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Daily Column
US Papers Thu: Sunnis' Disposition Souring
Gates urges end to Turks' invasion; Obama-McCain clash over Iraq; Drawdown pause
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 02/28/2008 01:45 AM ET
It's a very busy day for Iraq news today, with all the papers firing on all cylinders. The common news includes an Obama-McCain spat over Iraq, but the Washington Post produces some excellent enterprise on the growing disillusionment of the Sunnis allied with the Americans.

Over there
Sudarsan Raghavan and Amit R. Paley report on the Post's front page that Sunnis allied with the Americans are growing frustrated with both the U.S. and the Iraqi government. The say there is a lack of recognition of their political clout and insufficient support from the U.S. Thousands of fighters in Diyala province have left their posts, going on strike, basically, and yesterday said they would disband if their demands weren't met. They want the Shi'ite police chief of the province replaced. In Babil province, fighters have refused to man their posts after U.S. troops killed several of them in mid-February in murky circumstances. Some commanders also criticize the U.S.-plan that they say gives their men too few positions in Iraq's army and police, and low salaries and late payments are pushing veterans to quit. While the Awakening movement is mostly holding fast, these examples show that it is fraying, and there is worry that Al Qaeda in Iraq has infiltrated some units. "Now, there is no cooperation with the Americans," said Haider Mustafa al-Kaisy, an Awakening commander in Baqoubah. "We have stopped fighting al Qaeda." The Americans know they're in the middle of a political fight between Sunnis and Shi'ites. "Yes, they are frustrated," said Lt. Col. Ricardo Love, commander of the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, who works in Baqoubah. "They think we can make the government of Iraq do anything. We tell them we don't control the government. But they think we are the mighty power." The Americans say security hasn't suffered because of the strikes, but they're worried that AQI and the Mahdi Army might exploit the situation. By the end of the article, you get the impression that -- like the Sunnis did from 2004-2006 -- they're being a wee bit unreasonable. About 20 percent of Awakening fighters are supposed to be accepted into the security forces while vo-tech training and other jobs are available for the rest. But that's not good enough. "The Sunnis were always the leaders of the country. Is it reasonable that they are turned into service workers and garbage collectors?" said Khalid Jiyad Abed, an Awakening leader in the city of Latifiyah and an engineer. American military commanders say only 20-30 percent of the fighters can even pass the physical and written exams needed to enter the security forces, but Awakening leaders and Sunni politicians say it is all the Awakening fighters -- all 80,000 or so of them -- or nothing. It's a good story and one that should be read by people wanting to understand the knife's edge that is Iraq.

The New York Times's Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Khalid al-Ansary report that a law calling for new provincial elections by October, heralded as a big sign of success by the White House, has been vetoed by the Iraqi presidency council. The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a powerful Shi'ite party, complained that the law would strip provinces of powers. (Why didn't they make this case two weeks ago?) The law was cheered as a way for Iraqis to sweep out ineffectual and corrupt leaders and remedy deeply uneven provincial councils, left over from a Sunni boycott of previous provincial elections. The SIIC controls most of the southern councils but has been in a political knife fight with Moqtada al-Sadr's political faction for control in the south. While it's billed as a fight between two visions of Iraq's government -- one favoring a stronger central government, the other supporting more power to the provinces -- SIIC leaders are probably trying to scuttle the elections because they know they'll lose control of much of the oil-rich south, especially Basra.

Amit R. Paley has the story for the Post. "This is a huge disappointment," said the Shiite deputy speaker of parliament, Khalid al-Attiyah, through an aide. "The political blocs all agreed on this law before. Now we will have to try to start all the deals and agreements from the beginning." Points to Paley for explaining that the presidency council has to approve all the laws unanimously, and the SIIC member of the troika, Adel Abdul Mahdi, refused to sign on. He also gets kudos for pointing out that SIIC and other established political parties will likely lose the elections. In addition to al Sadr's people taking over, in Anbar, the Iraqi Islamic Party of Vice President Tariq al Hashimi is set to lose to Sunnis affiliated with the Awakening movement. Also, the head of the Iraqi national journalists union, Shihab al-Tamimi, died from gunshot wounds he sustained over the weekend.

Turning our attention to the north, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Mark Mazzetti of the Times report that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged the Turks to wrap up their little invasion by mid-March. "I measure quick in terms of days, a week or two, something like that, not months," Gates said. It's the first time he's demanded a timetable and reflects the growing unease in Washington and Baghdad that prolonged fighting could widen into a larger conflict. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said their was no "timetable" for ending the operation and vowed to continue until its objectives were met. Turkey claims it has killed 230 PKK militants in the weeklong offensive, including 77 since Tuesday. The PKK denies this, saying more than 100 Turks have been killed. Neither claim is verifiable.

The Post's Ellen Knickmeyer, reporting from Ankara, writes that some Turks are suspicious that the Turkish invasion of Iraq was timed to draw attention away from a controversial lifting of a ban on head scarves. "There's an obvious connection," said retired Gen. Haldun Solmazturk, an administrator at Ahmet Yesevi University in Ankara. Really? Obvious to whom? Retired generals and editorial cartoonists, it seems, as they're the only ones in the story quoted as making the linkage.

Washington doings
The Post's Paul Kane reports that the Senate continued its heated "but largely theatrical" debate on Iraq bills that have no chance of passing. Republicans are relishing the debate, since it allows them to say the surge worked. Democrats are using the debate to test new lines of attack on the war in anticipation of November. Ho, hum. Lotta flash, little heat.

Gail Russell Chaddock has the story for the Christian Science Monitor.

Presidential race
Michael D. Shear and Shailagh Murray of the Post report on the dust-up between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, with the Arizona senator accusing the Illinoisan of making ill-informed comments about Iraq and al Qaeda. Political reporters everywhere licked their chops at the prospect that this will be a preview of the general campaign. Obama made the comment in the debate Tuesday night, saying that as commander-in-chief he would reserve the right to return to Iraq after withdrawing troops "if al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq." McCain said al Qaeda was already there, and that if the U.S. left, they would be taking a country. "I will not surrender," he added. Obama struck back by saying, "I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as al-Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq." Ouch. Nice riposte.

John M. Broder and Elisabeth Bumiller of the Times have the story and point out that al Qaeda in Iraq "is actually a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence agencies have concluded is foreign led." So they're both wrong!

The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler also has the story. This little exchange shows that Obama can go toe-to-toe with the Republicans just fine.

Military matters
Adm. William J. Fallon, CENTCOM commander, said he would endorse a short pause in the drawdowns in Iraq after the surge ends this summer, report Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt of the Times. But he added that the pause would be "brief" and wanted to continue the drawdown to reduce strain on the Army. Privately, however, Bush administration officials want the pause to be longer -- even to the end of the Bush presidency -- so as not to jeopardize gains.

Tom Vanden Brook and Blake Morrison of USA Today continue their slog on reporting on Pentagon procurement methods, noting that four Senators have now asked the DoD for a "sweeping review" of the Pentagon's failures to get gear to Iraq.

Also of USA Today, Matt Kelley reports that two firms who lost contracts as part of the biggest bribery scandal of the Iraq war are seeking $11 million in damages.


Christian Science Monitor Stacy Yeicher Khadaroo reports on a program designed to help wounded Iraq vets apply for and attend college.

Washington Post
Regular op-ed columnist David Ignatius writes that a former CIA officer says the jihadist threat is fading, not growing, if the U.S. would only get out of Iraq and let the demographics of Islamic terrorism take its toll.


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