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US Papers Friday: The "Anaconda Strategy"
Killer Mix: Blood and Ouzo; Shia Turn on Clerics; Britney's Sister Trumps Iraq?
By EASON JORDAN 12/21/2007 01:56 AM ET
The quote of the day: "Squeezing, squeezing, squeezing."

Who's squeezing whom and why? Stay tuned.

In the battle for the best Iraq coverage in the big US papers today, the Washington Post comes out on top, providing exclusive Iraq-datelined reports on page one and on the op-ed page.

The New York Times scores with a sharply-written story about alcohol vendors in Baghdad being targeted yet again (although the report doesn't say so, the attack happened just a few blocks from the Times's Baghdad bureau).

Despite that report and a separate Times round-up of violence in Iraq, the revered Times today devotes more space to the fuss over the pregnancy of Britney Spears's sister than to what's happening in Iraq.

The best enterprise reporting today comes from Washington Post Baghdad Bureau Chief Sudarsan Raghavan, whose Najaf-datelined report highlights the growing Shia unhappiness with their top clerics and the limp Iraqi leaders those clerics helped elect. Raghavan writes:

"Now the street is blaming what's happening on the top clerics and the government," said Ali al-Najafi, the son of Bashir al-Najafi, one of four leading clerics collectively called the marjaiya.

Speaking for his father, the white-turbaned Najafi said he wished that the government, all but paralyzed by factionalism and rival visions, was more in touch with ordinary Iraqis.

"We were hoping that it would have been better," he said.

"We were tricked," Abu Saif said.

The best read of the day can be found on the Post's op-ed page, where David Ignatius's Baghdad-dateline column is headlined "Paradox for Petraeus." Ignatius writes that Petraeus's surge has been so successful it runs the risk of prompting increasing demands for hasty, premature cutbacks in U.S. forces in Iraq. Ignatius discloses that in Petraeus's office is a chart touting the U.S. military's "Anaconda Strategy," which Petraeus says is designed to destroy al Qaeda in Iraq by "squeezing, squeezing, squeezing" like the snake kills its prey.

The best-written reporting today is a brief dispatch from the New York Times's Stephen Farrell, who provides details of the latest deadly attack on alcohol sellers in Baghdad. When a report opens with "Blood and ouzo mingled on the sidewalk outside a shattered Baghdad liquor store," it's difficult to stop there and go elsewhere in the paper (unless Britney Spears's pregnant sister grabs you). So read it.

The New York Times and the Washington Post provide round-ups of Thursday's violence in Iraq, leading with a suicide bomber in Diyala province killing a U.S. soldier and at least five U.S.-allied Iraqis. Paul von Zielbauer provides the Times's report, while Nasseer Nouri and Joshua Partlow write the less-detailed report for the Post.

Elsewhere in the papers:

NEW YORK TIMES

In a non-bylined report from Sydney, Australia, we learn that "Six Australian businessmen face the possibility of millions of dollars in fines in a new civil case connected with huge bribes paid to the government of Saddam Hussein."

In the latest installment of the Times's "Neediest Cases" series, correspondent Alexis Rehrmann profiles Iraqi Uday Hattem, who's recovering in New York from a Baghdad attack in which he was gunned down and disfigured by insurgents for what they deemed to be his sin of selling soda, ice and cigarettes to U.S. troops.

WASHINGTON POST

In a column headed "Bush's 'Axis of Evil,' Six Years Later," Charles Krauthammer says Bush is batting one for three when it comes to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Krauthammer writes, "Contrary to current public opinion, Bush will have succeeded on Iraq, failed on Iran and fought North Korea to a draw." Krauthammer goes on to stress the urgency of staying the course in Iraq.

USA TODAY

Aside from an AP round-up of the day's violence in Iraq, there's an op-ed from Madeleine Tavares, who writes that her "heart is pounding with pride, and yet I'm left breathless with panic" as she thinks of her two children overseas during this holiday season. Her son is deployed with the U.S. Army in Iraq, while her daughter serves with the Peace Corps in Kenya.

WALL STREET JOURNAL

No Iraq reporting or commentary today.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

No Iraq reporting or commentary today.

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