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Daily Column
US Papers Fri: Iraqis Try to Come Home Again
US troops to train Iraqis in new plan; Troops' brain injuries often missed
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 11/23/2007 01:50 AM ET
As Lebanon watches nervously to see if old disputes would become a new civil war, Iraq's internal conflict is still going on, despite the drop in violence. (February 2006, the new baseline for American military officials, was still very violent, even if it was not so Dantean as this past summer.) The Washington Post has a fronter on what refugees find when they return while USA Today focuses on American troops' brain injuries.

Over there
Sudarsan Raghavan responds to The New York Times's piece on improved security in Baghdad earlier this week with the Post's own look at what returning refugees find. For many of the thousands who are returning in a trickle, it's a city transformed by blast walls and sectarian barriers. And while there are encouraging signs -- shops are open later, people can walk the streets more freely, wedding caravans are back in the streets -- they are measured. Iraqis are testing the waters and fearful the improved situation could vanish in another spasm of violence. There is little traffic between Sunni and Shi'ite areas, even for friend who want to come visit. Electricity is still scarce. It's important to note that amid all the huzzahs about refugees' returns, it's not because many of them want to come back. In many cases, their visas in Syria and Jordan have run out, and they were unable to be resettled elsewhere. Their choices were deportation or voluntary leaving, or a jail cell in Damascus or Amman. Men like Kareem Sadi Haadi, a civil engineer, faced that choice, and the Baghdad he encounters is one of blast walls, razor wires, checkpoints and traffic jams. "Baghdad feels like a military base," said Haadi, 48, a Sunni. "Safety without these barriers is real safety."

The Times' Michael R. Gordon gets his fronter in as well, writing of the plan to shift many American units to a training and support for Iraqi soldiers are violence declines and other units return home. The goal is to transfer more of the security burden to the Iraqis while maintaining the security gains. Gordon writes that it's a "strikingly" different plan from what many Democratic politicians are looking for: a rapid withdrawal of American combat brigades. These are the units that military commanders see as playing a central role in the transition to Iraqi control.

Under the approach, some American combat brigades due to stay behind would slim down their fighting forces and enlarge the teams mentoring Iraqis. Within a 3,000-member brigade, for example, one or two battalions might help train the Iraqis while the rest would be retained as quick-reaction forces to back up the Iraqis if they ran into stiff resistance.
Units in violent areas would continue their combat roles even after the surge is over in July, he writes. Further moves toward reductions in the number of troops or a change in their roles would depend on the security situation, but that's the basic plan. "The White House has been informed conceptually," said one senior Bush administration official, referring to planning. "Fundamentally, this concept is not going to change."

Cara Buckley handles the daily roundup for the Times, leading with the attack on Hawr Rajab, a Sunni village on the southeastern outskirts of Baghdad. Men described as Sunni insurgents dressed as Iraqi army troops stormed the village and killed 11 people before American and Iraqi troops fought them off in a three-hour firefight. One estimate of the dead ranged as high as 20. The violence started in the dawn light as about 50 gunmen hit the town from three directions, overrunning an Iraqi checkpoint and commandeering two tanks. The village has been a battleground between Al Qaeda in Iraq and the so-called Sunni Awakening. In other developments, Abdul Zahra al-Talaqani of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, perhaps the least busy ministry in Iraq, said that the country would greatly increase the number of Iranian pilgrims allowed to visit Najaf and Karbala. It would have been nice to know who controls the ministry: is it affiliated with a Shi'ite group? Or is the minister Sunni? The implications are very different depending on who controls the ministry. Cholera is on the rise, with 79 new cases reported in recent weeks. Ten mortar shells rained down on the Green Zone on Thursday, wounding 10 people, one seriously. Finally, 1,500 Kurds demonstrated in the north calling for the execution of three of Saddam Hussein's former henchmen, including Ali Hassan al-Majid, who is known as Chemical Ali.

Amit R. Paley has the story of Hawr Rajab for the Post, saying 10 U.S.-backed fighters died in the attack. His number's differ from Buckley's, however. He reports only 15 fighters attacked the town, and that air strikes were called in. He brushes over the rest of the day's violence, however, relegating it to a single paragraph at the end where he notes that 24 people died across Iraq. Other than a mention of the mortar and rocket attack on the Green Zone, it's pretty thin stuff.

Philip Shishkin of the Wall Street Journal looks at Iraq's scrap metal industry, which is one of the country's biggest businesses given the amount of destruction wrought upon cars, bridges, buildings and, well, anything containing metal. The market for scrap metal is soaring around the world, but there's a catch: the Iraqi government has an export ban in place.

Officials plan to build new housing, requiring large amounts of steel reinforcing bars. Iraqis want to make them locally out of recycled scrap, instead of relying on expensive imports of finished steel. Though rich in crude oil, Iraq lacks iron ore.

"We'd like to have a good reserve of scrap inside Iraq," says Sami al-Araji, Iraq's deputy minister for industry and minerals.

It's a surprisingly fascinating story on Iraqi entrepreneurialism at loggerheads with government bureaucracy, with Americans in the middle.

Home front
Gregg Zoroya reports for USA Today that at least 20,000 troops have suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet they're not listed as wounded in action, according to Pentagon records. If they were, it would bring the number of American casualties in the wars to more than 50,000. The reasons for the number of undercounted TBIs is because of IED blasts and other explosions that often leave no mark, but damage the brain inside the skull.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Charles Krauthammer, regular op-ed columnist for the Post, blasts war critics for not seeing the improvements in Iraq.

Christian Science Monitor
No Iraq coverage today.

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