Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post reports that Iraq wants some give on U.S. demands in the new security arrangement being hammered out. Areas that Baghdad wants Washington to bend on include the American right to imprison Iraqis unilaterally, contractor immunity and the ability of the U.S. to conduct military operations unilaterally. Based on what the Iraqis want changed, how does what the U.S. is asking for differ from what it has now? Apparently, this security arrangement is -- surprise! -- no different from the current U.N. mandate, which blesses the occupation of Iraq but which expires at the end of this year. Since this new agreement is bilateral, the Iraqis are being asked to negotiate their own continued occupation. No wonder they're pushing back! "The Iraqi people 'expect to see a change in the relationship on internment, and on some sovereignty issues,' said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. This is all happening in the context of a regional security meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Zebari and representatives from Egypt, Jordan and the GCC. There's a lot of curtain raising on today's regional meeting as well, with pledges for Iraq to take a more active role in these meetings.
Robert W. Worth of The New York Times bases his story on the regional meeting from a press conference, and as such, doesn't go as deeply at DeYoung, who seemed to be sitting in the room with the diplomats. But Rice does have more on the official line and the insistence that Arab governments set up embassies in Baghdad pronto.
The Christian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi pens a preview for today's regional summit. Mostly, the U.S. hopes that more Sunni Arab help in Iraq would mean a rollback of Iranian influence there. Iraq wants some debt reduction.
The Times's Michael R. Gordon reports that even as Iraqi and American troops are fighting to bring Sadr City under control, the Iraqi government is still lagging in providing basic services that could win over the neighborhood's residents. For weeks, there have been reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wants to spend millions on rebuilding southern Sadr City, but for the past month there have been no signs of reconstruction. As the garbage piles up, so do brownie points for the Shi'ite militias. "People tell me time and time again that they see their basic needs as being more than food, clothing and shelter," said Sgt. Alex J. Plitsas of the 312th Psychological Operations Company, attached to Company B, First Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment. "They include electricity, water and sewage. And until the Iraqi government provides them with such basic services, they won't trust them."
The Post's Ernesto Londo√±o reports that U.S. troops and Shi'ite militiamen clashed in eastern Baghdad, leaving nine people dead. Also, a bomb killed two American soldiers in northern Iraq. The Baghdad clashes happened in New Baghdad, near Sadr City, when U.S. soldiers were attacked by RPGs and other weapons. Through several engagements and airstrikes, nine Iraqis ended up dead. With a number of other incidents, the GIs had a busy day yesterday. Elsewhere, in Diyala Province, a female suicide bomber killed three people inside the home of Sunnis allied wit the U.S. Also, "Chemical" Ali Hassan Majeed had a heart attack and passed out.
Sholnn Freeman of the Post reports that even as violence has dropped in Baghdad, the city's Christians feel increasingly under attack. Churches on Sunday are half-filled and priests doff their robes and collars to travel around the city. An archbishop and a priest have been killed in recent months, and dozens of churches and monasteries have been firebombed. Half of Iraq's 1.35 million Christians have fled to Syria and Jordan and many of them have no hope of going home.
USA Today's Andrea Stone reports that dozens of Iraqi prisoners are being pardoned or amnestied, and released in one of the largest waves of detainee freeings since the war started. Those released are being freed under an amnesty law passed in February. More than 52,400 people have applied for freedom under the new law. Almost 80 percent got amnesty and are now being freed. The amnesty law doesn't cover the 23,000 the U.S. has in its custody, but even that population number is being whittled down to the tune of about 52 a day, according to the U.S. military.
Gail Russell Chaddock of the Monitor reports that Congress plans to tussle with the White House over this year's $108 billion war funding request. Democrats want to add $30 billion more for domestic spending, a gambit the White House says will lead to a veto. Some Republicans want to restructure funds earmarked for the Iraqi government as a loan and not a grant. They want the Iraqis to pay more for their own reconstruction, given the oil money windfall the country is now sitting on.
Lizette Alvarez of the Times reports that the Army and Marine Corps are issuing more waivers for felons, as the strains of two wars take their toll on the forces. In fact, the Army recruited more felons in 2007 (511) than it did in 2006 (249), while the Marines recruited 350 compared to 208. An Army spokeswoman said the crimes weren't as bad as all that. One kidnapping charge related to a woman who took her child across state lines without the father's position. Other rape and sexual abuse charges usually involved relationships between minors and older boyfriends. One terroristic threat was a 14-year-old who called in a fake bomb threat to his school. The number of ex-cons serving in the two ground branches represents less than 1 percent of the total forces, but it's a distressing symbol of overextension.
Ann Scott Tyson of the Post also has this story, but expands the number of waivers issued to include felonies and serious misdemeanors, including drug crimes and traffic offenses.
Such "conduct waivers" for Army recruits rose from 8,129 in fiscal 2006 to 10,258 in fiscal 2007. For Marine Corps recruits, they increased from 16,969 to 17,413.The Post fronted this story.
In addition to recruiting legally challenged individuals, Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today reports that the policy of "stop-lossing" has been stepped up, too. The number of soldiers forced to stay in the Army has risen 43 percent to 12,235 in March after dropping to a low of 8,540 in May 2007.
Josh White and William Branigin of the Post report that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is impatient with the Pentagon bureaucracy in getting gear and equipment to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Times's Patricia Cohen has a feature on a veterans hotline designed to help despairing veterans. It's part of a specialized effort by the Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce suicide by allowing counselors to instantly check a vet's medical records and then combine emergency response teams to follow up with local services. Over eight months, the service has fielded 32,200 calls and more than 720 rescues.
Flight of the refugees
USA Today's Stone also has a front-pager on the resettlement of Iraqi refugees in Boise, Idaho, a community that may have a reputation for intolerance but which is actually quite welcoming. For Iraqis used to war, dirty air and lots of Baghdad traffic, the cool mountains of Idaho are a tonic for the soul. Despite some tensions from locals -- "How do we know that they're not building up their own terrorist communities here?" asked one construction worker -- they're settling in fine.
Morton Abramowitz, George Rupp, John Whitehead and James Wolfensohn, all members of the International Rescue Committee's board, have an op-ed in the Times calling on renewed efforts to help Iraq's 1.5 million refugees. While they acknowledge the U.S. must lead the effort, it also needs European and Gulf state participation. They need more aid -- $2 billion over the next four years -- and more resettlement in more third countries. The U.S. needs to take in at least 30,000 a year annually, they write. (This is far above anything on the table right now.) Britain also should be taking in large numbers. Finally, the U.N. needs to call a high-level conference on this issue.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Peter W. Fulham, a junior at St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Del. -- "the small boarding school I attend" -- fumes that his classmates aren't up in arms over the war. "I can't help but imagine that the tone in high school was different in 1970, as the Vietnam War raged and 18-year-olds were sent into its deadly grinder. There must have been anger and no small amount of fear." Well, I'm pretty sure the students at St. Andrews in 1970 weren't too worried either, since people who could afford to go to boarding schools didn't really get drafted. Still, he's right to complain that more young people need to get involved in the debate on the war. But what does he suggest? More protest, more letter-writing campaigns, things he calls "audacious." Those are not audacious. What's audacious is calling for a draft that would include himself. Audacious is actually showing up to vote in November, no matter who the candidates are. (Young people's participation in the electoral process is shamefully low.)
Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.