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Daily Column
US Papers Fri: Conflicting Arrest Explanations
FBI Overtime Pay for Baghdad Cocktail Parties, Shoe Thrower Asks for Pardon?
By DANIEL W. SMITH 12/19/2008 02:00 AM ET
It took several arrests of high-ranking officials in the Interior Ministry with calls of a possible coup conspiracy to even make a chip in the dominance of the shoe story, but since government officials aren’t really talking about it, nothing’s too clear yet. FBI employees are added to the pot of hot water, peopled with those alleged to have overbilled in Iraq, and both Laura Bush and al-Zeidi himself have comments about the throwing of the shoes.

Interior Ministry Detentions
Campbell Robertson and Tariq Maher of the New York Times broke the story yesterday, and continue today, writing that the wave of arrests “appeared to be a major internal crackdown inside the nation’s security apparatus.” In an atmosphere of secrecy and political rivalry, they said, officials confirmed few facts, and disagreed on others, from the number detained to the seriousness of the allegations.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Interior Ministry spokesman, told reporters on Thursday that 23 officials from the Interior Ministry had been arrested in recent days, many for being affiliated with Al Awda, which is connected to the now-banned Baath Party.
In a possible indication of the breadth of the investigation, the Interior Ministry said that the investigation involved not only the ministry itself, as had been reported, but also the Defense and National Security Ministries. Others said that the investigation was not over and that more arrests could be expected. Lieutenants, captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and generals were on a leaked list of those arrested.

But General Khalaf sought to discredit the most serious of the allegations made earlier by Iraqi officials, saying there was no evidence that the suspects were in the early stages of planning a coup against Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The conflicting accounts of the operation prompted an urgent question from Mr. Maliki’s critics: Were the arrests politically motivated, carried out as a way for Mr. Maliki to weaken his rivals before the nationwide provincial elections planned for next month?
An uproar appears to be growing among members of parliament. “This is not the first time and it will be not the last one that the Iraqi government carried out such an operation without the knowledge of the Council of Representatives, which is a legislative and monitoring entity on the government’s activities,” said Waleed Sherka, a member the security and defense committee. “We certainly didn’t know about it.”

The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan and Qais Mizher give a slightly better overall view of this complex and multi-mired story, and one where the big picture is easier to grasp(though still, straws are really all that's available). A few of the quotes they include are as following.
Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal, deputy interior minister for intelligence affairs, said in an interview that those arrested had no links to the Baath Party and described media reports about such links as "propaganda" and "entirely baseless."

"The number of officers who are being investigated is small and not worthy of mention," said Kamal, declining to provide a reason for the arrests.

"Forces under the direct control of the prime minister engaged in these arrests. This is not something normal in a democratic process," said Mithal al-Alusi, an independent Sunni lawmaker.
Other News From Baghdad
The New York Times’ Timothy Williams and Atheer Kakan report on the Iraqi government’s claims that Muntader al-Zaidi, the correspondent for the Al-Baghdadiya television channel who threw his shoes at President Bush during a news conference this week has apologized to the Iraqi government in a letter to the prime minister. He is said to have asked for a pardon.

The unreleased letter was said to included a reference to an interview Mr. Zaidi had conducted with Mr. Maliki three years ago during which Mr. Maliki had shown him hospitality.

“I remember in the summer of 2005, I had an interview with your excellency and you said that your house is mine,” Mr. Majid said, quoting the letter. “Now, I am asking you as a son asks a father to forgive me.”

Cutting off some of the speculation of who would end up with possession of the shoes (and how much would be paid for them), one of the lawyers representing al-Zaidi said the shoes thrown at the president “had been destroyed at a laboratory during an examination to determine whether they contained any explosives or hazardous chemicals.”

In the continued annals of the Iraq invasion as cash free-for-all, Spencer S. Hsu of the Washington Post reports that, for nearly five years, FBI leaders encouraged employees on temporary assignment in Iraq to bill an average of $45,000 in overtime and extra pay by routinely claiming to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, even when some of that time was spent eating, exercising, watching movies or attending cocktail parties, the Justice Department inspector general reported yesterday. It was announced that 1,150 employees earned $71,000 during a typical 90-day tour -- nearly triple the typical worker's salary, adding up to at least $7.8 million to the $99 million taxpayer cost of the FBI efforts.

One employee defended the practice, saying, "When you're in that environment, anything you do to survive is work for the FBI."
In a statement, (Miller) said FBI managers early on tried to adapt normal pay practices to "unprecedented wartime assignments" for FBI personnel who were living with sniper attacks, mortar fire and roadside bombs, and employees followed a pay and overtime policy "they were told to use."

The inspector general found no evidence that counterterrorism division managers consulted with the FBI general counsel's office, which the report called "inexplicable."
David Jackson of USA Today writes a story that just fits into our category of “Iraq-related coverage”. first lady Laura Bush, while speaking about her charity work and upcoming book, spoke of the shoe-throwing incident.

"As a wife, I saw this as an assault, and that's what it was," she said. "And so I didn't laugh it off like he did." Of his adeptness in ducking the shoes, she added, "Of course, he is very quick... That was one of things I saw — he's such a natural athlete."

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.


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