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Daily Column
U.S. Papers Monday: Surge Controversy
Kurds: Free the Irbil 5; Anbar Police Recruiting Skyrockets
By SETH SMITH 01/15/2007 02:01 AM ET
Timesman John F. Burns has the day's top story, dealing with the difficulties faced by U.S. and Iraqi officials attempting to jointly plan the mother of all battles: the pacification of Baghdad. Some of the problems are predictable, such as the Iraqi government's questionable commitment to a crackdown on the Shia militias controlled by prominent members of the ruling coalition. Others are new, like creating a workable chain of command for the combined U.S.-Iraqi forces and a bout of bureaucratic infighting centered on the appointment of a commander of Iraqi forces in Baghdad. Despite the hurdles, some officers are optimistic. The article's one weakness is that it lacks any evidence of the Iraqi point of view. In the WP, Sudarsan Raghavan has a more street's-eye view of problems the new Baghdad security plan will likely encounter.Drawing on an impressive array of sources, the article takes the form of a post-mortem for Operation Together Forward, the previous plan now widely considered a failure.

The WP's Joshua Partlow produces the day's other must-read, updating the case of the five Iranians captured by the U.S. in a raid in Irbil last week. As was the case the last time U.S. forces detained Iranians suspected of involvement in attacks, the Iraqis are none-too-pleased. This time, however, Kurdish lawmakers are leading the charge, owing to the fact that Irbil is located in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the NYT, David Sanger analyzes the Bush administration's new, more confrontational approach to Iran. The article does little to advance the story, but provides a good survey of the conflict as currently construed by top U.S. officials.

The NYT's Jim Rutenberg and Patrick Healy have the latest on divergent views in the Democratic caucus with regards to challenging the president's plan to increase troops, including among likely 2008 presidential contenders. Some antiwar Democrats want to go beyond toothless resolutions condemning the plan to enact legislation that restricts or cuts off funding. Walter Pincus has a similar account in the WP that focuses more narrowly on the Congressional debate. Looking at the other side of the aisle, Jill Lawrence of the USA Today has a smart take on how the troop increase debate is playing out among Republican presidential aspirants. Republican voters are more supportive of the plan than independents and Democrats, but potential candidates represent a wide range of views.


James Glanz reports on the expected increase in the number and size of provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs). Staffing for existing PRTs is already thin, owing in part to the difficulty of recruiting civilians to live uncomfortable lives in dangerous environs. It is unclear how new staff will be found for the revamped effort.

David S. Cloud is traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The first stop in the Defense Secretary's Europe and Middle East tour finds him in London, where he held talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Defense Minister Des Browne. Iraq and Afghanistan topped the agenda, with Gates querying the Brits as to whether they plan to carry through with troop withdrawals from Iraq. Offering a preview of the days ahead, one official attached to the delegation put U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf on notice that they will heretofore be expected to fulfill their aid commitments to Iraq.


Michael A. Fletcher rounds up the Sunday media appearances by President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The administration is dead set on increasing troop numbers, despite the increasing clamor for withdrawal from both the public and Congress. On 60 Minutes, Bush aired a new justification for the war, saying that leaving Saddam Hussein in power possibly would have triggered a nuclear arms race between Iran and Iraq.

Griff White writes up a change in the laws governing contractors and other civilians working alongside the U.S. military in war zones. Some have accused contractors in particular of flouting what is considered extralegal status, allowing them to go unpunished for well-documented misdeeds, particularly in Iraq. The new law will likely be challenged in court, as there is little precedent for civilians facing courts-martial.

Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt has a column arguing that while U.S. troops will inevitably and necessarily be used by politicians to score partisan victories, it is also necessary to step back and realize that these same troops are not just props, but are actual living, breathing humans, many of whom have sacrificed deeply for the country as a whole.


Rick Jervis writes up the surge in recruits eager to become police in Anbar province. At least 1,000 men have signed up in the past two weeks alone, compared to approximately 800 in December and a few dozen as recently as September. Jervis reports that both the U.S. and Iraqi officials portray the increase as owing to a decisive split between Sunni tribes and Al Qaida in Iraq. However, it must be said that this same storyline has been touted before without having dampened the insurgency.


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