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Daily Column
US Papers Mon: Surprise Pelosi Visit
Baghdad/KRG Oil Deal, Terrorist Traffic Via Syria Again Inching Up
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/11/2009 02:00 AM ET
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s surprise visit to Baghdad grabs the headlines, but brings no great developments. News of a re-invigorated insurgent route from Syria to Iraq and the first details on an oil deal between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government are the major stories. Only the New York Times and the Washington Post have original Iraq material today.

From Baghdad
Pelosi’s visit made it in the headline of two of the three Iraq stories. The most-reported sound bite was "We will have intense political involvement as we go forward," as it sort-of addresses future US involvement in Iraq. She didn’t talk troop levels, but the adjective “intense” makes it clear (from a vocally anti-Iraq war Democrat) that Baghdad’s US embassy isn’t being abandoned any time soon. Pelosi met with parliament speaker Ayad al-Samarraie and talked intelligence-sharing with Prime Minister al-Maliki.

The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid and Nada Bakri have an article dedicated to the visit, and has the basics. Fears among Iraqis that US disengagement is adversely affecting security are spoken of, as are the basics minutes of Pelosi’s discussions with the Iraqi leaders.
The talks focused on challenges in that relationship: the U.S. role in helping broker boundary disputes between Iraq's Arab and Kurdish regions, cooperation in intelligence to fight a lingering insurgency as the U.S. military presence diminishes, and efforts to combat sometimes spectacular corruption that has undermined faith in the Iraqi government.
Campbell Robertson of the New York Times has an article that splits itself between Pelosi and a deal between Baghdad and Erbil on oil contracts in Iraqi Kurdistan. For years, the issue of whether or not contracts signed by the KRG are legal has been a huge sticking point, and the political rhetoric has been repetitive, to say the least. Robertson covers the announcement of, if not the details to, a pact that would allow the Kurds to start exporting oil from two oilfields under its control.
Iraq’s central government had long insisted that it alone had control over Iraqi oil, and had refused to recognize any oil contract signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. It remained unclear on Sunday why Baghdad had softened its position or how the Kurds might benefit.
Both articles include mention of the ongoing corruption scandal in the Trade Ministry. After being on the lam for a week, the brother of Minister Felah al-Sudani was arrested.

Karen DeYoung writes of evidence that a network which smuggles foreign fighters into Iraq via Syria has again become active, just as the Obama administration is exploring a new diplomatic dialogue with Syria. In a departure from declarations of administrations past, US officials (from whom the information comes) point to unnamed elements within Syrian intelligence, but “have been careful not to directly accuse Damascus of supporting the traffic”.

From the title, it sounds like a story about insurgents, but ends up really being a fairly captivating policy piece. The carrots and sticks America is simultaneously using with Iraq’s neighbor are prominent, and the release of the information about the insurgent transit route comes across as being part of the US's policy strategy.
On Wednesday, acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey D. Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro arrived in Syria for their second visit since Barack Obama's inauguration as president. Two days later, however, Obama renewed U.S. sanctions against Syria, accusing Damascus of supporting terrorism in the Middle East and undermining Iraqi stability.

"I think it sends the message that we have some very serious concerns," Robert Wood, a State Department spokesman, said of the sanctions renewal. Feltman, he added, was "in Damascus to talk about . . . how we can get Syria to change its behavior and see if it's willing to really engage seriously in a dialogue, be a positive role in the Middle East. Up until now, Syria hasn't played that positive role."
Gen. Odierno said Syria, "has the opportunity" to stop it, and called on the Syrian government to "demonstrate a commitment to eliminating the use of its soil as a staging area."

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

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