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US Papers Monday: Iraqi Push is on in Amara
Mahdi Army melts away rather than fight; Possible fragging episode prosecuted
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/16/2008 01:41 AM ET
It's The New York Times's day to dominate the coverage this Monday, with a tough front-pager on a possible fragging and comprehensive coverage from the war itself.

Over there
Andrew E. Kramer and Alissa J. Rubin of The New York Times report that Iraqi forces are massing on the outskirts of Amara, a Sadrist stronghold. Ominously, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has offered amnesty and a weapons buy-back program to the Mahdi Army militiamen inside -- a tactic that usually presages a full-scale assault on a city. Traffic was thin in the city, with few venturing out of their homes. A few residents said militiamen had already fled the city. Also, a small clarification on the Washington Post's piece yesterday reporting that Moqtada al-Sadr would have his movement sit out the fall elections. Now, it appears Sadrist politicians will run, but as independents, not as a slate of candidates. "We will participate in the next elections, but there is no Sadrist list," said Luaa Smaisem, a spokesman. "We will participate as individuals. Also, we will support a lot of independent nominations from another list." This is all part of an attempt to get around an imminent ban on political movements affiliated with armed militias -- a law aimed squarely at al-Sadr.

USA Today's Charles Levinson also has a story on the push on Amara. What's missing in all this coverage is an overall view of al-Sadr's latest strategy. It will come soon enough, I suspect.

Those talks between the Americans and the Iraqis that were at an impasse? Well, the two parties had talks this weekend, report Alissa J. Rubin and Suadad al-Salhy of the Times. But people close to the talks said they would move slowly, taking weeks or even months. While the Americans would like the agreement hammered out by the end of the July, Iraqi negotiators say the talks are still in the primary stage. The latest draft has significant concessions to the Iraqis, but it doesn't go far enough. Civilian contractors will now be held accountable under Iraqi law, and any Iraqis captured in military operations will be turned over to the Iraqis. But that doesn't answer the question of what happens to the 21,000 detainees currently held by the Americans or what happens to Camps Cropper and Bucca. The Iraqis agreed to the Americans controlling their airspace, but the sticking point seems to be how involved the Iraqis will be in military operations by U.S. forces.

Paul von Zielbauer of the Times has a front-pager on what could only the second fragging incident in the war. Capt. Phillip Esposito and Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez shipped out to Iraq together from the same New York National Guard unit, but Esposito came home in a coffin while Martinez came home in handcuffs. Prosecutors say after five months of acrimony in Iraq, Martinez detonated a Claymore mine in the window of Esposito's quarters, killing him and 1st Lt. Lou Allen. Martinez is expected to face court-martial and if convicted, could face the death penalty. Such cases of "fragging" are extremely rare nowadays. In Vietnam, there were more than 300 attacks that killed 75 commissioned and NCOs. In Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been possibly two. (An excellent Q&A plays sidebar to the main story.) The widows of the two officers are angry with the Guard for allowing Martinez -- who had a troubled past and always struggled to fit in the military culture -- to ship out and for not taking his "venting" seriously.

Washington doings
Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reports that the resettlement of Iraqis who worked for the U.S. is going slowly. A list compiled by Kirk W. Johnson, a former USAID worker in Anbar province, has nearly 1,000 names of desperate Iraqis on it, but after 16 months of work, only 31 names on the list, and 61 of their family members, have arrived in the U.S.


Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.


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