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US Papers Wed: Petraeus Calls for Troops' Halt
Wants to postpone further drawdowns; Moqtada al-Sadr Cancels Million-Man March
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 04/09/2008 01:40 AM ET
The Washington Post and The New York Times go all out with yesterday's hearings, devoting thousands of words to what everyone has known for a long time: Gen. David H. Petraeus has no plans to leave Iraq, and President George W. Bush will back him up. This is going to be the next president's problem. Good thing he or she was doing some of the questioning.

Washington Doings
Peter Baker and Jonathan Weisman kick off the Iraq-a-palooza with the Post's lead story. As expected, Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker asked for more time and a halt to troop withdrawals to stabilize Iraq, guaranteeing Iraq and the 140,000 American troops there will be a major issue in the November election. Petraeus said security was getting better, but he wants a 45-day evaluation period after the end of the surge in July and then an indefinite assessment before any further drawdowns. President George W. Bush is expected to endorse Petraeus's plan. Senators were skeptical, even Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has staked his presidential campaign on success in Iraq. But he still slammed his Democratic rivals, Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois as having "reckless and irresponsible withdrawal" plans. Thanks to Baker and Weisman for spelling out the timeline. Thanks to logistics, there is no chance of any significant withdrawal until November under the general's time frame. And even then, it's likely it will be punted to the next president. Props to McCain for asking real questions about the readiness of Iraqi Army troops, and why so many casualties in the Green Zone from fire?

Steven Lee Meyers and Thom Shanker of the Times report on Petraeus's recommendation. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, chided Crocker for saying the Bush administration didn't need to involve the Senate in its negotiations for a security agreement with Iraq. "You need to do much more than inform the Congress, you need the permission of the Congress if you're going to bind the next president of the United States in anything you agree to," Biden said.

Yochi J. Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal reports that Petraeus's recommendations are "far more cautious" than expected, and that's likely to set off a new debate in the Pentagon -- certainly it will among the candidates. Kudos to Dreazen for laying out clearly the perils facing both Democrats and Republicans on this: "Democrats must explain their support for a fixed timetable for withdrawal in the face of Gen. Petraeus's clear opposition. Republicans will enter the fall campaign with as many as 140,000 soldiers in Iraq, making it harder for them to defend the unpopular war." He also notes the sheer open-endedness of it all. Petraeus refused to give even a rough idea of when the U.S. might start to extricate itself from Iraq.

Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks pen the Post's other front-pager, on the frustrated senators grilling Petraeus and Crocker. As the two write, Petraeus said withdrawal would depend on "conditions," and the general would know them when he sees them. "For frustrated lawmakers, it was not enough," they write. "A year ago, the president said we couldn't withdraw because there was too much violence," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. "Now he says we can't afford to withdraw because violence is down." Asked Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.: "Where do we go from here?" That's a good question.

Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times focuses on the performances of McCain, Clinton and Obama, saying the hearings were a dress rehearsal for being commander-in-chief. (Hmm. I don't recall Bush sitting in on congressional hearings.) Thankfully, none of the presidential contenders decided this was an occasion for grandstanding.

Elizabeth Holmes of the Journal reports that all the candidates stayed on message yesterday.

Jim Michaels and David Jackson of USA Today file a story on the hearings. And David Jackson focuses on the presidential politics involved.

Dana Milbank of the Post skewers Petraeus and Crocker by wryly noting that the enemy keeps changing in Iraq.

When the United States invaded Iraq five years ago, the enemy was Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athists. When Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ryan C. Crocker, respectively the U.S. commander and the ambassador to Iraq, came to testify to Congress last year, the enemy was al-Qaeda in Iraq. Yesterday, Petraeus and Crocker returned to Congress to report that the enemy had changed once again.

We are now fighting Iran-backed "special groups" in Iraq.

Milbank also notes that McCain got mixed up again, referring to al Qaeda in Iraq as an "obscure sect of the Shi'ites." Sunnis, Shi'ites, whatever. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., wins for being the most insanely bellicose, fingering Iran for the "murder" of "hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians." The question on Lieberman's mind seems to be, "Can we bomb Iran yet?"

Glenn Kessler breaks down Petraeus’s charts on ethno-sectarian violence, security budgeting and Iraqi combat battalions, as well as parses the general's words on withdrawal. In all cases, Petraeus is spinning madly.

Tom Vanden Brook recycles an old story to report that Pentagon generals are concerned about troops' long deployments in Iraq. Gen. Richard Cody, Army vice chief of staff, wants to cut the deployment to 12 months from 15 months, but Petraeus's decision to stop troop withdrawals will make that difficult.

The Post's Robin Wright reports that Angelina Jolie stole a fair bit of Petraeus's thunder when she appeared at the Council on Foreign Relations to speak about the plight of the more than 1 million Iraqi child refugees. And her star power actually got people who wouldn't normally attend events on refugees. James Gavrilis, who is on the staff of the Joint Chiefs, attended the Council event, saying, "I want to hear what her perspective is and how it's different from the military and masculine perspective." Uh, sure, James.

Finally, the Times's Sarah Abruzzese reports that Bush awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Petty Officer Second Class Michael A. Monsoor, 25, a Navy Seal who threw himself on a grenade to save his buddies in September 2006.

Over there
The hearings even had an impact in Baghdad, reports Michael R. Gordon of the Times. Soldiers of the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment tried to watch the hearings in between power cuts from their combat base near Sadr City. None of the soldiers favored a speedy reduction in U.S. forces. But some were annoyed that the Iraqi government continues to let the U.S. pay for its reconstruction when it's sitting on billions in oil revenues.

Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor reports that the recent fighting in Basra was not just about the government's bid to establish sovereignty over its territory. It was also about oil smuggling, which is rampant down there and which is costing the government about $5 billion a year. Local officials are implicated in the smuggling. And ultimately, oil money means power. Whoever controls the south speaks "has the leverage to map the country's future and work out deals with the two other competing groups: the Sunnis and the Kurds."

In a rare expression of common sense, Moqtada al-Sadr has cancelled his million-man march planned for today because he feared it would lead to greater bloodshed, reports the Post's Amit R. Paley. You think? Fighting continues to rage between the Mahdi Army and U.S. and Iraqi troops. At least one U.S. soldier and 16 Shi'ite fighters were killed in Sadr City on Tuesday, bringing the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq since Sunday to 12. Al-Sadr continues to say his cease-fire could be lifted if the government persists in attacking his militia.

Stephen Farrell and Erica Goode have the story for the Times, with the addition that there's some heavy fighting going on in Sadr City these days.

The sound of heavy gunfire was punctuated every few minutes by heavy bursts of artillery fire, and there were reports that Iraqi forces pushed into central areas, clashing with fighters of the Mahdi Army militia Mr. Sadr leads, who were trying to stop their advance.

A pair of armored Strykers, resembling giant metal pods, sat silently in Mudhafer Square just outside Sadr City's main gate, its American crew invisible inside.

Families fleeing the neighborhood with belongings stuffed into plastic bags streamed in one direction, while men returning from work in other areas of the capital walked in the other, returning to wives and children inside the embattled district.

Amid all this "progress," as Petraeus and Crocker would call it, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared a vehicle ban across the capital from 5 a.m. until midnight. And a Sadr spokesman said the Mahdi Army would end the cease-fire if needed "in order to carry out our goals, objectives, doctrines and religious principles and patriotism." As he spoke, Shi'ite mosques in Sadr City broadcast messages to fight the Americans.


New York Times
Maureen Dowd sums up much of the frustration in the Senate yesterday by quoting Sen. Chuck Hagel: "So, where's the surge? What are we doing? I don't see Secretary Rice doing any Kissinger-esque flying around. Where is the diplomatic surge? ... So, where is the surge? What are you talking about?"

William Grimes reviews Quill Lawrence's new book, "Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East." Lawrence has been reporting on Kurdistan and its success for the last seven years for NPR, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor, and he's a good reporter to tell this story. But Grimes says his book is more chronology than narrative. Overall, however, the book sounds like a good addition to the Iraq genre.

Manohla Dargis reviews "Body of War," a new documentary about a wounded Iraq veteran. Dargis calls the film "impossible not to like, but difficult to admire." It's a "angry if unfocused jeremiad against the war in Iraq."

Wall Street Journal
The Journal editorial board complains that Democrats refuse to see progress in Iraq. (Of course, this isn't quite accurate. Democrats acknowledge security gains; they just say they're not enough nor will they likely be.)

Washington Post
David Ignatius reports that Iran was at the "heart of the problem" in yesterday's Iraq hearings. That's the real problem in Iraq, and one that no one seems able to deal with right now.

Barham Salih, a deputy prime minister of Iraq, writes that Iraq has come a long way, but it's got a long way to go, too. In short, he says the same thing every other war booster says.

A Post editorial laments that the debate hasn't changed since September last year when Petraeus and Crocker appeared before Congress.


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