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Daily Column
US Papers Mon: 'New' Army Strategy in Diyala
De-Ba'ath or Re-Ba'ath?; Scene of the crime: Rigged House; Dems' War Fairy Tale
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/14/2008 01:48 AM ET
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? The Washington Post skips any Iraq coverage today, leaving the field to The New York Times, which fills the gap with the first William Kristol column on Iraq and the Democrats (guess which way he leans?), campaign claim fact-checking and some good reporting and analysis from the front lines. The Christian Science Monitor also throws out a story on the strategy behind the latest Diyala offensive while the Wall Street Journal opines on what lessons can be learned by the war.

Over there
Solomon Moore, writing for the Times, engages in a bit of morning-after analysis on yesterday's passing of the new de-Ba'athification bill. He finds what he calls "troubling questions -- and troubling silences -- about the measure's actual effects." Moore finds that the bill is so full of loopholes and caveats, contradictions and confusing passages, that it could wind up excluding even more former Ba'athists than it lets back in, especially in security ministries. That would put the bill, heralded by President George W. Bush as a means of political reconciliation between the Shi'ites and the Sunnis, directly at odds with U.S. goals for Iraq. Wow, unintended consequences from a measure to improve things in Iraq? Who could have imagined? Snark aside, the U.S. embassy is keeping mum until it can review the bill, a spokeswoman said. Col. Steven Boylan, spokesman for Gen. David H. Petraeus, said he hadn't seen a translation of the bill and wasn't sure his boss had either. The take-back is this: Iraqi officials are divided on what the bill actually does. Theoretically, it returns another 30,000 ex-Ba'athists to public life, and grants pensions to still more. Shi'ite politicians say it's an olive branch to the Sunnis -- who dominated the top rungs of the party -- say it's incremental at best and even harsher than CPA Order 1. But some Shi'ite politicians crowed that the new law was better than the old one because it would ban all ex-Ba'athists from jobs in the important ministries: justice, interior, defense, finance and foreign. So much for hiring all those Sunni tribesmen into the security forces. The problem is that the law can be interpreted liberally -- or not, depending on who's interpreting it.

Meanwhile, there's still a war on, and Scott Peterson of the Monitor is out in Baqoubah with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Commanders in the Breadbasket of Diyala province say their new strategy is to go in, clear out insurgents and stay. "We (and) the Iraqi forces and government are committing ourselves to staying in this area, which has previously not happened," says Lt. Col. James Brown, executive officer of Peterson's unit. "It's been go in, find Al Qaeda in Iraq, kill them, and then leave. Big surprise, they come right back." Except... this isn't a new strategy at all. As a report in al Qa’im, which the Marines assaulted in November 2005 in the last major offensive before the surge, commanders said the exact same thing: they would clear the area and convince the Iraqis they would stay. Perhaps now, however, the Americans mean it because they have the troops to support it.

The Times' Stephen Farrell returns to the scene of a bloody attack on American soldiers: the house in Sinsil that was rigged to explode and which did, killing six American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter. It's a detailed dispatch of what war in Iraq is still like: duplicity by supporters of the insurgency, booby traps and shattered bodies. A trigger under a rug, which one of the soldiers stepped on, likely set off the bomb. "We saved who we could, and who we couldn't save they didn't feel a thing because concrete either fell on them or the bomb killed them," said Sgt. Joseph Weeren, 27, a sniper team leader from Winchester, Mass. After the explosion, ignoring his concussion and blurred vision, Weeren went back into town and arrested the shopkeeper who directed soldiers to the house without telling them it was booby-trapped. "I didn't have any body armor on," he said. "I didn't have a helmet. I was just so angry I went back after this guy, and I grabbed him." His commanders praised his presence of mind to go after the guy.

The Times' Eric Lipton fact-checks Bill and Hillary Clinton's claim that her reliance on Sen. Chuck Hagel's drafting of the authorization to use military force against Saddam Hussein was a contributing factor in her voting "yes" for the measure. On Sunday's "Meet the Press," she said, "Chuck Hagel, who helped to draft the resolution, said it was not a vote for war." It's tangled, as these Senate things often are. While Hagel was indeed pushing a more restrictive bill to authorize force, the White House cut a separate deal that led Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to craft one that was less restrictive. That's the one Sen. Clinton voted on, not Sen. Hagel's. Clinton defends her vote by saying that Hagel "played a key role in drafting the 2002 authorization" and influencing the debate, even if it's not the bill she voted on.


New York Times
William Kristol, brand new conservative columnist for the Times' op-ed page, takes the Democrats to the woodshed for their unwillingness to admit the surge has been a glorious success and that Kristol, who supported the surge, was right all along. OK. He didn't explicitly make the last point, but it's there.

Wall Street Journal
Erik Swabb, a former Marine infantry officer who served in Iraq, writes for the Journal's op-ed page that despite stretching the military to its limits, Iraq is also giving the U.S. armed forces much needed experience in fighting small dirty counter-insurgencies. Why he says the Marines were ill prepared for the aftermath of the invasion is a bit of a puzzle, though, since Marines are traditionally the best at fighting small wars. "Small Wars Manual," published by the U.S. Marines, anyone? (Yeah, the Army was pretty unprepared.) Anyway, he says this experience in fighting small, dirty wars is crucial for winning the "Long War" against Islamic extremism. Well, sure, but a better lesson to be learned from Iraq would be to avoid small dirty wars in the first place.

Washington Post
No Iraq coverage today. Can you believe that?

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.


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