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Daily Column
US Papers Monday: Gunmen Posed as GIs
Sadrist Bloc Demands Timetable for US Withdrawal
By GREG HOADLEY 01/22/2007 02:04 AM ET

The remarkable attack at Karbala is the lead story in both big East Coast dailes, while the Washington Post carries some important details about the Sadrist Bloc's end of its boycott of parliament.

Damien Cave files from Baghdad for the NYT to advance the story of the deadly weekend in Iraq in which 27 US soldiers were killed. Most interesting are the new details he reports regarding Saturday's fighting in Karbala, gathered presumably with the help of an unnamed "Iraqi employee of The New York Times in Karbala." The attack, which left five GIs dead, may have been so effective because attacking fighters impersonated US soldiers, complete with "uniforms, American flak jackets, guns and a convoy of at least seven GMC sport utility vehicles, which are usually used by American officials in Iraq." This allowed the attackers to pass through checkpoints and launch their attack on offices where the targeted US and Iraqi officials were located. Repelled by US forces, the attackers then fled toward Babil Province to the north, where four of the vehicles were later recovered. This was the first time that US forces had been impersonated in such a manner. Cave notes the anxiety among military officials that the convincing disguises could pose dangers for US and Iraqi soldiers in the upcoming assault on Baghdad's neighborhoods. Cave also runs down the rest of the day's violence, reporting that at least seven Iraqi civilians were killed in a bomb attack, a UK soldier died near Basra, three Iranians were detained in Mosul, and in Kirkuk Province an attack on oilfield guards ignited one oil well.

Ernesto Londoño of the Post also leads his front-pager with the the Karbala attack, providing some detail that does not appear in the Times: At the opening of the twenty-minute attack the gunmen detonated sound bombs to create panic, and then stormed into a room where US and Iraqi officials were gathered to discuss security for the upcoming Shi`i holy day of `Ashura. He continues to report that the Pentagon had announced that the first 3,200 of 21,500 additional troops headed for Iraq had reached Baghdad. He reports that at least sixteen Iraqis were killed by a bomb attack on a Baghdad and by four planted explosive devices. Londoño's report also provides detail unavailable in the Times about the return of the Sadrist bloc to the parliament. Falah Hasan Shenshel, a Sadrist member of parliament, announced that a parliamentary committee and the body's speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, had agreed to several of the Sadrist's demands in order to bring the bloc back into parliamentary participation. Londoño quotes Shenshel, saying that the agreement includes "establishing a timetable for the buildup of Iraqi troops and the withdrawal of U.S. troops, and a condition that the presence of foreign troops would not be extended without a vote by the assembly, Shenshel said. U.S. troops should retreat from Iraqi cities and return to their bases by the end of August, he said." The Post does not print an analysis of the breaking story of the agreement, but it is noteworthy that the smooth functioning of the current Iraqi parliament is now predicated on the Sadrist demand of scheduling a formal US withdrawal in the coming months.

Peter Grier's article in the Monitor sums up much of what information is available on the coming US offensive in Baghdad and adds a couple of new details: "Surge" is a misnomer, as new US forces will arrive incrementally. Baghdad will be divided into nine military districts; in each will be deployed a contingent of Iraqi forces with an "embedded" US battalion. Analysts have expressed skepticism over the statements of Baghdad and Washington that Iraqi forces will take on the heaviest fighting duties. In areas that have been cleared of resistance, "joint security sites" or "miniforts," will be established, perhaps even in single buildings, in which US and Iraqi forces responsible for the neighborhood will be based. Grier also expects that, if the military's new counterinsurgency guidelines are to be believed, intelligence and propaganda operations will be central to the operations, though Grier does note that the Pentagon has already decided to depart from the new guidelines in deciding that the number of troops on the battlefield will be less than that perscribed in the handbook.

In other coverage:


"Mr. Gates, it turns out, is a hawk," writes David Cloud in his brief profile in the Times of Secretary of Defense and former CIA director Robert Gates. "But a hawk may not be all he is." Cloud writes that Gates is more in favor of negotiating with adversaries of the US than his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld, but prefers negotiations backed by the "leverage" of the threat of force. Hence Gates' support for an escalation of US forces in Iraq: He has said that he they are a source of leverage over the Maliki government in that the US presence could be scaled down if the Iraqi government is not cooperative in implementing US aims. However, as Cloud notes, "Perhaps the biggest test of Mr. Gates’ influence will be whether the United States follows through on this threat if Mr. Maliki does not comply with those promises."


The Post also runs a page A1 article by Anthony Shadid on the disappointment of the few Arab public figures who supported the US invasion of Iraq. Most interesting in the piece is the unanimity with which the individuals whom Shadid profiles place their blame for the failure of the neoconservative program for transforming the Middle East on poor execution by US administrators, rather than on any problem endemic to agenda itself. Shadid unfortunately does not call the reader's attention to the contradictions inherent in the "Arab neocon" endorsement of the goal of spreading democracy through military force, nor to the Faustian bargain inherent in the decision to publicly embrace the expansion of US hegemony in the Middle East, nor to the warm welcome extended by Western neoconservative organizations to Arab intellectuals who advocated in favor of the Bush administration's policies.


Mark Moyar contributes an op-ed about revisionist scholarship on the history of the Vietnam War, closing with the admonition: "So, has Iraq become another Vietnam? For all the apparent similarities – and differences – it is much too early to tell. For all the books on the Iraq war, many critical facts are not yet known. As with Vietnam, it may take 40 years or more to uncover them. Most important, we do not yet know how Iraq will end."


USA Today's David Jackson interviews President Bush, who warms up some talking points for Tuesday's State of the Union address. No bombshells here; Bush insists that his Iraq plan will succeed, states his support for the Maliki government, and refuses to speculate on a withdrawal date for US forces.


No Iraq reporting today.


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