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US Papers Saturday: "Mataa" Mania
"Enjoyment Marriages" or "Legal Prostitution"?
By EASON JORDAN 01/20/2007 01:40 AM ET
The Washington Post provides a fascinating page one feature, the New York Times alone explains why a supposed big story probably isn't, both papers provide a “poisonous” quote in a "sound bite war," and the Wall Street Journal limits its original Iraq content to an interview with a war-backing Democratic senator.

The Times and the Post report on a key aide to Moqtada Sadr being arrested in a joint Iraqi-U.S. operation. While at first glance this is a big deal and a key test for the Maliki government (which previously has called on the U.S. to back off Sadr’s crowd), Times correspondent Sabrina Tavernise provides key nuggets that suggest the arrest isn’t as significant as the headline might suggest. She writes of the detained aide:

“His involvement in crime became well known in the neighborhood and in recent months Mr. Sadr disavowed him. He went into hiding, and in October had all but stopped answering his cellphone and responded only to previously arranged agreed-upon patterns of rings.”
That context is missing from Ernesto Londono's Washington Post report, which notes Maliki had no advance knowledge of the arrest.

NEW YORK TIMES

From Baghdad, James Glanz reports Iraqi leaders are close to an agreement on an oil law that ensures the Baghdad central government has the upper hand with Iraqi oil, distributing revenues and deciding which companies will be allowed to explore for oil. What the story excludes is any reference to the fuss about whether foreign oil companies will be allowed to retain a high percentage of oil field profits – unconfirmed reports of which have generated much chatter among Iraqis and Iraq-watchers.

From Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq, David Cloud reports the top commander in Iraq says he thinks the U.S. "surge" might be reversible as early as late summer, when General George Casey says would be the earliest to expect sustained positive results from the boost in troop strength.

Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny says Republican Senator John Warner and other centrist senators are drafting an Iraq resolution that wouldn't be as tough on Bush's "surge" plan as draft resolutions explicitly opposing boosting troop strength in Iraq. Down in the piece is the spat between the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose comments (see below) drew a rebuke from the White House, which branded her remarks "poisonous" and part of a Democrat-instigated "sound bite war."

Usually on Saturdays we note the weekly Maureen Dowd Iraq-related Bush-bashing column. While she’s in attack Bush mode again today, her focus is Bush's handling of Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON POST

In an intriguing page one story headlined "Temporary 'Enjoyment Marriages' in Vogue Again With Some Iraqis," Nancy Trejos says the mini-marriages, banned during Saddam Hussein’s time, are gaining popularity among Shia, while Sunnis dismiss them as “legal prostitution.” The practice is called “Mataa,” and it’s long been commonplace in Shia Iran.

Josh White writes of the top U.S. general in Iraq urging patience with the "surge" plan, saying significant results likely won’t be evident before late summer. The story also notes the dispute between the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with White House spokeswoman Dana Perino branding “poisonous” these Pelosi comments:

“The president knows that because the troops are in harm’s way, that we won’t cut off the resources. That’s why he’s moving so quickly to put them in harm’s way, but we will hold the president accountable. He has to answer for this war.”

In a one paragraph mention in a wider-ranging Walter Pincus report, outgoing U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte cites as one of the intelligence community successes the support provided to the Pentagon team leading the fight against IEDs in Iraq.

On the op-ed page, Harvard professor John McMillian examines why so few college students are outspoken war critics, unlike during the Vietnam War. The answer comes in the column’s final graph:

“‘Just like the 1960s, we have an unjust war, a lying president, and dead American soldiers sent home everyday,’ one student wrote me in an e-mail. ‘But rather than fight the administration or demand a forum to express our unhappiness, we accept the status quo and focus on our own problems.’"

WALL STREET JOURNAL

In a lengthy interview with Kimberley Strassel, Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman explains why he feels so strongly about upping the ante in Iraq, saying in part: “If we pull out and essentially surrender to the extremists and terrorists, they are naturally going to follow us right back to our shores.” Liberman says he’s disappointed the “surge” isn’t bigger – at least 35,000 troops rather than the slated 21,500.

USA TODAY

Dark on weekends.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

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