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Daily Column
US Papers Sun: Chaos Feared as Prison Closes
Iraqi Offer of US/British Scholarships, Stopping ‘Stop-Loss’
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/22/2009 02:00 AM ET
The Washington Post takes the lead this Sunday, mostly owing to their story about the release of thousands of Iraqi detainees with questionable loyalties. Also, we have Iraqi students being recruited for Western education, a protest of the Six-Year’s War back home, an interview with a counterinsurgency adviser of Gen. Petreaus at the time of the surge, and an opinion on stop-loss.

From Iraq
The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid again shows he can structure a somewhat lengthy article so that it reads like a short one, with his report on the release of hundreds of prisoners from the US-run Camp Bucca prison facility. He writes how it has facilitated the revival of Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents in Basra, Baghdad and the borderless expanse here along the Euphrates, according to police chiefs, intelligence officials in the Interior Ministry and residents. The story isn’t filed from Bucca, with trucks of prisoners leaving, it’s filed from Garma, one of the areas where residents “brace for the return of dozens of fighters and such men as the police chief here, openly admit to being overwhelmed by their influx.” Officials suggest that insurgent groups are preparing for the withdrawal of US troops.
Their warnings make for an irony at the beginning of the end of the American presence here. As the United States dismantles Bucca, viewed by many as an appalling miscarriage of justice where prisoners were not charged or permitted to see evidence against them, freed detainees may end up swelling the ranks of a subdued insurgency.

In hardscrabble Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, some former inmates of Bucca speak of revenge. Others talk of their own conversion there: as prisoners, giving their support to militiamen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric whose forces were routed in Baghdad and Basra last year.
A senior intelligence official at the Interior Ministry said that the "special groups" organized within Sadr's militia but believed to wield autonomy were reorganizing in Basra and some in Baghdad as well. Sunni insurgents allied with al-Qaeda are preparing south and west of Baghdad, and then farther west toward Garma. "These regions are becoming a danger to the government," he said. "Al-Qaeda is preparing itself for the departure of the Americans. And they want to stage a revolution." He suggested that 60 percent of detainees freed in those areas were returning to the fight. Col. Mahmoud, the colonel in Garma, put the number in his region at 90 percent.

Shadid covers the Sahwa members’ often inadequate pay not being distributed in some areas for three months, contributing to a 50 percent desertion rate in Garma. "Please return to your faith, and we will receive you in our hearts, with open hands," read one leaflet signed by the Awakening of Muslim Youth and found in the town. "If you don't, we will bring to you men who love death in the same way you love life." Also amply covered is the argument that Bucca has become a breeding and training ground for insurgent groups. "The fight hasn't ended," said one recently released detainee, loyal to al-Sadr after being converted in Bucca. "This is a temporary truce."

For some positive news from the northern city of Sulaimaniya, Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times gives a report of the nearly 100 Kurdish college students who thronged to a conference center to talk to representatives from American and British colleges and universities at a recruiting session for Iraqi students who want to study abroad in these countries.

The fair is part of a new educational initiative spearheaded by an American/Iraqi political scientist who was educated in America, and sponsored by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. 500 students will be sponsored this year.
The scholarships, which the government hopes to expand to 10,000 students a year, will be based on merit. Once a student receives a scholarship, the government will pay tuition and a living stipend until they complete their degrees. It will cost Iraq about $75,000 per student annually, according to Iraqi government officials. If students do not return, they would have to reimburse the government for the cost of their education.
Stateside
Back in the Washington Post, Donna St. George covers thousands of demonstrators who marked the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq yesterday, demanding that President Obama bring U.S. troops home. She points out that it was the first protest march on Washington of the Obama presidency, “replete with many of the same messages of protests during the Bush era.” It is a straightforward article, with a basic description of the protest, and some quotes from those on the ground.
Some protesters hoisted mock coffins draped with flags -- about 100 in all -- to represent casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries where U.S. actions have claimed lives in the war on terror.

..."I do support him, but I'm also critical, and I think the escalation in Afghanistan is a mistake," said Alice Sturm Sutter, 61, a nurse practitioner who campaigned for Obama and took a bus from the Washington Heights area of New York. After six years in Iraq, she said, "we need to pressure the government to work for peace and bring all the troops home."
Opinion
The editorial page of the New York Times applauds the announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the US military’s stop-loss program is to be phased out, a program which has forced an estimated 102,000 US troops to remain in service after the end-dates of their enlistments since 2001. Harsh words for former President George W. Bush are not spared, but Gates is given the benefit of the doubt.
It is hard to argue with critics who deride the program as a back-door draft. But then, the all-volunteer military was never designed to be abused as it was during the Bush administration: indefinitely deployed and in permanent crisis mode. Mr. Gates seemed appropriately contrite when he told reporters that holding so many soldiers against their will was “breaking faith.” He was right.
On the “Outlook” page of the Washington Post Carlos Lazada has an interview with David Kilcullen, an Australian anthropologist/army reservist, top adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus during the troop surge in Iraq, and recent author of "The Accidental Guerrilla". In it, he gives brief opinions on insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. When asked what lessons from Iraq could be useful in Afghanistan, he says, “I would say there are three. The first one is you've got to protect the population. Unless you make people feel safe, they won't be willing to engage in unarmed politics. The second lesson is, once you've made people safe, you've got to focus on getting the population on your side and making them self-defending. And then a third lesson is, you've got to make a long-term commitment.“

Books
Jonathan Steele of the Post writes a positive review of "The Weight of a Mustard Seed: The Intimate Story of an Iraqi General and His Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny" by Wendell Steavenson. Steele has a few issues with wording, but gives kudos to the product of the four years Steavenson spent tracking down former officials of the Baath Party (lots of the guys on those playing cards, in hiding or in prison) and winning their confidence.
At first sight, her aim -- writing the history of an era that we all know was appalling and that mercifully is gone -- may seem unfashionable, especially now that the succeeding period has produced insecurity and bloodletting that have touched every Iraqi family, not just the elite. But the period immediately after a regime change, when fear subsides and memories remain vivid, is the best time to conduct oral research.
Steele calls the book a “quilt of hard reporting and intelligent speculation that tells the reader more about the tensions of living close to power in Saddam's dictatorship than almost any previous effort by a Western writer.”

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

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