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Daily Column
US Papers Thu: Parliament Passes 3 Big Bills
Thousands of detainees desperate for amnesty; Bush's Iraq planning a mystery
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 02/14/2008 01:34 AM ET
The news is all from Iraq today, in an interesting -- and giddy -- change, as parliament finally gets its act together. Every paper covers the story, but The New York Times adds two more, including an update on the CBS journalists kidnapped in Basra and some enterprise on the Iraqi prison system.

Over there
The Washington Post's Sudarsan Raghavan and Zaid Sabah paint an optimistic picture of the big news out of Iraq, reporting that after months of bickering, the Iraqi parliament passed three bills long sought by the Americans. Parliament passed bills that cleared the way for provincial elections, approved the 2008 budget and granted limited amnesty to thousands of detainees. But the bundling of the laws shows the deep divisions, Raghavan and Sabah write, because none of the various factions would agree out of fear that their pet priorities would be tossed aside. But with the triple-law vote, Kurds Shi'ites and Sunnis all got what they wanted. Kurds got 17 percent of the nation's revenue, with the proviso that the number would be reconsidered in 2009. Shi'ites got their provincial elections so they devolve power to the provinces and away from Baghdad. And the Sunnis got a measure of relief for detainees, the majority of which are Sunnis. In Basra, the interpreter for a CBS journalist was freed, but the cameraman was still being held. Negotiations are ongoing.

Alissa J. Rubin has the story of the legislative breakthrough for the Times, and also sees the upside of the measure. "More than any previous legislation, the new initiatives have the potential to spur reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites and set the country on the road to a more representative government, starting with new provincial elections," she writes. However, she also notes that the vote -- which was a "classic legislative compromise" -- put off many of the most contentious details rather than resolving them. Rubin adds more details on the bill, especially in the budget area. The overall budget for the fiscal year would be roughly $50 billion, of which more than two-thirds would go toward salaries and labor expenses. The most serious controversy, however is the date of provincial elections, which looks like they're going to be by Oct. 1. One oversight: the Awakening Councils have been left out and their political fate is still unclear.

Sam Dagher has the story for the Christian Science Monitor, while Jim Michaels and Charles Levinson cover it for USA Today.

The Times' Solomon Moore trots out a small enterprise piece shedding light on the thousands of detainees that the surge has produced. With more soldiers and more operations, more Iraqis are being detained, overwhelming the country's jails and court system. Yesterday's amnesty was aimed at easing some of the burdens, but American officials still warn that the Justice Ministry is going to need tens of thousands of new prison beds to consolidate detainees being held by various security forces around the country. The ministry will also need to absorb the roughly 24,000 prisoners being held by the American military. The main problem is that Iraq cops can't investigate crimes in a timely manner, resulting in prisoners languishing in hellish conditions. Mike Pannek, the program manger of the Iraq Corrections Program, a Justice Department program, said one of the country's largest prisons, the Rusafa legal complex in Baghdad, has 6,647 detainees. Nearly all of them have been captured since the start of the surge just over a year ago, and that 6,079 of them had not been found guilty of any crime.

Ian Fisher, also of the Times, fills in a little on the CBS crew kidnapped down in Basra. The man in charge of Moqtada al-Sadr's office Basra said his group had negotiated the release of both men, but only the interpreter was freed. CBS has not yet released any names or details on the kidnapped men.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor
Jessica Moore a civilian aid worker in Baghdad, writes how school kids' letters made Valentine's Day in the Green Zone profound.

Washington Post
David Ignatius tries to figure out Bush's thinking on Iraq, considering it seems counter-intuitive to want to make the 2008 presidential election another referendum on Iraq. But that's exactly what he's done by pausing troop cuts after the end of the surge in July. "Reading the tea leaves at the White House these days, you get the sense that Bush's biggest concern is that the next president not unravel the gains he has made in Iraq."

Wall Street Journal
The Journal's editorial page crows about the passage of the three bills yesterday, and rubs House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's nose in it.

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