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Daily Column
US Papers Mon: Portrait of Baqoubah: "Fragile"
Baghdad park becomes romantic haven; Shi'ite parties headed for more splits
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/07/2008 01:41 AM ET
It's Monday and the holiday is over, which means the news can get back to its normal surge. Nothing particularly pops out, but USA Today has a nice little story on a refurbished park while the Christian Science Monitor zigs while others zag on Iraqi politics.

Over there
Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor reports that the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) is poised to do well in the upcoming elections based on the enthusiasms of the crowds in Najaf. And that means Moqtada al-Sadr's candidates are not going to do well, exacerbating a split within Iraq's Shi'ite community.

USA Today's Charles Levinson reports that Abu Nawas park in Baghdad, guarded by a U.S. security company, has become a refuge for young lovers. Everyone with a gun, including police, is kept out and the guards are under strict orders to let the young lovers be. Sadrists, of course, hate this and blame the Americans for corrupting Iraq's youths.

Alissa J. Rubin of The New York Times profiles Baqoubah, capital of Diyala province and one of Iraq's worst killing fields. She and a photographer drove to Baqoubah unembedded so they could get a sense of the place. The worst of the violence has been curbed, but it's a fragile state of peace, and it reaches barely to the town's edges. Eight people were killed in the nearby town of Jalawla on Sunday by a roadside bomb. Rubin's article is an impressionistic piece, giving the current flavor of the town.

Rubin and Campbell Robertson of the Times report that the last of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program is almost dismantled. Hundreds of tons of natural uranium has finally been removed and sent to Canada. This was yellowcake uranium from years ago, not the yellowcake mentioned in President Bush's warnings leading up to the war. In other news, the United Arab Emirates forgave $7 billion of Iraq's debt. A bomb exploded in Shaab, killing six and wounding 14 people. Three police commandos were among the wounded. In Diyala, Muhammed Ramadan Isa, a PUK official was the man killed in the bomb mentioned in Rubin's Baqoubah article. Five members of his family, including his wife and three children, as well as two bodyguards were killed, too. In Salahuddin province, an Iraqi Army captain was killed by gunmen.

Zaid Sabah of the Washington Post tweaks Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in his lead by noting that on a day in which 16 people died in violence, Maliki proclaimed that his government had defeated terrorism. Sabah reports that the UAE forgave only $4 billion of Iraq's debts, but would restore full diplomatic relations. (Papers here in UAE where US Papers is written report the $7 billion figure.) In addition to the Shaab and Diyala bombings, two civilians were killed in Baqoubah when police clashed with an Awakening Council cell. On Friday, gunmen in Basra killed Sheikh Salim al-Darraji, a member of the ISCI.

Presidential politics
In a story sure to be repeated until November, Greg Hitt of the Wall Street Journal reports that Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama traded jabs over the economy and Iraq. McCain kept up his "flip-flop" line of attack on Obama while the Illinois senator said the Bush-McCain strategy has allowed al Qaeda and the Taliban to regroup in Pakistan.

Ariel Sabar of the Monitor digs a little deeper into the growing troubles in Afghanistan as McCain remains firmly focused on Iraq. McCain needs to figure this out pronto, because according to a USA Today/Gallup Poll released last week, two out of three Americans are "concerned" that McCain will pursue policies that are "too similar" to Bush's. But, one political scientist noted that a resurgent al Qaeda in Pakistan will be a problem for the Arizona senator if Americans follow the international news closely, so McCain really has to -- Look! A-Rod had a fling with Madonna! Oh, McCain has nothing to worry about after all.

Military matters
Jim Michaels of USA Today reports that the increasing security gains in Iraq may lead to more troop cuts. Makes sense.

IN OTHER COVERAGE New York Times
The Times editorial board calls for an increased focus on Afghanistan instead of Iraq.

Washington Post
E.J. Dionne Jr. writes that Obama needs to figure out where he stands on Iraq before the November election.

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