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Daily Column
US Papers Tue: The General and the Secretary
Iraq political summit to open; Missile fired at jet in K'stan; More art in Iraq
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 08/14/2007 01:58 AM ET
The resignation of Karl Rove dominated the news today, leaving little room for Iraq, even though many of the Rove stories mentioned the war (usually only to point out that it's a disaster for Bush and his chief strategist is ditching him when it's bad.) But the Christian Science Monitor picks up its story of the conscientious objector and The New York Times cranks out front-page profiles of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

Times bureau chief John F. Burns pens a profile of Petraeus in preparation of the Sept. 15 report the general is due to deliver to Congress. In Burns' eyes, Petraeus is hardly the president's talisman; he's a man who feels allegiance to both the White House that appointed him and the Congress that funds him, and he says the right things about the decision to go to war:

His view, he says, is that he is "on a very important mission that derives from a policy made by folks at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, with the advice and consent and resources provided by folks at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. And in September, that's how I'm going to approach it." Whether to fight on here, he says, is a "big, big decision, a national decision," one that belongs to elected officials, not a field general.
Giving an honest assessment to Congress has been one of his themes, Burns writes, which has led to some of the friction between him and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It was Petraeus who pushed to bring former Sunni insurgents into the security forces or local constabularies over Maliki's objections. (Petraeus, naturally, plays down any differences between himself and the prime minister, but reports have surfaced of regular shouting matches and Maliki allegedly has tried to get him replaced.) Burns checks out the generals' record, however, and concludes that his two previous tours had mixed results. In the first, he was hailed as the savior of Mosul, bringing the unruly city to heel through smart, often non-kinetic, counterinsurgency tactics. In his second tour, he was in charge of training and equipping the Iraqi security forces. But Mosul's success was short-lived and his training program produced what could charitably be called uneven results. The result has been that Petraeus is a bit more humble these days. "Obviously, what we're going to try and do is win it," he says of the war. "What we're trying to do right now is generate enough hope to give it a chance. But the problem is, it's likely to muddle along for quite a long time."

David S. Cloud of the Times profiles Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates today, portraying him as a man who says little on Iraq, but does a lot of listening. His opaqueness befits the former chief of the CIA. The question which Gates -- like Petraeus, above -- is not answering is what new strategy, if any, is in the works when the review is due next month? Gates will be key in the debate because he's one of the few figures in the administration who might be able to get Congress and the White House to compromise. His goal, which will not please Democrats, is to "reduce the political temperature sufficiently" by late fall or early winter so that Iraqi is no longer a central subject of the presidential campaigns. Will there be early troop withdrawals? It's a "possibility," he says. What are his views? "I haven't really shared my views because I want to get their advice unvarnished, and I don't want General Petraeus or the chiefs or Admiral Fallon looking over their shoulders," he said. Cloud hints that redeployment is not in the works because Gates said recent advances in Iraq came from having the troops in the cities, something many Democrats oppose.

Mary Wiltenburg of the Monitor completes her story of Pfc. Agustin Aguayo, who was charged with missing movement and desertion because he grew to oppose all war while serving as a medic and infantryman in Tikrit. He decided he couldn't kill another human being, not even in self-defense, and took to carrying an unloaded weapon on patrols while other soldiers looked the other way. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to eight months, with six of them already served, given a bad conduct discharge and ordered to forfeit all benefits and rank. Now, he's back in the States wondering what to do next. What's most interesting in Wiltenburg's story is the reaction of his fellow soldiers. Only two -- a couple of sergeants who came to arrest him after he didn't show up to ship out on his second deployment and from whom he escaped -- avoided him. Other soldiers on base approached him and offered support and solidarity.

Roundups
Washington Post Megan Greenwell has the Post's sole Iraq-centered story today, focusing on the political summit that Maliki hopes will boost his political fortune. A planning meeting attended by Iraq's hoity-toity met yesterday to hammer out the basic structure of the talks, but already it doesn't sound good. One of the key attendees, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, complained that he was invited less than 24 hours before the initial meeting -- and he's the head of the largest Sunni political bloc, which Maliki is hoping to keep in the government. Hoo, boy. Elsewhere, police in Kirkuk said Sheikh Muhsin al-Jabouri was gunned down for working with the Americans. Two other religious leaders were killed over the weekend for participating in the U.S.'s Sunni outreach program. The U.S. military announced it had captured senior leaders of two Shi'ite groups accused of attacking soldiers and civilians in Baghdad. One man is accused of financing Shi'ite cells and acting as liaison between Shi'ite groups and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's al-Quds Force. The Iraqi Army picked up another leader of the Mahdi Army and five subordinates with an assist from U.S. troops. These guys are accused of bomb attacks in Karrada. A U.S. soldier was killed in combat in Baghdad and the military announced the start of a new campaign against al Qaeda in Iraq.

The Times' C.J. Chivers reports on a chilling development in Iraqi Kurdistan. Pilots of a Nordic Airways McDonnel Douglas MD-83 were fired upon by a surface-to-air missile last week while taking off from Suleimaniyah. The flight, which carried more than 120 people, wasn't hit and local Kurdish officials say they can find no evidence of a missile launch. (The pilots say they saw the flash and light of a missile rise from the ground, arc toward the plane and drop away as they climbed between 3,000 and 6,000 feet.) In typical "nothing to see here, move along" fashion, a Kurdish general said there was no attack, "not even from the bullet of a pistol." "All this is just propaganda," said Brig. Sarkawt Hassan Jalal. It should be noted the Kurds have a history of suppressing bad news about their region, desperate as they are to protect its image of a haven from Iraq's hell.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor
Sam Dagher tries his hand at reporting on the Baghdad art scene, this time focusing on the works of sculptor Nida Kadhim. The artists is working on a project focusing on prominent 20th century Iraqi intellectuals, artists, poets and writers -- most of them nationalists -- with the idea that the project will serve as a symbol of unity for a shattered nation. He's already received some support from the government and the statues will be displayed on Abu Nawas Street, the formerly hopping snake of a street that hugs the east bank of the Tigris. A former communist, Kadhim is working to restore other statues throughout Baghdad, even those from the Saddam era. Two massive busts of Saddam survive and could be put in a park, sort of like Moscow's Gorky Park. "It could be something for the collective memory just to remind people of Saddam's brutality," he says. It's a good story, but Dagher hints at a much better story. Abu Nawas Street used to be the social hub of Baghdad, with its bars, cafes, fish shops and relaxing families. But with the war checkpoints, blast walls and Western media organizations who are opposed to opening the street have chopped it up. But its closure has disrupted traffic all over Baghdad and opening it would be a tremendous psychological boost to Baghdadis. It would also improve the quality of life by cutting down on the numerous switchbacks needed to navigate the city these days.

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

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