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US Papers Mon: Sheikhs Grabbed, PKK Chills Out
Wounded soldiers run to show they still can; Allawi buys some friends in D.C.
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/29/2007 01:51 AM ET
The New York Times wins the coverage game today, with two front-pagers to the Washington Post's none (or anyone else for that matter.) Turkey and Kurds again lead the news, but former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is buying some new friends in Washington.

The Northern Front
Sabrina Tavernise of the Times lands travels to Iraqi Kurdistan to hang with the PKK, revealing that despite intense international pressures to curb the rebel group, they're doing OK. "Our condition is good," said one fighter, putting a heaping spoonful of sugar into his steaming tea. "How about yours?" Gotta love the Kurds. She reports that despite promises from Baghdad, PKK fighters operate openly close to government checkpoints (although they're Kurdistan Regional Government checkpoints, not Iraqi). The Kurdish authorities, even though D.C. has rebuked them, throw up their hands and say there's little they can do. "Closing the camps means war and fighting," said Azad Jindyany, a senior Kurdish official in Sulaimaniya, a regional capital. "We don't have the army to do that. We did it in the past, and we failed." (They have tens of thousands of pesh merga; they could do it if they wanted.) Tavernise does a nice job of noting that even supplies are uninterrupted, "despite the fact that Iraqi Kurdish leaders have some of the most precise and extensive intelligence networks in the country." The Kurds are just ignoring the U.S. demands to crack down on the PKK. Tavernise wins for getting the best quotes of the day, for having the coolest map and for getting into the real political and diplomatic thickets. Iraqi Kurds aren't cracking down on the PKK because it's useful; it's a bargaining chip with Turkey for KRG president Massoud Barzani. She also does a good job of the history of the group. Very much today's must-read.

On the Turkish side of the border, Yigal Schleifer reports for the Christian Science Monitor that Turkey's Kurds, while not in tune with PKK's violent methods, worry that their new, hard-won rights in Turkey are in jeopardy if the PKK persists in attacking. As public support in Turkey builds for a military response, Turkish Kurds worry the military will reimpose the restrictions they suffered under during the 1980s and 1990s. And that could push the population of southeastern Turkey to fall back into the PKK fold and follow a more radical line. (Which is exactly what the PKK wants.)

Over there
Meanwhile, back in Baghdad, the Times' Alissa J. Rubin and James Glanz report that Gen. David H. Petraeus hinted at behind-the-scenes talks efforts were going on to calm down the border region, but he couldn't talk about them. "I am not going to be saying anything about what we may be doing with our longtime NATO ally Turkey, although we clearly are doing things with them," General Petraeus said. "Nor am I saying what we're doing with our longtime Iraqi partners," he added. What a tease! In other comments, he said al Qaeda was largely spent thanks to American-Sunni Arab efforts but still dangerous. (Well, which is it?) Sheikhs allied with the U.S. are certainly still in danger. Ten of them -- three Sunnis and seven Shi'ites -- were kidnapped en route to al Salam in eastern Baqoubah after a meeting with representatives of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It's unclear who grabbed them. Separately, Petraeus backed away from trying to save former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim from the gallows, but said the three-man Iraqi presidency council "has a very important role." (Commutation, perhaps?)

Amit R. Paley of the Post says 11 sheikhs were nabbed, not 10, and a spokesman for the al Salam Support Council, of which they were members, said the Mahdi Army grabbed them. A suicide bomber in Kirkuk killed eight people and wounded 25 at a bus terminal, and armed men kidnapped the managing editor of al-Akhaa, a Turkmen magazine. In Diyala province, a grave containing 15 bodies -- mainly female students -- was found in an area under the control of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Buying friends and influence
Elisabeth Bumiller has the Times' second front-pager, with a look at Robert D. Blackwill, former Iraq director of the National Security Council and backer of Ayad Allawi. It was Blackwill who, in 2004, pushed to get Allawi into the prime minister's office (on an interim basis), and it's Blackwell now pushing Allawi to be the next premier -- after forcing Maliki out, of course. He also represents the KRG, which has paid his firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers $1.4 million since Blackwill joined the Kurdish lobbying team in 2005. In August, IraqSlogger -- which gets a shoutout from Ms. Bumiller -- broke the story of Allawi's contract with Blackwill's firm, and Allawi went public later on television and in magazines. But since then, thanks in part to Allawi's ham-handedness in handling the story, the former PM has gone silent. (Is that what $300,000 buys you in advice?) "The B.G.R. story is not a good story for us," said Hadi Allawi, nephew to the former PM. Bumiller gets into, at the end, the snarl of personal and professional relationships between Allawi, Blackwill, L. Paul Bremer III and even Henry Kissinger. Meanwhile, the campaign to bring back Allawi persists, if only via mass emails.

Home front
Ryan Mink reports on the Marine Corps Marathon for the Post, focusing on the (literally) running wounded. Lt. Ivan Castro lost his sight in Iraq but that didn't stop him from running the course (with two guides who threw him off his pace because they needed bathroom breaks, wusses.) Gunnery Sgt. Bill "Spanky" Gibson eschewed the crank wheelchair that he used last year and instead opted for a prosthetic leg. (Mink doesn't give his time, but does note Gibson will be redeployed next year, although presumably not to a war zone.) The rest of the story is devoted to the various finishing times of various politicians, including D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio. (The wounded vets handily beat the politicians' times.) The U.S. Marine kicked the British Royal Marines' butts in every category. Semper Fi, folks. Congratulations to all who participated.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

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