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Iraq Papers Saturday: Iraq Sees War and Peace
Turkey invades northern Iraq; Moqtada al-Sadr extends truce; Basra in trouble
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 02/23/2008 01:51 AM ET
Remember how there had been a dearth of Iraq news in the last few days, like nothing much was happening there? No longer. The two biggest stories are, obviously, the Turkish incursion into northern Iraq and the extension of the Mahdi Army truce by Moqtada al-Sadr. Only The New York Times offers a bit of enterprise today.

War...
Joshua Partlow and Amit R. Paley of the Washington Post have some good coverage of the Turkish incursion against the PKK, which could number as few as 500 soldiers or as many as 10,000 depending on who you talk to. (The Turks say it's the higher number.) Good color and reporting from Duhok stands the Post story out from the rest. But not much is revealed as to how the campaign is going.

The Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Sabrina Tavernise turn in a stronger story, however, with more international context, pinging the paper's far-flung diplomatic contacts. They also manage to get some details of the operation: 24 Kurdish fighters and five Turkish soldiers killed, at least 20 more fighters killed in later artillery and air attacks, and the destruction of a number of PKK hide-outs and military caches. This all comes from the Turkish military.

Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal files a 1-2 story, leading with the Turkish actions but tossing out the news of al-Sadr's extended cease-fire. She also gets the award for most understatement of the day, calling Turkey's incursion "a move that could complicate relations with the U.S." You don't say? Chon reports that the muted U.S. reaction to the military operation "reflects the Bush administration's mounting frustration with the Iraqi Kurdish leadership," an angle not found in the other two stories. They've been frustrated by the Kurds refusal to crack down on the PKK and, "There's a bit of a sense that the Kurds have kind of brought this on themselves," said a senior U.S. military commander. Chon pivots to al-Sadr's decision to extend the cease-fire, but gives it only brief mention. (What do you say about a war that doesn't break out?) Still, her story provides a convenient segue.

...and Peace
Sudarsan Raghavan and Paley pen a front-pager for the Post on al-Sadr's extended truce, reporting that the young cleric wants six more months of cease-fire so he can continue consolidating control over his militia. U.S. officials hope it will also increases stability in Iraq, and military commanders praised al-Sadr for his decision. The Post reporters go far out on a limb, however, writing that "Sadr's decision reflects Iraq's transition away from violence and toward a more peaceful politics." That sounds a bit too definite, even for these more pacific days, but Raghavan and Paley report that al-Sadr is trying to bolster his position as a national leader of Iraq when U.S. troops leave. All was not well in Mahdi-land, however, as some supporters seemed frustrated by their leader's decision.

Some followers shook their heads and appeared frustrated as they left the mosque. Tears welled in the eyes of some militiamen from Diwaniyah, where Iraqi security forces have detained or displaced hundreds of Sadr followers amid allegations of abuse and torture.

"This is a huge shock," said Bassim Zain, 27, one of the militiamen from Diwaniyah. "We were expecting that Sayyid Moqtada will end the freeze in order to defend ourselves."

Al-Sadr believes he can win against the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council in the upcoming provincial elections, allowing him to control local governments across southern Iraq.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. has a brief roundup of al-Sadr's decision for the Times, and adds that a Marine was killed in combat on Thursday in Anbar province.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Solomon Moore has the Times' front-pager today, and it's a real must-read: a look at how Basra is faring after the withdrawal of British forces in December. And it's not a pretty picture. In his leade he writes that if Basra experiment in self-rule is the model for Iraq, then the country is deep trouble. Even with an ideal set of conditions -- the nation's best economic base, little ethnic tension within a homogeneous Shiite population and no Western occupation force to inflame nationalist tensions -- Basra is "deeply troubled." Professionals disappear in the night; competing militias clash in the streets; judges, politicians and tribal sheikhs are regularly murdered; and at least 100 women were killed last year, probably by Shi'ite militias for being "impious." Two dozen Shi'ite political parties and militias compete for the oil sector, seaport profits, smuggling operations and political authority. And Basra is Iraq's economic nerve center. The police force is a collection of militias, with the Mahdi Army the most successful at packing in its members. It's a powder keg of a situation and it's unclear which way it will go.

Christian Science Monitor and USA Today
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