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US Papers Sun: 8,164 Words on McCain's Iraq Bet
An Exhausting Read, a Questionable Interview, an Overlooked Tongue-Lashing
By EASON JORDAN 05/18/2008 01:51 AM ET
As The New York Times provides a meaty look at why John McCain is betting his presidential bid on U.S. success in Iraq, The Washington Post stands out for its extraordinary interview with a cocky al-Qaeda in Iraq spokesman (I have issues with the Post on this one).

The Times's Sunday Magazine cover story tries to help us better understand why McCain is obsessed with the U.S. "winning" in Iraq. Correspondent Matt Bai's report includes tough-love quotes like this one from long-friend McCain friends and admirers:

“I have seen this movie before, and I know how it ends,” says (former U.S. Democratic Senator Max) Cleland, who lost three of his limbs to an errant grenade during the battle of Khe Sanh (Vietnam). “With thousands dead and tens of thousands more injured, and years later you ask yourself what you were doing there. To the extent my friend John McCain signs on to this, he is endangering America’s long-term interests, and probably his own election in the fall.”
It's a good but exhausting read.

One of my favorite Iraq correspondents, Washington Post Baghdad Bureau Chief Sudarsan Raghavan, provides an Iraq news day wrap with a remarkable twist: an interview with a spokesman for al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Obaida al-Janabi. Raghavan quotes him as saying AQI's leaders and most of its fighters fled Mosul before an AQI-targeted Iraqi security forces sweep of the area. Iraqi officials say the ongoing Mosul offensive, dubbed Lion's Roar, has netted 1,100 suspects, but the AQI spokesman dismisses that, saying Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki's warning of the coming Mosul offensive triggered AQI's flight from the area. It's rare, if not unprecedented, for a major western news outlet to speak directly with a member of al-Qaeda in Iraq. I have two quibbles with the Post on this story. First, Raghavan writes the AQI spokesman was interviewed by phone and spoke from Anbar province. How does the Post know the AQI spokesman's whereabouts? Second, what are the bona fides of this supposed AQI spokesman? A Google search indicates this is the first English-language news report in which his name is mentioned. How do we know he's legit?

The Times's Iraq round-up, penned by Alyssa Rubin, highlights a tense truce holding in Sadr City, while giving secondary treatment to the Mosul offensive against al-Qaeda suspects.

Both the Times and Post round-ups make brief mention of yet another female suicide bomber attack -- an unprecedented trend that deserves deeper coverage (an expert on this subject, Farhana Ali, tells me this is the 15th female suicide bomber attack in Iraq this year).

Neither round-up mentions U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Baghdad getting a tongue-lashing from her Iraqi counterpart -- a reporting oversight.

In a regular Sunday Post feature entitled "Tom Ricks's Inbox," Ricks writes of a Marine, an Iraq veteran PTSD victim, who dedicated himself to helping other military PTSD victims. That Marine is now dead -- one of two brothers killed in a murder-suicide in Arizona.

The Times features a lengthy, tough, preachy editorial headlined "Fixing the Military." In the view of the Times editorial page, the U.S. military is broken in many ways, and the presidential candidates must act now to explain how they intend to make things right.

In commentaries including mentions of Iraq, Post columnist David Ignatius challenges Barack Obama to pick Chuck Hagel or Michael Bloomberg as his running mate, Times columnist Frank Rich accuses McCain of flip-flopping on Iraq, and in the Post pundit Dick Morris argues McCain can triumph over Obama by tripping up the Democratic with Iraq-related rhetorical challenges.

The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Christian Science Monitor return tomorrow after their usual Sunday off day.

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