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US Papers Thu: Let the Prisoners Go
Plight of "Moderate" Detainees, Refugees, Iraqi Journalists in Today's News
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 12/20/2007 01:52 AM ET
The lack of any major Iraq-related developments makes for a light day in the Thursday papers, and the reporting of some distinct enterprise journalism.

Writing for the Monitor, Gordon Lubold scores an important interview with the top commander of US detainee operations, who tells him that the US should set many of them free. Marine Maj. Gen. Doug Stone, who oversees detainees for the US-led force, tells Lubold that holding thousands of "moderate detainees" complicates the goal of winning over a population in a classic counterinsurgency. According to Stone, many of the former insurgents were motivated by money and most only desire to live peacefully. Lubold details the program Stone has pioneered in order to ease detainees transition back into civil society. Well worth a full-read.

Cara Buckley reports on an important humanitarian story for the Times, examining the uncertain fate of Iraqi refugees looking to return home to Baghdad. As the security situation normalizes, more people want to go back and become contributing members of Iraqi society--a trend which should be encouraged--but many have no homes to return to, and the Iraqi government has no plan for how to handle the influx in such a vulnerable community. "The housing situation in Baghdad resembles a fraught game of musical chairs," Buckley writes. "Some displaced people are renting refugees’ homes; others moved in secretly or by force. Still others...have nowhere to move back to, either because their homes are gone or their neighborhoods are unsafe. And as refugees return in greater numbers, and find strangers, especially strangers from a different sect, living in their homes, security gains here could be erased." Read this story.

Iraqi journalists appear to be facing increased threat of harassment, kidnapping, and assault at the hands of government officials and Iraqi politicians, Sam Dagher reports for the Monitor. "Those working for print, television, radio, and other outlets say they are sometimes bribed to relay the views and pronouncements of the organization that funds their operations or paid off by politicians who want positive coverage. Others say they face ongoing pressure from the US military." They worry they face detention if their work displeases the Americans, or worse if they displease Iraqis. Dagher recounts the brave struggle of a number of Iraqi journalist who continue to dedicate themselves to the cause of press freedom, despite the enormous obstacles and personal risk.

Rick Hampson reports on a new American holiday tradition for USA Today: gathering around the phone for the phonecall to a loved one in Iraq. He details poignant personal accounts of the intensity and anxiety of the few precious moments a family might get with their loved one in the war zone, and offers a side bar on how to handle the calls. In the military, the mantra is: "Keep it positive."

The NYT's Stephen Farrell reports on the case of a US marine being investigated for the death of an Iraqi policeman from what appears to have been a knife fight between the men at a base in Anbar Province. An argument apparently escalated and both men received stab wounds during the fight, but the 18-year old Iraqi died. Farrell writes the understatement of the day: "The death has provoked local anger and demands for legal action." Considering the delicate balance the US military has to maintain in order to sustain a reliable partnership with the Anbar tribes, an unfortunate incident such as this carries great potential to disrupt things.

Helene Cooper confounds with her piece in the Times on the delicate situation the US finds itself in vis-a-vis Turkey bombing Iraq. Cooper's lede states that "Turkey provided the United States with ample warning that it was making an incursion into Iraq this week, officials from the State and Defense Departments said Wednesday." However, she only cites a DOD spokesman saying that Turkey provided ample warning, though also noting "there has been some mild grumbling from the State Department that not everyone up the chain of command was adequately informed." She also seems to conflate the aerial bombardment over the weekend with the troop incursion Monday night, making it confusing which operation is causing tensions with US officials. It sounds like the real story is the division between State and Defense over how to manage cooperation with Turkey, but Cooper misses that point.

The Monitor's Gordon Lubold weighs in on the Pentagon's quarterly Iraq report released earlier this week, but doesn't give any groundbreaking insight beyond what has been in other coverage in recent days.

The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post did not have any Iraq-related coverage today.

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