Ernesto Londoño and Dalya Hassan of the Post report the grim news of the attack in the market yesterday. Dozens of people -- at least 51 by some counts, including the Times's, below -- were killed when a car loaded with explosives blew up in Hurriya's mainly Shi'ite souk. Residents and survivors cursed both al Qaeda in Iraq and the Iraqi security forces. Several U.S. soldiers visited the market about 15 minutes before the explosion, although no U.S. forces were hurt in the attack. Some residents blame the crackdown on the Mahdi Army for giving Sunni insurgents an opportunity to get into areas previously off-limits to them. Also, a roadside bombing killed the police chief in Kut, and in Mosul a television journalist was assassinated.
Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Ali Hamid of the Times have the story of the bombing, along with reports of immediate retribution from angry Shi'ites -- a sign of the still-simmering sectarian tensions. It was the deadliest bombing in more than three months. Oppel and Hamid find residents who are calling for the return of the Mahdi Army to keep al Qaeda in Iraq out instead of the American-founded "Neighborhood Guars." The Times also has word from the American military than a "special group" -- a splinter Mahdi Army cell -- had been targeting Americans and had claimed responsibility, but that no coalition forces were injured, calling into question the claim. It's a confusing segment of the story.
USA Today's Charles Levinson reports that not fighting in Amara is the preferred M.O. for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as he tries to crack down on Shi'ite militias. "The government doesn't want a big battle and a lot of bloodshed, so they tell the enemy beforehand," says Gen. Hussein al-Awadi. "If we can do this without fighting, the people will support us more." What this allows is militia leaders and fighters to slip away. Why this is spun as a good thing is unclear, since letting Sunni insurgents slip away when the Americans assaulted a town was universally seen as a bad thing. (Except by the insurgents, presumably.)
Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor reports that new hope has arisen for Iraqi interpreters, with President George W. Bush's signing of a bill that extends a visa program to the American allies. The hook of the story is Sarah and Chris, two Iraqi 'terps who met, fell in love and will be married in America once their visas come through. Most interesting is their despair regarding Iraq and its politicians. "Trust me, you do not know what the truth is. The politicians may say a lot of good things on TV but it's not true," says Sarah. The Iraqi Army must be baby-sat, Chris says, and says if the Americans leave, it will be a "humanitarian, social and political catastrophe." Interestingly, the couple has arguments with U.S. soldiers who speak disparagingly of Bush and question the mission. Chris says he reminds soldiers of the "mass graves and horrors" of Saddam Hussein.
The Post's Karen DeYoung reports that Iraqi and U.S. officials have tinkered with the wording of a proposed commitment to defend Iraq against aggression in an effort to avoid submitting the pact to the Senate for treaty approval, as mandated by the Constitution. The new wording would pledge U.S. forces to "help Iraqi security forces to defend themselves," rather than promise to defend Iraq, said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "It's the other way around," he said, "the meaning is the same, almost." These kind of linguistic shenanigans aimed at avoiding Constitutional requirements might be acceptable when you're talking about regulating interstate trade on, say, cigarettes, but when it comes to committing the United States to shedding its youths' blood for another country... well, it's sickening. I sincerely doubt the Framers would approve of such this blatant skirting of the spirit of Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. Thankfully, some Democrats say the proposed changes are "a distinction without a difference." Zebari also spoke with Sen. Barack Obama and said he was reassured by the Democratic presumptive nominee.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman has a tough column to summarize. But, in short, it's that Iraq will remain a big issue for the next president despite the more optimistic turn of events over the past year. Read the whole thing.
The Post editorial board takes another whack of Obama's "badly outdated" -- their words -- plan for Iraq. (The Post has always been one of the most consistently hawkish editorial pages in the so-called "liberal" media.)
Wall Street Journal
No original Iraq coverage today.