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Daily Column
US Papers Thusday: God, Money, and Oil
War of the Mosques; a $150 Billion Contract Award; Iraq's Washington Lobbyists
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/28/2007 01:49 AM ET
News from and about Iraq was sparse and scattered today, what with all the news about Tony Blair stepping down. Accordingly, no single story rises to the top. If it can be said there is any thematic linkage in the coverage, it would be God, Money and Oil -- pretty much what you would expect out of Iraq.

The New York Times provides the sole daily roundup of Iraq's events, with Alissa Rubin leading with the news that talks are underway regarding the arrest warrant for Culture Minister Asad al-Hashimi, wanted for plotting the assassination of a rival politician in 2005. According to a spokesman for Hashimi, the talks involve three demands: release of the minister's 42 bodyguards who were arrested, the "restoration of the minister’s good name" and a new, independent investigation. Since the bodyguards have already been released, it sounds like he just wants the whole thing to go away.

Elsewhere in Iraq, an American soldier was killed and four others injured in mainly-Shi'ite eastern Baghdad by a roadside bomb, 21 bodies were found throughout Baghdad and a bomb killed a policman. Rubin describes the violence as "scattered." A car bomb in the usually quiet Kadhimiya killed two people and wounded four. Another roadside bomb killed three people north of Baghdad. A deadly encounter in Sadr City is disputed by local residents and American troops, and Americans are trying to break off locals from insurgents in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhimiya -- with little success. The U.S. military announced the death of a Marine in Anbar on Tuesday.

Northern Iraq is heating up, Rubin writes, probably because of militants from Baqoubah who fled Operation Arrowhead Ripper. Kirkuk police arrested 10 gunmen from Diyalah who carried material referring to the Islamic State of Iraq, a front group for Al Qaeda in Iraq. Another journalist was killed in Mosul and four cops, along with two civilians, killed in Samarra after a bomb exploded and the police opened fire.

The Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher reports on the War of the Mosques going on in Iraq, as rival Shi'ite and Sunni clerics and politicians jockey to claim credit for protecting the respective sects' holy places. Iraqi vice president didn't really help things one Friday when he told worshippers at the Khulani that Sunni extremists "want to strike your religion, sect, and faith. They trespass on the shrines of our imams." Other than stirring up sectarian passions, the government doesn't seem to be doing much. In the last month, six of Iraq's most important Shi'ite mosques and shrines have been attacked by bombings, Dagher reports, with Shi'ite leaders blaming the U.S. and its "agents" in order to extend its stay in Iraq and Sunni leaders blaming the Iran, as part of a "Persian plot" to eradicate Sunnis. The Sadrists are guarding the Shi'ite mosques, while the Sunnis are using the attacks as a rallying cry to the insurgency. It's a very tense situation.

The Washington Post offers no reporting out of Iraq, but does look at the all-important logistics contract that for years had been dominated by one firm (KBR in recent years). This time, the $150 billion contract has been awarded to three firms, including KBR, ostensibly in order to encourage competition and accountability. Dana Hedgpeth reports that the contract to house and feed troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait has been granted to Fluor Intercontinental of Greenville, S.C., DynCorp International of Fort Worth and KBR of Houston, with each company awarded $5 billion a year in a contract that can be extended for up to nine more years. Because of allegations of overcharging, poor record-keeping and inside influence thanks to Vice President Dick Cheney, awarding KBR part of the contract partially vindicates it, according to Lexington Institute, a defense research organization. The Times runs an un-bylined piece that adds nothing to what the Post covered.

The Wall Street Journal runs a story by Ayesha Daya about Iraq's move to change some of its old Hussein-era oil contracts in preparation for the new oil revenue law expected to be passed within the next two months. Contracts with China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam would be altered under the new law, but, frustratingly, Daya doesn't explain how the contracts would be changed or renegotiated. Thamer al-Ghadhban, an advisor to Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, said only that the contracts would be "amdended," over and over again.

USA Today runs a pair of stories by Matt Kelley on Iraqis' increasing sophistication in Washington's corridors of power. That's right: they're hiring more lobbyists. Since the start of the war in March 2003, 18 lobbyists and firms have registered to represent Iraqis, who have paid the lobbyists more than $16.7 million through January of this year -- more than 10 times the amount Iraqi opposition groups spent in the 12 years prior to the invasion, Kelley writes. Within the Iraqi government, seven politicians or factions have hired lobbyists, including the Kurds, a Sunni group called al-Tawafuq and Ayad Allawi. The Kurds want increased investment in the north and backing for the plan to seize Kirkuk, while al-Tawafuq wants more Sunnis in the security forces. Allawi presumably wants to be prime minister again. The biggest spender, however, is the Iraqi government ($13.4 million) in its quest to reduce Iraq's foreign debt from $140 billion to $30 billion and investigate fraud in the Oil-for-Food Program under Saddam.

In other coverage

Linda Feldman gets in a second-day analysis in on the break with the White House over Iraq by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. Norman Ormstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says Lugar's break is significant and comparable to when President Johnson lost support of the Democrats during the Vietnam War; it marks a real clipping of Presdient Bush's wings. Feldman advances the story a little by pointing to other Republicans who might bolt, including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the Senate.

The Post runs a Tony-friendly editorial, praising the former British prime minister for his steadfast alliance with the United States and his "principled" belief in internationalism. Blair's support for the Iraq invasion, the Post writes, arose from convictions "which were clearer and more principled than those of Mr. Bush."


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