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Daily Column
US Papers Sat: Booksellers of Baghdad Stay Put
Shi'ites reclaim town razed by Sunnis; Bodies of missing GIs bring some relief
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/12/2008 01:46 AM ET
Two good enterprise stories from The New York Times and the Washington Post land on the respective front pages today, a welcome show of interest in the war.

Over there
All reporters love words and books, so it's no surprise that Sudarsan Raghavan of the Post focuses on a tragic yet promising story about Baghdad's booksellers, long renowned in the Middle East. As the old saying goes, "Cairo writes. Beirut publishes. Baghdad reads." Raghavan found a small, injured bookseller, but who is a giant in his soul. He survived bombings on Baghdad's famous bookselling street, an attack that took his son and brother. But today, despite grievous injuries, pills, shrapnel and depression, he and others like him are not giving up their tenacious craft.

In the long anthology of Iraq's tragedies, (Nabil al-Hayawi) represent the promise of the country's future. Despite their grief, they tenaciously refuse to surrender to the current turmoil. They belong to the fading but still influential group of middle-class Iraqis who are alarmed by their society's sectarian fissures and emerging Islamic identity and determined to preserve its cosmopolitan, secular nature.

In a country hobbled by a lack of basic services, high unemployment and scarce foreign investment, the family stands for a vibrant alternative. Violence has driven out more than 2 million people, draining Iraq of skilled professionals, but the rebuilt bookshop remains, an engine for fresh ideas and intellectual growth. Every day on Mutanabi Street, a Hayawi sells books, educating a new contingent of lawyers, doctors and computer programmers.

There's no news in this piece, but it doesn't matter. Read it and marvel at the tenacity of the gentler side of Iraq.

The Times's Alissa J. Rubin writes about the village of Al Etha, a Shi'ite hamlet razed by Sunni militants in 2006. Now the Shi'ites are coming back to reclaim the town. That Shi'ites are returning is a sign of the fragile peace between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq, as well as the tremendous difficulties ahead. "If," she writes, "in a place where such atrocities have occurred, people can truly forgive those who perpetrated them, then there is hope for the many similarly traumatized Iraqi communities." Shi'ite and Sunni leaders alike say reconciliation would be possible, even "easy," if the government would just pay for everything. If that sounds too good to be true, consider also that some of the men who destroyed the village are now in Awakening men. That doesn't comfort the returning Shi'ites.

Campbell Robertson of the Times has the daily roundup. Iraqi forces raided a mosque loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr in Diwaniyah. The security forces arrested the imam and four worshippers in the middle of Friday prayers. It's unlikely this will go down well. Most of the cops and security forces in southern Iraq are loyal to the Badr Organization/Corps/Brigade, and inimical to Sadr's people. Government forces say the imam was urging worshippers to join the Mahdi Army and fight the government. Sadrist spokespeople deny this. It's obvious that Robertson doesn't believe the Sadrists, as he notes that an edited videotape provided by Sadr loyalists has no mention of these comments. Meanwhile, Iraqi and allied troops are massing in Diyala to root out militants "very soon." A Coalition spokesman declined to comment. Also, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq says it will drop its opposition to a ban on using religious figured in campaign materials. It was the only party resisting the ban because it wanted to use pictures of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Sounds like they got assurances from him that he would bring his people behind ISCI, so they don't need to use his pics any more.

Home front
Ann Scott Tyson and Vickie Elmer of the Post report that the Pentagon has identified the bodies of two U.S. soldiers recovered in Iraq earlier this month, nearly 14 months after they went missing. The bodies of Sgt. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence Mass., and Pfc. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., were located after Special Operations Forces captured a guy who gave them information on the bodies. They were killed in an ambush on May 12, 2007 during which seven soldiers from the Army's 10th Mountain Division died.

The Times's Alan Feuer reports on the families of Jimenez and Fouty, and how they're dealing with the news of the finding of his body. They're doing so with a mixture of sorrow, tears and some relief that Jimenez's journey is finally over.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Jonathan Finer has a piece on the new HBO series, "Generation Kill," which was reviewed by the Times yesterday.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today and Wall Street Journal
No Saturday editions or no coverage.

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