Damien Cave of the Times uses the tale of Shatha al-Musawi, a Shi'ite lawmaker, to tell the story of the worsening ties between Shi'ites and Sunnis in Iraq, a fissure deepened by decades of favoritism and brutality and now, insecurity, deep grudges and a grasping reach for power. With her family brutalized by Saddam Hussein's thugs, al-Musawi was ecstatic when Saddam was captured. She jumped up, screamed and hugged her friend Sahira, a Sunni. He friend didn't hug back. A few days later, they stopped talking. At some point, "sect became the defining characteristic for Iraqis." Her Sunni friends told her that being Sunni used to mean something. What of the Shi'ites, she thought. As a parliamentarian, she has enduring condescension from the male, Sunni speaker, who smirked as she protested her colleagues for standing by Sunni extremists who killed Shi'ites in Diyala province. ("Leave it to the women," he allegedly said.) The problem, she says, is that too many Sunnis will never accept Shi'ite rule and they won't take responsibility for the actions of Saddam, the Ba'ath Party or the extremists today. One Sunni quoted said the Shi'ites were exaggerating their oppression to gain political power. Al-Musawi, for her part, will never accept Sunni rule again. "I can't stand seeing them in power," she said. Cave writes a compelling story on the distrust, but it's a one-sided story. One hopes that tomorrow, he'll look at the Sunni side.
The Post's Shailagh Murray lands the paper' front-pager, about the newfound flexibility of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who now says he's willing to compromise with Republican lawmakers on ways to limit troop deployments in Iraq. Sensing that September will be "one of the last opportunities" to alter the course of the war, Reid now acknowledges that his earlier stance on setting a spring withdrawal date was hurting the Democrats' ability to get any traction on the war among moderate Republicans. He says that he still wants an immediate return of U.S. troops, but is now willing to look at softer legislation, such as one proposal that would require troops to have more home leave, forcing military leaders to reduce troop levels. This has gathered some Republican support. Another proposal is one left over from earlier in the summer that would enshrine the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group as official U.S. policy. But he notes that now is the time for his GOP colleagues to stand up to President George W. Bush, who has used the August break to push his case for the war. "All these people saying September is here, September is the time -- they're going to have belly up to the bar and decide how to vote," Reid said. The majority leader's softening of his stance will likely infuriate the anti-war bloc of the Democratic Party, who are already seething over Bush's continued control of the debate. Look for any legislative compromise to have torpedoes aimed at it from both the far left and far right.
David S. Cloud reports for the Times in another front page story that an independent military commission will recommend remaking -- again -- Iraq's 26,000-member national police force to purge it of corrupt officers and Shi'ite militants. The current police should be "scrapped" and reshaped into a smaller, more elite organization. In short, "we should start over." For God's sake, how many times is this going to happen? This is, what?... The third time Iraq's Army and/or police have been revamped? The Army, at least, gets some positive ink in the report. Cloud reports that the new, harsh report will be seized by Democrats in Congress as the Iraq debate heats up next week and should get the "understatement award" when he says disbanding an Iraqi security force would be risky, "given the armed backlash that followed the American decision to dissolve the Iraqi Army soon after the invasion of 2003." Yeah, that would be called the insurgency, which has killed more than 3,700 American troops since then, although it wasn't wholly a response to the disbanding of the army. There would have been an insurgency regardless; it just might not have included so many trained military guys with extensive knowledge of the local terrain. The Pentagon, naturally, disagrees with the report's assessments. It also disagrees with yesterday's leaked GAO report, which delivered a harsh indictment of the Iraqi government, and wants some of its conclusions "revised." (Who ever leaked it wanted it out before it got watered down, which now looks like a good assessment.)
The investigation into the Pentagon scandal over Iraq contracts continues, with Eric Schmitt and James Glanz of the Times offering the final front-pager of the day. Lee Dynamics International, an American company operating out of Kuwait, appears to have paid thousands of dollars in bribes to American contracting officers to win more than $11 million in contracts. The company now seems to be at the center of the Pentagon's investigation. The company is denying all wrongdoing, and is contesting its ban from receiving government contracts. This is just part of a broader investigation involving 18,000 contracts worth more than $3 billion. One of the officers under investigation is Lt. Col. Levonda Joey Selph, a close aide to Gen. David H. Petraeus and heavily involved in arming and training the Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005 -- right when 190,000 weapons went missing, a story first broken by IraqSlogger in July. The Pentagon's probe may have cost at least one life. One Army major shot and killed herself in Baghdad the day after she admitted to taking $225,000 in bribes from Lee Dynamics.
Things just keep getting worse for Iraqi refugees. Sabrina Tavernise and Qais Mizher report for the Times that Syria may soon require a visa for some refugees, closing off one of the last free havens for people fleeing the abattoir of Iraq. Jordan largely closed it doors to Iraqi men at the start of 2007. It will also complicate efforts for Iraqis to be resettled in the United States, because Iraqis have to be interviewed outside of Iraq. Syria has also not provided visas to U.S. officials so they can come to Damascus and interview refugees.
In or out, Moqtada. The Post's Megan Greenwell reports that Moqtada al-Sadr said he would rescind the "freeze" order on the Mahdi Army if military raids on his offices didn't cease in the next few days. This comes a day after issuing the "freeze" order of up to six months -- and a raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces on his office in Karbala that left six Mahdi Army members dead and 30 others in custody. Meanwhile, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi seems to have gotten another one of his demands met: the release of prisoners without charges, the majority of which are Sunnis. Also, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two soldiers: one was killed in combat in western Baghdad and another died in Diyala from a roadside bomb. The number of August troop deaths is at 81 right now.
Karen DeYoung of the Post has the story of the Pentagon's challenging of the GAO report leaked yesterday. The GAO reports listed 15 of the 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks as missed. The Pentagon, however, says it has provided the GAO with new information that "will lead them to conclude that a few of the benchmark grades should be upgraded from 'not met' to 'met,' " said spokesman Geoff Morrell. He didn't specify which ones. The State Department doesn't dispute the basic conclusions of the report, although it did propose some changes. The Pentagon, however, said there were factual errors and offered suggestions on some of the grades. The GAO is not required to make such changes, though. Democrats said the GAO report would show that Bush would be likely to distort the Iraq situation when he makes his own report in mid-September. White House Spokesman Tony Snow basically called the GAO investigators ignoramuses, and said reports would be more reliable from Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, "the general who is in charge of overall operations and the ambassador who works there every day, the folks who have a real grasp of ground truth." Unlike, say, the president.
More stories are coming out that the military in Iraq controlling the message, even to visiting congressional members. It's also monitoring the visitors. Jonathan Weisman reports for the Post that during a recent congressional delegation to Iraq, Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, D-Calif., and Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-Va., both witnessed their bios -- complete with their harsh anti-war language highlighted -- distributed to military officials they were meeting with. Tauscher said, "This is beyond parsing. This is being slimed in the Green Zone." Weisman calls the codels (for "congressional delegation") "brief, choreographed and carefully controlled," and have often "showed only what the Pentagon and the Bush administration have wanted the lawmakers to see." At one point, one man who wanted to get their attention, "apparently to voice concerns about the war effort," was whisked away by security guards before he could talk to them. In a meeting with Iraq's national security advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the two representatives tried to turn off a big TV with a children's cartoon on that was proving distracting. "But this is my favorite television show," Rubaie protested.
Iraqi WMD found -- at UN
Robert D. McFadden of the Times reports on the bizarre finding of old chemical weapon agents from Saddam Hussein's Iraq that somehow ended up in a UNMOVIC office at the U.N. in New York, causing the FBI and the city police to go on full alert. There seems to be no danger and the chemical was contained, but it seems to have gone unnoticed for a decade in the Big Apple. The chemical appears to be phosgene, a WWI-era nerve-gas component used against the Kurds in Halabja. No one seems to know how it got there, but lots of quotes on how bad it might have been and how bizarre it is to find phosgene in New York.
Christian Science Monitor
Scott Peterson reports on the sharpening rhetoric between the U.S. and Iran in the days leading up to the mid-September report on Iraq. It's likely that concerns over Iranian activity in Iraq will be used as a reason not to "cut and run" in Iraq, said Mark Fitzpatrick, an Iran expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.
New York Times
Joseph P. Hoar, a retired Marine general and former commander in chief of the Centcom from 1991 to 1994, takes the U.S. to task for ignoring the plight of Iraqis working for Americans and refugees in Syria and Jordan. He calls for the U.S. to reach out to Syria and Jordan, offer to help and take in more refugees itself.
A Times editorial calls for more realism as is found in the GAO report and last week's NIE that said things in Iraq aren't going quite so well as the president would have us believe. "In Vietnam, as in Iraq, American presidents and military leaders went to great lengths to pretend that victory was at hand when nothing could be farther from the truth."
Oren Dorell and Zaid Sabah report for USA Today that a mixed group of "moderate" Iraq politicians, led by Ayad Allawi, continues to attempt to rally support for a no-confidence vote against Maliki. Chances of it working are slim, however.
America's newspaper runs an editorial that says while the modest successes in Iraq should be encouraged, the fact remains that the point of the surge -- political reconciliation -- remains elusive as ever and "optimism is still not a strategy."
Wall Street Journal
August Cole and Karen Richardson report that Force Protection Inc., maker of the armored vehicles known as MRAPs that are so in-demand in Iraq right now, is facing stiff competition from bigger, more established rivals. While Force Protection has secured a large Pentagon contract for production of MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush protected" vehicles), General Dynamics Corp., Britain's BAE Systems PLC, Oshkosh Truck Corp. and Navistar International Corp. are coming on strong. And they have a diversified product base, while Force Protection makes only the MRAP.
Nancy Dewolf Smith reviews the new HBO documentary, "Alive Day Memories," about Iraq war veterans who have lost limbs and suffered grievous wounds but survived. The title refers to encouraging talk from Walter Reed medical workers to the soldiers, who refer to "Alive Day" as the day they almost died, but didn't.
Michael Gerson, former chief speechwriter for Bush, apparently doesn't realize he's no longer on the White House payroll. In what can only be described as a willfully obtuse op-ed, he describes an Iraq and political situation that is unreasonably optimistic. "A few months ago, it was the received wisdom that Iraq was in the midst of a rapidly escalating civil war. That claim is no longer plausible." It gets worse from there. Democrats in retreat! Bush triumphant! Iraq not going to hell as fast as Defeatocrats believe! He says a recent Zogby poll shows a majority of Americans don't believe the war is lost -- but provides no numbers, no dates of the poll, no information whatsoever on it. (For the record, the poll says 54 percent of Americans don't believe the war is lost, but 49 percent think the surge isn't working, a rather interesting split. It was an online poll conducted before either of the pessimistic NIE or GAO reports were released.)
British defence secretary Des Browne and foreign secretary David Milibrand contribute an op-ed to the Post saying the British haven't failed in Basra. (What else did you expect them to say?)
Charles Krauthammer, regular Post op-eder, looks beyond Maliki and says the U.S. is soon to turn its guns on Shi'ite militants, such as Moqtada al-Sadr, and others supported by Iran. Once Maliki is out of the way, via a no-confidence vote, he goes off the rails and says new elections should be held based on geographical districts rather than party lists. (He's right that future elections should be based on the idea of districts, though.)