Those looking for timely updates on the situation in Iraq will find slim pickings in today's papers, as both the Times and the Post forgo their usual daily roundup of Iraqi violence. However, the Times takes a moment to pan back and consider the big political picture in Iraq, and the Post files a lengthy report on Basra, three months after the crackdown. The two pieces read well together, each in its own way pondering the future of Iraq's political and security situation in light of the developments of the last months.
Readers interested in veteran's affairs may also appreciate the Post's profile of a former PGA-tour golfer who has provided specialized golf training to wounded Iraq and Afghanistan vets.
What now? In the Times, Stephen Farrell and Richard Oppel Jr. present a considered discussion of Iraqi affairs after the security gains of the last years. After the reported security gains associated with the "Surge," the "Awakening" strategy of employing former insurgents to fight on the side of the US, and the recent crackdowns in Basra, Baghdad, Mosul, and Amara, after the budgetary fillip provided by higher world petroleum prices, after the swelling of the ranks of Iraqi forces, Iraqi officials seem to be riding high at the moment. However, as the NYT reporters write, these ostensible successes are laden with pitfalls and contradictions. From skepticism among Iraqis wary of the intentions of a government allied with Iran and the United States, to rising expectations for improved services and infrastructure, to insecurity over the future of American policy in Iraq, to a nagging sense that the recent security gains against Sunni and Shi'a militants could have been purchased or negotiated – and therefore reversible, to enduring hostilities among opposition groups, the future of the Maliki government, and more broadly the post-2003 Iraqi political system, is far from clear. Worth a full read.
For its part, the Post ponders the future of Iraq through the local lens of its second city. Sudarsan Raghavan surveys Basra three months after the Iraqi crackdown. We hear from Col. Bilal al-Dayni, an Iraqi military officer and one of 30,000 Iraqi security personnel now stationed in the port town. Dayni, and other Iraqi military officials express optimism over the ways in which the security forces seem to have taken control of Basra from the militant forces that operated there before. But how enduring are the Iraqi state's gains in the southern city, and how much can "the lessons of Basra" be applied to the rest of Iraq? Iraqi forces appear to be enjoying a honeymoon there, with many residents expressing support for the policies that seem to have kept the militia groups at bay, but are the armed groups really defeated, or have they simply melted away temporarily? And will partisan suspicions of the security forces allow the Basra model to be applied to other cities? Raghavan's report is also well worth a full read.
Former White House Spokesman Scott McClellan, fresh from the recent release of his controversial memoir, which has set off a bombshell over its allegations regarding the Bush administration's behavior in the leadup to the Iraq war, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and other topics, appeared before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, Dan Eggen writes for the Post. In his testimony, the former Bush aide said that the White House "'sold the nation on the premise that Iraq was a grave and gathering danger' by using intelligence reports that were 'overstated' and 'overpackaged,'" Eggen writes, adding that "at the same time, McClellan emphasized that he did not believe that Bush or his aides purposely misled the country about Iraq." McClellan's testimony also indicated that he was particularly dissatisfied with the Bush administration's handling of the Valerie Plame Wilson matter. Ultimately, Eggen indicates that McClellan's testimony did not add much to the picture beyond what is already available in his book.
Post editors take the Air Force to task, implying in a staff editorial that the USAF is out of step with the needs of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jim Estes, a former PGA Tour golfer, conducts a free golf clinic for wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at the Olney Golf Park in Maryland, a 30-minute ride away from Walter Reed Hospital, as well as individualized instruction for any wounded veteran who asks. In a lengthy appreciation, Leonard Shapiro writes in the Post that many veterans – often dealing with disabilities or prostheses -- have found not only an improvement in their golf game, but also "cite the benefits to their collective psyches in learning, then practicing and finally getting out to play the game on a real course." One vet says, "Golf got me out of the house, which is a good thing . . . It really did help me build some self-confidence. It helps you learn that maybe you can live a normal life, do the same things everyone else can do, and believe me, that's extremely important in any recovery." Estes also founded the Salute Military Golf Association, helps provide free customized clubs to the soldiers, and contributes to their golf expenses.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
No Iraq-related story.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, USA TODAY
No Saturday edition.