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Daily Column
US Papers Tue: Humanitarian Crisis Growing
Badgering Basra; No Buddy Movie for Bush and Brown; Iran criticizes arms sales
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/31/2007 01:54 AM ET
Everyone has some Iraq news today, but it's an uneven selection. The Washington Post fronts another Walter Reed story that probably didn't need to be fronted, and The New York Times reports on badgers in Basra. Stories not on the front page but should be include a report from Oxfam that Iraqis are facing a humanitarian crisis that is the fastest growing in the world. Oh, and the Brown-Bush summit gets the post-game treatment.

Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq
A third of Iraqis need emergency medical care, reports Megan Greenwell for the Post. A consortium of relief organizations released a report Monday saying Iraqis' living conditions have declined markedly since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, with 70 percent of the people lacking adequate water supplies, and more than 4 million people displaced. "Basic indicators of humanitarian need in Iraq show that the slide into poverty and deprivation since the coalition forces entered the country in 2003 has been dramatic, and a deep trauma for the Iraqi people," the report stated. And once again, the CPA comes in for the most criticism. It "did not adequately take into account emergency needs that would arise from deteriorating security over time." This is in direct contradiction of statements from the United States and its allies, who have often touted the improvements to Iraqis' lives, including, two weeks ago, the claim that the U.S. and the Iraqi government had "all but stopped" sectarian displacement. Greenwell continues her roundup with grim news of returning violence on Monday. A car bomb killed six people in Bab al-Shorji; 15 bodies were found in Baghdad; three U.S. troops were killed in Anbar; and the parliament started its month-long August recess.

Damien Cave handles the Oxfam report for the Times, noting that "it provides one of the most comprehensive pictures to date of the human crisis within Iraq and what it describes as a slow-motion response from Iraq’s government, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union." In addition to the 70 percent of the country that lacks adequate water supplies -- up from 50 percent in 2003 -- 90 percent of the country's hospitals lack basic medical and surgical supplies. And 43 percent of Iraqis are living in "absolute poverty," which is less than $1 a day. The report calls for more money and better policy from the Iraqi government. Medical and other aid supplies, which are kept in seven Baghdad warehouses, should be distributed to the provinces and locally administered. (The central government is too inefficient, the report says.) And because aid agencies wont accept money from countries involved in the war -- cutting out the potentially biggest donor -- the report called on non-involved nations to step up aid giving.

Enterprise Stories
Steve Vogel tackles the Post's latest story on Water Reed, the strange clash of cultures generated by placing combat veterans at the hospital in order to ease the transition of wounded troops coming back from Iraq. But some of the combat vets are having trouble adjusting to Walter Reed's civilian atmosphere, Vogel writes, with tough emails that wouldn't raise an eyebrow at Fort Hood being met with complaints from worried mothers. That said, the new approach puts more "boots on the ground" at the hospital so patients get more individual care than before, and having a kind of "battle buddy" makes them feel like they're a soldier. "That's one good thing the Army did, bringing in combat vets," said Staff Sgt. John Guna, 38. "You can say, 'Where'd you get blown up at?' And they'll tell you and you can say, 'Oh, I got hit there myself.' " The story could be a little clearer on what life is like for the outpatient soldiers and the Warrior Transition Brigade. Walter Reed has formations every morning? For wounded vets? It may be obvious to military types, but for civilians reading the story, some of the details will be surprising and a little incomprehensible. And what's the point of the Warrior Transition Brigade? To keep the outpatient vets in a battle-ready mentality so they can return to Iraq or to ease their transition to civilian life after discharge? Again, unclear.

The Times' Stephen Farrell wins for the most bizarre conspiracy theory to come along in a while. The rumor mill in Basra has it the British Army, in a fit of spite, has released a number of strange and dangerous critters into the local area. The alleged beasts include cattle-eating badgers, snake eggs and rabies-infected bomb-sniffing dogs. As Farrell notes dryly: "All three stories have been manufactured by Iraq’s tireless rumor mill, the only machine in the country seemingly capable of functioning day and night without need of electricity or generators." The Iranians have also accused Western intelligence agencies of using, well, "spy squirrels" for lack of a better term. The badger story has at least a basis in fact. It was native to the southern marshlands, but disappeared when Saddam Hussein began destroying the habitat there. Now that the wetlands are returning, so is the badger, freaking young people out. (Old timers are familiar with it.) However, no one can remember the old badgers attacking cattle and children, as the stories attest. The British, with a straight face, deny any badger-related mischief on their part. "Of course we categorically deny that we have released badgers into Basra," said Maj. Mike Shearer, a military spokesman.

Brown-Bush Summit
The Post and the Times focus on the personal relationship between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Gordon Brown that didn't develop much at Camp David. "The two leaders showed none of the warmth and coziness that Mr. Bush had shared with Mr. Brown’s predecessor," reports Jim Rutenberg of the Times. "Brown, a low-key Scotsman who succeeded Tony Blair as prime minister last month, appeared less effusive than Bush -- perhaps mindful of the political perils at home of seeming too close to the American president," echoed the Post's Michael Abramowitz. Both stories do touch on the common goal of the two leaders, however -- combating terrorism -- but note that Brown pointedly never used the phrase "war on terror" and even called Afghanistan "the front line against terrorism" instead of Iraq, as Bush is wont to do. The Times piece noted that Brown affirmed Britain's commitment to Iraq, pleasing his American hosts.

The Post's Dana Milbank gets all breathless over the lack of obvious chemistry between the two men, writing one of his trademark observational pieces. He leads with a story told by Brown's political advisor that a White House aide confused the new PM with a former rugby star. The White House denies this, saying the aide knew there are two Gordon Browns. It's Milbank's details that make this piece, such as the revelation that Bush and former PM Tony Blair bonded 77 months ago over the newly discovered fact that they both used Colgate toothpaste. This is the glue of international diplomacy? Common dental care?

David Jackson writes a just-the-facts-ma'am piece for USA Today, eschewing most of the non-buddy movie aspects of the summit and instead concentrating on the post-summit press conference.

Political/Diplomatic Developments
Farrell also reports for the Times that Iraq's parliament kicked off its summer vacation yesterday despite calls from Washington to stay in session and save the Republican party's political fortunes -- er, solve Iraq's problems, rather. Parliamentarians, in a rare show of unity, said they would take off until Sept. 4, and they had already cut their scheduled two-month break in half and extended their workweek from three days to a grueling six. This puts a dead stop on the progress that wasn't being made on passing a revenue sharing bill for Iraq's oil wealth and reconciling with Ba'ath party members. These two big pieces of legislation haven't even been sent to debate yet, so a lawmaker from the Shi'ite-led coalition said there was no reason to stay in session because there was nothing to vote on. "All the work on the laws is up to the political blocs, and that means all the negotiations and debates take place in closed rooms, not in the Parliament," said Shatha al-Mussawi.

The Times' Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper write that the U.S. has admitted that the plan to provide billions of dollars in advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel is to contain Iran. Helping America's friends in the Middle East is paramount the White House says, and the weapons will include "only defensive systems." Why the U.S. felt the need to shout this is a mystery, since it's pretty obvious. Did the Iranians not get the message the first time when the package? Congress certainly didn't. The White House faced hostile questions from lawmakers during closed briefings as to why the U.S. thinks new weapons would deter Iran. Ah. There's the reason for trumpeting the Iran threat on these sales. Isn't it possible the U.S. is playing up the Persian peril to lawmakers to put public pressure on them? Public pressure to allow weapons sales that will keep defense contractors (who donate to the Republican party a lot) happy? Nah. The sales are also designed to reward Egypt and Saudi Arabia for supporting the Shi'ite-led government in Iraq, although it looks like America's Arab friends are driving a hard bargain. Egypt's package includes the advanced AIM-9X missile, used on jet fighters for aerial combat. In the past, Israel has successfully lobbied not to sell such missiles to Arab states out of fear that the balance of power might shift.

Robin Wright writes for the Post that Iran is upset over the combined $20 billion package to Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf countries and $43 billion to Israel and Egypt over 10 years. America "is creating fear and concerns in the countries of the region and trying to harm the good relations between these countries," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini. The U.S., not surprisingly, blew off Iran's concerns and countercharged that it was Iran that was meddling. "There isn't a doubt that Iran constitutes the single most important single-country strategic challenge to the United States and to the kind of the Middle East that we want to see," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice en route to Egypt with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Rice denied there was any quid pro quo in the package, saying "We are working with these states to fight back extremism." Back in Washington, undersecretary of state for political affairs R. Nicholas Burns didn't get the memo, however, saying, "We would want our friends in the region to be supportive not only of what the United States is doing in Iraq, but of the Iraqi government itself." In a bit of scoop, Wright writes that the $20 billion is just the U.S. starting offer; it could go up.


Christian Science Monitor
Gordon Lubold picks up on Saturday's story about how the Iraqis are refusing to take control of most reconstruction projects. It's a nice roundup, but doesn't really add anything new. IraqSlogger has a story here.

USA Today
Jim Michaels reports that Coalition forces have found more insurgent weapons caches in the first half of 2007 than the entirety of 2006, reflecting the new strategy of getting the troops out into the neighborhoods where they receive tips from civilians.

Wall Street Journal
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of the Middle East Quarterly, weighs in on the Journals' op-ed page, saying the Bush administration has squandered American prestige and upset our allies -- but not because of the Iraq war. It's because the administration has "sacrificed long-term credibility for short-term calm." Uh, what? Where is the calm? Rubin's piece is an excellent exercise in misdirection and the dangerous idealism that got the U.S. into the mess it's in. For example, he blames the low standing in the U.S. in Turkey for the failure to go after the PKK. Au contraire! The Turks were so opposed the Iraq war and the use of Turkish territory that Ankara didn't allow the 4th Infantry Division through. Like many people around the world, they're not pissed at the U.S. because the country hasn't taken down a few Kurds; they're upset because it went into Iraq pell-mell.

Washington Post
Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan is set to become the first Army officer to face court-martial over the Abu Ghraib alleged torture case next month, even though he doesn't appear in any of the notorious pictures and more than half a dozen interrogators said he had nothing to do with the questioning that went on at the prison, reports Josh White. He said he was being made a scapegoat because as a reserve officer, he is "expendable." Since January 2004, he has suffered stress-related brain lesions, a divorce and is in counseling for PTSD. A staff sergeant who conducted about 100 interrogations at Abu Ghraib said Jordan was not involved in the authorization chain of command and his name doesn't appear on any of the dozens of signed interrogations requests the Post acquired. The Army is "sacrificing him on the altar of public opinion while slowly letting everyone else fade out of view," said Staff Sgt. Mark Day.


Wounded Warrior Project