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Daily Column
US Papers Sat: Sadr Under Fire after Karbala
Cleric's followers warned of more violence; Families cling to 'proof of life'
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 03/22/2008 01:18 AM ET
It's Easter weekend, which means it's a light day today. The Washington Post has the only news specifically from Iraq, but The New York Times makes up for that with strong coverage of the families of the missing and the dead.

Over there
The Post's Sholnn Freeman reports the sole Baghdad-datelined news, noting that Iraq's Shi'ites are on high alert after a gruesome suicide attack earlier this week by a female suicide bomber in Karbala. The followers of Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqi security forces (lots of Badr guys there) continued to clash, too. A spokesman for Sadr in Karbala said attacks against the cleric's followers had doubled since the bombing. Security forces raided a Sadr office in Daghara, taking 12 Sadrists into custody. The head of Sadr's office in Diwaniyah has been detained. On Thursday, almost lost in the anniversary tsunami, security forces and Mahdi Army fighters clashed in Kut, leaving three fighters dead and nine wounded. These events will test the cease-fire, Freeman notes.

Washington doings
Steven Lee Meyers of the Times reports the Pentagon is urging a delay in any further troop cuts after the surge ends this summer. The delay would be at least until the end of the summer. But Meyers makes a common error: He says that President George W. Bush "facing intense pressure from Democrats and even some Republicans" announced he would withdraw five combat brigades and two Marine battalions by July, leaving troop levels at 140,000, a bit higher than it was before the surge. But those guys were coming home anyway because of logistical issues, not because of political pressure. Anyway, with all the departing troops shaking up the status quo, the Pentagon wants some time to assess and plan for the lowered force levels. Also, by July, the Army could shorten deployments to 12 months from 15 months. The longer terms started with the surge and, unsurprisingly, have been unpopular with the troops. Democrats warn that halting an orderly troop withdrawal will inflame anti-war sentiment on the Hill. "You've got to signal to the Army and the Marine Corps that this treadmill in and out of Iraq is going to stop," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

Home front
The Times' Kirk Johnson reports on the families of five American contractors kidnapped in Iraq more than a year ago. The grisly discovery of severed fingers are seen as a "proof of life" that the men are still alive. Most of the families had normalized that their kin were gone, probably dead. But then the proof of life and all that goes out the window.

Patrick Reuben, a police officer in Minneapolis, said he had only recently resigned himself to the idea that his twin brother, Paul, 41, another of the Crescent contractors, was dead. Now, Mr. Reuben said, the DNA report has given him hope too, though in an interview he could not help slipping back and forth between the present and past tenses -- his brother is, his brother was.
It's a heartbreaking story.

Lisa W. Foderaro of the Times tackles a story not covered well, or at all: the collision of mourning and money. When a service member dies in Iraq, the family back home gets a windfall: life insurance, a death gratuity, medical care and housing and education assistance. It can be up to $500,000. Some go on a spending spree to smother the grief; others find themselves besieged by hard-up friends. Some find the money a bit of an affront. In short, the pain of loss leads to unique reactions. True, many family members use the money to finance their children's education or pay off mortgages. But some -- especially young widows who don't know much about finance -- spend their way into debt with consumer things. "All of a sudden you get hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there's a perception that it's going to last forever, but it doesn't," said Joanne M. Steen, co-author of "Military Widow: A Survival Guide." "You’re dealing with some really tumultuous emotions and unclear thinking."

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Mickey Edwards, a lecturer at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School and a Congressman from 1977 to 1993, abandons Vice President Dick Cheney after his "So?" remark this week.

Cheney told Raddatz that American war policy should not be affected by the views of the people. But that is precisely whose views should matter: It is the people who should decide whether the nation shall go to war. That is not a radical, or liberal, or unpatriotic idea. It is the very heart of America's constitutional system.

David Montgomery covers the latest protest in D.C., this time by a bunch of poets.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today and Wall Street Journal
No coverage or no editions today.

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