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Daily Column
US Papers Wed: New Push on in Diyala Province
Baghdad's brave librarian; President Bush must focus ME trip on rescuing Iraq
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/09/2008 01:30 AM ET
As expected, the New Hampshire primary ate up most of the news hole, but The New York Times and the Washington Post both found space for covering Operation Raider Harvest, the big push in Diyala Province.

Over there
Stephen Farrell of the Times reports on the futility of the extraordinary secrecy the latest U.S. offensive in Diyala was planned under. Most of their Iraqi Army comrades were kept in the dark. And yet, it still wasn't enough; many insurgents in the province slipped away before the U.S. could trap them. More than half of the insurgents escaped last June, which was the reason for the secrecy. And keeping the Iraqis out of the loop indicates the Americans still don't trust them. And it's a big offensive: Seven American battalions, along with Iraqi Army units, stormed the northern Diyala River valley in search of 200 insurgents affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq. It's part of a wider effort to drive insurgents out of northern Iraq where they have found sanctuary given the surge in Baghdad and Anbar.

The Post's Amit R. Paley reports on the offensive, playing it straight and giving the numbers: 5,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops swooped in on Diyala province in an attempt to trap 200 al Qaeda in Iraq fighters. Paley notes that the successes elsewhere and the increase in troop numbers has, for the first time in two years, allowed this kind of offensive and establish a continued presence in the area. Like Farrell in the Times, Paley notes that most of the insurgents had fled a week ago, however, leaving behind buried IEDs and booby-trapped houses. Only an estimated 50-75 fighters remain behind.

Regular op-ed columnist David Ignatius writes that there is a new push to oust Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, led by the Kurds this time. They're upset that promises made by Maliki in an earlier deal to stave off political death -- passing an oil law, holding a referendum on Kirkuk -- have not been met. So now, they're moving to dump the prime minister. Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, is especially enraged because of Turkish attacks on his territory that Maliki is doing little about. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is working to firewall the embattled Maliki, saying, "We think everyone should be placing emphasis on making the government more effective, not on changing the government." As usual, Adel Abdul Mahdi is being talked up as his replacement. This story is full of juicy little tidbits, and it's unclear why it's on the op-ed page and not in the news section.

Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor reports on Saad Eskander, the stylish and slight librarian of the Iraq National Library and Archive. He's in charge of rebuilding a collective memory that was burned and looted in the early days of the American invasion. "The library lost approximately 95 percent of its rare books, 60 percent of the archival collections, and 25 percent of the book collection," writes Peter. And the library was in a bad area, sandwiched between al Qaeda in Iraq hotbeds and an American military base. After four and a half years -- and funding and donations from NGOs and the Czech Republic -- the library has been restored, Peter writes.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
The Post editorial board chastises President Bush over his new emphasis in the Middle East on the Israeli-Palestinian settlement and containing Iran through a coalition of "moderate" Arab states. Instead, he should concentrate on stabilizing and democratizing Iraq.

New York Times
Charles J. Dunlap Jr., an Air Force major general and the author of "Shortchanging the Joint Fight?," an assessment of the Army's counterinsurgency manual, writes an out-of-step op-ed calling for more big guns in fighting the insurgency and preparing to take on China and Russia. Unsurprisingly, being an Air Force guy, he lauds the five-fold increase in air strikes in Iraq for helping bring the relative calm about and pooh-poohs the new Army counterinsurgency field manual. He sounds a bit like Gen. "Buck" Turgidson.

Wall Street Journal The Journal's editorial team gleefully highlights criticisms of the Lancet's 2006 study on Iraqi casualties, following a report on the study from the National Journal. In short, it's a big, long "told you so!"

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

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