The Times's Alissa J. Rubin expands on yesterday's feel-good story on U.S.-Iraqi talks from Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari by dashing some cold water on it. Zebari said the security deal between the U.S. and Iraq might be delayed, and if it isn't, it might be only a short-term pact. American officials are no longer optimistic an agreement can be reached by Dec. 31, when the U.N. mandate allowing U.S. troops to operate in Iraq runs out. The twin elections in Iraq and America are apparently playing hell with the negotiations. If no agreement is reached, Zebari said an interim pact could be implemented or Iraq could go back to the Security Council. Most Iraqi lawmakers think an interim pact is the way to go, and it might last as long as 10 years and include provisions for a drawdown of troops.
Sudarsan Raghavan of the Post comes away from Zebari's press conference with a completely different take: Namely, that the U.S and Iraq are making progress. "We have reached a comfortable stage of negotiations, and the differences have been narrowed," Hoshyar Zebari told reporters. Huh? What's going on here, guys? Elsewhere, Iraqi security forces arrested three top Sadrist loyalists in Amara. A senior spokesman for Moqtada al-Sadr denounced the arrests and said the Sadrists feel picked on.
Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor profiles the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, one of the last units of the surge to go home. It was a long deployment -- 15 months -- and the men and women of the 1/64 question whether the security gains they made will last. "Many say their mission helped bring about only a lull in the sectarian killings and feel that neither the Iraqi government nor its forces are ready, capable, or even motivated to build on the successes of the surge."
Meanwhile, over in Jordan, Nicholas Seeley of the Monitor reports that much of the aid intended for Iraqi refugees there is instead going to Jordan's unmet needs. The problem is that United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees gives 61 percent of its operating budget directly to Jordan, on the theory that those funds will be used for refugees. That's not happening. Jordan has used millions of dollars in aid to improves its schools, but fewer than 20,000 Iraqis are enrolled. Jordan got more than $2,100 for every student in 2007, but it only costs $800 to educate a child in Jordan.
The Post's Josh White has a front-page story that will surprise exactly no one. Afghanistan need more troops to quell a rising Taliban insurgency, but Iraq has soaked up all the excess troops and none is available, top American military officials said. "I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq," said Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. President George W. Bush has said he will send more troops by 2009, but he has yet to offer any details on where he will conjure up these troops from. Maybe they're growing them in vats in Area 51?
The Times's James Glanz and Richard A. Oppel Jr. report that the White House knew of an oil deal between a close Bush associate and Kurdistan that would undermine Iraq's central government and did nothing about it. Previously, the White House said it knew nothing about the deal between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Hunt Oil. This exposure comes amid news that American advisors in the Iraqi Oil Ministry helped draft sweetheart no-bid deals for big Western oil companies who had been shut out of Iraq for three decades. The White House said it had nothing to do with those deals either.
Steven Mufson has the story for the Post, and leads with the news that Bush administration officials told Hunt Oil they had no objections to its deal with the KRG. Last fall, when it was announced, the State Department said it tried to dissuade the company from going ahead with the deal. Hm. I wonder who's lying here? Ray L. Hunt, CEO of Hunt Oil is not only a major Bush backer, but a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. After the deal was signed, a dozen other foreign oil companies signed deals in Kurdistan, further enraging Baghdad. At the time the deal was announced, the president said this: "Our embassy also expressed concern about it. I knew nothing about the deal." He continued, "I need to know exactly how it happened. To the extent that it does undermine the ability for the government to come up with a oil revenue-sharing plan that unifies the country, obviously I'm -- if it undermines that, I'm concerned." Sure doesn't sound like it.
Rick Hampson of USA Today reports that troops are now getting big and elaborate homecomings, sometimes interfering with their desire for a comfy bed and a hot shower. Hampson makes a keen observation, though. These celebrations, often for guys coming home on short-term leave, aren't just about Iraq. They're about Vietnam and making up for the piss-poor homecoming those guys got.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
New York Times
The paper's editorial board calls for closing a loophole in an anti-fraud law dating back to WWII aimed at curtailing war profiteering. The loophole? The law only kicks in if Congress declares a war. That hasn't happened since WWII. A bipartisan bill in Congress would close it off by including all military authorizations as "war" for the purpose of the act, and allow prosecution up to five years after a war. Sounds like a pretty good idea, given the billions of dollars wasted and stolen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wall Street Journal
Cover the children's eyes. Douglas J. Feith is writing on the Journal's op-ed page to explain why the U.S. went to war in Iraq. Again. "The f***ing stupidest guy on the face of the earth," according to retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, spins and spins and finally says Bush chose to go to war because he saw it as necessary. Huh? What does that mean? Anyway, the op-ed is a recitation of tired talking points that have long been disproved. Read at your own risk.