Steven Lee Meyers and Alissa J. Rubin report for the Times' front page that the U.S. is scaling back its political goals in Iraq. The goals now include passing a $48 billion Iraqi budget, renewing the U.N. mandate that authorizes its presence in Iraq and passing new de-Ba'athification legislation. In all three instances, the Iraqis are either well on their way to doing them or have been doing them already. The plan is to show some progress outside the security realm. "That will go a long way to demonstrate that we are in fact on a sustainable path to stability in Iraq," said a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity. These lowered expectations indicate that the political accomplishments the surge were supposed to enable ain't gonna happen. "I think reconciliation will eventually come," a senior Bush administration official said, but added, "That's a long way down the path."
Rubin also gets in a piece on the start of the first substantive drawdown of American troops: members of the Third Brigade Combat Team, First Cavalry Division, have started to leave Diyala Province. Col. David W. Sutherland, of the Third BCT, said all 5,000 troops would be gone by mid-December. Another brigade already in the country will take the unit's place. "There is a 5,000-troop net decrease in theater," said Adm. Gregory Smith, spokesman for the multinational division forces in Baghdad. "The redeployment without replacement reflects the overall improved security situation in Iraq." Gen. David H. Petraeus has pledged to bring home five brigades by July 2008. In other news, Smith blamed the attack on the pet market Saturday on an Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia. The group, which he didn't name, was trying to make it appear al Qaeda in Iraq was responsible, so that people would feel the need for Shi'ite militias. He emphasized that it didn't appear Iran had ordered the attack. Also, the famed boulevard Abu Nawas Street was reopened in Baghdad.
Amit R. Paley of the Post leads with Smith's accusation on the market bombing, saying the men responsible had been captured and that they belonged to a splintered cell of the Mahdi Army. Violence flared elsewhere across the country, leaving at least 19 people dead. In Kirkuk, Iraqi security forces involving 3,000 police officers and soldiers launched an operation targeting AQI members.
The Times' Patrick Healy reports from the campaign trail the second fronter for the paper, noting that as security improves in Iraq, Democratic presidential contenders are focusing on the lack of political progress and highlighting domestic concerns. They still feel that a quick withdrawal is in order, but the winds of war seem to be shifting for next year's general election. They worry that the Republican candidate next year will be able to attack them for being defeatist. Also:
If security continues to improve, President Bush could become less of a drag on his party, too, and Republicans may have an easier time zeroing in on other issues, such as how the Democrats have proposed raising taxes in difficult economic times.Michael E. O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said that if Iraq looks salvageable, the Democratic candidate will have to say how he or she would salvage it. "The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in," he said.
Andrew Jacobs of the Times uses the story of Master Sgt. Joseph Santiago, who was injured in Iraq, to report on the travails of vets navigating the Pentagon bureaucracy on traumatic brain injuries. He was hurt on the first day of the invasion, falling from a berm separating Iraq and Kuwait, and he has been an early test case for how the Pentagon is dealing with TBIs. Friends and family say his treatment has been "shameful." For three years, doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center have accused him of exaggerating his injuries, and that his inability to function normally is because of a pre-existing condition. So far, he has not been able to collect the full retirement benefits awarded to injured soldiers. He has been in the Army for 25 years, and is scheduled to formally retire in three months.
The Post's Ann Scott Tyson reports on the awarding of the Distinguished Service Cross, the military's second-highest medal, to 1st Lt. Walter Bryan Jackson, who saved another soldier's life while he was wounded and under heavy fire himself. But a week later, he found out his closest friend and roommate at West Point, 1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara had been killed in a mountain ambush in Afghanistan. And now, Jackson is being redeployed to lead a rocket platoon along South Korea's DMZ.
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