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Daily Column
US Papers Wed: The Clock is Now Ticking in Iraq
Iraqis repeat call for timetable on troops; Candidates adapt positions on war
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/09/2008 01:44 AM ET
The clock is ticking... on Iraqi elections. What, did you think I was talking about a timetable for a U.S. military presence in Iraq? It's understandable if you did, since Iraq's political class has the timetable bug now that provincial elections are looking more likely this year. And with the ruling Shi'ite parties wanting to undermine Moqtada al-Sadr, who, like Sen. Barack Obama, has always opposed a long and fruitless American occupation, everyone covers the latest calls for a reevaluation of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.

Over there
Campbell Robertson of The New York Times kicks off the coverage by quoting National Security Advisor/Government Gadfly Mowaffak al-Rubaie as saying that any agreement with the U.S. must include a schedule for Yankee going home. "We will not accept a memorandum of understanding without having timeline horizons for the cessation of combat operations as well as the departure of all the combat brigades," he said. Robertson picks up the domestic politics behind the Iraqis' demands now, but notes the White House opposes timetables. That doesn't stop the spin, however: "It is important to understand that these are not talks on a hard date for a withdrawal, but are discussions on a security horizon that reflect the Iraqis' increasing capacity," said Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman. "Timeline horizons"? "Security horizon"? What do those terms even mean? From a distance, it sure looks like verbal bamboozlement from both sides to make it sound like they're talking about a timetable for withdrawal. Most likely, though, they'll settle on a conditions-based "schedule" that probably won't be met for a long, long time. Ah, politics.

Ernesto Londoño and Dan Eggen of the Washington Post also quote Rubaie, who said his government is "impatiently waiting" for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops. Then, in typical Rubaie fashion, he contradicts himself: "There should not be any permanent bases in Iraq unless these bases are under Iraqi control." Well, what do you need permanent bases for if there is a complete withdrawal? And we all know how basing agreements work. The sovereign nation "controls" the base, and the U.S. leases it from them for some pittance amount. Interestingly, Ali al-Adeeb, a close ally of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, says one arrangement might be for all U.S. troops to withdraw from cities once all of Iraq's provinces are handed back over. (Perhaps to those "Iraqi-controlled" permanent bases?) Elsewhere, a U.S. soldier was killed Tuesday by a roadside bomb. In northeastern Baghdad, a U.S. soldier and interpreter were wounded by what sounds like a grenade.

USA Today's Richard Wolf and Jim Michaels have the story on Iraq's insistence on withdrawal dates. Hilariously, they go to Dan Senor, former CPA spokesperson, for "analysis." He says the most likely scenario is an agreement that last a few months or more. It should be noted that Senor was one of the least respected press officials encountered by reporters in Baghdad during the CPA days. Anyway, other Iraqi insiders say the emphasis is only on "combat" troops and not all troops. Everyone -- Iraqis, the White House, Sen. John McCain and Obama -- is trying to spin this to their advantage and say it means exactly what they each have been saying all along.

A USA Today editorial states the obvious -- that Iraqi domestic politics is now influencing the pullout debate -- but throws in a real howler: "The U.S. goal in Iraq was always to build a sovereign nation that could stand on its own." Are you kidding me? Wasn't Saddam a terrorist supporter, had WMDs, threatened smoking guns and mushroom clouds? Has USA Today forgotten all that? It's bad enough the White House is (pretty successfully) building its own Ministry of Truth, but does "America's newspaper" have to turn its news hole into a memory hole?

A Wall Street Journal editorial breaks down Maliki's desire for a timetable by examining the domestic politics behind the latest kerfuffle. What's hilarious is that everyone seems to be taking Maliki seriously even when they know most of what he's saying is to stave off the Sadrist threat in the upcoming elections. Does anyone really think a "timetable" is in the offering?

Taking a break from calls for withdrawal Neil King Jr. of the Journal has terrific front-pager on the new wildcatters prowling around northern Iraq's oil wells. While other countries are squeezing oil from shale and sand, it's still bubbling up in natural pools up there. It's the "easy oil" that companies lust for, and dozens of major fields exist that have been never been drilled or fully mapped. It's a thorough story and one that deserves a full read.

Home front
The Times's A.O. Scott reviews "Full Battle Rattle," a documentary about the mock Iraqi town in California where soldiers train before heading off to war.

Ann Scott Tyson of the Post writes about Staff Sgt. Joshua J. Olson, a 28-year-old Iraq veteran who lost a leg there. He's going to be on the 2008 U.S. Paralympics team in the 50-meter rifle prone event.

Presidential politics
Finally, the Post's Anne E. Kornblut and Michael D. Shear examine both Obama's and McCain's war messages as conditions on the ground change. Obama says he's not abandoning his position to end the war quickly and responsibly, while McCain has to figure out how not to dismiss Maliki's calls for a timetable. (McCain has consistently opposed one.)

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor
No Iraq coverage today.

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