The New York Times's Andrew E. Kramer reports that former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was expelled from the governing Dawa party after he created a political movement that opened talks with rivals of current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. After Jaafari fell out with Maliki, he formed the National Reform Movement. Kramer writes that the shakeup in Shi'ite politics comes at a delicate time, what with the rivalries between Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters and Maliki's. With Maliki negotiating an unpopular security arrangement, al-Sadr's people will likely try to recruit Jaafari and his followers to their side. Indeed, while a senior Jaafari aide declined to say whether his expelling was related to leadership issues or differences over the security agreement, supporters of al-Sadr said they had opened talks with the National Reform Movement. Elsewhere, two car bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing at least six people.
David Ignatius of the Washington Post has a great little mini-profile of Brig. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Ignatius calls Soleimani the tip of Iran's spear in Iraq and the region as a whole, a man adept at ratcheting up pressure in Iraq to advance Iran's interests at the expense of the United States'. The most intriguing nugget is that after a particularly heavy day of shelling of the Green Zone by Iranian-backed militias using big 240mm Iranian-made rockets, Gen. David H. Petraeus sent a verbal message to Soleimani: "Stop shooting at the Green Zone." Conveyed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the message was received and the shelling tapered off, but not before Iran had made its point. Ignatius -- a shrewd international observer with good sources -- says Soleimani is watching and waiting, giving ground when necessary, but prepared to strike back as strongly as possible.
The Post's Ann Scott Tyson reports that Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told graduating officers of the Army War College to heed the combat-tested junior officers they will soon command. Accepting the wisdom of the war-tested is, he said, crucial to keeping the captains and NCOs in the military as they grow weary from multiple deployments.
Politics, politics, politics...
Perry Bacon Jr. of the Post reports that while the economy is what matters most to voters, according to polls, Iraq will be the defining issue for Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama. It provides the richest material for the candidates to draw distinctions between themselves. Polls show that voters favor Obama's positions on the economy, health care and other domestic issues, but they view McCain as stronger in fighting terrorism. And in a poll last month, 71 percent said McCain is better experienced to be president. McCain has a 41-point advantage on knowledge of foreign affairs. On the other hand, 60 percent agree that Obama's position on the war -- it was a mistake -- but they are evenly divided on who would handle the war better once in office.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
New York Times
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, writes for the Times's op-ed page that Sen. Hillary Clinton was undone by her stance on Iraq.
Tom Ricks reports on testimony given by retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales Jr., a former commandant of the Army War College, to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Scales says that for the first time since the Civil War, the "the number of ground soldiers available is determining American policy rather than policy determining how many troops we need." That means the U.S. can't retreat in Iraq but the patience of the public to go forward is just about over. It's a no-win situation.
Former press secretary Ari Fleischer calls the whaambulance on the Post's op-ed page to say that the Washington press corps was plenty tough on him post-9/11. Helen Thomas asked him questions about Iraq! This is his way of discrediting Scott McClellan, who called the press "complicit enablers" of the White House's march to war. So Fleischer looks simultaneously whiney and revisionist to everyone who actually paid attention to the "debate" going on at the time.
Finally, Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and an all around smart guy on Shi'ism, reviews Patrick Cockburn's book, "Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq." Nasr calls Cockburn's book an "authoritative biography" on al-Sadr.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today and Wall Street Journal
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