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Daily Column
US Papers Thu: Soccer Win Brings Rare Joy
Vets' health care overhaul; Sunni bloc threatens walkout; House nixes Iraq bases
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/26/2007 01:53 AM ET
The presidential panel's report recommending an overhaul on the care of wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan is the big news of the day, followed closely some welcome bit of joy in Iraq: the victory of the country's soccer team in the Asia Cup. There's also a fair bit of goings-on in Washington and a couple of decent enterprise stories from The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor.

Steve Vogel of the Washington Post gets front-page treatment for his story on the commission's report. The panel, led by former Sen. Robert J. Dole, R-Kan., and former Health and Human Services secretary Donna E. Shalala, issued six broad recommendations for the military health care and veterans' assistance systems. Some of the suggestions include creating "recovery coordinators" who would guide seriously injured service members through care, rehabilitation and disability; granting the Department of Veterans Affairs sole responsibility for determining payments to wounded vets; and aggressive steps to prevent and treat PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. President Bush has apparently reacted favorably to the panel's recommendations. The panel, the Post points out, was created in March after the paper ran stories on the problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Jim Rutenberg and David S. Cloud have the story for the Times, adding the costs of the plan: $500 million for fully implementing the proposals, and $1 billion annually years from now, "as the current crop of fresh veterans and active military members ages and new personnel is in place." The Times notes that Democrats in Congress -- which approved a 3.5 percent pay raise for military personnel yesterday -- have noted that previous panels such as, say, the Iraq Study Group, have not been so enthusiastically embraced.

Tom Vanden Brook and David Jackson have the story for USA Today.

Life in Iraq
Joy in Iraq is unusual and irresistible, and the paper's roundup reflects the reporters' appetite for some good news out of Iraq. Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Qais Mizher lead the Times' roundup with the semifinal win by the "Lions of Mesopotamia" over the South Korean team, 4-3, at the Asia Cup tournament. The win caused thousands of Iraqis to pour into the streets in "more rapture than celebration," they write. Unfortunately, two suicide car bombers took advantage of the revelry and blew themselves up in Monsour in the middle of cheering crowds, killing at least 50 and wounding 135 more. Police in Baghdad also arrested several men who had used the cover of celebratory gunfire to kill people in grudge murders. Still, the win provided a rare moment of national unity. Even in Kurdistan, they waved the Iraqi national flag rather than the Kurdish banner. Just hours before the match, however, the main Sunni Arab bloc said it would permanently leave the cabinet in a week unless the Maliki government agreed to various demands.

Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor provides great color from the scene, and he relegates the suicide bombers in Monsour to a single paragraph.

Only Megan Greenwell of the Post was a killjoy, leading with the news of the Sunni bloc's threatened walkout. A permanent Sunni Arab boycott would be a huge blow to the Iraqi government and the American project in Iraq, crippling the government as it prepares benchmark legislation to satisfy Iraq critics in Congress. Her coverage of the soccer jubilation is actually a bit grim, forgoing most of the usual dancing-crowd stuff and instead focusing on the car bombs and the jeering and obscenities of young men at a passing American convoy.

Enterprise Reporting
The Times and the Monitor have a couple of decent enterprise stories today, focusing on Bechtel and an interview with the Iraqi ambassador to the United States.

James Glanz of the Times reports that Bechtel met fewer its original objectives on fewer than half of the projects it was granted as part of a $1.8 billion reconstruction contract. Most of the rest were cancelled, reduced or never completed as designed. Ah, but it's not Bechtel's fault, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. It's a failure of overseers at the United States Agency for International Development and of the system in general. “It’s actually quite positive, looking at it from a Bechtel perspective, in a lot of cases,” said Bill Shoaf, program director for the company’s Iraq infrastructure program. Well, sure, a lot of things great if you only concentrate on what went right. What's perplexing -- and unanswered in this story -- is why the Inspector General's audit seemed to go out of its way to absolve and even praise Bechtel.

The Monitor's Howard LaFranchi scores an interview with Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie, who complains -- "in a moment of diplomatic pushback" -- that the U.S. is too slow in equipping Iraq's armed forces. Requests for high-caliber guns and armored personnel carriers have gone unanswered, the ambassador says. LaFranchi notes that the Pentagon has debated for years on the wisdom of equipping Iraqis with more powerful weapons, worrying that with the infiltration among the Iraqis, U.S. weapons might get turned on American troops. There is also the worry that the U.S. would be pouring gasoline on the fires of civil war. To compensate, Iraq has been turning to China, buying high-powered rifles.

Washington News
The Post's Robin Wright reports on yet another September report on Iraq -- from one of the White House's own agencies. And it's likely to be a doozy. The Government Accountability Office has done the most work tracking the "missteps, miscalculations, misspent funds and shortfalls of both the United States and Iraq since the 2003 invasion." And now its internal affairs team has a September report card on Iraq due, too. (This is on top of the 91 other reports on Iraq it has already issued over the past four years.) The GAO report will give a blunt thumbs up or thumbs down on how the Iraqis are doing on the 18 Congressionally mandated benchmarks, rather than the White Houses "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" progress it published in the July interim report. It sounds like this report will be much harsher on the Iraqis than the Bush administration was, and since it's due two weeks before the Sept. 15 report is, it will likely define the debate. Not good for the White House.

Both the Post and the Times have the 399-24 vote in the House to ban permanent bases in Iraq and bar the use of federal funds to control Iraqi oil. Jonathan Weisman of the Post says Republicans decried the bill as political theatre. Carl Hulse of the Times notes the bill comes at the same time the Rep. John MP. Murtha, D-Pa., said he would try to introduce a bill that would mandate the beginning of troop withdrawals as early as the fall, but without an ending deadline.

The Wall Street Journal's David Rogers has a separate story on the Murtha bill, noting his lack of an ending deadline is an attempt to attract more Republicans to his bill.

In other coverage

New York Times
J. Michael Kennedy reports that the Army's third largest base, Fort Lewis, Wash., would reverse course and hold funerals every week on Wednesday for fallen service members, instead of the proposed monthly service, which drew wide-spread outrage from base families.

Wall Street Journal
An unsigned editorial argues that Gitmo should be kept open and Iraqis should be kept there.


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