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Daily Column
US Papers Sat: Forming "Belts" Around Cities
Stoking Fears, Baghdad Bombs Kill About a Dozen
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/27/2009 02:00 AM ET
The themes of the week keep developing – continued violence and trying to ascertain the exact nature of American military involvement in Iraq after June 30, now just three days away.

From Iraq
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf files from Mosul, where she speaks to Maj, Gen. Robert Caslen, commander of US forces in the north of Iraq, about plans for the still very violent city. In past months, there has been a kind of back-and-forth from US officials on whether and how many US forces will remain in Mosul, while Iraqi officials have (publicly, at least) been clearly saying that none would remain.

"The strategic question is whether right now the Iraqi security forces have the capacity and capability to maintain the pressure on the insurgency," says Caslen. ..."There is going to be a period of testing – it is going to be one of those 'two steps forward, one step back.' ... "I would be concerned if there was a portion of a village, a town, or a portion of a city where the Iraqi security forces felt uncomfortable to even address – physically go in there – and as a result it became a safe haven for Al Qaeda," he says. Arraf writes that US “advisers” are to be kept in cities, and battalions that had been inside Mosul in particular will be redeployed to surrounding areas.
The counterinsurgency strategy credited with helping to dramatically reduce violence over the past year included a surge of forces around Baghdad, which disrupted the network of fighters and weapons flowing into the capital. With the pullout of combat troops outside of Mosul and Baquba, essentially the same strategy will be put in place in the belts around those cities and in areas that are potential flashpoints of Kurdish-Arab tension.

"In the event that Iraqi security forces can maintain security at the level it is right now inside Mosul, coalition forces start working more effectively in the belts, and you now have the opportunity to increase the security overall in the entire province," says Caslen.
Sam Dagher and Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times report on the third straight day of violence in Baghdad. Among the attacks were two more bombs placed in motorbikes. In response, all motorbikes have been ordered off the streets. They write, of one of the scenes...
Iraqi Army officers at the scene said, killing 10 and wounding 12. The officers spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were prohibited from speaking to reporters. Later in the day, an official at the Interior Ministry said at least 13 had been killed and 45 were wounded. “Their bodies were torn up to pieces, even their next of kin could not identify them,” an enraged Iraqi soldier said. “It is Iraqi blood, but it is cheap,” he added, pointing to a pool of blood.
Dagher and Rubin cover some of the angry response to the attacks, which have occurred mostly in Shi’a-majority areas – focusing on followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, who have staged demonstrations. The general mood of one in Baghdad was described as, “albeit tense, was less inflamed than it had been at times. Mr. Sadr’s statement counseled his followers to be patient, to pursue ‘peaceful resistance’ and to not give “others the excuse to attack you.” Still, some sectarian concerns are present.
...Sheik Hamid al-Mualla, a Shiite cleric and member of Parliament, said there were Sunni extremists backed by forces within some neighboring Arab gulf states like Saudi Arabia who were doing their utmost to rekindle Iraq’s sectarian violence. “I criticize the Arab silence toward the massacres that are happening in our country,” he said in a sermon at Buratha Mosque in Baghdad.

In a statement on Thursday, the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said Arab states had to take a “clear and definitive stance toward these horrific crimes, because silence is no longer acceptable.”
In the Christian Science Monitor, Peter Rainer |reviews “The Hurt Locker”, a new film about Army bomb-squad technicians in Baghdad, which he says “is the only one that conveys with the utmost vividness a documentarylike immediacy,” and “almost never lapses into Hollywoodese”. It is directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal.

Boal, whose journalism was the basis for the story behind Paul Haggis's "In the Valley of Elah," about a father trying to discover how his soldier son died after returning from Iraq. Boal was embedded in Iraq with an explosive ordnance disposal squad, and this helps give "The Hurt Locker," set in presurge 2004, its core of verity. The drills, the vernacular, the missions all seem freshly observed. Bigelow's gift for orchestrating violence works especially well in this context because so much of the violence in the movie erupts with such stunning irregularity. She keeps us on edge throughout.
Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, no original Iraq coverage.
USA Today, no Saturday Edition.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at


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