The Times' Helene Cooper runs a major story on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her quest for redemption as her time in office draws to a close. She is trying to influence the historical record so that Iraq isn't seen as the defining stain on her career. (She recognizes it cannot be removed, but perhaps an Israeli-Palestinian deal can help.) There's a lot of rehashing of her disastrous tenure as national security advisor, but there's one description of her that sounds like a terrible trait to have as a government official: "Her friends say that she rarely questions whether she is right or wrong, instead choosing to believe in a particular truth with absolute certainty until she doesn't believe it anymore, at which point she moves on." Really? Her friends say there's no assessment of whether her decisions were correct or not, just a bullish charge forward until calamity piles upon calamity? And only then she abandons a conviction? Well, that explains a lot.
The Post's Ann Scott Tyson reports on the intellectual debate brewing within the military over the best way forward in Iraq, with a new report being submitted to Gen. David H. Petraeus de-emphasizing counter-insurgency, shifting to peace enforcement and saying the Maliki government is involved in the country's "low-grade civil war." The report shows how the military is trying to define the conflict: is it a civil war, an insurgency or combination of several wars? (Why not all of the above?) Scott Tyson writes that the 19-page brief calls into question the "cornerstone" of the U.S. policy in Iraq: "the assumption that the Iraqi government seeks to build a multi-sectarian society." That this isn't the case is obvious to most outside observers, but Petraeus' spokesman, Col. Steven Boylan disputed the assertion. "Saying the ruling coalition is party to the civil war, that is not what we see." The authors of the report (who are they?) write that "Rather than conducting a counterinsurgency that supports a sectarian driven Iraqi government, the coalition should focus all elements of power on activities that facilitate a long-term peace or we risk becoming/remaining a part of the civil war." A new strategy would involve a rapid shifting toward "balanced targeting" of fighters from all sects, "including, if necessary, Iraqi security forces."
The Times' roundup by Damien Cave leads with a call from Maliki for other armed groups to follow the lead of Moqtada al-Sadr, who this week ordered a "freeze" of the Mahdi Army for up to six months. Maliki praised al-Sadr for the move, and said he hoped others would follow suit. The political developments cap a violent week in Iraq that saw Mahdi Army fighters battling Badr Organization-dominated Iraqi security forces in Karbala for control of the shrine there during a major religious festival. Maliki needs support from both Moqtada al-Sadr and the Badr Organization, the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, so trying to get these two to make nice is vital for his political viability. Maliki emphasized in a statement that any government investigation into the battle in Karbala is not aimed at the Sadr political movement, but "only against the individuals who committed crimes."
Joshua Partlow and Saad Sarhan of the Post report that a plane carrying four U.S. lawmakers was fired upon as it left Baghdad, causing the pilot to discharge flares and bank sharply. The C-130 carried Republican Sens. Mel Martinez (Fla.), Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) and James M. Inhofe (Okla.), and Democratic Rep. Robert E. "Bud" Cramer (Ala.) Martinez said that three rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the lawmakers' plane, causing the pilot to drop hot flares intended to guide heat-seeking missiles from the plane. The story doesn't reveal how high they were, but Martinez had removed his body armor. Based on that idea, it sounds like the explosives weren't RPGs, because they're not known to be heat-seeking munitions and are notoriously inaccurate and relatively short-ranged (a few hundred feet or so). Could it have been a shoulder-mounted SAM? If so, that's a sobering implication that insurgents got three off against a plane carrying U.S. lawmakers. In other news, the U.S. military said a Marine and a soldier had been killed Wednesday in Anbar province. In Najaf and Karbala, the Badr Organization in the guise of the Iraqi police was rounding up members of the Mahdi Army. (And they'll never be heard from again, likely.) A spokesman for al-Sadr finally clarified that "freezing" the Mahdi Army for up to six months doesn't apply to attacks against Americans.
Stephen Farrell of the Times follows up on the story of Fatima, the baby girl who was rescued by Iraqi National Police officers and U.S. troops after she was found under a metal sheet in her yard. A death squad had killed her family. She was cared for at the 28th Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone, and often visited by Americans and Iraq police officers. Officials eventually found some of her surviving relatives and on Thursday a male relative and a great aunt came and collected her.
The Post's Karl Vick reports on the latest and last trial in the Haditha incident of 2005, with a Marine involved offering damaging testimony against the remaining defendant, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich. However, Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz sounds a bit confused and while he testified that Wuterich, in the week before the alleged massacre, said that Marines should "kill everybody in that vicinity" should the be an IED attack, he also admitted to lying in previous accounts. The case revolves around the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in the wake of an attack on a Marine patrol that killed one member. Four Marines were eventually charged, but charges were dismissed in two cases and an investigating officer has recommended dismissal in a third. Wuterich is the only remaining case, and he's charged with 13 counts of unpremeditated murder and urging other Marines to lie about what happened on Nov. 19, 2005. Dela Cruz admitted to desecration of bodies and prisoner abuse, making it unclear if his testimony against Wuterich would stick because of his own credibility problems.
Michael Abramowitz reports for the Post that President George W. Bush got a briefing yesterday on the impact of extensive Iraq deployments on the overall health of the U.S. military. Abramowitz writes that the briefing was the latest in a series of meetings for Bush as he decides whether to continue the surge or not. The president has "given strong indications" that he'd like to see the surge continue, but his aides said he has made no final decision. April is still being targeted as the start of a drawdown. The Joint Chiefs are reportedly concerned about the effect the surge is having on global military posture and they're skeptical it can be maintained for much longer.
Steven Lee Meyers and David S. Cloud expand on the Bush meeting at the Pentagon for the Times, and say Bush went on to "pointedly" accuse war opponents of politicizing the debate over the next step. Congress comes back in session on Tuesday and the Iraq debate will get into full swing then. The story gives a rundown on most people's already well-known positions on Iraq and the various reports due out any day now, and provides little that's new. But it's a good curtain raiser for next week's battle.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
New York Times
The Times runs an editorial comparing the U.S.'s obligation to Iraqis working for it in Iraq as no less than a "soldier's commitment to abandon no buddy on the battlefield."
Wall Street Journal
Peggy Noonan writes that now is a time for "patriotic grace," in essence, be nicer to one another. She calls on war supporters to show some humility and acknowledge the fight "hasn't quite gone according to plan," which is quite an understatement. She also calls on them to show respect for the views of others. She should take her own advice. She says members of the antiwar side "show a smirk of pleasure at bad news that has been brought by the other team. Some have a terrible quaking fear that something good might happen in Iraq, that the situation might be at least to some degree redeemed. Their great interest is that Bushism be laid low and the president humiliated." Or maybe they just don't agree that the Iraq war is in the nation's interest and want it over? At least she calls on Bush to show some maturity and castigates him for sharpening the divisions over Iraq.