money President Bush requested for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Across the pond, Prince Harry will not go to war in Iraq.

Mosul is under round-the-clock curfew after a major series of coordinated operations by over 200 militants on several different targets in and around the city, Kirk Semple reports for the Times. Bridges spanning the Tigris were blocked off by security forces after the Badush Bridge, 15 miles to the northwest, was destroyed by a double car bombing. A jailbreak from a nearby jail left five suspects free and two guards dead. The attack began on a local prison, orchestrating gunfire, six suicide car bombs, and IEDs. Gen. Wathiq Hamdani, Mosul’s top police commander reported that four Iraqi police died in the fighting. In the south, Arrests of Mahdi Army members touched off clashes between the militia and government forces in Diwaniya. While the local government is controlled to SIIC (ex-SCIRI) in that southern city, Semple reports that the 8th Iraqi Division was also involved, which is not considered to be under SIIC’s control. A Diwaniya MP in Baghdad reported that the situation remained tense. At least 11 were wounded in the fighting. Nasiriya saw similar fighting, with at least nine killed there in clashes between Mahdi Army members and local authorities also touched off by arrests. IEDs killed two in Baghdad and at least 30 bodies were recovered. Deadly bombs also struck in Anbar, Diyala, and Kirkuk Provinces. 21 Iraqis were kidnapped on a bus in Diyala, and a truck hauling concrete from Kirkuk was assaulted by militants who killed three and abducted two.

John Burns sends in a rare update on the continuing Anfal trial, in which several former high-level Ba'thist officials are on trial for their lives over their alleged role in the campaigns. With Saddam Hussein dead, Burns notes a declining international and domestic interest in the trials. Ali Hassan al-Majid, the best known defendant, pleaded ignorance about the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war. Several other top-level Ba'thists are on trial, but with domestic priorities preoccupied with post-invasion security realities, and international funding declining, it is unclear how much more prosecuting of former regime officials will be done.

From Camp Pendelton, Paul von Zielbauer reports in the Times on the questions raised by the trial over the Haditha slayings. What opened as an investigation into whether a Marine lawyer handled the situation appropriately, became “a rare public window onto a debate about how the Marine Corps is fighting in Iraq against a ruthless insurgency that uses civilians as cover and disregards the laws of conflict taught in the United States.” A “widespread misperception” in the particular Marines division that civilian casualties do not need to be investigated was unearthed during the trial, von Zielbauer writes, even though this attitude is against the official rules of conduct. The division commander, Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, is not likely to be charged in relation to Haditha, experts said, even though he knew about the slayings and did not investigate.

Missing soldiers

US commanders said that they had extracted “confessions” in the ongoing manhunt for the three missing soldiers and possibly recovered equipment that belonged to the men, Damien Cave writes for the Times. The military also released four names of soldiers whose “duty status” is “unknown,” one killed in the attack, but unidentifiable from his remains, and three soldiers missing. Helicopters and soldiers swarmed the area around Mahmudiya where the manhunt continues.

6,000 troops are engaged in the search operations, Sudarsan Raghavan writes in the Post, 4,000 Americans and 2,000 Iraqis. The military has offered up to $200,000 for information on the men. Over 600 have been detained, a commander said, and 143 tips have spurred 37 operations. New details have emerged on US forces’ assumptions about what happened at Mahmudiya. The two Humvees were 500 yards from a patrol base, watching over a site where IEDs had been planted before, said the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said. The soldiers were not attacked by IED or RPG but by a team of well-armed gunmen who breached the concertina wire that had been raised around the area in a “complex attack.” A firefight apparently ensued, Lynch said, it appears that bodies were dragged to nearby vehicles and removed. Mahmudiya residents continue to report intrusive search tactics.

USAT’s Oren Dorell visits Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division, where the loss of four soldiers and likely kidnapping of three others is taking a palpable psychological toll.

On the Hill

In an unusual departure from the unity that has characterized both parties in the debate over Iraq war funding, the Democratic caucus split in the Senate yesterday as a bill to cut off funding in March 2008 went down to defeat in a largely symbolic vote, Shailagh Murray writes for the Post. An amendment to add “benchmarks” language failed to achieve the 60 votes it would have needed, although such measures are expected in any final bill.

“The 67-to-29 vote against the proposal demonstrated that a significant majority of Senators remained unwilling to demand a withdrawal of forces despite their own misgivings and public unease over the war,” Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny write in the Times, noting that 19 Democrats opposed the measure, splitting from the 27 who voted yea. They read today’s vote as a turning point in the standoff between the White House and the Congress – a signal that the Dems will need to compromise. The only Iraq-related proposal to pass was a declaration that the Congress should approve funding legislation by Memorial Day.

Although the Dems split yesterday, the conservative wing of the party is still broadly opposed to the Bush policies on Iraq, Lois Romano writes in her Post column.

Democrats unveiled their blueprint for the 2008 budget, Lori Montgomery writes in the Post, noting that the plan “would fund Bush's request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing $145 billion next year and $50 billion in 2009.”

Journal editors also read the vote in the Senate as a turning point, noting that the administration supporters had called for a vote on cutting off funding for a long while, and yesterday’s Senate results showed that the votes are not there for such a policy. “The Democrats, in other words, remain trapped in the land of symbolism over the war. Taking up the responsibility that the "power of the purse" gives them does not seem to be on the agenda. They'd rather posture, appeasing their party's left wing without taking ownership of war policy,” they write. The eds also take congressional Republicans to task, chastising those who have recently spoken out against the Bush policies. However, they shift from analysis to wishful thinking when they call upon the Democrats to stop their efforts to influence policy.

Lute profiles

Peter Baker and Robin Wright of the Post profile Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, the new pick to be Bush’s point man in the DC bureaucracy on Iraq. They write that Lute’s opposition to the “surge” policy has heartened critics and worried supporters. Lute has also expressed the belief that there is no purely military solution in Iraq, and that political progress must accompany military action, they write.

On the other hand, Gordon Lubold writes in the Monitor that Lute’s military background has already earned him some skepticism over his ability to treat the Iraq question in political terms. “In choosing Lute, Bush has turned to a military officer, when in fact a civilian may bring a better set of skills, analysts say.”

Harry stays put

Prince Harry will not deploy to Iraq, Kevin Sullivan writes for the Post, noting that much of the debate centered on the safety of the prince and the implications for the institution of the monarchy.

The BBC reported that UK officials were most concerned about an Iranian-backed maneuver to capture the prince, Alan Cowell writes for the Times. UK Foreign Office officials coincidentally renewed their allegations that Iran supplies Iraqi militias with arms.

Jeffery Stinson has the royal redeployment story for USAT.

In other coverage:

WASHINGTON POST

The Post covers two burials at Arlington:

Dan Morse reports on the interment of Marine Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec, 34, a Hawaii native, who was killed outside of Baghdad last week.

Mark Berman describes the funeral of Army Spec. Matthew T. Bolar, 24, of Montgomery Ala., killed in Baghdad on May 3.

WALL STREET JOURNAL

In a contributed op-ed, Will Marshall pays tribute to the outgoing Tony Blair, arguing that Blair’s “real” legacy is not the Iraq war, but New Labor. Blair’s “imposing legacy of political modernization and policy innovation that will stand long after the Iraq controversy fades,” he argues, citing Blair’s domestic agenda and his apparent ideological commitment to “liberal values” and his rejection of “cultural relativism.”

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