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US Papers Sun: Attacks across Iraq on Holy Day
The War comes to the campaign; Scenes from a Baghdad Marriage; War Torn Vets
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/20/2008 01:49 AM ET
The Nevada and South Carolina primaries may have dominated the news cycle, but that doesn't mean The New York Times and the Washington Post didn't serve up a decent helping of interesting Iraq coverage today. In addition to competing op-eds in the Post, the Times continues its "War Torn" coverage on troubled vets and also offers an intimate portrait of a marriage in Baghdad in the paper's house.

Over there
But first, the Times' Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Qais Mizher report on the violence on the day of Ashoura, one of Shi'ism's most sacred days. A rocket attack and several bombings killed at least 15 people across central and northern Iraq, but the celebrations in Karbala and other parts in the Shi'ite south were relatively peaceful. Heavy security kept the more than two million pilgrims safe. Still, there was sporadic violence in Basra and Nassiryah, where on Friday Iraqi security forces battled the Soldiers of Heaven, a heavily armed millennial doomsday cult. Significantly, it was in allegedly pacified cities -- Tal Afar, Ramadi and Fallujah -- where most of the yesterday's violence raged. A rocket attack in Tal Afar killed seven and wounded 20; three suicide car bombs attacked a police station in Ramadi, killing five policemen and wounding seven; and a suicide attack occurred in Fallujah. Elsewhere, two Shi'ites were killed in Kirkuk while a car bomb exploded in Sadr City, killing one and wounding 13.

Amit R. Paley has the story for the Post, reporting at least nine people killed in violence around the country. The fight against the Soldiers of Heaven was much fiercer than originally thought, Paley writes. The death toll jumped to 72, according to an Iraqi Interior Ministry official.

And the Times' Damien Cave reports what it's like to be married in Baghdad -- specifically being a Times' reporter married to another Times' journalist in Baghdad. Damien is a reporter and Diana is a videographer. (She's responsible for much of the very good video the times often posts.) He writes of the fear and desperation that comes from being in the thick of doing one's job while trying to help your spouse. And wanting to keep your marriage out of the job, especially while embedded with soldiers. They discovered it's harder to see your spouse in danger than to feel it yourself, and that it's easy to grow apart even in the same room because of the intensity of the work. It's an intimate portrait of the difficulties of loving and working in war.

Home front
Deborah Sontag continues the Times' "War Torn" series on psychologically wounded vets who go on to commit murder when back home. She looks at the tragic case of Lance Cpl. Walter Rollo Smith, a clean-cut Mormon boy who came back from Iraq a drinker, a smoker and unsure of the belief in God. He fell apart psychologically because of PTSD, and the Marines discharged him for medical reasons. Finally, in March 2006, he killed Nicole Marie Speirs, the 22-year-old mother of his twin children, drowning her in the bathtub. There was no apparent provocation or reason. What's notable about this is that prosecutors say there was "no intent" and that he "snapped" one day. Because of his medical discharge, and concern over the car he received from the Veterans Affairs hospital, prosecutors were reluctant to bring his case before a jury. His trauma started in the invasion in 2003, and he described the battle of April 8, 2003, when his unit was pushing into Baghdad. Iraqi fighters commandeered civilians and their cars forcing them to drive right into the Marines' positions, forcing the leathernecks to take out every single vehicle. "We were opening fire on civilians," Mr. Smith said. "We were taking out women and children because it was them or us." His buddies in the unit were furious that he was discharged so quickly, as they would have been his anchors in getting treatment, they said. "He was a mentally injured person because of his service to this country," said Christopher Nibley, a fellow reservist from Utah. "He should not have been kicked out to go off on his own and deal with it all outside." Another part of the series that should be a must-read for everyone.

Michael Gordon pens another personal account of his coverage of the war for the Times, throwing in his time on the campaign trail. He found that candidates and generals often seemed not to be talking about the same war. The generals acknowledge the slog ahead and that it might not work. The candidates, Gordon writes, "seemed more intent on addressing public impatience with an open-ended commitment in Iraq, either by promising prompt withdrawal (the Democrats) or by suggesting that victory may be near (the Republicans)." Andrew Krepinevich, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments says it's the paradox of America's involvement in Iraq: Counterinsurgency success depends on convincing the Iraqis that the U.S. has staying power while the voters see success as pulling out. This piece is a detailed look at the major candidates' positions on the war, and the generals' befuddlement at them. "The one thing that befuddles is I have not heard any candidate describe what their short and long term goals are for Iraq, how it fits into their regional goals for the Middle East and transnational terrorism," said an American officer. "Is their goal just to withdraw troops as fast as possible?"

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Elizabeth Jensen reviews "Baghdad Hospital: Inside the Red Zone," a documentary made by Omer Salih Mahdi, a 30-year-old Iraqi doctor who is now in his second semester of Journalism at Ball State University in Indiana. In June and July 2006, he took a video camera into Yarmouk Hospital to film where few westerners can go. Mahdi is a fascinating character and has worked with some top journalists, including George Packer of the New Yorker and Deborah Amos of NPR.

Washington Post
Jack Keane, Frederick W. Kagan and Michael O'Hanlon make the call for a durable U.S. presence in Iraq now that its parliament is passing de-Ba'athification bills and the like. They call for no further withdrawal past the five combat brigades set to rotate out this summer, keeping the troop numbers at pre-surge levels for several more months and possibly longer. Keane was vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army from 1999 to 2003. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and architect of the "surge" strategy. O'Hanlon is a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution and has supported the war in the past. Their column is a bit Pollyannaish.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University and who lost his son in Iraq disagrees, saying the surge isn't working and Iraq is broken beyond repair. He makes a fair point that the proponents of the surge -- Kagan, O’Hanlon, Keane, et al. -- have shifted their focus to the success of tactics, not strategy. His column is a bit better reasoned than the one by the proponents.

Nate Slate, a recently retired Army colonel, writes that his cultural advisor, who he calls Dulaimi, is now in America and he has to explain that America might indeed abandon Iraq.

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal and USA Today
No editions today.

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