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US Papers Thu: Iraq's Army Faces Test in Mosul
Yet more 5-year coverage; SIIC drops objection to election law after VP visit
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 03/20/2008 01:50 AM ET
It's a day of overwhelming coverage on Iraq, tied to yesterday's fifth anniversary. Everyone gets their licks in, although the Washington Post and The New York Times generally stick to actual, you know, news instead of retrospective packages. The Christian Science Monitor and USA Today goes ga-ga for the 5-year-mark with dueling packages and America's newspaper runs a bunch of mini-profiles on various archetypes from the war (Hey! Just like yesterday's Post!) The Times, though, has a forward looking piece examining the Iraqi Army in Mosul, while most papers notice that the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council dropped its objection to Oct. 1 elections. Grab a coffee and settle in. There's a lot of ground to cover.

Five years gone
Peter Grier of the Monitor reports that five years into the war, America is deeply troubled by it. He calls it "perhaps America's bitterest lesson since Vietnam in the realities of war and geopolitics." But he notes the bottom line is that "many in the US view the Iraq invasion as a mistake they don't want to see repeated."

The Monitor's Howard LaFranchi reports that despite five years of an unpopular war, Americans are hungry to improve their image abroad and the world is anxious to welcome them back into the family of nations. LaFranchi writes that fixing America's image and restoring its leadership role will be a major challenge for the next president.

Kicking off USA Today's package, Rick Hampson reports that the war has affected many, many people over the years.

Soha Bayati and her family get only three hours of electricity a day in Baghdad. She is deeply pessimistic and says, ""It feels like we are going backward day after day."

In Wyoming, Joe and Judy Childers mourn over their lost Marine son, Shane, killed March 21, 2003.

Capt. Kristin Facer suffers from traumatic brain injury in Colorado Springs.

Army Sgt. James Helegda was pro-war in 2003, but now he's had three deployments and his marriage has collapsed. His feelings on the war are "mixed."

In San Antonio, Sgt. Maj. Tracey James came under fire and returned it, an example of the changing roles of women in the war. More and more are facing combat.

Back to the Monitor, Gordon Lubold reports that five years of fighting have emphasized that the U.S. military must both excel at traditional combat and irregular warfare. The debate is where to find the balance.

Over there
Sholnn Freeman of the Post reports that Iraq's three member presidency council approved legislation that would set a time frame for provincial elections, a positive step for Iraq. the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council had blocked the law earlier, jeopardizing a complicated and critical package of laws also dealing with the 2008 budget and amnesty for detainees. The SIIC member of the presidency council, Adel Abdul Mahdi, withdrew his objection to the election law after a visit from Vice President Dick Cheney. (Did he reveal his true form to Mahdi?) Iraqis are guardedly optimistic after five years of war, but they're damn tired of not having any electricity or reliable water. A woman blew herself up in Diyala, killing five people and wounding 15. U.S. forces raided an area south of Baqoubah, capturing three Iraqis suspected of being in a bomb-making cell. In Mosul, a suicide car bomber attacked the headquarters of an Iraqi army company. Fourteen people were injured, including 11 soldiers. In Kirkuk, two cops were killed and three others hurt by a roadside bomb. In Hilla, south of Baghdad, a two separate roadside bombs killed four and wounded 16, total.

Charles Levinson of USA Today has the story on the election agreement, noting that the Iraqis will hold the provincial elections that are seen as key to getting disaffected groups like Moqtada al-Sadr's movement and Sunni Arabs into the provincial councils.

The Times' Erica Goode and Richard A. Oppel Jr. give the best rundown of the sequence of events for the election law as well as makes the key point that Mahdi's original objection to the law reflected a long-running feud between the SIIC and al-Sadr. The SIIC controls most of the provincial councils in the south because al-Sadr's movement boycotted the elections. Elsewhere in Hawija, American forces accidentally shot and killed three Iraqi police officers, including a lieutenant in the Special Forces who had escaped five assassination attempts. In Diyala, an American soldier died "as a result of a vehicle rollover." Baghdad celebrated the Prophet Muhammad's birthday by lighting candles and putting them on balconies.

Solomon Moore has the best bit of enterprise today, writing for the Times's front page that the Iraqi Army in Mosul has its work cut out for it. The Iraqis are stepping up, using their own, rough-hewn methods, but there are still "troubling gaps" in their capability. Iraqis in Mosul are good at basic operations like patrols, "cordon and searches" and raids with minimal assistance. There are relatively few desertions, unlike the rest of the Iraqi Army, and they're very good at using informants to gain intelligence. But logistical problems are crippling the units, uneven leadership is still a problem and poor communication makes soldiering difficult. Some commanders seem unwilling to lead their men into battle. Topping it off, the insurgency seems to be willing to make a stand in Mosul, setting up the prospects for another drawn out, yet inconclusive battle. West Mosul is so controlled by the insurgents that they hang bodies from a bridge to intimidate residents and posted video of an attack on an American patrol 21 minutes after the strike. "There are those who say the Iraqi Army can control Iraq without the Americans," said Col. Ali Omar Ali, an Iraqi battalion commander in east Mosul. "But they are liars. Without the Americans it would be impossible for us to control Iraq." By far the best story of the day, and a very important must-read.

The Times's James Risen reports that the electrocution deaths of at least 12 G.I.s in Iraq from shoddy wiring at U.S. bases is under congressional investigation. KBR seems to be in the crosshairs on this one.

The Wall Street Journal's John D. McKinnon follows Cheney to Iraq and reports that he's pushing hard for the proposed security pact between the U.S. and Iraq. He's seeking to finalize the deal, which is upsetting Democrats who say the agreement needs congressional approval.

Home front
The Monitor's Mark Trumbull crunches the numbers and reports that the Iraq war may cost more per citizen than many other U.S. wars, including Korea, Vietnam and the Civil War.

The Times's Jesse McKinley reports on protests against the war on the anniversary. Attendance was lighter and there was less acrimony this year. Only about 500 protestors took to the streets in San Francisco, compared to 150,000 in 2003. A lot of protestors are discouraged that five years of efforts to end the war have gotten nowhere. "The war is not going to end," said Bob McGee, 67, from Livermore, about 50 miles east of the city. "It doesn't matter who wins the election. The only thing that's going to stop it is the destruction of the economy."

Michael E. Ruane of the Post reports similar small numbers in Washington. Hey, maybe the pro-war protestors might actually achieve parity with the number of anti-war protestors this year. Protestors were dismayed. "The apathy of my fellow Americans is very frightening, very horrific," said Gary Krane, of Oakland, Calif. "I thought there would be hundreds if not thousands of people getting arrested."

The Post's Dana Milbank brings his snark to the party, noting that protestors mostly met with apathy. The White House, he writes, was cheered at the small turnout and had the confidence to stage another "Mission Accomplished" kind of speech (more on that below.) Cheney likened Bush's speech to that of Abraham Lincoln. (Hah, hah, that ironist. The original "Mission Accomplished" debacle happened on the USS Abraham Lincoln.)

Melanie Stetson Feeeman of the Monitor writes about Sgt. Brian Fountaine, who, while recovering from wounds received in Iraq, was offered a free house from Homes for Our Troops. The group is a nonprofit that builds houses for severely injured vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Fountaine lost both legs below the knees in Iraq and wondered if the offer was real. It was, and this past weekend he moved into a three-bedroom ranch house in Plymouth, Mass. The house was completed with the help of volunteers and donated building supplies and land. Fountaine's new home was even constructed with wheelchair access in mind; it's an open plan with extra-wide doors and a specially fitted bathroom. Homes for Out Troops was started by John Gonsalves, a former contractor who calls on tradesmen and suppliers across the country to build the homes. His group has houses completed or underway in 20 states. Fountaine's house is the 25th built, and Gonsalves wants to grow large enough to not turn down any vet who qualifies. Of the approximately 30,000 injured vets, about 2,000 are in the kind of condition that need his help. Do consider donating to the group. It's a 501(c)(3) and a very worthy cause.

Washington doings
The Times's Steven Lee Myers reports on President George W. Bush's speech defending the Iraq war. Kudos to Myers for writing an at once poignant and ominous leade: "President Bush used the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq on Wednesday to make the case for persevering in a conflict that could have many more anniversaries." This speech was described at the "frankest" acknowledgment of the costs of the war, but he continued to insist the war was the right thing to do and victory is right around the corner. Democratic senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both criticized the speech while Republican Sen. John McCain said the U.S. and its allies stood "on the precipice of winning a major victory against radical Islamic extremism." "On the precipice"? Shouldn't he rephrase that? What's most surprising about this story is that so little ink is given to what Bush actually said. It's almost like the Times has decided that reporting on Bush's speech is like that old Far Side cartoon about what dogs hear. "Blah blah blah Iraq blah blah Victory." Unsurprisingly, Cheney weighed in and made a comment that will no doubt be as infamous as his "last throes" howler made in June 2005. When pressed by an interviewer that two-thirds of Americans thought the war was not worth fighting, Cheney replied, "So?" The Times tosses the most condescending part of the exchange, however. "So? You don't care what the American people think?" pressed ABC News' Martha Raddatz. "No," replied the veep. "I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."

Dan Eggen of the Post reports on Bush's speech and highlight's Cheney's exchange. Once again, the emphasis is on the reaction to Bush's speech rather than what the president said, but good for the Post for bringing this up:

In one disputed portion of his address, Bush resurrected assertions that Osama bin Laden and his followers have played a central role in the Iraq conflict. Bush suggested that a backlash among local Sunni Muslims to the group calling itself al-Qaeda in Iraq amounted to "the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology and his terror network."
Really? He's trotting that out again? Indeed, Paul R. Pillar, a retired senior CIA analyst, said much of Bush's speech "could have been taken out of a speech five years ago."

USA Today's Richard Wolf covers Bush's speech, touches on Cheney's comments and generally yawns at the whole thing.

The Monitor's Howard LaFranchi interviews Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who is fiercely critical of Bush's current attempts to negotiate a security agreement with Iraq. The terms would hamstring the next president's ability to change the course of the war. Well, sure, that's exactly what Bush wants.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor
Mark Moyar, author of "Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965," says five years is too soon to judge whether Iraq is a success or not. He sounds reasonable until he notes that "Reports that Saddam Hussein sent WMD to Syria before his downfall have yet to be verified or disproved." Yes, but they most certainly haven't been proved, and an overwhelming amount of evidence points to the conclusion that he just didn't have any.

New York Times
John Tagliabue reports that six Frenchmen and one Algerian went on trial in Paris, accused of recruiting fighters for Iraq.

The Times's editorial board says the mission in Iraq is still not accomplished and Bush's speech marked him as living in "Neverland." Well, it was inhabited by boys who refused to grow up. It's a harsh editorial, bubbling with five years of rage. "It was clear long ago that Mr. Bush had no plan for victory, only a plan for handing this mess to his successor. Americans need to choose a president with the vision to end this war as cleanly as possible."

USA Today
The USA Today board takes Cheney to task for his dismissal of American opinion on the war.

Conservative Cal Thomas and liberal Bob Beckel go back and forth over what lessons should be learned from five years of war in Iraq.

Wall Street Journal
The Journal calls for more patience because victory is at hand! It's quite the rosy-tinted view of the war.

Dan Senor and Roman Martinez, former CPA officials (Dan was the spokesman, not a foreign policy adviser), write about Moqtada al-Sadr's dramatic transformation and, it has to be admitted, growing isolation. They cheer his marginalization but fail to recognize its danger. If he loses control of the Mahdi Army, it won't just fade away; it will fracture into a Shi'ite insurgency, which would make the Sunni insurgency look like a, hm, "cakewalk." Already his followers are criticizing him for being too soft on the Americans.

Washington Post
This Post editorial says all the speeches made yesterday promised the impossible. Bush promised an impossible victory and the Democratic president candidates promised an impossible timetable for withdrawal.

David S. Broder writes that McCain missed an opportunity in Iraq to tell Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that his patience was close to ending and when he was president, Maliki better get his house in order. Had he done that, he would have distanced himself from Bush while supporting the war, potentially boosting his campaign. But McCain didn't do that. Oh, well.

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