The Times prints the more extensive account of yesterday’s violent events in Iraq, pointing out, among other events, a dispute over a bombing in Anbar Province, which Iraqi officials claim killed eight -- and which the US says never happened.
The “pardon Libby” campaign is already underway in the Journal, after the former Cheney aide was sentenced to 30 months in prison yesterday. Meanwhile the GOP candidates discussed Iraq in New Hampshire.
The Times profiles a segment of the shrinking Iraqi arts scene, and the Monitor begins a two-part series on Shi'a in the Middle East.
The suicide truck bomb that killed 18 people outside of Falluja may have targeted a meeting of tribal leaders who had aligned with the US against al-Qa'ida, Richard Oppel Jr. and Khaild al-Ansary write in the Times, citing local witnesses. The US military said this could not be confirmed, stating that the bomb exploded in a parking lot. US and Iraqi officials disagreed over another reported Anbar bombing: Iraqi security officials said another truck bomb killed eight policemen in Ramadi, while the Marines said this was a false report. 33 bodies were recovered in Baghdad, part of a steadily climbing trend, which Gen. Petraeus acknowledged in a televised interview on Tuesday. A US soldier was shot dead in Baghdad, and three Iraqi soldiers were killed by an IED. 12 students were kidnapped in Diyala Province’s Khalis. A second abduction attempt in Khalis was thawarted on Tuesday, when locals chased militants who had kidnapped 13 people at a fake checkpoint, later freeing the victims. North of Khalis, two Iraqi soldiers and two Iraqi police were killed in a firefight that killed seven militants. A Diyala police official said that 81 Iraqi policemen were killed in the province in the last two months. At least two bodies, and a severed head, were recovered in Baquba, the provincial capital, and another civilian was killed on Tuesday by gunmen. In Mosul, four bodies were recovered, and a Saudi Arabian militant was killed in clashes with police, along with an Iraqi gunman. Police in Mosul found a booby-trapped body inside a car, which they said was becoming a common tactic. A car bomb near a US base in Mahmudiya, Babil Province, killed an Iraqi civilian, and an IED near Hilla killed two policemen. Seven bodies were recovered in Babil province, all bound and shot in the head.
John Ward Anderson of the Post rounds up the day’s violent events in the Post, and on the Falluja bombing writes that members of the Anbar Salvation Council “said Tuesday's bombing apparently was not aimed at a specific tribal target,” which, of course, is not what witnesses told the Times, as noted above.
The Times visits an art gallery in Iraq, “the only one left in Baghdad with frequently rotating exhibits,” Kirk Semple writes. According to the Times report, the Madarat gallery and its director remain committed to the “quixotic” ideals of the transformative power of artistic expression. But the Baghdad art community is small and shrinking, they say, and the “golden age” of 2003 has faded into memory as the country plunged into violence and economic freefall. Most interesting is the ambivalence that the artists and art supporters express about the old regime: “It was a dictatorship, but that dictatorship helped,” said the owner of another struggling arts café. “Even during the terror and cruelty of Mr. Hussein’s reign, there was an active arts market, many galleries, and national and international art shows,” Semple writes. But Madabat’s owner, Hasan Nassar, argues that the political climate of the Ba'thist period outweighed the benefits of the official patronage for the art community. It is also noteworthy that the gallery is not self-financing, but is linked to an NGO that receives funding from the UN.
In their Times write-up of the GOP presidential debates, Patrick Healy and Marc Santora include some remarks about Iraq policy. Rudy Guliani said that it would have been “unthinkable” for the US not to have removed Saddam Hussein from power in 2003, while Sen. John McCain played the commander-in-chief card, challenging the Clinton campaign’s attempt to paint Iraq as “Mr. Bush’s war,” saying “when President Clinton was in power, I didn’t say that Bosnia, our intervention there was President Clinton’s war . . . When we intervened in Kosovo, I didn’t say it was President Clinton’s war.”
In the Post, Dan Balz and Michael Shear report several other Iraq references, with all candidates embracing the war as necessary for the US. Guiliani said the war “is part of the overall terrorist war against the United States," Giuliani said. "The problem the Democrats make is they're in denial." To a member of the audience who lost a brother in Iraq, McCain said, “I believe we have a strategy which can succeed, so that the sacrifice of your brother would not be in vain.” Meanwhile, Rep. Ron Paul, a GOP opponent of the war, was the only candidate to say he opposed the president’s troop level increase: “It was a mistake to go, so it's a mistake to stay."
US District Judge Reggie Walton handed I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby a 30-month prison sentence and a $250,000 fine for the ex-Cheney aide’s four convicted felonies stemming from the investigation into the Plame leak case, which itself stemmed from the controversy over the now-discredited prewar claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Africa. Carol Leonnig and Amy Goldstein have the sentencing story in the Post, noting that the judge said he was not inclined to allow Libby to go free pending appeals.
Neil Lewis writes the Libby story for the NYT, noting that “An intriguing question for many is what role Mr. Cheney will play in pressing Mr. Bush to grant a pardon. In a statement, Mr. Cheney noted that Mr. Libby was appealing the verdict and said that he and his wife, Lynne, ‘hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man.’”
In the Post, Michael Abramowitz looks at a series of letters sent to the court pleading for leniency on Libby’s behalf, submitted by such names as Donald H. Rumsfeld, Paul D. Wolfowitz, Gen. Peter Pace and Henry A. Kissinger.
While the pardon campaign is already underway, Peter Baker writes in the Post that President Bush now faces a dilemma: “Trigger a fresh political storm by pardoning a convicted perjurer or let one of the early architects of his administration head to prison.” Baker runs down a list of prominent political figures, who fall largely along party lines on the pardon issue. “If Bush were to decide to pardon Libby, he would have to short-circuit the normal process. Under Justice Department guidelines, Libby would not qualify for a pardon. The guidelines require applicants to wait at least five years after being released from prison. The review process after the submission of an application typically can take two years before a decision is made. During more than six years in office, Bush has pardoned just 113 people, nearly a modern low, and never anyone who had not yet completed his sentence. He has commuted three sentences,” Baker writes. However, presidential authority to pardon federal crimes is virtually unrestricted under the constitution, and several others before Bush have ignored the Justice guidelines.
“Free Scooter Libby,” Journal editors write, calling on the president to grant a pardon. “If he goes to jail it will be, above all, for two reasons: He was energetically defending the Administration's prewar intelligence at a time when most everyone else in the Administration -- from Condoleezza Rice to Colin Powell and Steven Hadley -- was running from it; and he refused to do a Harold Ickes and fail "to recall" when investigators came knocking.”
Evan Perez files the Libby story for the Journal, noting a few other names on the list of Libby leniency letter-writers: Natan Sharansky, James Carville & Mary Matalin, Dennis Ross, Leon Wieseltier. Christopher Cox. One letter, however, written by Tripp Badger of San Francisco, said that Libby “must be jailed.” Absent from the list: Dick Cheney.
Richard Willing of USAT writes that the next step for the Libby team will be to try to delay the sentence. Willing notes that President Bush’s spokesperson Dana Perino said the president felt “terrible” about the sentence. “The sentence was at the low end of the 30- to 37- month term requested by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald but substantially higher than probation, which Libby's attorneys had sought,” Willing adds.
In other coverage:
NEW YORK TIMES
Rival campaigns have seized on a remark by Sen. Clinton during the Democratic debates to challenge her fitness to be commander-in-chief. “I believe we are safer than we were,” Clinton said. “We are not yet safe enough, and I have proposed over the last year a number of policies that I think we should be following.” Michael Cooper and Patrick Healy write, “The senator, a New York Democrat, was referring to domestic security efforts since Sept. 11, 2001, and not to the consequences of the war in Iraq or President Bush’s foreign policy, her advisers say. Yet rival Democratic campaigns, arguing that the war in Iraq has harmed security in America by breeding terrorists, are using the remark to highlight differences with her on the issue of the ability to be commander in chief, which political analysts view as a threshold issue for any woman running for president. “
Warren Hoge discusses Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Iraq, in his new role at the United Nations.
In his column, Harold Meyerson considers the “Korea analogy,” drawing on Spencer Ackerman’s reporting in the American Prospect last year, which he says documented US efforts to build permanent bases in Iraq at a time when the official line was that the US had no ambitions of creating permanent installations. “The entire pattern of this war has been to deploy first and create a theory later to justify the deployment. Now that support for the war is at an all-time low, it's plainly time for the theory to justify the long-term presence of U.S. forces,” Meyerson writes. The columnist continues to argue that the Korea analogy does not hold: US forces are stationed in Korea to deter an invasion, not to control civil strife, and the administration’s claimed functions for Korea-like bases don’t fit the situation in Iraq, he argues.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
An antiwar installation of thousands of crosses on a hillside in Lafayette, Calif, has clashed with neighbor’s desires to maintain their property values, Bobby White writes in the Journal, setting off a backlash that may go to the courts.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITORScott Peterson’s report in the Monitor, the first in a two-part series on “the Shi'a.” Those seeking to understand, among many other apparent enigmas, recent deadly clashes between Shi'a militias in Iraq, the unraveling United Iraqi Alliance, accusations traded among Iraqi Shi'a leaders that their rivals are acting as agents of Iran, or even the unproven US allegations that Iran aids Sunni militants, will need to look elsewhere.