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Daily Column
US Papers Sunday: "Nonstop Theft and Bribery"
Turks Claim Assault on PKK in Iraq; Mental Care or Court Martial?
By GREG HOADLEY 12/02/2007 01:50 AM ET
A relatively small batch of Sunday reading in the two big East Coast papers still manages to reflect many of the uncertainties and contradictions of Iraqi affairs and US policy, as news of the improved security situation competes for cognitive space with Turkish claims of an intensive operation against PKK positions inside Iraq, a massacre of at least 20 villagers in Diyala Province, and a major walkout by Baghdad MPs amid accusations that a key Sunni Arab politician has been placed under de facto "house arrest."

Both major dailies also run a must-read Iraq-related feature story -- each quite disturbing in its own way -- as the Times catalogs tales of widespread graft in the Iraqi public sector, and the Post chronicles the case of a US officer who shot herself in the stomach at Camp Cropper, and now, as an outpatient at Walter Reed, waits in limbo between the military courts and the veteran's mental-health system.

Turkey's military said in an online statement that its troops had fired across the border into Iraqi territory on Saturday, inflicting "significant losses" in an "intensive operation" against a group of what it said were 50 to 60 PKK fighters on the other side of the frontier, Sabrina Tavernise and Stephen Farrell write in the Times. A Turkish military official told Reuters that its troops had actually crossed the border into Iraq during the operation, but no other Turkish sources confirmed this, including the official Turkish statement. Iraqi and Kurdistan regional officials denied that any such incursion took place, while a PKK spokesman flatly denied any clash at all with Turkish forces, Times reporters write. The Turkish statement indicated that the claimed engagement could be the first of more to come, saying that "the operations will continue depending on intelligence." Meanwhile, MPs from the largest Sunni Arab-led bloc in the Iraqi Parliament walked out of the chamber on Saturday to protest what they called the "house arrest" of the bloc's leader Adnan al-Dulaimi after Friday's raids in Baghdad that turned up an explosives-rigged car near the headquarters of Dulaimi's party in Baghdad. Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh denied that Dulaimi was under house arrest, NYT reporters write, and the US military said the Iraqi forces have confined Dulaimi to his home "for his own personal safety."

In Diyala Province, gunmen stormed the settlement of Duwaili, overrunning the predominantly Shi'a village and killing at least 20, Sudarsan Raghavan writes in the Post. A local police commander said gangs of suspected al-Qa'ida in Iraq militants entered Duwaili after a 6:30 am mortar barrage, torching homes and firing on civilians. Duwaili, 45 miles north of the capital, had been attacked some months before, Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim al-Rubaiee added. Muhammad Salman al-Zaidi, identified as a 54-year-old tribal elder, "said his village was struck again because the U.S. military had recently withdrawn soldiers from the nearby town of Muqdadiyah," Raghavan writes. Al-Zaidi claimed that the militants had identified an opportunity after US forces' redeployment left the area in the hands of their weaker Iraqi counterparts. US command, however, insisted that the attack "has nothing to do with troop movements inside or outside Diyala." Capt. Vic Beck, a military spokesman, said, "There are good days and bad days. The fight is far from over" in Diyala. Raghavan also notes that the Iraqi government, through spokesman Dabbagh, said again that Adnan al-Dulaimi would be referred to the Iraqi courts. "Everyone is subject to the law, whether he is a lawmaker or not, and the government is adamant to be objective and neutral in dealing with this issue," said Dabbagh on official television.

After a week-long furtive tour of nine Iraqi cities, Deputy State Sec. John Negroponte briefed reporters at the US ambassador's residence on what he said was the purpose of his visit, Karen DeYoung writes in the Post. In discussions with Iraqi leaders and officials, the former US Iraq ambassador said that he pushed for passage of big-ticket legislative items, such hydrocarbons regulation and an elections law, which have stymied the Iraqi Parliament for months. "I don't doubt that six months from now, we'll look back and they shall have been passed," he said, explaining that "the Iraqis understand that time is running out" for passage of an oil law. Along with Baghdad, Negroponte's Iraq circuit included Basra, Hilla, Kut, Ba'quba, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Ramadi and Falluja. He noted to reporters that during his time as ambassador in 2004-05, Ramadi was "forbidden territory," under militant control. In a separate interview, the embassy's chief economic official, Charles Ries, said that Iraq's "economy has responded to the openings (provided by) the surge maybe better than the political" situation, DeYoung writes. Ries cited higher spending at the provincial level, made possible by increased central government financial transfers to the governorates. "The provinces are spending at twice the rate of 2006," he said. Oil exports have also crept up, as have global oil prices, he noted. Since September, oil exports have risen by 250,000 to 300,000 barrels a day, and rising oil prices "have been very kind to this country," Ries said. But with crucial sectors such as public services, finance, and investment still in disarray, Ries suggested that the high-profile legislative items are crucial for further economic progress. Finally, DeYoung refers to another important development, noting that "with an increasingly optimistic security outlook, Democrats have begun to reposition themselves with a focus on lagging political reconciliation" in their Iraq strategy. She points to the dispute between the GOP and Democratic Rep. John Murtha over Murtha's remarks that the president's "surge" strategy was "working" after the congressman's visit to Iraq last week. Murtha amended the remark in a statement saying that the "surge has created a window of opportunity, unfortunately the sacrifice of our troops has not been met by the Iraqi government and they have failed to capitalize on the political and diplomatic steps that the surge was designed to provide."

In-depth reports

"As Iraqis and American officials assess the effects of this year’s American troop increase, there is a growing sense that, even as security has improved, Iraq has slipped to new depths of lawlessness," Damien Cave writes for the Times, in his feature article exploring rampant corruption involving public-sector resources. Whether it concerns the police recruiters who collect hundreds from would-be applicants, officers that pocket the salaries of AWOL recruits, the unauthorized sell-off of a ministry's office equipment, the displaced families squatting illegally on public land, or the impoverished Iran-Iraq War veteran who siphons water illegally from the public water system to run a car wash business in the streets, Cave writes that "the extent of the theft is staggering." Some US officials estimate that "as much as a third of what they spend on Iraqi contracts and grants ends up unaccounted for or stolen, with a portion going to Shiite or Sunni militias," the NYT reporter writes. "In addition, Iraq’s top anticorruption official estimated this fall — before resigning and fleeing the country after 31 of his agency’s employees were killed over a three-year period — that $18 billion in Iraqi government money had been lost to various stealing schemes since 2004," Cave adds. Opposition politicians rail against the rampant jobbery, while the Iraqi government insists that it is fighting the graft problem. US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stewart Bowen says that two rules make it especially difficult for would-be corruption fighters in the Iraqi system: Investigators are required to obtain clearance from the prime minster's office before ministers or ex-ministers can be targeted with legal proceedings, while another law "lets ministers exempt their employees from investigation." In addition to the distorting effects of such extensive corruption on reconstruction and state-building efforts, Cave notes the demoralizing consequences for ordinary Iraqis, for whom it seems survival in the new Iraq depends on accepting that the civic sphere and any associated public goods exist only for private gain.

A US officer who worked at Walter Reed, and then at Camp Cropper in Iraq, faces a possible court martial as she recovers from self-inflicted wounds, Dana Priest and Anne Hull write in their in-depth Post profile of 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside. After several grueling months serving as a platoon leader in the 329th Medical Company (Ground Ambulance) at Camp Cropper, Whiteside one day pointed her service sidearm at another officer, locked herself in a room, and discharged the weapon twice into the ceiling and once into her own abdomen. "Whiteside says she has little recollection of the events of that night," the Post reporters write. "I remember bits and pieces," she said, and declined to comment as to whether she was attempting suicide. The incident occurred the day after a riot among the prisoners in the detention facility that erupted the day after Saddam Hussein was transferred for execution on December 30. Whiteside faces the possibility of court martial, on accusations including "assault on a superior commissioned officer, aggravated assault, kidnapping, reckless endangerment, wrongful discharge of a firearm, communication of a threat and two attempts of intentional self-injury without intent to avoid service," Priest and Hull write. Others, however, including other medical officers and Whiteside's father, argue that she suffers from mental health issues stemming from the stresses of her work in Iraq, and that her case should be treated as such. A conviction would likely strip Whiteside of funding for mental health care. The Post duo's latest installment in their excellent Walter Reed coverage is a fascinating and detailed piece that grapples with serious issues inside the veterans' mental-health system through the lens of one officer's very personal case.


No Sunday edition.


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