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Daily Column
US Papers Fri: Japan to Pull Troops From Iraq
Palin links Iraq to 911 in speech to troops: Biden's partition plan defended
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/12/2008 01:59 AM ET
A decidedly light day of Iraq coverage in U.S. papers. The most important news story today, the cancelling of six oil contracts, was already covered in another paper yesterday. Still, a few interesting things.

From... Tokyo
Martin Fackler of the New York Times reports that Japan announced Thursday that it wanted to withdraw its remaining military personnel from Iraq by year’s end, wrapping up an overseas mission that had pleased Washington but divided this pacifist nation.
Defense Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the country was negotiating a withdrawal of its small military airlift mission because of the improved security situation in Iraq. He said the Iraqi government had asked for a reduction in the presence of foreign military. Mr. Hayashi said his country wanted to shift its priority to Afghanistan, where a Taliban insurgency has been stepping up attacks. The Japanese have ferried equipment and foreign troops between Kuwait and Iraq, including to Baghdad, since 2006 in a mission that involves cargo aircraft and 210 members of Japan’s air force. Before that, from 2004 to 2006, Japan deployed 600 ground troops on a humanitarian mission in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa, in the country’s first overseas deployment since World War II. Japan also still has refueling ships in the Indian Ocean to support American and other vessels involved in the war in Afghanistan. “The importance of operations in Afghanistan has increased,” Mr. Hayashi told reporters, but he gave no more details. However, the future of the Afghan mission is also in question as the law currently authorizing it comes up for renewal in January. Renewing the law may prove difficult because the opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house of Parliament, is against renewal.
“Even if we withdraw the Air Self-Defense personnel, our resolve to support Iraq will not change,” he said.

From Baghdad
The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño writes a similar story to that of Andrew E. Kramer and Campbell Robertson yesterday in the Times, but a day later. The Iraqi government has decided to scrap plans to award no-bid short-term advisory and technical support contracts six of Western oil companies, Iraqi officials said this week, saying that the talks negotiation the contracts took too long.
The companies -- including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, France's Total and British Petroleum -- are expected to submit bids in coming weeks for deals that the Iraqi government hopes will boost exploration and output in its oil fields, which have been hampered by years of war. Industry analysts said the short-term contracts could have helped companies win more lucrative exploration and development deals. The Iraqi government informed the companies about its decision this month, said Assem Jihad, a spokesman for Iraq's Oil Ministry. He said the ministry decided to end the talks because they had dragged on for too long. But he said Iraq looks forward to working with those companies in the future.
Two big oil deals were recently signed: one with China’s National Petroleum Corp. that is a service-only contract, and one this week with Shell, which gives the company a 49 percent share in the proceeds. Iraq has yet to pass a hydrocarbon law, which would regulate oil production in the country.

Stateside
Anne E. Kornblut from the Washington Post writes a big headline that tells us Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin linked the war in Iraq with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Palin told an Iraq-bound brigade of soldiers that included her son that they would "defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans." Kornblut explains...
The idea that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaeda plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a view once promoted by Bush administration officials, has since been rejected even by the president himself.
This is all true (and politicians who repeatedly mention Iraq and 9-11 in the same sentence in a veiled attempt to link the two in voters’ minds should be questioned), but frankly, the charge seems a little thin with this particular quote, given the actual presence of groups like al-Qaeda In Mesopotamia since the U.S. invasion of 2003. Well, at least the headline will get people to read it (as ours got you to read this). Pvt. 1st Class Palin, 19, is being sent to Iraq as a dismounted infantryman with the Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division.

Opinion
In the Wall Street Journal, Peter W. Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, takes issue with Dan Senor’s September 9 Journal op-ed “Iraqi Leaders Opposed Biden’s Partition Plan”, which criticized Sen. Joe Biden's plan for a decentralized Iraq. Galbraith makes the point that at least the Kurdish leaders in Iraq support his plan.
Mr. Biden's plan is nothing more than an expression of support for decisions the Iraqi people have already made. While asserting it is doing the opposite, the Bush administration has been pushing along the same lines as the Biden plan. In 2005, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad helped negotiate an Iraqi constitution that establishes powerful regions and an almost powerless central government. And, the Sunni Awakening -- so key to the success of the surge -- is basically a Sunni military comparable to the one the Kurds already have.
Read Senor’s op-ed here, and decide for yourself.

Books
Lee H. Hamilton gives a review of veteran journalist Dexter Filkins’ new book, “The Forever War” for the New York Times. It’s had plenty of coverage in the Times already, but it’s probably worth it, judging from the excerpts that have been released. (Also, it is understandable that the Times might want to give a boost to one of its own, after all the ink that the Washington Post dedicated to Bob Woodward of late.) Hamilton gives good grades to “The Forever War”.
Mr. Filkins’s stories are those of a writer willing to endure hardship, danger and anguish to paint an accurate picture of war for the American public. In Iraq the pursuit of a story can cost a journalist his or her life, a fate Mr. Filkins, a reporter for The New York Times, and others have tempted each day outside the Green Zone in Baghdad. As I read this book, I could not help but contrast his courageous, at times even foolhardy, journalism with the reportage by those restricted to the Green Zone or spoon-fed information by the Defense Department’s powerful public relations machine. No doubt such commentators take some risks, but Mr. Filkins’s experience is of an entirely different magnitude. His prose is as blunt as it is powerful. Iraqis, and Afghanis, have spoken for themselves, and Mr. Filkins has listened carefully.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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