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MediaWatch:Print
Daily Column
US Papers Fri: $300 Mil to Secret US Publicity
Baghdad Suicide Bombers Kill 2 Dozen in Attacks on Mosques: Rebuilding Samarra
By DANIEL W. SMITH 10/03/2008 01:59 AM ET
After an empty few days, there is a healthy amount of Iraq coverage. Some papers we haven’t heard from in days are back. Biden and Palin are mentioned as having brought up Iraq while debating, but it is not really gone into. Here’s what was.

Media Relations
Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus of the Washington Post report from the states that the Defense Department will pay private U.S. contractors in Iraq up to $300 million over the next three years to produce news stories, entertainment programs and public service advertisements for the Iraqi media in an effort to "engage and inspire" the local population to support U.S. objectives and the Iraqi government. The idea behind the project reflects the view in the Army’s counterinsurgency manual (co-written by Gen. David H. Petraeus in 2006) which describes “information operations” in detail, and cites them among the "critical" military activities "that do not involve killing insurgents."
The new contracts -- awarded last week to four companies -- will expand and consolidate what the U.S. military calls "information/psychological operations" in Iraq far into the future, even as violence appears to be abating and U.S. troops have begun drawing down.

The military's role in the war of ideas has been fundamentally transformed in recent years, the result of both the Pentagon's outsized resources and a counterinsurgency doctrine in which information control is considered key to success. Uniformed communications specialists and contractors are now an integral part of U.S. military operations from Eastern Europe to Afghanistan and beyond.

Iraq, where hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on such contracts, has been the proving ground for the transformation. "The tools they're using, the means, the robustness of this activity has just skyrocketed since 2003. In the past, a lot of this stuff was just some guy's dreams," said a senior U.S. military official, one of several who discussed the sensitive defense program on the condition of anonymity.

The Pentagon still sometimes feels it is playing catch-up in a propaganda market dominated by al-Qaeda, whose media operations include sophisticated Web sites and professionally produced videos and audios featuring Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants. "We're being out-communicated by a guy in a cave," Secretary Robert M. Gates often remarks.

But Defense Department officials think their own products have become increasingly imaginative and competitive. Military and contractor-produced media campaigns, spotlighting killings by insurgents, "helped in developing attitudes" that led Iraqis to reject al-Qaeda in Iraq over the past two years, an official said.
From Iraq
The New York Times’ Stephen Farrell covers Thursday’s attacks on two Shiite mosques in east Baghdad during a holiday to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The suicide bombing attacks, which killed about two dozen people were the second wave this week during a lengthy public holiday for observances of Id al-Fitr, which is celebrated at different times by different Sunni and Shiite congregations.
The two attacks happened around 8 a.m. as followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, were attending prayers for the first day of the feast. In one area, the relatively poor and overwhelmingly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniya, Iraqi soldiers said a car bomber rammed his Russian-made Volga taxi into an armored Iraqi Army Humvee, which was guarding the entrance to a Shiite mosque. Interior Ministry officials said 14 people were killed.

In the other area, the much more middle-class district of New Baghdad, a bomber wearing a suicide vest tried to slip past the security cordon around the Rasoul mosque, according to the head of security, who gave his name as Abu Mustafa. The congregation had overflowed from the ornate 50-year-old prayer hall, he said, and many people were praying in the street.

“He was behaving irrationally,” Mr. Mustafa said. “One of our people told him to stop, he refused to obey the order and when one of the guards tried to grab him he blew himself up.” The Iraqi police and mosque officials estimated the death toll to be around 10. In a separate attack, gunmen fatally shot six Sunnis as they traveled in a minibus in the mainly Shiite town of Wajihiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad.

...Some voiced concern about loyalties of former Sunni insurgents in civilian patrols, called Sons of Iraq or Awakening Councils. Only a day before the bomb, the groups in and around Baghdad were transferred from the American to the Iraqi government payroll.
“We are used to this,” one woman who continued to celebrate Id al-Fitr in central Baghdad said. “We are fed up with grief. We want to have fun, even if it is once in our lifetimes.”

Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor writes basically the same story about the tentative handover of control and payment of the Sons of Iraq(SOI) to the Iraqi government that the Times and the Post has written in the past few days. The difference is that, instead of writing that the dissolution and alienation of the SOI could possibly result in members again becoming allied with the insurgency, Peterson gives the bombings of the mosques on Thursday as evidence that it may have already led to increases in sectarian attacks.
Fresh concern is washing over Iraq of a new wave of insurgent violence as the bands of mainly Sunni Muslim Iraqis trained, armed, and paid by the US military to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq are now coming under the control of a skeptical Shiite-led government.

While the group called the Sons of Iraq has been critically important in improving security, the US military and many leaders within the SOI worry that their foot soldiers – many of them ex-insurgents – will simply return to their old ways if they are not paid or brought into Iraq's official security forces.

"If the government doesn't accept them, most will join groups, and they will restart their activities stronger than before," says Khalid Jamal, an SOI leader in Baghdad. "That will make Iraq return to zero."

Samarra's Askariya Shrine and its famed golden dome, which were bombed in 2006 (leading to the most horrific sectarian killing of that year) are now being reconstructed, as covered by Erica Goode and Mohammed Hussein of the New York Times. Between 150 and 200 workers from Samarra, Baghdad, Karbala and other regions are involved in the project, which has so far cost $8 million, and is expected to cost far more. The city around it, too, are being rebuilt, and a new, but always tentative, calm is apparent on the streets of Samarra.
A bakery and a shawarma shop recently opened in a heavily guarded central neighborhood. Earlier this week, dozens of children rode a creaky Ferris wheel and took wagon rides on a downtown street to celebrate Id al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

The Askariya Shrine is slowly being rebuilt. This week, for the first time in two years, hundreds of worshipers attended morning prayers for Id al-Fitr under the delicately blue-tiled dome of the mosque next door.

“It is better now,” many residents say if asked. “Today is better than yesterday.”

Yet in Samarra, as in many parts of this ravaged country, better is a relative term. The city’s name is derived from an Arabic phrase meaning “a joy for all to see.” But joy, or even basic satisfaction, remains a scarce commodity.

The violence that once raged throughout the overwhelmingly Sunni city has quieted in the last few months. In August there were only nine small weapons attacks, compared with 44 last November, according to the American military. One homemade bomb exploded in August. Last November there were 13. ...The curfew for residents has been pushed back to midnight or even later if there are religious events.

Yet the costs of greater safety are also apparent. At virtually every corner there are checkpoints staffed by members of the Iraqi security forces or guards from the Awakening Councils, the citizen patrols that the American military paid and trained to fight the insurgents. Blast walls line the streets. And to stray outside the nine “safe” neighborhoods that American military officials say have been secured by the Awakening guards is still to invite violent death.
The architects are working on the shrine without original blueprints, and small craters left by the bombing are still visible in the interior. The two minarets destroyed by another bombing in 2007 have not yet been rebuilt.

Stateside
Anemona Hartocollis of the New York Times writes that an effort by good Samaritans to rescue abandoned dogs from Iraq and bring them to the United States has led to a national public health warning after a puppy named Crusader was belatedly found to have rabies. The rescue mission, Operation Baghdad Pups, was organized by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International. A new shipment of dogs from Baghdad was expected to arrive this week at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, and that the S.P.C.A. had been required to present proof of 30-day-old vaccinations before the dogs board.

Opinion
Robert McFarlane, who served as President Reagan's National Security Adviser from 1983-85 pens a piece in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page called “Obama Was Willing to Lose in Iraq”. In it, he criticizes Sen. Obama for doubting the “surge” and says that “cutting losses” and withdrawing from a war is tantamount to losing that war. He gives several examples (one of them being Vietnam) of how this is damaging to the American reputation, and ends the article as follows.
The next president will enter office with the war in Iraq winding down but with the conflict in Afghanistan requiring urgent, focused attention. The stakes engaged there go well beyond restoring order in that country alone. How we emerge from Afghanistan will go far toward determining our ability to prevail in the global war against radical Islam, our ability to limit nuclear proliferation, and to bring order and the hope for a brighter future to the almost two billion people in South and Central Asia. These are issues of profound importance to the future security of our nation and our citizens. Losing is not an option, and no sensible leader should entertain the thought that it is.

USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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