The Post's Sudarsan Raghavan reports on the latest in information warfare in Iraq: a captured diary of an al Qaeda in Iraq leader, who complains of low morale, deserting allies and betrayal. The U.S. military in Iraq is making this captured diary available in an attempt to win back some of the media ground lost to AQI, finally realizing the importance of winning the propaganda war. "It is important we get our story out," a U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity. "I firmly believe the information part of this conflict is as very vital as the armed element of it. ... We don't want to lose that to al-Qaeda." One of the main sources of frustration is the Sunni Awakening Councils, which have really eaten into AQI's ability to recruit and function in areas it once controlled. The diary is also a rich source of information on the schemes the insurgents used to finance their operations, the weapons they used and even the names of other fighters.
Alissa J. Rubin of the Times reports that conflicts are deepening between local Sunni militias and local governments in two provinces, meaning the nightmare scenario -- the Sunni tribesmen recruited to fight alongside the Americans -- might turn on the governments of Anbar and Diyala provinces. In Diyala this weekend, 300 members of the so-called "concerned local citizens" left their outposts in protest of the local Shi'ite police commander, whom they accuse of being a member of the Mahdi Army. In Anbar, the Iraqi Islamic Party threatened to sue the local Awakening Council for saying it would oust the party from the local government. Elsewhere, in southern Iraq, at least 30 people were detained in an effort to crack down on a messianic cult, the Soldiers of Heaven. But it could also be just a roundup of political enemies. President Jalal Talabani met with senior Shi'ite clerics in Najaf, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and later told reporters that there was no plan to replace Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- which means there almost certainly is a plan to replace him. Rubin also writes up some more on the latest in the court-martial of Sgt. Evan Vela, an Army sniper on trial for the shooting of an unarmed Iraqi man.
Fred Kaplan profiles Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for the Times Magazine, painting a picture of a man cautious, attentive to details and listening for history's warning bells. He comes off as a consummate professional, which is the title of the article. The contrast with his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld couldn't be starker: "My favorite cartoon from my confirmation hearings," Gates said, "shows me holding up my hand and saying, I swear that I am not now, and have never been, Donald Rumsfeld." And that, friends, is the essence of this profile (and Gates' tenure at the Pentagon): fixing Rumsfeld's screw-ups. If anyone wants to know how Bush has managed to be successful in Congress with his Iraq agenda in the face of widespread public disgust, read this story.
Phillip Rucker reports for the Post that Maryland is considering several bills that would aid wounded soldiers who have been shortchanged by the federal government and Walter Reed Army Hospital. The state's Democratic governor, Martin O'Malley, said the Bush administration had waged "war on the cheap" and said Maryland vets weren't getting the services they need.
In a similar vein, Michael Winerip of the Times reports on the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J., a center where parents bring their brain-damaged soldier-children in a quest for a miracle. The story focuses on three mothers who have found a bond with each other as they each deal with their sons, all Iraq veterans who suffered serious brain damage.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
David Ignatius, regular op-ed columnist, writes that it's not the number of troops on the ground in Iraq that's important, but how they're being used. In that context, the U.S. Special Forces operations are increasingly hard-nosed ... and effective. Likewise, the provincial reconstruction teams being the soft power to bear. It remains to be seen, of course, whether these two aspects of American force can win in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Columnist Jim Hoagland writes that both Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidates for their party's presidential nod, are making promises they can't keep regarding Iraq. But Iraq also offers a chance for their two campaigns to start over and resist the easy solutions they're offering, solutions that no one would believe coming from Bush, either. It's time for them to get specific -- and realistic.
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