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Daily Column
US Papers Sat: Withdrawal Timeline Announced
US Soldiers Drinking and Dancing (!) in the Red Zone
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/28/2009 02:00 AM ET
President Obama’s announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of combat troops and the reaction to it is examined from several angles, as would be expected. From Baghdad, a story on the reemergence of Baghdad nightlife is well worth reading, even if just to be able to visualize the look on a US military spokesman’s face as he responded to a query by the Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan - "Just so I understand this clearly, you saw U.S. soldiers at a nightclub in downtown Baghdad outside of the Green Zone in uniform drinking and dancing?"

On Friday, President Obama announced his plan for a withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq. There have been articles all week with information about what he was expected to say, and there were no surprises. He gave the date for the end of combat operations as August 31, 2010. There has been some quibbling over the number of training and support troops that will remain, but it still stands at between 35,000 and 50,000. This means a withdrawal of over 100,000 troops in the next year and a half. Mr. Obama also said that he intended to have all troops out by the end of 2011.

Of the stories offered today, Peter Baker of the New York Times gives the most bang for your buck by laying it out succinctly, with most of the analysis on the general consensus behind him on both sides of the aisle, and explores how that point was reached.
Mr. Obama presented his plan at the same base where, in April 2003, with American forces nearing Baghdad, Mr. Bush declared that “we will accept nothing less than complete and final victory.” Nearly six years, more than 4,200 military deaths, tens of thousands of civilian deaths and $657 billion later, the definition of victory has evolved. If the uneasy but relatively democratic Iraq that is emerging counts as a victory of sorts, it proved to be longer, bloodier and more damaging to America’s reputation than anticipated.
As Mr. Obama put it, "There are some Americans who want to stay in Iraq longer," Obama acknowledged in a speech to Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., "and some who want to leave faster." Some worry on the part of Iraq’s Sunni population is mentioned.

The Washington Post has two stories which cover a lot of the same ground somewhat repetitively. Karen DeYoung writes an article that is just about comparable to the one described above, but with more of a focus on what military officials are saying, including what is actually still undetermined.
Under the plan, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, will assess the overall situation every six months to allow Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to provide guidance to Obama. Although some U.S. units will leave Iraq between now and early next year, the bulk of the combat force is expected to remain, under Odierno's recommendation, at least until national elections take place in December and their outcome is decided.
Anne E. Kornblut and Ann Scott Tyson give more time to Obama’s emphasis on a new diplomacy, and include reactions of the troops’ at Camp Lejeune, NC, where he gave the speech.
When he promised to raise military pay, a large cheer erupted from the crowd -- much more so than when he declared that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq would be over by September 2010. "I figured that'd be an applause line," Obama said.
Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times reports on the speech from US Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Iraq’s still-violent Diyala province, where the cheering wasn’t so loud, and it makes a good sister piece to any of the earlier articles. Until Friday, the end of the war in Iraq was, for enlisted soldiers and officers alike, little more than an abstraction — a distant goal that remained out of reach, that would last longer than this tour and that would, in all likelihood, mean they would return to Iraq.

“I don’t think the war is over,” said Col. Burt K. Thompson. “We’ve thwarted the main objective of the insurgency, but the enemy has a vote, and the moment you let your guard down, something bad will happen.”

From Iraq
Someone is sure to be getting a stern talking-to while you read this, as a result of the story about Baghdad nightlife by Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post Baghdad’s famed Abu Nawas Street, a well-protected riverfront area, is witnessing the return of some small clubs which stay open late, serving liquor and providing music – but while reading, something else kind of jumps out at you. There are descriptions (and even a photos – youch!) of US servicemen dancing and, as it appears, drinking beer at a table. Apparently, those two cans allowed during the Super Bowl aren't all that flows through the US military.

It isn’t the kind of nightclub dancing that many in the states or Europe would picture – Iraqi style clubs often feel more like a loud family reunion at a restaurant than a nightclub, and all the patrons are men. This is taken up a notch here, though, by the quiet reemergence of hired female dancers. Also noteworthy are the presence of women Raghavan says appeared to be prostitutes - probably more responsible wording than the picture gallery (at least on the WP website) which clearly shows a woman’s face and simply calls her a prostitute. Despite improved safety, this is something with potentially dire consequences in Baghdad.

If you are a press relations officer in the 82nd Airborne, you may want to sit down before reading this one.
Club manager Salah Hassan said Thursday's visit was not exceptional. "The Americans come here four or five times a week," he said. "They buy drinks and pay for them." Others at the club said the soldiers had been there more than once. "I love the Americans," said Amal Saad, a petite young woman with blue contact lenses and thick red lipstick. "I like it when they come here. I feel so safe."

"Many times, I went with them in their Humvees," she added. "They took me to shops and bought me chocolates and gifts."
The Post’s editorial page writes that Mr. Obama “was broadly faithful to his campaign promises” of a 16 month withdrawal, and called the changes “praiseworthy”. Congressional Democrats are called upon to follow him. Nothing terrible, nothing groundbreaking.

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday editions.


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