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US Papers Tue: Maliki Hints at Pullout Schedule
WH claims it's cool with PM; Obama's stance on Iraq continues to stir pundits
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/08/2008 01:50 AM ET
Two threads dominate the Iraq coverage today: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's hinting at a timeline for withdrawal and Sen. Barack Obama's alleged shifting stance on Iraq. And USA Today and Army Times run a story that's a gross disservice to the troops.

Over there
The Washington Post's Sudarsan Raghavan and Karen DeYoung report that during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, Maliki suggested the security pact being negotiated might include a timetable for the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. This is a first, obviously, and it's something that's long been resisted by the White House. "The current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal," Maliki said, according to a statement released by his office. Maliki is tacking toward the nationalist pole in Iraq politics, the Posties write, with the al-Sadr current making a strong anti-occupation push in the run-up to the provincial elections later this year (inshallah). By framing the talks as a memorandum of understanding instead of a security pact, and including a timetable, Maliki is trying to make the deal palatable to Iraqis and the wider Arab world. And he's also indicating the talks aren't going as smoothly as the White House would have you believe. Still, they spun this new talk of timetables as positively as they could. "The prime minister is reflecting a shared goal that we have, which is that as the Iraqi forces become a more self-reliant force, we'll see reductions in U.S. forces," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. That's great, except up until yesterday, the White House, Republicans and Sen. John McCain have all condemned any talk of a timetable. And Obama's the flip-flopper? Sounds like Maliki wants to vote for the Democrat this year.

Jim Michaels of USA Today has the story of Maliki's remarks and talks to a couple of analysts who say Maliki is trying to demonstrate he's no patsy.

The New York Times's Sabrina Tavernise parses Maliki's comments and decides that a precise timetable, while mentioned, is not being negotiated. She quotes Ali al-Deeb, "a prominent leader in Mr. Maliki's political party," who said that withdrawal was suitable when Iraqis are ready and able to take on the responsibility. Standing down when they stand up? She briskly dispenses with this timetable business and gets on to other news. The Iraqi parliament will vote on Monday on a law to set up the provincial elections, with simple majorities required for some nettlesome issues. A crackdown against Moqtada al-Sadr's allies continued with arrests of Salam Abdulwahed Jubara, the manager of the education department in al-Majar al-Kabeer, a village in southern Iraq. There's an arrest warrant for Jubara, whose uncle is governor of Maysan province, so it's likely Jubara is leverage over the bigger fish. In Diyala province, an IED killed a family of four Kurds. (It's not clear if this is the same bomb that killed the PUK official and his family Sunday.) Two more bombs in Diyala killed three women and injured 14 other people. And finally, a bomb attack in Mosul killed four contractors and wounded eight.

Yochi J. Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal reports that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the security gains are holding now that the last of the surge brigades are leaving and more withdrawals are possible. Good thing, since Maliki is now running on an anti-occupation ticket. Overall, levels of violence are down to what Iraq saw in 2004, Mullen said. (By the way, I was there is 2004 and it was still blisteringly violent and dangerous.) U.S. troop levels will fall to about 140,000 by the end of the summer, still 10,000 or so more than the pre-surge levels.

US Papers sees victory on the horizon. For a year, I've been haranguing USA Today's Tom Vanden Brook for his obsession with the MRAP, those hulking, armored anti-IED vehicles. He mentioned them in every story and was like a pit bull on the pants leg of the Pentagon when it came to procurement of the big rigs. Well, after a year of this, he's now written two stories in a row that don't mention MRAPs at all. Today, he writes that car and truck bomb attacks, like the overall level of violence, are down to the lowest level in almost four years. In May, there were 23 car and truck bomb attacks, the lowest since August 2004, when there were 18. Mind you, 23 car bombs is still horrible. Don't celebrate the end of the war just yet.

Presidential politics
Bret Stephens, a columnist for the Journal's op-ed page, tweaks Obama and his advisors for their apparent shifting stance on redeployment out of Iraq. The conservative columnist gives Obama the most back-handed of compliments -- in liberals' eyes, that is -- by comparing him, favorably, to Nixon. Ouch, that's gotta sting. He compares Obama's advisors moving from "unconditional redeployment" to a "Iraqization" strategy, similar to Nixon's "Vietnamization" one.

The Post's editorial page, always one of the most hawkish on the war outside of the Journal, nods approvingly over Obama's apparent stance change to listen to more to commanders and his softening of his "16 months" position. Unlike Stephens, above, however, the Post recognizes some inner core of Obama: "This statement hardly altered Mr. Obama's longstanding opposition to the war or his basic strategy of ending U.S. involvement in it as soon as possible." Obama's in a real pickle. As the Post notes, some of his Democratic supporters won't even allow a nuanced adjustment on the war, or he will be seen as a McCain clone.

Home front
The Times's Lizette Alvarez has a tragic piece on Cpl. Anthony Klecker, a former marine, who after returning from Iraq sought to escape his psychological demons in a bottle. His battle with PTSD had collateral damage. He killed a 16-year-old cheerleader one night while drunk driving. "I was trying to be the tough marine I was trained to be -- not to talk about problems, not to cry," said Klecker. "I imprisoned myself in my own mind." His case indicates a growing body of evidence of severe alcohol among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, brought on by severe PTSD. The Veterans Health Administration is expanding its alcohol- and drug-abuse services, but much more needs to be done. It's a sad piece, using an individual marine's story to show that thousands may need help and not enough is being done.

Kelly Kennedy of Army Times -- a Gannett publication, which also owns USA Today -- goes the exact opposite route and, in the process, does those troops who need help a gross disservice. USA Today reprints Kennedy's story of Army Pfc. Joseph Patrick Dwyer, who became a national hero when a picture of him sprinting a little Iraqi boy to safety went all over the nation's papers. He died June 28 in Pinehurst, N.C. The disservice comes from Kennedy's inability to call Dwyer's death what it was: a suicide brought on by PTSD. Kennedy hints at it, mentioning he struggled with "mental disorders" and that a bottle of pills was found near the former soldier, but it's all tucked away in the corners of the story and easy to miss. Even the headline is misleading: "Soldier whose photo touched many dies in N.C." Was he hit by a car? Fell off a roof? The word "suicide" or the phrase "killed himself" are never mentioned in the article. Some might argue that not calling attention to his suicide celebrates his service and his life, but what the Army Times story, which will be read by thousands of enlisted troops, actually does is reinforce the idea that PTSD is a sign of shame and weakness and it should be played down. It will discourage soldiers from getting more help. Kennedy's story is worse than a tragedy, it's almost a crime.

UPDATE: I wronged Kennedy in this rant. Army Times made clear Dwyer lost his battle with depression and took his own life. USA Today edited the story to downplay that. My apologies to Kennedy and to Army Times.

Howard Kurtz, media reporter for the Post, reports on CBS reporter Lara Logan's return to the U.S., tsk-tsking that her love life in Baghdad has become tabloid fodder. All the while, he treats a reporter's love life in Baghdad like tabloid fodder. What happened to not being the story?

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., criticize the Post for not seeing that Congressional involvement and approval is in the best interest of Iraq and the United States when it comes to negotiating a security pact.

Christian Science Monitor
No Iraq coverage today.

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