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MediaWatch:Print
Daily Column
US Papers Sun: US Wartime Presidential Change
The first in 40 years: Also, the lost world of Jews in Kurdish Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 10/26/2008 02:00 AM ET
I guess everybody’s sick of hearing about the damn status of forces agreement.
Today, we have only the Post, with one Iraq-related piece of news and one book review.
The Times hasn’t any original Iraq coverage in their Sunday edition.

Stateside
Ann Scott Tyson reports in the Washington Post that the U.S. military, bracing for the first wartime presidential transition in 40 years, is preparing for potential crises during the vulnerable handover period, including possible attacks by al-Qaeda and destabilizing developments in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to senior military officials.

It is the first time that a new administration moved into the white house during a war since 1968, when President Richard Nixon replaced Lyndon Johnson. This time, whoever is handed the keys by George Bush will also get the keys to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen will serve at least another year in his two-year appointment as the nation's top military officer, and has the challenge of providing continuity between the two administrations during two overseas conflicts.

"I think the enemy could well take advantage" of the transfer of power in Washington, said Adm. Mullen, who launched preparations for the transition months ago, and who will brief the president-elect, the defense secretary nominee and other incoming officials on crisis management and how to run the military. Officials are working "to make sure we are postured the right way around the world militarily, that our intelligence is focused on this issue, and in day-to-day operations the military is making sure it does not happen," Mullen said in an interview. "If it does happen, we need to be in a position to respond before and after the inauguration."

The military's primary focus during the transition is twofold: to heighten preparations for a crisis requiring military force, and to anticipate and advise the incoming administration on likely new directions in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said. High-level briefings on the risks and benefits of new strategies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as longer-term issues such as military modernization, are already being prepared for national security officials of the incoming administration, they said.

Historically, transition periods are times "of significant vulnerability. . . . The number of major incidents is alarming," Mullen said. In presentations he uses a chart that highlights pre- and post-inauguration crises from the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A second, classified chart shows the biggest threats today. "I run out the worst-case scenarios," Mullen said.

...Senior military officials and national security experts say major threats before and after the elections include an al-Qaeda strike on the United States that would originate from Pakistan's tribal areas, as well as a terrorist attack involving nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
A senior official familiar with Mullen’s staff said, "We will . . . show them how you actually operate the levers of the military power of the United States."

Books
Donna Rifkind writes a review in the Post of Ariel Sabar’s “My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq”. The book is part history of the journey of Sabar’s father out of northern Iraq to America, and part Sabar’s own personal journey. Rifkind likes the combination more than an earlier reviewer in the Times, included in Oct. 12’s Media Watch post.

For the history part...
The author's father, Yona Sabar, was born in 1938 to an illiterate mother in a mud shack in the remote mountain village of Zakho in northern Iraq, among a community of Kurdistani Jews whose ancestry in the area could be traced back nearly 2,700 years. Co-existing affably with Muslims and Christians, these Jews were so isolated that they heard nothing about the savage farhud, or pogrom, against the Jews of Baghdad in 1941, and throughout the 1940s they had almost no idea about the fate of Jews in Europe.

The Sabar family spoke Aramaic, which was the lingua franca of much of the Middle East beginning in the 8th century B.C. and is believed to be the language of Jesus. Its domination ceased in the region in the 7th century A.D., when conquering Muslim armies imposed Arabic. By the 1930s, except in enclaves like Zakho, Aramaic as an everyday tongue was more or less extinct. (It survives today in some scattered communities as well as in major Jewish texts and prayers.) Just as Aramaic has been disappearing, so has Jewish life in Zakho. In 1930, there were 1,471 Jews in the town of 27,000 people. Today, according to the author, there are none.
And for the personal journey...
Ariel Sabar, a Washington-based journalist who has worked for the Baltimore Sun, has framed his book as an act of reconnection with the father who had always embarrassed him with his old-fashioned, Middle Eastern ways. But this generational reconciliation is the book's weakest feature. As an anguished mission to preserve the shards of his shattered culture, Yona Sabar's story speaks eloquently on its own.
New York Times no Iraq coverage.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.
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