Erica Goode and Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times report that "sharp fighting" broke out in the Sadr City between militias and U.S. and Iraqi troops as part of an operation to halt the rocket and mortar fire bedeviling the Green Zone. But the offensive didn't stop the attacks, the Times reporters write, and by the end of the day, two soldiers were dead and 17 wounded. Another soldier was killed and a total of 31 were wounded yesterday. At least 20 Iraqis were killed, too, mostly in Sadr City. Yesterday's attacks will likely be featured heavily in tomorrow's Congressional testimony by Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. Ironically, the violence will bolster both Democrats' and Republicans' arguments. The Dems will say there's no political progress and the security isn't as good as was promised. The GOP will say it's too dangerous to leave Iraq now. Separately, Iraq's national security council demanded all militias to disband or face excommunication from the Iraqi political process.
Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post leads with the three soldiers who were killed by rocket fire, and adds that another was killed in Diyala by an IED. In addition to the mayhem mentioned in the Times's story, Londoño reports that 42 university students traveling from Baghdad to Mosul were kidnapped at gunpoint. U.S. and Iraqi soldiers stopped it shortly after the abductions, and rescued the students. An Iraqi law enforcement source said al Qaeda in Iraq was behind the kidnapping, because it believes no one should study law. According to the source, AQI released a statement saying students should practice the law of God, not man.
Sudarsan Raghavan of the Post writes a colorful front-pager on the deepening animosity between Iraq's Shi'ites. Moqtada al-Sadr's followers are getting angrier by the day, and their anger is largely directed at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "Now, our fight is with Badr and Dawa, along with the Americans," said Abu Abdullah, a burly man with a rugged face, thick beard and stern voice. "They are bigger enemies" than the extremist Sunnis, he added. That means any hope for an Awakening style strategy among the Shi'ites is probably a non-starter.
Awadh al-Taiee of the Christian Science Monitor reports on the fighting in Sadr City. One week after the truce ended violence between Mahdi Army fighters and government forces across much of the south, this fresh conflict, in which 22 people were killed, threatens that agreement. Mortar fire on the Green Zone started up again. Al-Taiee paints a grim scene. U.S. tanks and fighting vehicles patrol the entrances to the Shi'ite enclave, shelling into the area. Iraqi Army units have taken up positions just inside. Deeper, it's militia territory; "young militants were everywhere," he writes.
Oh, lord. When Petraeus and Crocker take the microphone, they're going to be facing all three presidential candidates who have three different takes on the war, reports Jonathan Weisman of the Post. Wow, when it comes to sober deliberation on grave national policy matters, I can't think of anything less helpful than to put three presidential candidates in the spotlight. "This is sort of a dress rehearsal for who is best prepared to be commander in chief, who has the best understanding of what has happened, what was wrong in Iraq and how to fix it," noted Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., who backs Sen. John McCain, the Senate Armed Services committee's ranking member.
David Jackson of USA Today also writes this story, but largely leaves Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama out of it. It's all McCain's show tomorrow.
The Wall Street Journal's Yochi J. Dreazen reports that Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, a history professor at West Point isn't too impressed by Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy, saying it gets too much credit and is eroding the Army's ability to fight conventional wars. Al-Sadr's ceasefire and the Awakening movement should get he lion's share of the credit, not the surge and the strategy behind it, Gentile argues. The debate over whether to focus on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare (the Petraeus model) or instead play to the military's conventional strengths (Gentile's position) has been raging in the Pentagon for months.
The Monitor's Howard LaFranchi pens his curtain raiser on the Petraeus-Crocker road show, noting that there will likely be no change in policy, no change in troop levels after July and no change in the fragile security situation in Iraq. That's why there's little anticipation for this week's report from the top two Americans in Iraq. Democrats don't like the status quo, but they have little power to change it.
Jim Michaels of USA Today reports what everybody already knows: Petraeus will not commit to a timetable for more troop withdrawals after the end of the surge this summer.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Christian Science Monitor
Sam Dagher pens a good, incisive piece on Iraqi athletes gearing up for the Olympics in Beijing. They have persevered, though violence, murder, sectarianism, cronyism, lack of proper equipment and training facilities, you name it. Regardless of how well they do, they deserve medals for making the cut to get as far as they have.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is AWOL at a time when Iraq's Shi'ites need him most, writes Mohamad Bazzi. His absence is a power vacuum in Iraqi politics that al-Sadr is only too happy to attempt to fill.
New York Times
Elizabeth Jensen reports that the "Frontline" documentary "Bush's War" has been a big hit online , thanks to show's policy of streaming complete episodes on the Web.
The president of ABC News, David Westin, used his personal touch by traveling to Baghdad to get an interview with Petraeus before his report to Congress tomorrow, reports Brian Stelter. This is news?
Jim Michaels reports that more waivers are being required for new recruits to the Army because of a criminal record or other past misconduct. This reflects the difficult the Army is having attracting squeaky-clean young people with two wars raging.
Wall Street Journal
Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham write a typically pro-surge, pro-Petraeus piece for the Journal's op-ed page, saying that any cost is worth fighting for Iraq's success.