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Daily Column
US Papers Sat: 'Get Back Here in One Piece'
Obama loses advisor to Iraq; Half of Baghdad in hand; Blackwater back on streets
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 09/22/2007 01:51 AM ET
- US won't enter Sadr City "for several months"
- Iraqi government can't ban Blackwater
- Brit general: UK "lost no tactical engagements"

Today again fails to see a central story stamp itself on the collective consciousness of the reporting class, but at least the Wall Street Journal comes through with one of their patented page-one features on Barack Obama's chief foreign policy guy who gets deployed to Iraq. The Washington Post and The New York Times also write about Blackwater USA's continuing troubles.

From here to there
Monica Langley has the Journal front-page feature on Lt. Mark Lippert, the foreign policy advisor for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who has been called up for duty as a Naval reservist about to deploy to Iraq. It's an obvious piece, as opposition to the war has been a centerpiece of Obama's campaign and now the architect of his foreign policy framework is about to go off and fight that very same war. This isn't a deep story, mainly made up of bittersweet anecdotes about the two men's friendship, but it's got ready-made irony, but with little more than, "Dude, Obama's foreign policy guy is going to Iraq." But that's not to say it's not a decent story with a look at Lippert's hits and misses. But what would have been better would have been more insight into how Obama's campaign will fair for the six months or so Lippert will be away now that the senator's experience -- or lack of it -- is becoming a major narrative of the campaign.

Over there
David S. Cloud of the Times pens a piece on the number of neighborhoods under control in Baghdad, but despite what was surely intended to be an upbeat briefing by the Pentagon, it instead sounds like progress in Baghdad has plateaued since June. In 46 percent of the city's neighborhoods, American and Iraqi forces were able to prevent the area's use by insurgents, said Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil Jr., the American commander in Baghdad. But that's up only 4 percent from late June. (It is a dramatic improvement from 28 percent in late May.) In 8 percent of the neighborhoods, Americans are playing a supporting role, but in 46 percent of 'hoods, American and Iraqi troops still face problems or have operations underway to remove resistance. Fil said that despite the small increase in areas where Iraqi units were in the lead, "the ability of the Iraqi security forces to control their own neighborhoods, their own areas, as they stand side by side with American forces and, in fact, as they take the lead, is growing." Did he give any evidence for this other than cheery optimism? Sure doesn't sound like it. He did say that there are no plans to go into Sadr City "for several months."

Joshua Partlow and Sudarsan Raghavan report for the Post's front page that Blackwater USA is being accused by the Iraqi government of six more incidents that left a total of 10 Iraqis dead. However, the Iraqi government seems to be backing off its demand that Blackwater be banned from Iraq. Bassam Ridha, a senior adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, conceded that the Iraqi government can't follow through on a ban of the company, even though the firm has been operating without a license for more than a year. "The reality of the matter is we can't do that," Ridha said. A former Interior Ministry advisors say these latest allegations reflect more the government's frustrations than reality and should be viewed with skepticism. With a turning of the tide, Blackwater has resumed its duties guarding US diplomats.

Andrew E. Kramer has the story for the Times, but says it's unclear why Blackwater is back guarding the diplomats. Is it because there's a political compromise or because U.S. diplomats just got tired of being under lockdown. Kramer doesn't know. The Embassy in Baghdad is being very cagey about the whole thing. Elsewhere, between 50 and 100 Sunni families fled their homes in the Baghdad neighborhood of Washash on Friday after being threatened by the Mahdi Army. Two aides to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani were killed in Basra and Diwaniya. At least 25 people have been arrested in connection with the assassination of Abu Risha last week. (Or is it Rishawi, as Kramer has it?).

The Post's Megan Greenwell reports that cholera has spread from the north to Baghdad, with a single case reported. The Times had this story yesterday. Greenwell also folds in the data on the two aides to Sistani and Fil's upbeat assessments on security in Baghdad. She also notes that Moqtada al-Sadr called for the release of his followers in Karbala, saying their continued detention was part of a "battle against the Sadrists." Well, of course.

Kevin Sullivan reports of the Post that the commander of the British Army defended the recent withdrawal of UK troops from Basra as all part of a plan and hoped that people would respect the military more in Britain. Dannatt said British forces had "lost no tactical engagement" and had made long-term efforts to train Iraqi police, refurbish schools and prepare for turning over security responsibilities to Iraqi forces. What he didn't say was whether these efforts had had any lasting impact whatsoever.

Washington Doings
With no progress in Washington on the war, Carl Hulse of the Times writes a process story, looking instead at the various maneuverings by members of Congress. "This is a political consultant's dream, this war," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., referring to the possibilities for 30-second spots to be found in the multiple votes on the war. It's also a political writer's nightmare. Hulse notes that for most of Congress, the Iraq war debate ended Wednesday, with the defeat of a proposal from Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., that would have mandated equal amounts of leave and deployment for troops. He was "torpedoed" by Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., who initially voted against the war before he voted for it. The stalling of the debate means it will be a major fixture in next year's presidential campaign.

Shailagh Murray reports for the Post on the failure yesterday of a measure by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., to have a nine-month timetable for bringing the troops home, a futile effort that failed 47 to 47. Honestly, why even bother? "The stakes are just simply too high to stop what we're doing, which is putting pressure on President Bush to change course and on (Iraqi) Prime Minister (Nouri al-)Maliki to change course," he said. Good luck with that, Senator.

The Post's Paul Lewis reports that the U.S. plans to admit 12,000 Iraqi refugees over the next year. Lewis says the new target reflects an increase in the number and pace of Iraqi refugees entering the country, but doesn't tell us how big the increases are. The target is up from what? Will the government be able to truly improve on the glacial pace of admittance? (Only 1,135 have been admitted for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.),

Kari Lydersen reports for the Post that the war is costing a whopping $720 million a day in direct and indirect costs, according to figures from the American Friends Service Committee, which built on the work of Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard public finance lecturer Linda J. Bilmes. The $720 million breaks down into $280 million a day from Iraq war supplementary funding bills passed by Congress, plus $440 million daily in unpaid, long-term costs such as care for veterans. Stupid and absurd quote of the day goes to Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute: "If you think national security won't be harmed by withdrawing from Iraq, of course you would want to see that money spent elsewhere," he said. "I myself think that belief, on a certain level, is absurd, so the question of focusing on how much money we are spending there is irrelevant." Hang the cost! But what's missing from that quote? A reminder that Kagan is a primary architect of the "surge" strategy and has a vested interest in seeing it succeed. (If by "vested" you mean "doesn't want to look totally stupid.")


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