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Daily Column
US Papers Saturday: Blood and Politics
5 GIs killed as Sunnis leave cabinet; Democrats to force Iraq votes this summer
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/30/2007 01:23 AM ET
Politics and blood mark today's coverage, with The New York Times and the Washington Post offering dueling leads of the day's roundups. The Post emphasizes politics, but in Iraq and in Washington, while the Times covers the bases. Nothing really jumps out today, but it's a good selection of stories anyway.

Richard Oppel Jr. of the Times leads his story with the killing of five G.I.s in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora by a huge, buried bomb. (Seven were also wounded.) The attack brings to 330 the number of U.S. military deaths over the past three months, including 100 so far in June, making it the deadliest period yet for the American military in Iraq. Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil Jr., commander of the 1st Cavalry Division and in charge of Baghdad, said the coordinated attack, which included the bomb, small-arms fire and RPGs, was "very violent" and showed a level of coordination and sophistication the military hasn't often seen. These kinds of attacks are taking their toll: in the first six months of 2007, 574 service members have died, a 62 percent increase over the same period last year. Fil said the insurgents were some of the worst he's ever seen. "This is a skilled and determined enemy," he said at a news conference. "He's ruthless. He's got a thirst for blood like I've never seen anywhere in my life, and he's determined to do whatever he can." The threat of such attacks seems to have persuaded Moqtada al-Sadr to cancel the planned march to Samarra, Oppel writes. The government of Nouri al-Malaki said the route wasn't safe. Neither, it seems, is the government. Six Sunni ministers said they would boycott cabinet meetings to protest the attempted arrest of one of their own: Culture Minister Asad al-Hashimi, who is wanted in connection with a failed assassination plot on rival lawmaker, Mitha al-Alusi. The Times also picks up yesterday's story in the Post that the U.S. is investigating the attack in Khalis during Arrowhead Ripper in which 17 men were killed. Locals say they were civilians, the military says they were possibly insurgents.

The boycott of the Sunni ministers leads Joshua Partlow's roundup for the Post, with the ministers' return hinging on the formation of an independent committee to investigate the charges against al-Hashimi. They also want reform in the detainee system. Partlow adds that the Iraqi Accordance Front, to which the six minister belong, suspended its participation in parliament last week to protest the sacking of Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, also a Sunni. Over all, with six Sunni ministers and six ministers loyal to al-Sadr (they withdrew earlier this year), and the resignation of the justice minister, 13 of 34 cabinet positions are now empty. Partlow gets deeper into the thickets of Iraqi politics, reporting that the withdrawal of the six comes on the heels of an agreement between the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council and al-Malaki's Dawa Party to work together to fill cabinet seats with competent technocrats rather than party loyalists. Partlow also mentions the soldiers in Dora and ends with al-Sadr's cancelled march.

Ann Scott Tyson writes a single-source story for the Post on how Iraqis are signing up to join with the U.S. in its fight against al Qaeda in Iraq. According to Fil, a program to reach out to Sunni tribes is going well, with 1,500 fighters in the Abu Ghraib area agreeing to renounce violence against the U.S. and Iraqi government and join the Iraqi police. Fil also said the U.S. military isn't "arming" the tribes, former insurgents or militias and required them to take an oath of allegiance. Fil said attacks against Iraqis are down, while strikes against U.S. troops are up as they push into uncontrolled sections of Baghdad. It would have been nice if Tyson had talked to additional sources and/or explained why the U.S. military is referring to every insurgent as "Al Qaeda in Iraq" now.

HOME FRONT
Eilzabeth Williamson and Johnathan Weisman report for the Post that Democrats plan a legislative "surge" of their own after the June break, indicating that after facing Republican "obstructionism" on their domestic agenda, the Democrats would start introducing a slew of Iraq legislation designed to use the GOP's support for the war against it. Look for a replay of the binding troop-withdrawal timeline debate and demands for more accountability from President Bush and the Iraqi government. Banning permanent military bases is also on tap, along with the restoration of habeas corpus for detainees and the closure of Guantanamo Bay. Just to keep things interesting, they might force a vote on the deauthorization of the war. These proposals will come about once a week to force Republicans and the president to defend the war to a public just short of breaking out of the torches and pitchforks. "The idea, Democratic leaders said, is to engage voters who have turned against the president and have soured on a Congress that they still see as ineffectual," the two write. Sounds more like the idea is to play presidential politics with the war.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the Times focuses on Bush's reversal of political fortune, rather than the Democrats push, leading with the warning that the president "enters the final 18 months of his presidency in danger of losing control over a party that once marched in lockstep with him." More Republicans are growing disenchanted with Bush, and expect Iraq to dominate the next several months. Stolberg notes that September will be a test for Bush, when the surge will be re-evaluated in Congress. "He will almost certainly face Republican pressure to shift course," she writes.

Both the Post and the Times cover the United Nations Security Council 14-0 vote to finally shut down the commission charged with monitoring Iraq's programs of WMD. The Post's Colum Lynch and Warren Hoge of the Times mention the final comments after the vote of U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalizad, but the Post gets the irony award: "These efforts have demonstrated that the current government of Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction or delivery systems," said Khalizad. Neither, it seems, did the previous one.

In other coverage

NEW YORK TIMES
Timothy Egan, a former correspondent for the Times, writes on his alma mater's op-ed page about Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, who was one of the first Republicans to break with Bush over Iraq. As famously said from the floor of the Senate last December: "I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. This is absurd. It may even be criminal." He has given up on Iraq and views it as incorrigible. Those in power "are more focused on revenge than reconciliation -- it's a quicksand of ancient hatreds."

WASHINGTON POST
Christina Shelton, an intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1984-2000, writes in the paper's op-ed pages a rebuttal of some sections of George Tenet's book. Her verdict: there were too connections between Iraq and al Qaeda, and Tenet is trying to be on both sides of the issue now.

Anthony Borden, executive director of the Institute for War & Peace, writes on the op-ed page an homage to Sahar Hussein Ali al-Haydari, 44, a female journalist gunned down recently in Mosul. Hers is a tragic story, and tragically commonplace in Iraq. A dedicated reporter, she wrote about honor killings, jihadis and sectarian conflict. She had already been shot and wounded last year. Borden notes that she is the 106th journalist killed since 2003 and the 84th Iraqi media professional to be killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Two other Iraqi journalists have been killed since her death. He also notes that attacks on female journalists are up all over the Islamic world: four have been killed (two in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, including Sahar) outside their homes in recent days, he reports. In Gaza, Islamists protested in the streets and called for the beheading of female Palestinian TV anchors who refuse to wear the hijab.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
No Saturday edition

USA TODAY
No Saturday edition

WALL STREET JOURNAL
The Journal yesterday had a must-read by Greg Jaffe on the tensions affecting the officer corps over Iraq and lessons learned. Due to an editing error it was originally not included in yesterday's roundup. US Papers regrets the error.

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