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Daily Column
Soldier suicides at record levels; McCain, Romney spar over Iraq; Mosul attack?
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/31/2008 01:50 AM ET
Today's papers are chock-a-block with news concerning Iraq, whether it's from the GOP debate, on the ground, in the towns across America or in the halls of the Pentagon, there's a little something for everyone. But the biggest shout-out today goes to the Washington Post which has three Iraq-themed articles on its front page, which include two major stories: the coming pause in troop cuts and the record level of soldier suicides.

Military strategy
The Post's Thomas E. Ricks reports in the paper's first fronter that senior commanders in Iraq will recommend that troop cuts be "paused" after five combat brigades go home at the end of the summer, "making it more likely that the next administration will inherit as many troops in Iraq as there were before President Bush announced a 'surge' of forces a year ago." The troop freeze would hit in July when force levels hit about 130,000. This sets up a fight between the Pentagon and the White House. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and military commanders in the E-Ring want to keep the troops coming home to rebuild the Army's bench. President George W. Bush and his top field commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, want the pause to assess the security situation in Iraq. The length of the pause is under debate, ranging from a month to three months, but even a month's delay would keep the level of troops at about 130,000 until Bush leaves office due to the time it takes for a brigade to withdraw. Officials in Baghdad stress that while violence is down, but the American public doesn't grasp how tenuous the situation is. "We say, 'Violence is down, but' -- and no one hears the 'but,' " said Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who oversees the training and equipping of the Iraqi army and police. "The war is not over." Other officials say al Qaeda in Iraq, Shi'ite militias and Iranian agents were "knocked off their stride" by how effective U.S. Special Operations forces targeted them, and 2008 likely will see some new tactics used to counter the Americans. (Like waiting them out?)

Jim Michaels of USA Today also has the story that Petraeus is resisting any further drawdown after July.

Gordon Lubold of the Christian Science Monitor reports that permanent U.S. bases are an unlikely result of the new agreement being hammered out between Washington and Baghdad. But the next administration, whether Democrat or Republican, will likely agree to having a substantial number of troops in Iraq for "at least some years." The question is whether Bush can avoiding bringing Congress into the mix. If the White House negotiates a plain old Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Congress can be cut out. But the agreement being discussed sounds more like a treaty, and the Constitution says the Senate must approve of any treaties. At any rate, most observers say permanent bases are a bad idea, as it would feed into the jihadi narrative that the U.S. continues to occupy Iraq. More likely is a force of 60,000 to 80,000 for five years and then a dramatic reduction. "Any presence like that over the long term, like a decade, is a bad idea," said Colin Kahl, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University in Washington. "That will inevitably feed the narrative the jihadi movement has about our goals in the region."

Over there
Meanwhile, in Iraq, Alissa J. Rubin of The New York Times reports that Iraqi troops are massing in Mosul while a Turkmen political group in Kirkuk threatened to take up arms if the kidnapping and killing of their people didn't stop. Also in Mosul a Koranic scholar was killed. The Turkmen Front, the main Turkmen political group called for establishing a Turkmen force to be part of the Iraqi Army that would protect Turkmen areas. In Salahuddin province, an IED killed two people in a car carrying Iraqi journalists as they drove to Samarra. The U.S. Army has started an investigation into the deaths of "several" Iraqis after U.S. soldiers had detained them.

Home front
Dana Priest writes the second fronter for the Post, reporting on the alarming phenomenon of increased suicides among soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She leads with the story of Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, who was in psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Whiteside, a model officer, was waiting for the Army to decide whether she would be court-martialed for endangering another soldier and turning a gun on herself last year in Iraq. She attempted to kill herself on Monday, swallowing dozens of pills. She was taken to the emergency room and is now stable. The charges against her have been dismissed. Priest writes that Whiteside is part of the alarming trend that suicides among active duty soldiers has reached their highest levels since the Army started keeping records in 1980. In 2007, 121 soldiers killed themselves, nearly 20 percent more than in 2006. The number of attempted suicides and self-inflicted injuries has jumped six-fold since the Iraq war began. Last year, about 2,100 soldiers attempted suicide or hurt themselves, she writes, compared with about 350 in 2002. These human tragedies are yet more examples of the psychological toll years of warfare are taking on the armed forces exacerbated by the lack of preparation by the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration as the wars have dragged on. Over the past year, four high-level commissions have recommended reforms in mental health care for soldiers, and Congress has approved millions of dollars to make those changes, but little seems to have been done. Even the historical trend of declining suicide rates when soldiers are in overseas conflict has reversed. The suicide rate was 9.8 per 100,000 in 2001, the lowest on record. In 2006, it was 17.5 per 100,000.

The Times' Benedict Carey reports on a new military study that finds that one in six combat troops returning from Iraq have suffered at least one concussion, an injury that could heighten the risk of developing PTSD. The study, in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that "soldiers who had concussions were more likely than those with other injuries to report a variety of physical and mental symptoms in their first months back home, including headaches, poor sleep and balance problems." They were also more likely to develop PTSD, which can exacerbate many of the other problems they're having.

Iraq Debate
In the third A1 Post story of the day, Michael D. Shear and Juliet Eilperin cover the GOP debate in California last night, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney going at each other over Iraq. It boils down to McCain accusing Romney of supporting a timetable for troop withdrawals. Romney denied the slander and challenged McCain to a dual to settle it. OK, not really, but he got mighty testy at the idea that someone might be twisting his words to use against him. Observers expressed shock that such tactics might be used in a political campaign. (Also not really.) Romney claimed he "never, ever" backed a timetable while McCain said, "Of course he supported a timetable."

What did Romney really say? Let's go to the tape, which is exactly what Michael Luo of the Times does. In a "Good Morning America" interview last spring, Romney said he believed that Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should have "a series of timetables and milestones" that they discuss among themselves but do not announce. Luo calls McCain's accusation misleading.

The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Holmes and Alex Frangos cover the debate as does Matt Kelley of USA Today. The Journal notes that McCain's successful shifting of the debate from the economy to Iraq mirrored his strategy in Florida, leading him to win the battleground state.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
A film about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, Errol Morris' "Standard Operating Procedure," will become the first documentary to enter the Berlin International Film Festival next month.

Daily Column
Another ambush in Mosul; Car bomb use down, suicide vest up; Parsing the Prez
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/30/2008 01:48 AM ET
Today's big news ain't from Iraq; it's from Florida. But that doesn't mean there still isn't a lot of coverage of the war. (The Washington Post kind of checks out, but The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal more than make up for the lack.) In fact, the Times dominates today's Iraq coverage with more news on the contracting front, a daily roundup and political analysis. Afya, guys.

Over there
But to start, it's the Monitor's Sam Dagher, who reports on incoming commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, who said that his strategy is to preserve the gains made in Iraq. He also warned of the challenges as America prepares, once again, to fight a war with fewer troops after the summer. Hammond wants to "push the envelope" and establish more U.S. combat outposts in Baghdad, cementing the gains already made and keeping insurgents from infiltrating the city again. "Baghdad could flare up again; nothing in Iraq is easy -- each day is a new challenge," he says.

In Mosul, another car bomb exploded near an American patrol, reports Richard A. Oppel Jr. of the Times, a day after an ambush and IED killed five American soldiers there. This time, there were no American casualties, but one Iraqi was killed and 15 others were wounded. There's little detail on Tuesday's attacks, so Oppel recounts the situation in Mosul from the last month. Monday's attack, increasing violence, buildings exploding and pledges by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to begin a "decisive" battle against militants in the north.

Charles Levinson of USA Today reports that U.S. military commanders are claiming al Qaeda in Iraq is "on the run" because it's no longer using as many car bombs and instead is relying on suicide vests (which, I might add, has been a more successful strategy for the group in terms of killing targeted individuals such as Awakening Council militia leaders.) The car bomb in Mosul was only the third such bomb this month, compared to 12 in December and 80+ in January 2007. But there's been a spike in the smaller attacks this month: 16 in January compared to 10 in December. This month has been the most active for "Person-Borne IED"s since March 2007. Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and author of the book "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," isn't so optimistic. "What the vest surrenders in terms of volume of explosives it gains in terms of being able to get proximity to the target," Pape said. "I don't think we can say this tactical shift suggests al Qaeda is on the verge of defeat."

Home front
The Times' James Glanz follows up yesterday's story on contractors with one looking at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Because of lax or nonexistent oversight, the Corps charged the federal government millions of dollars for projects that either failed or have fallen behind schedule. The Corps charged more than twice what an Air Force office also involved in Iraqi reconstruction. In all, both the Army and Air Force charged half a billion dollars to oversee the $10.3 billion in Iraqi reconstruction projects, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. Interestingly, the Corps hired American civilians to travel to Iraq while the Air Force program hired Middle Eastern engineers who were already in the region. Shockingly, the Air Force program was cheaper, and the program was quicker, more adaptable and more likely to produce functioning products, the SIGIR office said. So, using local labor and people who know the language and the way things are done in a region is a good idea? Who would have thought?

Glenn R. Simpson of the Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon is imposing new limits on contractors for its program to feed American troops around the world. At the center of the controversy, which led to the new rules, is the corruption investigation into the military's main food supplier for U.S. troops in Iraq, Kuwait-based Public Warehousing Co.

The Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Richard A. Oppel Jr. parse President George W. Bush's State of the Union and report, "Most of his assertions about the war were modest, in contrast to some of his more optimistic past remarks promising victory. He avoided any promise of a timetable for withdrawal and, if anything, appeared to be preparing the country for a long stay in Iraq." You don't say? He also painted a more optimistic portrait of Iraq that most of its citizens wouldn't recognize. "Reconciliation is taking place," he said, but the de-facto oil revenue distribution is a slow, fickle trickle -- like the water supply in Baghdad -- and the new de-Ba'athification law could do more harm than good. Large areas of the country are in the hands of Sunni militias -- oops, Concerned Local Citizens -- who are being paid not to attack U.S. troops. And real reconciliation between Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen is a long way off. Tip of the chapeau to Rubin and Oppel for calling out Bush's inability to distinguish between al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq. Finally, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the Third Infantry Division, estimates it would take about 96 hours for al Qaeda in Iraq to come back if his troops, stationed south of Baghdad, left.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Thom Shanker of the Times report that even with Bush's happy talk at the SotU, there are signs that the White House will not further reduce troop numbers after this summer. Bush got a standing O Monday night when he said 20,000 American troops would soon be coming home. What he didn't say was that they were coming home because their 15-month deployment was over and the Pentagon doesn't have fresh troops to replace them. They were going to come home regardless of the situation on the ground in Iraq and were always a temporary force. That's why it was called a "surge." But back to the story. Stolberg and Shanker say Bush will start preparing Americans for the possibility that "when he leaves office a year from now, the military presence in Iraq will be just as large as it was a year ago, or even slightly larger." Basically, whatever Gen. David H. Petraeus says goes, as far as the president is concerned. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, wants to cut troops to rebuild the health of the Army. Petraeus wants to win the war. Bush seems to have no interest in reconciling that tension.

Vietnam vets are taking Iraq vets under their wings and helping them readjust to civilian life and deal with PTSD, reports Jennifer Miller of the Monitor. Miller writes that veterans of one war have always helped veterans of another, but at no time has the bond been so deep as between those of Vietnam and Iraq.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

The New York Times
A Times editorial excoriates Bush for his signing statement attached to the military budget bill, saying he used the statement to ignore four important provisions of the bill he said impugned on his constitutional powers:

  • "A commission to determine how reliant the government is on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, how much waste, fraud and abuse has occurred and what has been done to hold accountable those who are responsible."
  • "A new law providing protection against reprisal to those who expose waste, fraud or abuse in wartime contracts."
  • The third measure "requires intelligence officials to respond to a request for documents from the Armed Services Committees of Congress within 45 days, either by producing the documents or explaining why they are being withheld."
  • Finally, the fourth rejected provision stated that none of the money authorized for military purposes may be used to establish permanent military bases in Iraq.
The rejection of these new laws passed by Congress is worrisome indeed.

Washington Post
David Ignatius, regular op-ed columnist, is in Baghdad and reports that two discussions -- the debate over the timetable for troop withdrawal and the U.S.-Iraq negotiations about the status of remaining troops -- is shaping Americas role in Iraq. The problem is that there is an awareness that U.S. strategy is finally working, but it doesn't fit the mood of the either country who want to see the troops out of Iraq yesterday.

USA Today
Matt Kelley reports that five years after the invasion of Iraq, allied countries have only ponied up 16 percent of what they promised for Iraq's reconstruction. The biggest shortfalls are from countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, who have spent 17.4 percent and 27 percent, respectively, of the $500 million each pledged. The U.S. has spent $29 billion and approved another $16.5 billion. Lawmakers in Washington are incensed, especially over the deadbeats in the Arab world. "They're charging $100 per barrel of oil, making record fortunes, lecturing everyone else, and then they stiff everybody, including their cousins who they contend to be so very concerned about," said Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., who heads the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East.

Daily Column
Northern city increasingly dangerous; Bush talks of war, taxes in SotU speech
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/29/2008 01:48 AM ET
President George W. Bush's State of the Union dominates the coverage today, focusing as it did on Iraq and taxes. But while Bush was touting the increased security in the country, insurgents ambushed an American convoy in Mosul and killed five soldiers.

Over there
Joshua Partlow and Ann Scott Tyson report for the Washington Post on the attack in Mosul. The soldiers' convoy was ambushed and an IED exploded. The attack raised the death toll of American military personnel in January to 36, greater than the 23 who died in December. A military spokeswoman said greater casualties are unavoidable as offensive operations increase. "That's what we're doing, we're pushing al-Qaeda and they're fighting us," said Maj. Peggy Kageleiry. Mosul is increasing in importance as a base of operation for jihadists, mainly because they're fleeing other areas where the U.S. has stepped up operations. Mosul is seeing about eight attacks a day, compared with much less violence in the rest of the country. Arab and Kurdish tensions are also on the rise there, and insurgents seem intent on exploiting those divisions. About 5,000 American troops and 40,000 Iraqi security forces are in Nineveh province, while Mosul itself has 18,200 Iraqi soldiers and cops.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. has the story for The New York Times, calling the ambush "the second devastating attack on United States forces this month." The Times provides a more detailed breakdown in stats for the violence -- 60 percent of American fatalities this year have been in the three Sunni Arab provinces north of Baghdad -- but adopts a similarly dry tone as the Post. (Neither reporter was in Mosul to provide first-hand scenes.) Oppel does get some more detail in. The gunmen who attacked the convoy were holed up in the Yarimjah Mosque in the southern end of the city, said Maj. Gary Dangerfield, a military spokesman. The attack occurred when American troops swept into Sumar, a neighborhood of Mosul, on Monday afternoon, conducting raids and engaging militants. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, a fire believed to be arson set the offices of the Iraq Central Bank ablaze early Monday, torching several floors and destroying documents that American officials said included contracts and records of financial transactions with overseas companies doing business with Iraq. Well, that's convenient. Iraqi authorities said the fire could be destabilizing to the Iraqi economy, but Americans were less worried. Authorities detained 18 people, including some bank employees. A blackened safe with its back torn out was found, suggesting a robbery was the motive for the fire.

State of the Union
Back in Washington, Bush said the state of the union is strong (more or less). Michael Abramowitz and Dan Eggen report on the speech for the Post, noting that Bush claimed vindication in his "surge" strategy and touted the security gains it has made. "Some may deny the surge is working," Bush said, "but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated." He emphasized that an accelerated drawdown after the summer was not in the offering, warning that doing so could jeopardize Iraq. He also announced new initiatives to help the families of veterans and active service members. One proposal was to give hiring preference in the federal government to military spouses, and allow the transfer of unused GI education benefits to spouses and children. Abramowitz and Eggen note that Bush's claims about Iraq are not without critics -- cough, cough, Democrats -- and add that even senior military commanders are concerned that the tactical progress has not been matched by gains in the political/strategic arena.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the Times has Bush's speech, giving the additional detail that Bush spent most of his time talking about Iraq. She notes that he "seemed to be preparing the country for a far longer-term stay in Iraq" when he warned against any more quick withdrawals, post-surge. Kudos to Stolberg who included Democrats' response, which was, as you might expect, not wholly complimentary.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
James Glanz turns to the subject of Iraq rebuilding and reports that American construction giant Parsons' failures in Iraq were more widespread than previously reported. Previous reports had "dozens" of shoddily constructed health care clinics and border forts, and disastrous sewage and plumbing problems at the Baghdad Police Academy. But a new report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction examined nearly 200 Parsons projects in 11 major "job orders" paid for by a huge construction contract. There were three other non-construction orders. Total cost to the U.S. taxpayer: $365 million. But the new report found 8 of the 11 major projects were terminated by the U.S. before completion because of weak contract oversight, unrealistic schedules, a failure to report problems in a timely fashion and poor supervision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Parsons' response was weak, along the lines of, "Well, we tried." A spokeswoman blamed security and bad Iraqi subcontractors for the shortfalls.

Washington Post
Tom Shales reviews "Baghdad Hospital: Inside the Red Zone," the new HBO documentary shot by Dr. Omer Salih Mahdi, a doctor in Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad who made the film under extremely dangerous circumstances. It shows, in graphic intimacy, that it's not only the bodies of the Iraqis brought in who are wounded, but also the soul of the Iraqi people.

USA Today, Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Economy will take center stage, not war; Entire family killed in Baghdad
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/28/2008 01:37 AM ET
An embarrassingly thin selection of news about Iraq today. In fact, there's almost none, and the little mention of Iraq is usually folded into stories about the State of the Union tonight.

Even in the speech, reports The New York Times's Sheryl Gay Stolberg, President George W. Bush will focus on the economy and limit Iraq's role to a reminder of "what is at risk."

Michael Abramowitz, of the Washington Post, finds a similar angle: that the president, who for years received no credit for a relatively strong economy, is now getting no credit for an improved Iraq. And that's his challenge. He is able to come into his final -- Abramowitz says "probably final"; does he know something we don't? -- State of Union speech able to talk of improved security for the first time in four years. But the public has moved on to the economy. Still, look for Bush to tout the progress of the last year and announce that he can turn an Iraq that is much more stable over to his successor. Bush will not announce any new troop cuts, aides say. He will leave that until he received recommendations from Gen. David H. Petraeus in the spring. He may, however, push back against the Pentagon, which is urging more troop cuts. "Bush wants to put Iraq 'on a sustainable basis' for the next president -- and will be careful about risking any recent security gains by leaving too few troops in place," writes Abramowitz.

Over there
It wasn't all presidential pontificating. Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Ahmad Fadam handle the Times' roundup. And it's not great. A band of attackers broke into the home of a senior Baghdad city official and shot and stabbed him and his entire family to death. A militia leader who had allied himself with the Americans was blown up by a bomb planted in his car, the latest of at least a half-dozen leaders who have been killed in the past month. Gunmen kidnapped five women employed by Baghdad University on Sunday. And the U.S. military disclosed the deaths of two soldiers in Baghdad, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Walter Pincus chews on the food budget for U.S. troops and officials in Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan. The bill comes to $1.6 billion a year. Check, please?

USA Today, Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Guam's young sign up in droves; A father's righteous fight; Iraq & GOP politics
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/27/2008 01:50 AM ET
With Sen. Barack Obama's big win in South Carolina, datelined stories out of Iraq take a breather. There's no news from the war today. But the home front is very active, with another installment of The New York Times's "War Torn" series and a Washington Post feature on Guamanian enlistees.

Home front
The Times' Deborah Sontag and Lizette Alvarez tackle part three of the "War Torn" series, looking at the problem of returning veterans who have killed. Often PTSD is involved, and this week looks at the number of cases that the mental trauma of a soldier is brought up on the witness stand. It's a defense that's sparking debate among prosecutors and judges, some of whom want to consider the mental trauma while others are leery of creating offenders with distinct privileges. Aggressive defense attorneys are pushing the PTSD defense.

Clark Hoyt, the Times' public editor, also looks at the "War Torn" series, and finds a few "missteps." He accuses the first story of using "colorfully inflated language" to deal with a problem the Pentagon acknowledges and for a trend the paper could not reliably quantify. Nor did the article make clear what the focus was. Killer vets or human tragedies? The reporters' statistics on the homicide rate of returning veterans of the last six years are higher than those of the previous six years, but the reporters also invited comparison when they noted that homicide rates across the country were falling. His final verdict? "Questionable statistics muddy the message," and sometimes turning anecdotes into data harms more than it helps.

Blaine Harden of the Post reports that Guam, the only U.S. territory to suffer extensive occupation, has a surfeit of riches when it comes to recruits for the military. Guam and other Pacific Island territories provide a higher per-capita share of recruits than any other part of the United States. On the mainland, where they're accepting recruits with criminal records, they're turning away find kids because they don't have enough doctors to do the physicals.

Kevin Coyne of the Times reports on Bill McGinnis, father of Sgt. Brian D. McGinnis, a Marine who was killed on March 30, 2003, the 11th day of the war. For the last five years, he's been waging a fight to help families stay in touch with their sons and daughters serving in Iraq, and now to benefit Veterans Haven, a home for homeless veterans in Camden County, N.J. He also wants to get a federal program going where taxpayers could check a box on their returns to donate to a fund for veterans.

Political battles
Michael D. Shear and Juliet Eilperin report for the Post that in Florida Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are arguing over Iraq, and whether Romney once supported an early troop withdrawal. McCain said he wanted one, Romney says that's a damn, dirty lie.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Michelle Singletary warns against schemes to invest in Iraqi dinars.

USA Today, Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal
No Sunday editions.

Daily Column
Maliki promises new offensive in Mosul; Brit Army clears in abuse investigation
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/26/2008 01:35 AM ET
Features on MIAs in Iraq and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's promise to finish Al Qaeda in Iraq dominate the news today. But Kimberly Kagan gets in the usual bellicose op-ed on the -- where else? -- WSJ op-ed page.

Speaking of the Wall Street Journal, Gina Chon of the Journal has a heart-wrenching front-pager today on the families of the four soldiers categorized as "missing-captured" in Iraq. Their numbers are tiny compared to previous wars -- in Vietnam, some 2,600 soldiers were listed as missing or POWs -- but their agony is real. Perhaps the most well known is Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Matthew Maupin, who was captured in April 2004, when Iraq saw the dual uprisings of Fallujah and Moqtada al-Sadr. Another is Army Reserve Sgt. Ahmed Altaie of Ann Arbor, Mich. While the Maupins have conducted extensive campaigns to raise awareness, the Altaies are more private. Iraqis who fled to the U.S. in 1993, their son joined the reserve to help his adopted country and his native one. He worked as a translator for a military reconstruction team, but was captured in October 2006 when he left the Green Zone to visit his wife, a local Iraqi woman. The Altaies have found little sympathy among Arabs, they say, and have kept a low profile to avoid angering Ahmed's captors. While the story is good and tugs at the heartstrings, Chon's story is incomplete. Two other soldiers are missing, Army Sgt. Alex Jimenez and Army Pvt. First Class Byron Fouty, both of the 10th Mountain Division. They were captured together in May 2007.

Over there
Back in Iraq, Stephen Farrell and Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times report that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would send more troops to Mosul in the wake of two bombings that killed almost 40 people. The provincial police chief was also killed in one of them. The two Times reporters note that by promising to drive al Qaeda in Iraq from the country's third-largest city, Maliki has set a test for the Iraqi security forces. "We have defeated Al Qaeda, and there is only Nineveh and Kirkuk left where the terrorists have fled to," Mr. Maliki said in the southern city of Karbala. "Today the forces started to move to Mosul, and the battle will be final." But Mosul isn't going to be easy. Nineveh is the only province where violence has gone up in the last year, thanks to militants fleeing there. There are also a small number of American troops there, only about 1,000. But the Iraqis are on the move. Before the bombing, a battalion of the Iraqi Second Division (about 700 soldiers) was moved up there and a second battalion will arrive in the next several weeks. Maj. Gen. Riyadh Jala has taken command of the Nineveh Operational Command. Two more Iraqi battalions will go to the western end of the province in the next month, and Iraqi national police and special operations forces in Baghdad will move up north. About 3,000 cops are being moved there, too, but it's not known when they'll arrive. So far, no additional troops have arrived, according to Brig. Karim Khalaf al-Jabouri, a commander of police operations in Mosul.

Joshua Partlow files a less detailed report for the Washington Post on Maliki's promise, but adds that parliamentarians and other officials from Nineveh and Mosul are ready for some relief. "We have repeatedly demanded that he increase the number of troops in this city. We asked him that before the winter, but the government did not respond," said Mahama al-Shangali, a parliament member from Nineveh province. "They never respond."

IN OTHER COVERAGE

The New York Times
John F. Burns of the Times reports that the British Army, after an investigation, found that there was no systematic abuse of Iraqi prisoners in southern Iraq, but that in some individual instances, "people behaved disgracefully." Echoing Abu Ghraib, the three-year-long investigation said the abuse suffered was at the hands of individual soldiers and there was no failure of responsibility at the higher levels of command. Human rights groups and the lawyers representing detainees quickly denounced the study.

Wall Street Journal
Oy. The Journal's op-ed page runs yet another "Don't end the surge!" piece by Kimberly Kagan, affiliate of Harvard's John M. Olin Institute of Strategic Studies, president of the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, and wife of the surge's main architect. Why doesn't the Journal clue readers in that the writer has a personal connection to boosting the surge? Anyway, not only does she advocate keeping the post-surge drawdown in July 2008 to the five combat brigades already mentioned, she questions whether even that withdrawal is wise. Yet never does she address the strain her and her husband's strategy has placed on the Army. Logistically, the surge just can't be sustained. Bear in mind she has a personal stake in seeing the surge continue.

USA Today and Christian Science Monitor
No weekend editions.

Daily Column
Small-town America bearing brunt of war deaths; US wants wide rights in Iraq
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/25/2008 01:44 AM ET
The killing of Brig. Gen. Saleh Muhammad Hassan al-Jubouri, Ninevah provincial police chief, in Mosul yesterday dominates the datelined news out of Iraq. But both the Washington Post and The New York Times also have stories out of Washington dealing with contractor management and rights for the U.S. in Iraq.

Murder in the north The Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher returns to Iraq after a break to the grim news of al-Jubouri's death. He was killed by a suicide bomber while touring the site of that bomb factory that exploded Wednesday in an attack that killed two other Iraqi policemen and wounded a U.S. and Iraqi soldier. It should be obvious now that the tactics of al Qaeda in Iraq, who is suspected in the attacks, have shifted from mass bombings to targeted assassinations -- and they seem to be even better at penetrating defenses. Dagher gives good detail on the Wednesday bombing of the building in this piece and excellent context on the situation in the north, but he's a little short on details of the attack that killed al-Jubouri.

Solomon Moore has the story for the Times, and has some good details from the scene of al-Jubouri's murder. Rescuers were still digging corpses out of the rubble from Wednesday's blast when al-Jubouri showed up. An Angry crowd quickly gathered and began throwing stones at the chief. He and his bodyguards began to withdraw and in the confusion, the bomber got close to his truck and detonated. Moore says six civilians were wounded, including an Iraqi journalist. The police chief in Tal Afar said the attack was well organized. "After the insurgents booby-trapped the building the day before, the Iraqi Army knew that someone important would come into the area," he said. Is he suggesting someone in the Iraqi Army tipped them off? There are conflicting reports that the bomber wore a police uniform. Elsewhere, a top aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was wounded when an IED exploded near his convoy in Karbala. Sheikh Abdul Medhi al-Karbilai is the chief cleric at the Imam Hussein, one of the most important shrines for Shi'ites. Another bomb exploded near a police convoy in Baghdad, killing two officers and wounding three other people. Police in Baqoubah discovered a body.

Rounding out the roundups, Amit R. Paley of the Post reports on the killing of al-Jubouri. He also has the highest death toll from Wednesday's building blast: 38, making it the deadliest attack since mid-December. He notes that with the combined attacks, Mosul has once again become an important hub for al Qaeda in Iraq. Both American and Iraqi officials say that Nineveh is where all the al Qaeda in Iraq fighters are fleeing to, and that's the only province where attacks are rising. Paley also has an intriguing bit of information. Residents in Mosul accuse the Iraqi Army of setting of Wednesday's building blast because they improperly destroyed a weapons cache that was in the building. That's the reason for the angry mobs that met al-Jubouri.

Home front
USA Today's Rick Hampson reports on the agony of a small town in Maine that has lost two of its own to Iraq, as many as it lost in all of World War II. In just five months, Lee, Main, pop. 850, lost two young men who lived a mile apart. They both died from roadside bombs and both had had their tours extended. "It feels like we're being picked on, and we don't know why," says Gail Rae, the Red Cross volunteer. Joel House used to mow her lawn. "It was a punch in the stomach," says Kendra Ritchie, the guidance counselor. She played the piano at both funerals. According to USA Today's investigation, Lee is the smallest town to suffer more than one death from the Iraq war. It's the smallest of four communities with populations under 1,000 to have lost two people. A score of cities with more than 100,000 people have lost no one, indicating small town American is withstanding the worst of the war. It's a story about demographics, heartache and social patterns. Well worth a read.

Political battles
Thom Shanker and Steven Lee Meyers have a front page scoop of sorts for the Times, reporting details of what the U.S. is asking for as the U.N. mandate allowing its military presence runs out at the end of 2008. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. is asking the Iraqis for an arrangement that doesn't look that different from what it has now: wide authority to conduct combat operations and legal protection for civilian contractors. These demands, unsurprisingly, will be met with fierce opposition in Iraq's parliament, not to mention Democrats at home. The military-to-military agreement also includes demands that U.S. troops be immune from Iraqi prosecution -- a fairly standard arrangement around the world -- and that they maintain the authority to detain Iraqi prisoners. It's the contractor immunity that's the contentious part. No other country grants protection to American contractors working with the U.S. military. Also look for the Americans to push for the authority to conduct unilateral military actions instead of asking for Iraqi permission. Democrats say these negotiations will lock the U.S. into a long-term military obligation to Iraq, but the White House says, don't worry: there's no long-term agreement here. Why, it's not even asking for permanent bases, nor offering a security guarantee. An agreement like that would be a treaty, requiring Senate approval (pesky Constitution!) and the White House can't get the 2/3rds majority needed for that. Shanker and Meyers point out the differing circumstances surrounding these talks:

While the United States currently has military agreements with more than 80 countries around the world, including Japan, Germany, South Korea and a number of Iraq's neighbors, none of those countries are at war. And none has a population outraged over civilian deaths at the hands of armed American security contractors who are not answerable to Iraqi law.

The Post's Walter Pincus writes that lower officials with the Pentagon testified before Congress that the Bush Administration is not prepared to manage the squajillion contractors it has in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Actually, it's about 196,000. That's more than the number of combat troops.) Contractors "have become part of our total force, a concept that DoD must manage on an integrated basis with our military forces," said Jack Bell, deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness. "Frankly," he continued, "we were not adequately prepared to address" what he termed "this unprecedented scale of our dependence on contractors." Stuart W. Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, and William M. Solis, director of defense capabilities and management for the Government Accountability Office said there weren't enough trained service personnel available to handle the outsourcing to contractors.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Wall Street Journal
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Attacks up against mainly Sunni force; Mosul explosion kills at least 14
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/24/2008 01:44 AM ET
The New York Times knocks its lead story out of the park today, a long look at the fragility and pressures on the Awakening Councils that are the linchpins of the American strategy in Iraq these days.

Over there
It looks like jihadists have discovered the "fragile linchpin" in the U.S.'s strategy in Iraq: the Awakening councils. Solomon Moore and Richard A. Oppel Jr. of the Times report for the papers lead story that at least 100 prominent Sunni militiamen have been killed in the last month, mostly around Baghdad and Baqoubah. Since it started two years ago, the Awakening movement has grown to be an 80,000-man force, 80 percent of it Sunni. But the recent violence is raising the prospect of the groups' dispersal, with many rejoining the insurgency. American and Iraqi officials blame Al Qaeda in Iraq, and note the spike in attacks after a Dec. 29 audio recording from Osama bin Laden called the volunteers "traitors" and "infidels." The Mahdi Army and Badr Organization are carrying out some of the attacks out, though, according to both Sunni and Shi'ite officials. Iran may also have a hand in the bloodshed, American officials say, with its al Quds force directing the two Shi'ite militias. This has led Awakening members themselves to see the Shi'ite militias as the main threat, not al Qaeda. The killings are mounting as the groups are becoming more frustrated with the Shi'ite-dominated central government. It has yet to fulfill its promise to put 20 percent of the volunteers into the ministries of the Interior and Defense and give non-security jobs to the rest. Combined with the attacks, there is fear the Awakening movement could fall apart. This is a must-read.

Alissa J. Rubin of the Times handles the daily roundup. In Mosul, a building used to store ammunition by insurgents blew up in a crowded neighborhood, killing at least 14 people and wounding 134. The building was a bomb factory used by insurgents. As police approached it, it exploded. Mosul is apparently heating up again. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accepted an invitation to visit Iraq, but no date has been set. It would be the first visit by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. A suicide car bomber struck in Kirkuk, killing seven people and wounding 14. And in Baghdad, gunmen killed three Iraqi Army soldiers and wounded two civilians in a drive-by shooting. Three unidentified bodies were found in the capital.

The Washington Post's Joshua Partlow has the story of the Mosul explosion. Partlow does a nice job of putting Mosul and Nineveh province into the context of the overall violence in Iraq (it's still high up there) as well as placing it in the big Operation Iron Harvest that's still going on. Elsewhere, two academics were fatally shot, one in Baghdad and one in Mosul.

USA Today's Charles Levinson writes that Fallujah is no longer the dangerous city it once was, but it's still lacking in basic services. And the lack of water, power and jobs could send the city back into bloodshed, city officials warn. (Of course, they could just be trash-talking the situation to speed things up or get more money.) "The government in Baghdad always said they couldn't help because Fallujah was too dangerous and too filled with terrorists," says Hamed Ahmed, an influential tribal sheik. "Now Fallujah is more secure than Baghdad -- and still there is no help." Levinson does a good job describing the situation -- the city gets only four hours of electricity a day, little running water and no sewage treatment -- but he doesn't really get at the possibility of it really backsliding.

Political battles Michael Abramowitz of the Post reports that Democrats, including the presidential candidates, have attacked the White House's plans to forge a long-term security agreement with Iraq. They complain that President George W. Bush is trying to lock the next president into a lasting U.S. military presence there. Well, yes. Yes he is. The White House is trying to secure what amounts to a Status of Forces Agreement, which would govern the legal status of U.S. troops in Iraq. The larger agreement between the two governments, however, provides for "security assurances and commitments" to deter foreign aggression. That sounds like troops will be there, well, forever. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said Bush is trying "to bind the United States government and his successor to his failed policy."

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Walter Pincus reports that Reps. Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla. and John D. Dingell, D-Mich., asked Bush to add $1.5 billion to his spending next year on the Iraq war to help pay for several Iraqi refugee programs.

Daily Column
Baghdad's latest flag flap; Fear and resolve in town; Army off recruiting target
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/23/2008 01:53 AM ET
Today's easy story is the new Iraqi flag. Both The New York Times and the Washington Post cover it, but the Post also fronts a story on the impact of the new de-Ba'athification law, an important issue that hasn't been mined deeply enough until today.

Over there
The Post's Amit R. Paley and Joshua Partlow take a long-needed front-page look at the new de-Ba'thification law and finds a lot of confusion. There are fears that it will be used to purge even more Ba'athists now working for government, usually with a wink and a nod, rather than promote political reconciliation.

U.S. officials and even legislators who voted for the measure ... acknowledge that its impact is hard to assess from its text and will depend on how it is implemented. Some say the law's primary aim is not to return ex-Ba’athists to work, but to recognize and compensate those harmed by the party. Of the law's eight stated justifications, none mentions reinstating ex-Ba’athists to their jobs.

"The law is about as clear as mud," said one U.S. senior diplomat.

Compounding the confusion is Ahmad Chalabi's de-Ba'athification committee, which was in charge of the previous process and which compiled the statistics. In an interview with Chalabi, the former deputy prime minister said the new law was much harsher than his commission and would drive out former Ba'athists his commission had allowed to return to government. Some former Ba'athist bureaucrats say the law is bait to get them to return home and claim pensions. Once back in Iraq, they will be killed. Tied up in this is Sunni-Shi'ite politics. Under Chalabi's commission, Sunni lawmakers said only Shi'ite Ba'athists were given leniency, and Western diplomats agreed. Chalabi said his commission applied the law equally. Still, thanks to the commission, at least 7,000 former Ba'athists now work in ministries the new law would ban them from. It's the implementation of that law that's troubling. It calls for a new seven-member commission to be named by the Iraqi cabinet and confirmed by parliament. "Will they name people who are liberal and nonpartisan, or is it going to be perceived as in the control of the people who have an agenda to purge Sunni Arab influence?" said a senior U.S. official. "That's the first thing people will look at." It's about time someone dug into this issue. Kudos, guys.

Abeer Mohammed and Solomon Moore of the Times report on the new Iraqi flag, a handsome tri-color that strips the three stars of Ba'athism from the banner. But will that flag fly in Kurdistan? Well, that was the point of the redesign, which is temporary, as the Kurdistan Regional Government refused to fly the old Iraqi flag over its territory. That set up an awkward situation as an international conference for members of Arab parliaments is set to convene up there in the coming weeks and it would have been weird not to have an Iraqi flag in sight. So this was the compromise. The Kurds originally wanted the "Allahu akbar" to be in yellow, but in a rare bit of pragmatism, everyone agrees that was too hard to read against the white background, so it's a dark green. Lovely. And it's way better than the first Iraqi flag design intro'ed in 2004, which looked like some politician's relative had whipped it up in Adobe Photoshop, which is exactly what happened. It was white, blue and yellow and looked a lot like the Israeli flag. Needless to say, that didn't fly. Ever. Anyway, reaction sounds predictably sectarian. Sunnis interviewed like the old flag. Shi'ites and Kurds like the new one. And in one of the most jarring segue, Mohammed and Moore shift from debates about the flag to reports of violence. In Diyala province, Iraqi police found the bodies of a family. A water boiler packed with explosives exploded near a high school, killing three people and wounding 12 students. Separately, a gunman killed a civilian near a medical clinic. The bodies of two Iraqis were found outside Hilla in the south, and in Basra gunmen killed an Iraqi policeman.

Joshua Partlow reports on the flag flap for the Post , playing up the sectarian distrust in parliament. Quite contrary to the gentlemanly disagreements in the Times' piece, Partlow quotes Sunni lawmakers charging an "organized conspiracy" to change the flag. Well, yeah. That's how lawmaking works. Anyway, Partlow mentions that, sure, Sunni lawmakers opposed the change, but he drops the bomblet that Shi'ite followers of Moqtada al-Sadr also opposed the change. Huh? Turns out they're worried that people will get confused by the multiple flags and that it will encourage other regions to fly their own flags. That makes sense. Sadrists have been opposed to loose federalism championed by the their rivals in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council for a long time.

Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor writes a story of grit and hope triumphing over adversity. The small village of Dulim finally sided with the Americans after two years of being in the grip of al Qaeda in Iraq militants, illustrating that while AQI is losing ground in Iraq, it's still a long, hard slog. Sheikh Thamir Hassan Ali begged the Americans to help him set up a local militia to battle the jihadis, but the townspeople were opposed, saying it would only lead to bloodshed. "If anyone registers for CLCs, (Al Qaeda in Iraq) will put them in the road and kill them," lamented one man, standing outside the school where villagers were supposed to sign up for the civilian militia. He received SMS warnings of al Qaeda in Iraq's brutality to other towns that stood up to them. Such fear meant the Americans needed to extend their three-day stay in Dulim. An Iraqi unit also stayed on, reassuring townspeople that they would not be abandoned. Finally, thanks to the extended American presence, the imam of the town agreed that the CLC group should be formed and 60 men joined. Al Qaeda in Iraq has not responded so far.

Home front
Bloggers, start your engines. John H. Cushman Jr. of the Times writes of a new web site created by the Center for Public Integrity that assembles a comprehensive database of top officials' statements leading up to the Iraq war. The site allows simple searches of phrases, such as "yellowcake" or "mushroom cloud," made by President George W. Bush and his officials in the two years after 9/11. The site is called "The War Card."

The Post's Josh White reports that the percentage of new Army recruits with a high school diploma dropped to a new low in 2007, and Army recruiters admitted they have dropped their standards to meet recruiting goals in the middle of two wars. Just more than 70 percent of recruits had a high school diploma, 20 points off the Army's goal of at least 90 percent. The number of "high quality" recruits, those with a diploma and high scores on the military's qualification tests, also dropped 15 percent from 2004 to 2007. Combining ZIP code data shows that lower- and middle-income families are supplying far more recruits than families with incomes more than $60,000 a year.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
January beats December for U.S. deaths; MRAP destroyed; Iraqis kept out of USA
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/22/2008 01:26 AM ET
With the news of yet another suicide bombing, covered by the Washington Post and The New York Times, the news out of Iraq is starting to sound like it's 2006 all over again.

Over there
Alissa J. Rubin of the Times starts off the coverage with the story of the bombing in Salahuddin province that killed 17. In Hajaj near Baiji, the bomber entered a communal hall where a feast commemorating the end of the seven-day mourning period for the uncle of a high=ranking security official was underway. The bomber detonated himself, killing 17 and wounding 11. And rage and blood feuds were on full display in Anbar province, too, where local tribesmen burned down the house of a teenage suicide bomber and prevented a female cousin from collecting his head for burial. "After this crime, we will never allow any of those people to stay in our area," said Mohammed Hadi Hassan, 20, whose father was killed. "Not even their women and children. We will not permit anyone with such an ideology to stay in our village." The U.S. military announced the deaths of two troops killed in combat on Saturday -- a Marine in Anbar province and a soldier in Arab Jabour. Seven unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad and two in Mosul. Two civilians were killed near Samarra by an IED.

Joshua Partlow has some more details on the story on the northern bombing for the Post, and once again it appears people knew the bomber. That's how he was able to infiltrate the funeral hall, explode and kill 17 people. Echoing the White House's line, the deputy governor of Salahuddin province says the attacks show how weak al Qaeda in Iraq is. "These are revenge operations against innocent people." In Mosul, to the north, a car bomb blew up in a market, killing two people and wounding nine. And Partlow notes a grim statistic. With the deaths of the two American troops, January's death toll is 25, more than the 23 of December, ending a string of months that say consistent declines in deaths among Americans.

The Times' Stephen Farrell takes a closer look at the attack in Arab Jabour that killed an American soldier. He writes that the bare details are, sadly, routine: An IED had left a gunner dead and three teammates wounded. But this was an MRAP (Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected) vehicles that was involved, making this the first fatality from an attack against one. The MRAPs had won praise among commanders and Marines in Anbar province for surviving attack after attack without serious injury to the troops inside. This bomb, however, destroyed the vehicle, which is specifically designed to withstand IED attacks. Forensic investigators are poring over the wreckage to determine if there's a design flaw. The wounded guys suffered only broken feet and lacerations, but the gunner was killed. It's unclear if he was killed by the blast or by the vehicle rolling over on him. One captain on the scene said the bomb was big enough to take out a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Washington doings
Ann Scott Tyson and Thomas E. Ricks of the Post play catch-up with the Times, writing on the speculation surrounding Gen. David H. Petraeus's next job. Petraeus is being considered to head NATO after his tour is up in Iraq, and successor could be either Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who leads secretive U.S. Special Operations units working in Iraq, or Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who was the No. 2 commander in Iraq in 2005 and is now Defense Secretary Robert Gates' senior military assistant. There's nothing new in today's story the Times didn't have yesterday.

The Post's Walter Pincus writes that the U.S. program to provide asylum for Iraqi interpreters who had worked with American troops is falling short, despite the killing of more than 250 Iraqis who are eligible. The U.S. has only allowed 50 slots in 2006, before raising the number to 500 for 2007 and 2008. An amendment to the 2008 defense authorization bill would raise the limit to 5,000 over the next five years, but so far, only 429 Iraqis and 71 Afghans -- along with 482 family members -- through September of last year. That's the entirety of Iraqis who have been admitted as refugees. An additional 43 special visas for translators were issued in October and November. But countries such as Denmark have already settled their translators and their families following the completion of their mission in Iraq. So far, 228 Iraqis and their families have been granted asylum in Denmark, and the rest should be approved this month. (And how many is that? Pincus doesn't say.) The U.S. has a lot more interpreters to settle, so the big question is how many people should the U.S. be taking in? The Los Angeles Times reports that more than 7,000 interpreters have worked for U.S. forces since the start of the war. This is a moral issue that is being lost in the shuffle. Bring the people out of danger. Now.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Peter Carlson reviews war essays in the latest issue of Virginia Quarterly Review, particularly praising David J. Morris, a former Marine and now a journalist who went back to Ramadi to find a peaceful city. The Marines there now are a little freaked out by the peace and quiet. Grateful, no doubt, but wistful for the intensity of the past. "You'd meet guys all the time who after a few weeks of the newfound rest and no-action of Ramadi 2007 wanted a taste of the old horror and doom again, the mingling of dread and danger that made them somebody different, part of something big, not just some schlub from the boroughs. They may not have believed in the war, but they believed in Ramadi. This was where they left their youth behind."

USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Milblogger Yon in the news; Petraeus Brussels bround?; Youngest suicide bomber
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/21/2008 01:43 AM ET
Hefty day for Iraq news today, with a good selection of coverage to choose from. The Washington Post fronts a piece on the foreign contingent of the Iraqi insurgency written off the Sinjar papers found last year, while The New York Times does a great job adding detail on a suicide bombing yesterday. The Grey Lady also profiles milblogger Michael Yon and scoops everyone by reporting on Gen. David H. Petraeus's possible next assignment. Spoiler alert: He may be Brussels bound.

Over there
Karen De Young of the Post files a fronter on the Sinjar papers, a cache of documents captured in a U.S. raid last year that presented troops with a treasure trove of information on foreign fighters. (And if you read IraqSlogger, you had access to the full report in December.) De Young's story is a fine one, summarizing the West Point report well, but readers will know much of the details if they've been following Iraq news closely. In short, the papers have led the U.S. military to reassess its thoughts on the foreign element of the Iraqi insurgency, focusing more on North Africa than previously. In one surprise, Libya and Saudi Arabia, both ostensibly U.S. allies in the War on Terror, provided the lion's share of foreign fighters entering Iraq (19 percent and 40 percent, respectively.) What's most revealing is the bureaucratic organization of al Qaeda in Iraq. "I think we made a mistake in assuming that al-Qaeda, because it's a terrorist organization, doesn't need to organize itself the way other large organizations do," said Brian Fishman, an associate at the West Point center and co-author of its Sinjar analysis. "They have a human resources problem; they have to manage people." Totally missing a chance to talk about he banality of evil, the report talks about vacation days and ranked salaries for fighters as well as when vacation requests should be submitted. "Osama bin Laden was a businessman before he was a terrorist," Fishman said. Also of interest is the sheer entrepreneurialism of Syria. Rather than fellow travelers, the Syrians seemed ready to make a buck off the wanna-be jihadis, often demanding exactly the amount of money in pocket from them.

Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today reports that the number of roadside bombs spiked in the first two weeks of January, reaching the highest levels since the fall. That amounts to more than 300 IEDs a week that were exploded or found by U.S. troops. That's less than half of late June 2007, but indicates the insurgency is not out of the game yet. He then indulges his obsession with MRAP vehicles and the logistics of delivery.

The Post's Amit R. Paley reports on a disturbing story: a 13-year-old boy blew himself up on Sunday in Anbar province among a group of tribal leaders allied with the U.S. The attack in Fallujah killed three people and wounded eight. The attacker was the youngest suicide bomber since the 2003 invasion, and a son of one of the five most-wanted al Qaeda in Iraq leaders. In Kirkuk, gunmen opened fire on a checkpoint manned by U.S. supporting tribesmen, killing one and wounding three others. An investigation has been launched in Najaf into the weekend's violence between Iraqi forces and the Soldiers of Heaven cult.

The Times' Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Qais Mizher have the story of the teenage bomber, reporting that he was holding a box of candy when he set off his explosive belt. The second half the story is rich in detail on the victims and the politics of the bombing. They also note it's the second major bomb attack in two days in Anbar, possibly signaling an increased offensive against the Awakening Councils there. At the same time, American officials said they had killed 2,400 members of al Qaeda in Iraq and captured 8,800 more last year. Kudos to Oppel and Mizher for casting a skeptical eye on these numbers. They note that critics charge the U.S. of overstating the membership of AQI, dumping every Sunni insurgent into its "al Qaeda" box. But the various numbers tossed around illustrate the difficulty in estimating the size of the insurgency.

Richard Pérez-Peña of the Times profiles Michael Yon, prolific milblogger who has spent more time embedded than any other journalist. It's a good piece, getting at the inherit contradictions between journalism and blogging and how difficult it is to walk that fine line. Yon has always been a bit of booster of the war and especially the U.S. military, but he's not afraid to criticize, a rarity among many of the milbloggers out there.

Washington doings
Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt have a Times front-pager on Petraeus' possible next assignment: top NATO commander. He deserves the post, a senior Pentagon official said; it's highly prestigious. "But there have been no final decisions and nothing on the timing." President George W. Bush, however, is likely to want to keep the general in Iraq as long as possible. Talk about no good deed going unpunished. If he is tapped to head the Atlantic organization, two candidates could replace him: Lt. Gen Stanley A. McChrystal, chief of the Special Operations activities in Iraq, and Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, a former No. 2 in Iraq and now Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates senior military assistant. As NATO chief, Petraeus would be in charge of shaping the Alliance's new identity, taking on Russia and overseeing the alliance's mission in Afghanistan. It would also position him as a candidate for chairman of the Joint Chiefs in a few years. Experts say his departure could jeopardize the situation in Iraq, since the current No. 2, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, is set to depart in mid-February, so there's hope Petraeus would stay through the end of this year.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
The War comes to the campaign; Scenes from a Baghdad Marriage; War Torn Vets
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/20/2008 01:49 AM ET
The Nevada and South Carolina primaries may have dominated the news cycle, but that doesn't mean The New York Times and the Washington Post didn't serve up a decent helping of interesting Iraq coverage today. In addition to competing op-eds in the Post, the Times continues its "War Torn" coverage on troubled vets and also offers an intimate portrait of a marriage in Baghdad in the paper's house.

Over there
But first, the Times' Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Qais Mizher report on the violence on the day of Ashoura, one of Shi'ism's most sacred days. A rocket attack and several bombings killed at least 15 people across central and northern Iraq, but the celebrations in Karbala and other parts in the Shi'ite south were relatively peaceful. Heavy security kept the more than two million pilgrims safe. Still, there was sporadic violence in Basra and Nassiryah, where on Friday Iraqi security forces battled the Soldiers of Heaven, a heavily armed millennial doomsday cult. Significantly, it was in allegedly pacified cities -- Tal Afar, Ramadi and Fallujah -- where most of the yesterday's violence raged. A rocket attack in Tal Afar killed seven and wounded 20; three suicide car bombs attacked a police station in Ramadi, killing five policemen and wounding seven; and a suicide attack occurred in Fallujah. Elsewhere, two Shi'ites were killed in Kirkuk while a car bomb exploded in Sadr City, killing one and wounding 13.

Amit R. Paley has the story for the Post, reporting at least nine people killed in violence around the country. The fight against the Soldiers of Heaven was much fiercer than originally thought, Paley writes. The death toll jumped to 72, according to an Iraqi Interior Ministry official.

And the Times' Damien Cave reports what it's like to be married in Baghdad -- specifically being a Times' reporter married to another Times' journalist in Baghdad. Damien is a reporter and Diana is a videographer. (She's responsible for much of the very good video the times often posts.) He writes of the fear and desperation that comes from being in the thick of doing one's job while trying to help your spouse. And wanting to keep your marriage out of the job, especially while embedded with soldiers. They discovered it's harder to see your spouse in danger than to feel it yourself, and that it's easy to grow apart even in the same room because of the intensity of the work. It's an intimate portrait of the difficulties of loving and working in war.

Home front
Deborah Sontag continues the Times' "War Torn" series on psychologically wounded vets who go on to commit murder when back home. She looks at the tragic case of Lance Cpl. Walter Rollo Smith, a clean-cut Mormon boy who came back from Iraq a drinker, a smoker and unsure of the belief in God. He fell apart psychologically because of PTSD, and the Marines discharged him for medical reasons. Finally, in March 2006, he killed Nicole Marie Speirs, the 22-year-old mother of his twin children, drowning her in the bathtub. There was no apparent provocation or reason. What's notable about this is that prosecutors say there was "no intent" and that he "snapped" one day. Because of his medical discharge, and concern over the car he received from the Veterans Affairs hospital, prosecutors were reluctant to bring his case before a jury. His trauma started in the invasion in 2003, and he described the battle of April 8, 2003, when his unit was pushing into Baghdad. Iraqi fighters commandeered civilians and their cars forcing them to drive right into the Marines' positions, forcing the leathernecks to take out every single vehicle. "We were opening fire on civilians," Mr. Smith said. "We were taking out women and children because it was them or us." His buddies in the unit were furious that he was discharged so quickly, as they would have been his anchors in getting treatment, they said. "He was a mentally injured person because of his service to this country," said Christopher Nibley, a fellow reservist from Utah. "He should not have been kicked out to go off on his own and deal with it all outside." Another part of the series that should be a must-read for everyone.

Michael Gordon pens another personal account of his coverage of the war for the Times, throwing in his time on the campaign trail. He found that candidates and generals often seemed not to be talking about the same war. The generals acknowledge the slog ahead and that it might not work. The candidates, Gordon writes, "seemed more intent on addressing public impatience with an open-ended commitment in Iraq, either by promising prompt withdrawal (the Democrats) or by suggesting that victory may be near (the Republicans)." Andrew Krepinevich, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments says it's the paradox of America's involvement in Iraq: Counterinsurgency success depends on convincing the Iraqis that the U.S. has staying power while the voters see success as pulling out. This piece is a detailed look at the major candidates' positions on the war, and the generals' befuddlement at them. "The one thing that befuddles is I have not heard any candidate describe what their short and long term goals are for Iraq, how it fits into their regional goals for the Middle East and transnational terrorism," said an American officer. "Is their goal just to withdraw troops as fast as possible?"

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Elizabeth Jensen reviews "Baghdad Hospital: Inside the Red Zone," a documentary made by Omer Salih Mahdi, a 30-year-old Iraqi doctor who is now in his second semester of Journalism at Ball State University in Indiana. In June and July 2006, he took a video camera into Yarmouk Hospital to film where few westerners can go. Mahdi is a fascinating character and has worked with some top journalists, including George Packer of the New Yorker and Deborah Amos of NPR.

Washington Post
Jack Keane, Frederick W. Kagan and Michael O'Hanlon make the call for a durable U.S. presence in Iraq now that its parliament is passing de-Ba'athification bills and the like. They call for no further withdrawal past the five combat brigades set to rotate out this summer, keeping the troop numbers at pre-surge levels for several more months and possibly longer. Keane was vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army from 1999 to 2003. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and architect of the "surge" strategy. O'Hanlon is a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution and has supported the war in the past. Their column is a bit Pollyannaish.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University and who lost his son in Iraq disagrees, saying the surge isn't working and Iraq is broken beyond repair. He makes a fair point that the proponents of the surge -- Kagan, O’Hanlon, Keane, et al. -- have shifted their focus to the success of tactics, not strategy. His column is a bit better reasoned than the one by the proponents.

Nate Slate, a recently retired Army colonel, writes that his cultural advisor, who he calls Dulaimi, is now in America and he has to explain that America might indeed abandon Iraq.

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal and USA Today
No editions today.

Daily Column
Iraqi Forces clash with religious cult in the south; al-Sadr revs up Mahdi Army
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/19/2008 01:28 AM ET
Weekends are often light days, but today's news is light only in the number of stories. Both The New York Times and the Washington Post have meaty roundups focusing on the clashes in the south between Iraqi forces and a religious cult. The Times rounds out the coverage with a couple of stories from the home front.

Over there
Alissa J. Rubin reports for the Times on the deadly clashes in the south between government troops and a heavily armed millennial cult that left more than 40 people dead. But the Iraqis did protect millions of Shi'ite pilgrims on the first day of Ashoura, one of Shi'ism's holiest holidays. In Basra and Nassiryah, the "Soldiers of Heaven" attacked Iraqi forces. Iraqi police said at several points, clashes erupted over three-quarters of Basra yesterday. In Basra, 30 members of the group were killed while in Nassiryah eight civilians died. The clashed with American and Iraqi forces last year. More worrying, actually, is the latest from Moqtada al-Sadr who says he might willing to "unfreeze" the Mahdi Army after a yearlong stand-down. If they do reactivate, it could be trouble for the Americans, who have used the relative calm to focus on Shi'ite insurgents who it believes are linked to Iran who have ignored the freeze, Rubin writes. It could also upset the tenuous cease-fire in Baghdad between Sunni and Shi'ite militiamen. More bodies in the streets. Rubin does a bang-up job of briskly explaining intra-Shi'ite politics between al-Sadr and the Badr Organization, which is the real reason for his threatened activation of the militia. Already, al-Sadr may be showing his political oomph. A crowd of angry Shi’ites who were probably followers of al-Sadr trapped Iraq’s national security advisor, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, in a mosque in Shula. Rubaie wasn't hurt, but he had to call Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who sent a force led by Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani to extract him. Elsewhere, an IED killed an American soldier north of Baghdad. In Diyala province, 11 people died, including two children, in six incidents.

The Post's Amit R. Paley has the story on the southern clashes, and adds a few details. The Soldiers of Heaven attacked crowds in Basra prompting a responds from Iraqi troops. This was the first major test of the Iraqis since the British handed over security in Basra in December. Paley writes that the Iraqis called for surveillance flights and jet over flights as a show of force, but did not request troops. "The Iraqi forces handled themselves extremely well and got the situation under control," said Lt. Col. Derek Plews, a spokesman for the British military. "This is pretty much how we envisioned them dealing with an incident like this when we handed over security responsibility." Paley's description of the attacks in Nassiryah sound serious: 13 policemen and civilians were killed, with 45 wounded. He also mentions al-Sadr's warning, but doesn't go into nearly as much detail as Rubin does.

Home front
Ginger Thompson of the Times profiles Paul Slough, the fresh faced Blackwater guard from Texas at the center of the investigation into the September incident in Nisour Square. He is the infamous "turret gunner No. 3" mentioned in the case files. Slough grew up fast, the child of an alcoholic father, and joined the Army in 1999 out of high school. He served in the Third Infantry Division in Bosnia, and enlisted in the Texas National Guard in 2002. He was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and ended his yearlong tour with "little more than the medals given to every soldier who serves in Iraq." He sounds like he did little to stand out. It's a thin profile, to be honest. Slough refused to be interviewed and Blackwater won't comment. A couple of friends provide the meat of the profile, but they don't seem to have really known him that well. They do emphasize that he's not a "cowboy" but someone who liked dangerous assignments, such as serving at the rear of convoys manning the .50-cal machine gun.

Thom Shanker also writing for the Times, reports that the Defense Department has deployed more than 1,500 heavily armored MRAPs to Iraq and Afghanistan despite some early delays in production.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

USA Today and Christian Science Monitor
No weekend editions.

Wall Street Journal
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Bombing comes day before Ashoura; Iraq will need U.S. troops for a decade
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/18/2008 01:29 AM ET
Today's stories from Iraq are a direct lot, usually recounting a single event or two in a straightforward manner. The stories from Washington in The New York Times and the Washington Post also seem a bit like retreads from earlier this week. But hey, it's Friday.

Over there
The Times' Stephen Farrell files a grim report. For the second time in two days, a suicide bomber has struck a Shi'ite mosque in Diyala province, scene of the latest U.S. offensive. At least 11 people were killed as worshipers prepared for Ashoura, one of the most important Shi'ite holidays. Fifteen people were wounded. This attack follows one by a female suicide bomber that killed eight people.

Amit R. Paley has the story for the Post. The attack on the Shefta mosque in Baqoubah would have been worse but for the actions of Riyadh al-Zubaidi, a policeman. He was killed when he stopped the bomber from getting deeper in the mosque. Also, U.S. forces killed two women and injured others during an air and ground attack on a building that armed men refused to exit.

USA Today fronts a piece from Jim Michaels, who reports that 75 percent of Baghdad is secure, according to U.S. military sources. That's up from 8 percent a year ago before the surge.

Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor files a dispatch from Diyala , describing a sweep of a town by U.S. and Iraqi forces. They find terrified villages, mostly.

Washington doings
The Times' Thom Shanker reports on the brewing battle between the Pentagon, the White House and senior commanders over the pace of troop withdrawals. This was covered pretty thoroughly yesterday by almost all of the major papers except the Times, so better late than never, I suppose. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that he had called the various commanders to prepare their cases for the best way forward, so President George W. Bush can balance troop requests from Gen. David H. Petraeus with other national security needs. The big question is whether Bush will withdraw down to about 130,000 this summer and stop ... or will he allow it to keep going. Gates wants to be down to about 100,000 by the end of this year, but both the president and Petraeus have indicated they're perfectly happy letting the bottom be the pre-surge level of troops. Shanker paints the picture in dramatic terms: "The answer will influence both the level of American commitment to Iraq and the future shape of the Army."

No matter what the troop numbers are at the end of 2008, Iraq is going to have an American military presence for years to come, reports Ann Scott Tyson for the Post. Even though the Iraqi army and police will top 580,000 members by the end of this year, shortages in personnel, equipment, weaponry and logistical capabilities means they'll require U.S. military support for a decade, senior U.S. military officials say. "The truth is that they simply cannot fix, supply, arm or fuel themselves completely enough at this point," said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, head of the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq. The lack of an NCO corps is a big stumbling block that will affect them for "at least a decade," Dubik said. Dubik is repeating the timeline laid out by Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir, who said earlier this week in Washington that U.S. troops would be needed until 2018.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Stephen Holden reviews "Day Zero," a truly awful sounding movie about a near future in which the Iraqi war has expanded and three unlikely friends are drafted. Elijah Wood does his best Travis Bickle impersonation. 'Nuff said.

Washington Post
Iraq's inexplicably durable national security advisor, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, enters the Post's op-ed page with a call for federalism for Iraq. He claims this isn't a partition of Iraq, but the weak federation he describes -- more like a confederation, really -- is pretty close to partition. He sounds like he's signed onto the program supported by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and the Kurds, calling for strong federal regions with oil revenue distributed on the basis of population. Right away, that's not going to work because Anbar and most of the western desert areas are Sunni and lightly populated. (That they're lightly populated and don't need as much revenue is not likely an argument that will play well in Iraq's zero-sum political environment.)

A Post editorial says just because political reconciliation in Iraq is hard doesn't mean the U.S. should give up pushing it. No word on when a realistic appraisal of whether it's going to work is given, however.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
WH, Pentagon battle over troop cuts; Female suicide bomber hits Diyala, kills 7
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/17/2008 01:45 AM ET
Not a lot of stories today, but they're good ones. The Washington Post has a front-pager on the increased number of air strikes that must be read for its dissection of current and future U.S. strategy in Iraq, while a tussle over troop cuts between the White House and the Pentagon is bubbling up into the national media.

Over there
Josh White, writing for the Post's front page, reports that the U.S. has conducted more than five times as many air strikes in 2007 as it did in 2006, targeting al Qaeda in Iraq safe houses, bomb factories and weapons stockpiles. This is a big, underreported story and kudos to White and the Post for fronting it. Commanders say they are getting better intel now and can target better, so they're using the bombs -- about four a day in 2007 compared to four a week in 2006. "The core reason why we see the increase in strikes is the offensive strategy taken by General (David H.) Petraeus," said Air Force Col. Gary Crowder, commander of the 609th Combined Air Operations Center in Southwest Asia. Because the United States has sent more troops into areas rife with insurgent activity, he said, "We integrated more air strikes into those operations." The air strikes mesh with the current counter-insurgency strategy, and their numbers will likely increase in 2008 as the number of troops drops even though offensive operations continue. (A similar bump in air strikes is occurring in Afghanistan.) Human rights groups are, understandably, worried about this increased reliance on 500-pound JDAMs. Insurgents often mingle with the civilian population in residential neighborhoods, increasing the chance for unintended deaths and wounds from the munitions. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) estimates that 200 civilians have been killed in 2007 because of air strikes.

Marc Garlasco, a military analyst at Human Rights Watch who tracks air strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the strikes carry unique risks. "My major concern with what's going on in Iraq is massive population density," he said. "You have the potential for very high civilian casualties, so you need really granular intelligence on what you're going to hit. But I don't think they're being careless."
Doesn't sound like it. The Air Force is using some creative methods in its bombing, ranging from bombs that explode in the air and concrete-filled bombs to detonate IED sites.

The Post's Amit R. Paley reports that a female suicide bomber attacked the town of Khan Bani Saad in Diyala province, killing at least seven people and wounding at least seven more. It's the fourth attack by a female bomber since November, and the 11th of the war. Elsewhere, tree U.S. soldiers were shot and killed in Salahuddin province and two wounded, the U.S. military said. The military also said a key al Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Abd al-Rahman (aka Abu Layla al-Suri) was killed Dec. 30 in a firefight with U.S. troops. In Baghdad, two roadside bombs near a college campus in Bab al-Muadham killed three students and wounded 11. Two members of a Sunni militia were killed and four civilians wounded when gunmen attacked a Baghdad checkpoint. Also, the Iraqi government announced a 48-hour vehicle ban in Diyala, Baghdad and all of southern Iraq in an effort to avoid violence during Ashoura, one of the holiest Shi'ite holidays.

Stephen Farrell of the Times has the roundup today, leading with the female suicide bomber in Diyala, but adding a few details. The attack, which he says killed eight, was near a Shi'ite mosque and provoked Shi'ite militiamen to mortar a nearby Sunni village in retaliation.

Troop cuts
Gordon Lubold of the Christian Science Monitor reports on the other big story of the day: the dispute over troop cuts. Lubold says there's a big rift between the Pentagon and the White House over the schedule for the cuts in Iraq. President George W. Bush and Petraeus seem willing to slowdown or even reverse the scheduled troop cuts to cement the security gains. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and other commanders want to avoid sending any more troops there before they've had adequate time to retrain and refresh. (Gates once said he wanted to be down to 100,000 troops by December 2008.) "We just can't continue to give this way," says one senior uniformed official, who asked not to be named. "At some point, we have to refresh and retrain those forces that are cycling through," says the official, who acknowledges the tension between Petraeus and those who provide the forces. Petraeus has asked for small numbers of troops to fill gaps left by troops that are leaving, but the Pentagon may decide to not send anymore. The message, Lubold writes, will be clear: make do with what you've got, general. And if that's the case, then expect any more drawdowns after this summer's five-brigade withdrawal to be delayed. Lubold has a scooplet, too: Petraeus' March testimony to Congress has been delayed until April. In all, however, most observers aren't hopeful there will be any more drawdowns after this summer's while Bush is still in office.

Gina Chon and Yochi J. Dreazen pick up the theme of the troop cuts for the Wall Street Journal, reporting that Petraeus is undecided about further troop cuts. Hm, three stories in one day with sources from all sides... Looks like the various sides are going for Americans' hearts and minds on this matter and using the media as the battleground.

Ann Scott Tyson rounds out the trio of stories on troop cuts for the Post, reporting that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's chief of staff, hopes to shorten the 15-month deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan this summer. The longer deployments have been required because of the surge strategy. Tyson, however, says there is optimism in the Pentagon that after the five brigades are withdrawn this summer, five more would go home by the end of the year, contradicting the reporting from the Monitor and the Journal.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
David M. Herszenhorn reports that the House approved a massive $696 billion military policy measure that fixed a single provision in 1,300-page bill that brought a surprise veto from Bush. Bush praised the original bill until last month, when the Iraqi government complained that it allow American victims of state-sponsored terrorism under Saddam Hussein to sue and collect judgments by seizing foreign assets in the U.S. Iraq threatened to withdraw $25 billion from U.S. banks if the bill wasn't vetoed. The new bill gives the president authority to waive any provision of the section of lawsuits by terror victims in cases relating to Iraq. But it also urges the administration to negotiate with Iraq to ensure compensation in cases. Some Democrats were annoyed that Bush wanted $196 billion for the war, but Iraq threatened to pull money out of American banks if it was used to compensate victims of Saddam Hussein. One of the outstanding lawsuits against the Iraqi government dating back to Saddam's era is a case involving 240 Americans who were held hostage as human shields in the 1991 Gulf War. Another case involves American POWs, including pilots who were shot down and tortured. Bush doesn't want Iraq to pay compensation to these Americans.

A Times editorial calls for current negotiations between Iraq and the United States over a Status of Forces Agreement to be transparent and part of the national debate, so the next president isn't locked into a troop presence the American people -- and the Times editorial board -- don't want. "Mr. Bush is rushing to complete a deal before he leaves office in January 2009. That is just as reckless and irresponsible as most of his decisions regarding Iraq," the editorial states. Now is the time for Congressional intervention, it concludes.

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Blackwater case faces tough legal obstacles; Military wives feeling the strain
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/16/2008 01:43 AM ET
Slight day today, what with the Michigan primary going to the Mittster and all... But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pops in on Baghdad, providing some much needed copy.

Over there
Solomon Moore of The New York Times reports on Rice's visit, during which she -- unsurprisingly -- praised the new de-Ba'athification law as a step forward. By now, the criticisms of the law are well known, but Moore obligingly lists them again. In a news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshi Zebari, Rice predicted that two more bills would soon come to the floor: a national oil revenue sharing bill and an agreement on Kirkuk. (If the bills appear as flawed as the Accountability and Justice Law, Iraqi is meeting benchmarks all right... badly.) Moore also reports on the formation of a new coalition in parliament yesterday to centralize oil control and set aside the Kirkuk dispute. Zebari said such coalitions are healthy. In other news, a Justice Ministry convoy slammed into a group of children, killing a 9-year-old boy. A gunfight between Iraqi soldiers and the ministry bodyguards ensued. Elsewhere, a Sunni fighter allied with the United States died in a gunfight in Baghdad against insurgents. American and Iraqi forces had killed 18 fighters in Baqoubah, and two suicide bombers exploded near a police checkpoint in Tikrit.

Amit R. Paley has the story for the Washington Post on Rice's visit. Later in Riyadh, Rice and the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Saudi Arabia would open up an embassy in Baghdad "in the next few months." How long have they been saying this now? Further north, Turkish warplanes bombed several small villages in Iraqi Kurdistan. Down south, another fire at the Basra Oil Refinery caused it to be shut down. Employees at the refinery suspect agents of Moqtada al-Sadr.

USA Today's Charles Levinson uses Rice's visit to riff on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's strengthened position these days. Some worry that a stronger Maliki would be able to resist calls for compromise with Sunnis.

Washington doings
James Glanz reports for the Times that last year's optimistic figures on Iraqi spending for reconstruction can't be backed up by official Iraqi budget numbers. Last year's projections were used to get Congress to continue funding the war. The White House said that by June 2007, Iraq had spent 24 percent of $10 billion set aside for reconstruction. Not so, according to official Iraqi Finance Ministry records. Those records show that by August 2007, only 4.4 percent of the reconstruction budget had been spent.

James Risen and David Johnston, also for the Times, report that the case against the Blackwater guards involved in the September shooting in Nisour Square faces serious legal obstacles. These roadblocks include the fact that federal law that covers contractors when they're working for or traveling with the American military may not apply because Blackwater is employed by the State Department, not the DoD. And that immunity deal offered by the Diplomatic Security Service of the State Department will complicate things. Officials from the Justice and State Departments "didn't say they weren't going to prosecute," said one Congressional aide. "They said there would be a lot of difficulties."

Home front
Gregg Zoroya of USA Today reports on the strain falling on military wives volunteering to help other wives during lengthy deployments. About 3,000 of these wives act as social worker, grief counselor and a 24-hour hotline, but many of them are on back-to-back volunteer duty thanks to the increased tempo of their husbands' deployments.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Respected judge killed in W. Baghdad; A cautious return to Baghdad University
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/15/2008 01:53 AM ET
The Washington Post recovers from its drought yesterday with several good stories from Iraq, including a grim slice of life from the campus of Baghdad University. The New York Times pops Iraq on the front page, however, with news from that country's defense minister that U.S. troops could be in Iraq until 2018.

Thom Shanker, writing for the Times' front-page, reports that the Abdul Qadir, the Iraqi defense minister, said Iraq would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012 nor defend its borders until at least 2018 -- maybe 2020. It's the most specific timeline yet mentioned and longer than either the U.S. or Iraq has previously indicated. Qadir's numbers are slightly worse than they were last year, when he told an independent U.S. commission that Iraq would be able to secure its borders by 2018 for sure. Qadir's in the U.S. to discuss the long-term military relationship (very long term, it looks like) between the two countries. He brought a shopping list that includes ground vehicles, tanks, helicopters, artillery and armored personnel carriers. Iraq also wants warplanes and recon vehicles.

Over there
The Times' Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Abeer Mohammed report that gunmen killed a respected Iraqi appellate judge in western Baghdad and a booby-trapped house exploded in Diyala, killing three American-backed Iraqi militiamen. The loss of Judge Amir Jawdat al-Naeeb, a Sunni Arab in his 60s, seems to be part of a long-running campaign against Iraq's professional class. Other judges and lawyers regarded him as one of the country's most even-handed jurists. Eight other people died in Iraq yesterday, including a senior official with Moqtada al-Sadr's organization in Basra. The three militiamen were killed in the same manner as the six U.S. troops a few days ago: in the offensive in Diyala. So far, the operation has killed 60 "suspected extremists." American and Iraqi forces have discovered 79 weapon caches. Six Iraqi policemen were also wounded and another Sunni militiaman was killed in a nearby village. Haji Uday, the leader of a large Awakening militia in Baqoubah, died on Sunday in a car crash.

Amit R. Paley of the Post, reports on the progress of the Diyala offensive, noting the 60 insurgents killed and almost 200 captured. Paley calls the three men who were killed in the booby-trapped house police officers, however, rather than militiamen. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, Sunni politicians led by Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi said they would be willing to come back into the government if their demands for the release of Sunni detainees and better government benefits were met. Also, American officials finally got around to praising the recently passed de-Ba'athification law. In a joint statement Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker as much as admitted the new law was subject to interpretation -- and thus abuse: "Ultimately the impact of this important legislative step will depend as much on the spirit of implementation as on the form of the legislation," it said.

Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today reports that U.S. troops still face a tough fight in northern Iraq, in Nineveh and Diyala provinces. He recounts, in great detail, a 17-hour firefight that occurred on Christmas.

The Post's Joshua Partlow writes one of those great slice-of-life stories about the cautious return of normality to Baghdad University. Attendance is up and more professors have returned to teach. Still, there are issues. Posters of Moqtada al-Sadr dot the campus despite a ban on political activity. Most women wear hijabs because dressing Western attracts dangerous attention. "You know, for example, we are two girls and a man," said computer science student Nour Kamal, 21, as she sat with friends eating popcorn in the cafeteria. "Some people don't like this idea at all, girls talking to a man. They will instantly mark you with an X. These people are savages."

Washington doings
Howard LaFranchi of the Christian Science Monitor writes that this weekend's passage of the de-Ba'athification law is leading U.S. policy makers to hope it's the beginning of the end of the deadlock in the Iraqi parliament. With this loosening of the legislative logjam, Bush administration officials are saying the surge -- was designed to provide security so the politicians might gain some "breathing room" -- is working.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
The Times editorial board examines the new de-Ba'athification law and finds it "so riddled with caveats and loopholes that some Sunni and Shiite officials say it could actually exclude more former Ba’athists than it lets back into government."

Wall Street Journal
Spencer Swartz reports for the Journal that several high-risk investment funds are starting to see profits in Iraq. Five hedge funds that invest directly in Iraqi companies or have substantial stakes in foreign firms that do a lot of business in Iraq gained an average of 25 percent in 2007. The average gain in funds investing in the wider Middle East is 14 percent. In 2006, the same five funds lost 3.2 percent, so it's quite a swing.

Washington Post
Glenn Kessler reports that Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., the ranking member of the Appropriation Committee, wants the GAO to instigate a "full and thorough investigation" into the firefighting system at the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad. McClatchy Newspapers reported on Jan. 11 that the new compound's system was faulty and could lead to fatalities.

USA Today
James Reston Jr., author of "The Conviction of Richard Nixon," writes for the op-ed page that the candidates need to be talking about the new, post-Iraq era of American history the next president will inherit. (I guess he didn't see the story about the U.S. sticking around until 2018.) Channeling his days as a Nixon researcher, he calls for a president who can heal the wounds of America, comparing 2009 to the aftermaths of the Civil War(!) and Vietnam. He calls for "historical purification," which sounds pretty Maoist to me, and the reconstruction of the U.S. His prescription includes a truth and reconciliation commission, the publication of the "Iraq papers," instituting a draft or some kind of public service requirement to bring young people back into the country's political life, "a sweeping plan to reconcile America with Islamic nations" and an extensive series of interviews with President George W. Bush. (Reston was the lead researcher and "strategist" for David Frost and his damning 1977 Nixon interviews.) "Let Bush profess to be another Harry S. Truman and argue that history will vindicate him," Reston writes. "To watch him flounder with that weak argument in the face of serious scrutiny would be part of our collective catharsis."

USA Today's editorial board takes a swing at the new de-Ba'athification law and calls for the protection of the rights of minorities.

Daily Column
De-Ba'ath or Re-Ba'ath?; Scene of the crime: Rigged House; Dems' War Fairy Tale
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/14/2008 01:48 AM ET
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? The Washington Post skips any Iraq coverage today, leaving the field to The New York Times, which fills the gap with the first William Kristol column on Iraq and the Democrats (guess which way he leans?), campaign claim fact-checking and some good reporting and analysis from the front lines. The Christian Science Monitor also throws out a story on the strategy behind the latest Diyala offensive while the Wall Street Journal opines on what lessons can be learned by the war.

Over there
Solomon Moore, writing for the Times, engages in a bit of morning-after analysis on yesterday's passing of the new de-Ba'athification bill. He finds what he calls "troubling questions -- and troubling silences -- about the measure's actual effects." Moore finds that the bill is so full of loopholes and caveats, contradictions and confusing passages, that it could wind up excluding even more former Ba'athists than it lets back in, especially in security ministries. That would put the bill, heralded by President George W. Bush as a means of political reconciliation between the Shi'ites and the Sunnis, directly at odds with U.S. goals for Iraq. Wow, unintended consequences from a measure to improve things in Iraq? Who could have imagined? Snark aside, the U.S. embassy is keeping mum until it can review the bill, a spokeswoman said. Col. Steven Boylan, spokesman for Gen. David H. Petraeus, said he hadn't seen a translation of the bill and wasn't sure his boss had either. The take-back is this: Iraqi officials are divided on what the bill actually does. Theoretically, it returns another 30,000 ex-Ba'athists to public life, and grants pensions to still more. Shi'ite politicians say it's an olive branch to the Sunnis -- who dominated the top rungs of the party -- say it's incremental at best and even harsher than CPA Order 1. But some Shi'ite politicians crowed that the new law was better than the old one because it would ban all ex-Ba'athists from jobs in the important ministries: justice, interior, defense, finance and foreign. So much for hiring all those Sunni tribesmen into the security forces. The problem is that the law can be interpreted liberally -- or not, depending on who's interpreting it.

Meanwhile, there's still a war on, and Scott Peterson of the Monitor is out in Baqoubah with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Commanders in the Breadbasket of Diyala province say their new strategy is to go in, clear out insurgents and stay. "We (and) the Iraqi forces and government are committing ourselves to staying in this area, which has previously not happened," says Lt. Col. James Brown, executive officer of Peterson's unit. "It's been go in, find Al Qaeda in Iraq, kill them, and then leave. Big surprise, they come right back." Except... this isn't a new strategy at all. As a report in al Qa’im, which the Marines assaulted in November 2005 in the last major offensive before the surge, commanders said the exact same thing: they would clear the area and convince the Iraqis they would stay. Perhaps now, however, the Americans mean it because they have the troops to support it.

The Times' Stephen Farrell returns to the scene of a bloody attack on American soldiers: the house in Sinsil that was rigged to explode and which did, killing six American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter. It's a detailed dispatch of what war in Iraq is still like: duplicity by supporters of the insurgency, booby traps and shattered bodies. A trigger under a rug, which one of the soldiers stepped on, likely set off the bomb. "We saved who we could, and who we couldn't save they didn't feel a thing because concrete either fell on them or the bomb killed them," said Sgt. Joseph Weeren, 27, a sniper team leader from Winchester, Mass. After the explosion, ignoring his concussion and blurred vision, Weeren went back into town and arrested the shopkeeper who directed soldiers to the house without telling them it was booby-trapped. "I didn't have any body armor on," he said. "I didn't have a helmet. I was just so angry I went back after this guy, and I grabbed him." His commanders praised his presence of mind to go after the guy.

Politics
The Times' Eric Lipton fact-checks Bill and Hillary Clinton's claim that her reliance on Sen. Chuck Hagel's drafting of the authorization to use military force against Saddam Hussein was a contributing factor in her voting "yes" for the measure. On Sunday's "Meet the Press," she said, "Chuck Hagel, who helped to draft the resolution, said it was not a vote for war." It's tangled, as these Senate things often are. While Hagel was indeed pushing a more restrictive bill to authorize force, the White House cut a separate deal that led Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to craft one that was less restrictive. That's the one Sen. Clinton voted on, not Sen. Hagel's. Clinton defends her vote by saying that Hagel "played a key role in drafting the 2002 authorization" and influencing the debate, even if it's not the bill she voted on.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
William Kristol, brand new conservative columnist for the Times' op-ed page, takes the Democrats to the woodshed for their unwillingness to admit the surge has been a glorious success and that Kristol, who supported the surge, was right all along. OK. He didn't explicitly make the last point, but it's there.

Wall Street Journal
Erik Swabb, a former Marine infantry officer who served in Iraq, writes for the Journal's op-ed page that despite stretching the military to its limits, Iraq is also giving the U.S. armed forces much needed experience in fighting small dirty counter-insurgencies. Why he says the Marines were ill prepared for the aftermath of the invasion is a bit of a puzzle, though, since Marines are traditionally the best at fighting small wars. "Small Wars Manual," published by the U.S. Marines, anyone? (Yeah, the Army was pretty unprepared.) Anyway, he says this experience in fighting small, dirty wars is crucial for winning the "Long War" against Islamic extremism. Well, sure, but a better lesson to be learned from Iraq would be to avoid small dirty wars in the first place.

Washington Post
No Iraq coverage today. Can you believe that?

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Iraq softens de-Ba'athification order; Bush hints at slowdown on drawdown
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/13/2008 01:45 AM ET
A meaty day for Iraq news, with both The New York Times and the Washington Post leading with the news that Iraq's parliament has passed a new and gentler de-Ba'athification bill. The Times also takes a look at the phenomenon of returning vets and violence as it kicks off what looks to be a Pulitzer-winning series.

The Times' Deborah Sontag and Lizette Alvarez start what looks like a massive multimedia series on veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have returned home and committed murder or been accused of it. Combining slideshows, charts and audio interviews, the two reporters paint a wrenching portrait of men suffering PTSD and who snap, with deadly results. The story of Matthew Sepi, a 20-year-old Iraq combat veteran, leads the package. He allegedly killed a gang member and wounded another with an AK-47 in a seedy part of Las Vegas as he was tormented by nightmares of an Iraqi civilian his unit had killed. He said the gang members had "ambushed" him, he fled and when the police caught him, he asked "Who did I take fire from?" He admitted that he "engaged the targets." The detective said he shook and cried. "I felt very bad for him," said Detective Laura Andersen. In all, the Times found 121 cases of veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan killing -- or being charged with it -- after their return from the war. In most cases, combat stress combined with alcohol abuse, family discord and other problems led to the tragedy. More than half of the killings involve guns, and about a third of the victims are spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives. The Times research stretches from 1995 to the present day, and they found an 89 percent increase in killings by veterans since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the veterans involved had no criminal history. (Which is why they could get into the military in the first place.) It's a great and massive story, and a great tee-up for the series, which should get tons of attention.

Over there
Meanwhile, back in Iraq, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Steven Lee Meyers report that Iraq has finally passed a bill that softens the de-Ba'athification process, allowing some former officials from Saddam Hussein's party to take government jobs. Backers said it would allow thousands of low-level Ba'athists back into public life. The Bush Administration hopes this will heal some of the rifts between the new Shi'ite-dominated government and Sunni Arabs who used to run Iraq. But of course, things aren't so simple. Serious disagreement arose in the hours after the bill was passed about what the law actually would do. It might force thousands of other former party members out of jobs they currently hold. One member of the de-Ba'athification committee said up to 7,000 Interior Ministry employees could be forced to retire. Members of the Sunni bloc in parliament complained it would still keep a number of technocrats out of jobs, while members of Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc praised it because of the strong restrictions still in place. It's not made clear why current job holders would be forcibly retired, though.

Joshua Partlow and Michael Abramowitz have the story for the Post, calling it a "significant achievement for the divide legislature." In Kuwait, President George W. Bush praised the bill and said it was a sign of reconciliation. Bush also met with Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker for the first time in four months to thrash out plans for troop withdrawals this summer as the surge winds down. Bush said the military was "on track" to reduce its troop levels back to pre-surge levels of 130,000 by the middle of summer. But he cautioned that he might slow down the withdrawal if Petraeus says so. The general is set to give another report in March that will influence Bush's decision, and the new de-Ba'athification bill will influence that report. It's unclear how effective it will be in promoting reconciliation, the Post reports write. As the spokesman for the current de-Ba'athification committee said, out of 150,000 Ba'athists who were removed by CPA Order 1, about 102,000 have come back to work. About 3,500 people from the third-highest rank would not be allowed to come back, but could apply for pensions. And about 13,000 from the fourth rank would be eligible to return to work, but the spokesman said many would not. "Most of them are either working outside the country and they don't want to go back to Iraq, or they're afraid somebody will take revenge on them or they got involved with the militant groups," the spokesman said. "Because for two years, we have been demanding that they come to the de-Ba'athification commission, but there was no response."

Speaking of slowing down the withdrawal, Steven Lee Meyers of the Times has a separate story on that from Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. Bush said the decline in violence won by the surge was too hard-won to be "squandered." "We cannot take the achievements of 2007 for granted," he said. "We must do all we can to ensure that 2008 brings even greater progress for Iraq's young democracy." Back in Washington, Democratic leaders called for a change in strategy, noting that the surge, while militarily successful, has not resulted in political progress. (Guess they didn't see the memo on the new de-Ba'athification law.)

Michael Abramowitz has the story of Bush's meeting with Petraeus and his comments on troop reductions for the Post. Abramowitz notes that while careful to avoid a "Mission Accomplished" moment, Bush was taking "something of a victory lap" over Iraq. He seemed to be feeling a bit of vindication over his decision to order the surge. "A lot of people thought that I was going to recommend pulling out or pulling back," Bush said. "Quite the contrary; I recommended increasing the number of forces so they could get more in the fight, because I believed all along if people are given a chance to live in a free society, they'll do the hard work necessary to live in a free society."

The Post's Ann Scott Tyson of the profiles Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who next month takes over from Lt. Gen. Ray T. Odierno as the No. 2 commander in Iraq, overseeing the day-to-day combat operations of the troops there. He's a man of his troops, prone to showing up in the heat of battle and earned a Silver Star for his work in 2003 as he lead the 3rd Infantry Division on its march to Baghdad. After that, he was rewarded with command of the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. He sounds like a prime candidate for the position. Good luck, general.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Noah Feldman, writing for the Magazine, notes that Iraq is falling off the political radar screen in the presidential contest. There are a number of reasons: war is a downer for a feel-good candidate and the differences among the candidates within their parties are minor (Democrats want to leave; Republicans want to stay). He goes on to lay out some on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand scenarios, eventually making Iraq look like Schrödinger's Cat.

A Times editorial echoes Feldman's piece, saying the war needs to be a pressing issue on the campaign trail, even as it fades. The editorial helpfully lays out the major candidates' positions, and then lays out the questions the public needs to ask and the candidates need to answer.

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal and USA Today
No editions today.

Daily Column
Marine Commandant worries for future of Corps; U.S. Embassy a fire hazard
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/12/2008 01:34 AM ET
My plea for coverage of Iraq goes unanswered today, with only three stories available in the three publishing papers. The Washington Post reports that the U.S. embassy in Baghdad has fire-safety concerns, The New York Times has a grim story of friendship and murder and the Wall Street Journal talks to the Marine commandant.

Glenn Kessler of the Post reports that the State Department blew off concerns that the U.S. embassy in Baghdad had potential safety problems with the fire-fighting system there. They were in a rush to complete the $736 million project. What's the saying? "Measure twice, cut once"? Anyway, it's a big problem. "This is serious enough to get someone killed," said a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation. "The fire systems are the tip of the iceberg. That is the most visible. But no one has ever inspected the electrical system, the power plant" and other parts of the embassy complex, which will house more than 1,000 people and is vulnerable to mortar attacks. This is just more bad news for the beleaguered project, which is over budget and behind schedule.

The Times' Dan Frosch reports on the death of Specialist Kevin Shields, who survived combat in Iraq only to be slain in Colorado Springs, a staunchly pro-military town. The men who allegedly killed him are three of Shields' buddies from Iraq, two of whom may also be implicated in a murder of another Army private. According to police reports and court documents, Shields went out on Nov. 30 with Louis Bressler, 25; Kenneth Eastridge, 24; and Pfc. Bruce Bastien Jr., 21. The four friends met a nightclub and began discussing plans to commit a series of robberies in town. Shields and Bressler had a drunken fight, but appeared to patch things up. Later that night, however, Bressler allegedly shot Shields to death out of fear that he would rat out the quartet over the planned robberies. Bressler was honorably discharged last summer after having been diagnosed with PTSD.

Finally, for the Journal's op-ed page, Brendan Miniter interviews Marine Commandant Gen. James T. Conway, who fears that as the Iraq war drags on, the Marines are losing their status as a light, mobile, expeditionary force and turning into a heavier occupation army. He worries about the changing culture of the Marines. As Miniter writes, "wars have a tendency to change the culture of the militaries that fight them. For the Marines, the cultural change they fear most is losing their connection to the sea while fighting in the desert." He is also concerned about the use of MRAPs -- 24-ton vehicles that save lives in Anbar, yes, but at the expense of flexibility and maneuverability. It's a wide-ranging profile and well worth a read.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor and USA Today
No weekend editions.

Daily Column
U.S. air strike biggest in months; War dispatches from the Diyala Front
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/11/2008 01:24 AM ET
Considering the big new offensive, and no new primary news, the coverage from Iraq is astonishingly thin. A dispatch from Diyala here, some air strike coverage there, and we're done. C'mon papers: There's a war still going on.

Over there
Amit R. Paley, embedded in Diyala for the Washington Post, writes from the back of a Stryker vehicle of a tangled day where soldiers helped a pregnant woman and listened to the news of six KIAs over the radio. The six killed soldiers were victims of the booby-trapped house that most papers reported yesterday. Not much happens to the men in Paley's story, but that's the nature of war, as he points out: some days are damn boring. It's a decent little vignette for Company H, 3rd Squadron of the Army's 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, but it has a detached and jangled feel to it.

The Post's Joshua Partlow handles the day's roundup, focusing on the massive air strike delivered south of Baghdad yesterday. In 10 minutes, he writes, warplanes dropped as much ordnance as they do in a month, usually: 40,000 pounds of explosives aimed at blowing up a stockpile of IEDs. The air strike, using B-1 bombers and F-16 fighter jets, dropped 38 bombs in three areas of Arab Jubour, a suspected hidey-hole for al Qaeda in Iraq. "These were some big IEDs buried in the ground," said Sgt. 1st. Class Randal Maynard, a U.S. military spokesman. "Had the soldiers drove up on these IEDs it could have caused six to eight deaths." There is no estimate of the number of people killed in the bombings.

Solomon Moore of The New York Times has the story on the air strike, adding that the bombing was accompanied by a large Iraqi and American ground assault. Like Partlow, Moore has no account of the number of possible kills in the strike, but reports that witnesses saw fighters fleeing along remote roads on motorcycles and in trucks with mortar rocket launchers and rifles. The Americans worked closely with the local Sunni tribesmen to keep civilian casualties low. (But if the military doesn't know how many people were killed, how does it know civilian losses were low?) In other news, IEDs killed two people in downtown Baghdad, and a car bomb killed one person in east Baghdad. At least 11 people were wounded in the attacks. Iraqi police found three bodies in Baghdad and one in Hilla. Iraqi police killed a suspected insurgent north of Baqoubah and wounded another man. An IED killed two Iraqi soldiers and wounded another in Kirkuk. In Karbala, Shi'ite pilgrims arrive for Ashoura.

Charles Levinson of USA Today has the story on the air strike, focusing on the "delicate balance" the U.S. is trying to achieve: route members of al Qaeda in Iraq while avoiding civilian casualties. (Note, USA Today persists in not making a distinction between al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq. Levinson, a smart reporter, knows better so it must be a copy desk decree. Shame on them.) Levinson takes the unusual -- and welcome -- route of analyzing the uptick in air strikes that has been an underreported story over the last year or so. As he notes, there were 1,119 air strikes through mid-December last year -- five times the number in 2006. Even so, according to Iraq Body Count, the U.S. has caused "only" an average of 63 Iraqi civilian deaths per month in 2007, down from 169 per month in 2004, indicating an increased accuracy in targeting of bombs and other firepower. "The planning has gotten a lot better," said Maj. Joe Edstrom, a military spokesman. "A lot of people have taken past lessons to heart." Kudos for attention to the air strikes, but points off for sloppy terminology and parroting U.S. milspeak.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Christian Science Monitor
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Nine US troops killed in combat; BW back in the news; Refugees in US miss home
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/10/2008 01:52 AM ET
It's a rich banquet of Iraqi news today now that the primaries are in a lull. Both the Washington Post and The New York Times have embedded reporters in Diyala and have the sad story from there. Conflicting counts of Iraqi casualties, from a World Health Organization study, also gets a lot of attention from the majors. And there's a lot going on in Washington, too, with more Blackwater shenanigans putting it back in the news.

Over there
Richard Oppel Jr. and Stephen Farrell of the Times report that nine U.S. soldiers were killed Tuesday and Wednesday. Six were killed Wednesday in a bobby-trapped house, while four others were wounded as they took part in Operation Raider Harvest in the dangerous province of Diyala. An interpreter of unknown nationality was also killed. Three were killed Tuesday in Salahuddin Province. Sixteen Americans have died so far in 2008, mostly north of Baghdad, and the Times duo note that Sunni militants have been striking back hard against the Sunni tribesmen allied with American forces. The focus of Operation Raider Harvest was a next of al Qaeda in Iraq fighters in the so-called "breadbasket" in Diyala Province, but it appears most of them got away. U.S. commanders charitably blamed the tip-off of an impending operation on unsecured communications using cell phones and unencrypted radios by the Iraqi Army.

Amit R. Paley and Joshua Partlow have the story of the booby-trapped house for the Post's front page, and report that the interpreter was Iraqi. It apparently took an hour to get the wounded out of the house after the first radio report of the blast, angering some soldiers. "Deep-buried" IEDs are a particular concern for the Americans, who are having a hard time detecting the powerful explosives. The Post reveals the operation in Diyala is part of a much larger operation called Phantom Phoenix, which stretches across four provinces in northern Iraq and involves 24,000 U.S. troops, 50,000 Iraqi Army soldiers, 80,000 Iraqi cops and some of the 15,000 "concerned local citizens."

Tom Vanden Brook has the story for USA Today, and says U.S. troops could face fierce fighting in the coming days. This doesn't jive with what other correspondents are reporting. Most of the fighters have fled, according to the Post and the Times. Vanden Brook mainly continues to fail to distinguish between al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq, echoing the U.S. military's locutions.

Turning to regional politics, Farnaz Fassihi of the Wall Street Journal talks to analysts as President George W. Bush tours the Middle East on whether the president's lofty first-term goals have made any difference in the region. It's agreed that no other president has made such an impact. It's a shame it's been almost entirely negative, though. "The Middle East, as his term ends, is very different than when he took office, and not for the better. Most of the United States' goals have gone nowhere," says Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Iraq continues to cast a dark shadow on the administration and to dominate regional politics. Arabs mistrust the American president and liberals and democrats feel his push in Iraq for democracy has spoiled the movement for the entire region. "Democracy in the Middle East is now part of history. People don't even remember it anymore. Nobody believes Bush anymore," says Sateh Nour Eddine, managing editor and columnist for As-Safir newspaper in Lebanon.

Conflicting Casualties Count
A new survey by the World Health Organization on the subject of Iraqi civilian casualties of the war gets a lot of ink. David Brown and Joshua Partlow of the Post report that 151,000 Iraqis died violently in the three years following the U.S. invasion. Roughly 9 out of 10 of those deaths were the results of U.S. military operations, insurgent attacks and sectarian warfare. WHO also found a 60 percent increase in non-violent deaths, such as those from childhood infections and kidney failure. Interestingly, the WHO death toll is one-third the size of the toll in a report published in the journal Lancet in 2006. That report raised a great deal of controversy, given its release right before the 2006 elections, and has lately been criticized in the National Journal. Both the WHO and Lancet surveys used the same methodology, however. The WHO study is getting much better reviews from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, for example, and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. The U.S. Department of Defense used the discrepancy between the Lancet and the WHO study to cast doubt on all the studies' accuracy.

Lawrence K. Altman and Richard A. Oppel Jr. of the Times have the story, but take the angle that WHO's numbers are twice the numbers of the oft-cited Iraq Body Count web site. (Um, who cares? It relies on media reports for its numbers, so it most assuredly undercounts.) The Times does make the point that the study ended four months after the 2006 bombing of the shrine in Samarra, so it missed the worst of the sectarian bloodletting in 2006 and 2007. Even its number of 151,000 -- which actually could be as low as 104,000 or as high as 223,000 -- is most assuredly too low.

The Journal's John Hechinger has the story.

Home front
The Christian Science Monitor's Tom A. Peter writes on the struggles facing Iraqi refugees in the United States, and how some of them are looking to go back. One woman, Nada, feels she can make more money in Iraq, where she doesn't face a language problem and a tight job market offering only menial jobs. Many refugees were professionals in Iraq and now are in Lansing, Mich., a cold state with a high unemployment.

Washington Doings
The Post weighs in with its second front-pager of the day, a big look at the new U.S. expectations for Iraq. Thomas E. Ricks and Karen DeYoung report that the latest strategy is to "let the Iraqis figure some things out themselves." What that means isn't exactly made clear, except that it's an admission that the benchmarks set in early 2007 have not been -- and will not be -- met. At heart, it's both an overdue and arrogant "new" strategy, given some of the stated goals of the war -- liberation, democracy, freedom. The quotes from American officials such as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker drip with what can only be called neo-colonialism.

The Iraqis "are at the point where they are able to fashion their own approaches and desired outcomes," Crocker said in an interview, "and we, I think, in part recognizing that and in part reflecting on where we have been over the last almost five years, are increasingly prepared to say it's got to be done in Iraqi terms."
Still, what works, works, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the reliance on Sunni tribesmen to fight al Qaeda in Iraq. But those are local solutions that are working. Nationally, no Iraqi solution is really working. Nor is an American one.

The Times has a front-page scoop of its own by James Risen, who writes on an incident in 2005 in which Blackwater guards dropped CS gas on an American checkpoint crowded with cars, Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops. The gas, the use of which is tightly regulated by U.S. forces, chokes and blinds, and is often used in riot control. Blackwater was doing none of that, however, it was guarding a convoy, was stuck in traffic and just wanted to clear a path, according to U.S. troops on the ground there. A Blackwater spokeswoman said the gas was released by mistake. Everyone involved says they reported it to various superiors, but the Times could find no evidence in the DoD, State Department or Blackwater that any investigation was conducted, reinforcing a long-time issue with the security company: In Iraq, it operates according to its own rules. CS is tightly controlled by the U.S. military, as its use in combat is seen as a violation of chemical weapons treaties. A contemporaneous blog post from a soldier serving at the checkpoint is illuminating in that it details the frustrations of the men with Blackwater's tactics. "Why someone would think a substance that makes your eyes water, nose burn and face hurt would make a driver do anything other than stop is beyond me."

Josh White of the Post reports that Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, the only officer charged with a crime in the Abu Ghraib scandal, was cleared of all criminal liability after the one conviction against him was thrown out and his sentence eliminated. Jordan was convicted last year on one count of disobeying an order when the jury found he had spoken to other about the investigation when ordered not to. Earlier, he was exonerated of any connection with the actual abuse at the prison. He will receive an administration reprimand for disobeying orders, but will have no criminal record and can continue to serve as an active-duty officer until his retirement.

Robin Wright, writing for the Post, writes that three exiled Iraqis in Syria and Iran, as well as a top Iranian general, have been slapped with sanctions for allegedly fomenting violence in Iraq. A television station in Syria was also sanctioned. The Treasury Department will freeze any assets such as property or bank accounts under U.S. jurisdiction or any transactions with U.S. citizens or entities. The individuals are Brig. Gen. Ahmed Foruzandeh, leader of Iran's Quds Force operations in Iraq; Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani and Ismail Hafez al-Lami, both alleged to be leaders of Shiite extremist groups based in Iran; and Mish'an al-Jaburi, a former member of Iraq's parliament who fled to Syria after allegedly embezzling government funds to support Iraqi insurgents. He owns al-Zawra, a television station critical of the U.S. presence in Iraq.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Wall Street Journal
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., write for the Journal's op-ed page that the surge is working.

Daily Column
Baghdad's brave librarian; President Bush must focus ME trip on rescuing Iraq
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/09/2008 01:30 AM ET
As expected, the New Hampshire primary ate up most of the news hole, but The New York Times and the Washington Post both found space for covering Operation Raider Harvest, the big push in Diyala Province.

Over there
Stephen Farrell of the Times reports on the futility of the extraordinary secrecy the latest U.S. offensive in Diyala was planned under. Most of their Iraqi Army comrades were kept in the dark. And yet, it still wasn't enough; many insurgents in the province slipped away before the U.S. could trap them. More than half of the insurgents escaped last June, which was the reason for the secrecy. And keeping the Iraqis out of the loop indicates the Americans still don't trust them. And it's a big offensive: Seven American battalions, along with Iraqi Army units, stormed the northern Diyala River valley in search of 200 insurgents affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq. It's part of a wider effort to drive insurgents out of northern Iraq where they have found sanctuary given the surge in Baghdad and Anbar.

The Post's Amit R. Paley reports on the offensive, playing it straight and giving the numbers: 5,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops swooped in on Diyala province in an attempt to trap 200 al Qaeda in Iraq fighters. Paley notes that the successes elsewhere and the increase in troop numbers has, for the first time in two years, allowed this kind of offensive and establish a continued presence in the area. Like Farrell in the Times, Paley notes that most of the insurgents had fled a week ago, however, leaving behind buried IEDs and booby-trapped houses. Only an estimated 50-75 fighters remain behind.

Regular op-ed columnist David Ignatius writes that there is a new push to oust Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, led by the Kurds this time. They're upset that promises made by Maliki in an earlier deal to stave off political death -- passing an oil law, holding a referendum on Kirkuk -- have not been met. So now, they're moving to dump the prime minister. Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, is especially enraged because of Turkish attacks on his territory that Maliki is doing little about. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is working to firewall the embattled Maliki, saying, "We think everyone should be placing emphasis on making the government more effective, not on changing the government." As usual, Adel Abdul Mahdi is being talked up as his replacement. This story is full of juicy little tidbits, and it's unclear why it's on the op-ed page and not in the news section.

Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor reports on Saad Eskander, the stylish and slight librarian of the Iraq National Library and Archive. He's in charge of rebuilding a collective memory that was burned and looted in the early days of the American invasion. "The library lost approximately 95 percent of its rare books, 60 percent of the archival collections, and 25 percent of the book collection," writes Peter. And the library was in a bad area, sandwiched between al Qaeda in Iraq hotbeds and an American military base. After four and a half years -- and funding and donations from NGOs and the Czech Republic -- the library has been restored, Peter writes.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
The Post editorial board chastises President Bush over his new emphasis in the Middle East on the Israeli-Palestinian settlement and containing Iran through a coalition of "moderate" Arab states. Instead, he should concentrate on stabilizing and democratizing Iraq.

New York Times
Charles J. Dunlap Jr., an Air Force major general and the author of "Shortchanging the Joint Fight?," an assessment of the Army's counterinsurgency manual, writes an out-of-step op-ed calling for more big guns in fighting the insurgency and preparing to take on China and Russia. Unsurprisingly, being an Air Force guy, he lauds the five-fold increase in air strikes in Iraq for helping bring the relative calm about and pooh-poohs the new Army counterinsurgency field manual. He sounds a bit like Gen. "Buck" Turgidson.

Wall Street Journal The Journal's editorial team gleefully highlights criticisms of the Lancet's 2006 study on Iraqi casualties, following a report on the study from the National Journal. In short, it's a big, long "told you so!"

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
AQI likely kills Awakening leader; Betrothed in Baghdad; Bush's trip to region
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/08/2008 01:43 AM ET
A decent bout of Iraq news today even though it's the eve of the New Hampshire primary. The Washington Post has a meaty front-pager on the new leadership emerging within the Sunni population, one that has real potential for trouble down the road. In fact, the Post dominates Iraq coverage today with the Christian Science Monitor a close second. The New York Times comes in with only a single omnibus story, while the Wall Street Journal loads up its coverage with op-eds and editorials.

Over there
Sudarsan Raghavan of the Post has a major A1 story on the new Sunni leadership emerging alongside the tribal leadership that until now has dominated the Awakening Councils credited with much of the reduction in violence in Iraq. This new leadership is made up of former Ba'athists, intelligence officers and military men under Saddam Hussein who are virulently opposed to the Shi'ite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. One of the Sunni commanders, Riyadh Hadi of the Lions of Adhamiyah, pointedly noted that his men's tactics were the same as Saddam's for maintaining control: "Under Saddam Hussein, there was no army in the streets," he said. "He used intelligence men, his Ba'athists, he was controlling everything, like what we are doing now." Raghavan does a nice job of pointing out the peril that faces Iraq should the Sunni militias take up arms against the Shi'ite militias, each other or the government. Salah al-Obaidi, Sadr's chief spokesman in Najaf, said the government and the U.S. military were "opening the doors for al-Qaeda followers and killers of Shiites. It will lead Iraq into more trouble." (Yesterday, Maliki cautioned against allowing Ba'athists and former Hussein henchmen into the Awakening Councils, and Raghavan's story shows the premier is right to be concerned.) This is an important new angle uncovered in Awakening story.

The Post's Amit R. Paley reports on yesterday's killing of the leader of one of the Awakening councils in Adhamiyah, Col. Riyadh al-Sammarai, and at least 10 others in a suicide attack. Hadi (From Raghavan's story, above) makes another appearance when he pledges defiance in the face of such attacks encouraged by al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden. "They are sending a message to the Awakening fighters that we must leave the movement," said Hadi. "But this will only increase our will to fight against them more and more." Also on Monday, a mechanical failure sparked massive fires at the Baiji Oil Refinery, the country's largest, killing one person and wounding at least three.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Mudhafer al-Husaini have the story of the murder of al-Sammarai for the Times, adding that there was a near-simultaneous car bombing just yards away. The Times' death toll was 14 killed and 18 wounded. The killer was known to al-Sammarai, and his guards didn't try to stop the man who approached him, suggesting an inside job. It was the second such killing of an Awakening leader in two days, Oppel and Husaini report, attacks that have left 30 people dead in two days. This violence is "chipping away" at the relative lull in the city. On Monday, there were eight other bombings that killed at least four people and wounded 23. Gunmen kidnapped eight Awakening Council guards and police have discovered the bodies of 13 men around the city. They appeared to have been killed at close range. The reports of the decrease in violence may have been premature.

Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor, however, finds cause for optimism in Baghdad for the Methboub family, a clan Monitor reporters have been popping in on since 2002. This time, eldest daughter Fatima is getting married, and it's cause for celebration and normality. It's a good story on the daily lives of Iraqis living in a war zone. It's also the kind of story that doesn't get told often enough.

Presidential trips
The Monitor's Howard LaFranchi gets in on the action of President George W. Bush's trip to the Middle East, penning a curtain-raiser and looking at he hopes to accomplish. As the Post reported yesterday, the president's aspirations have been drastically lowered -- some would say more realistic -- and Arab leaders are back in their comfort zone with the United States. Gone is the transformative rhetoric about liberal democracies and back is the talk of incremental gains in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and containing a hostile power (Iran.)

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor
The Monitor's Sam Dagher makes his predictions for 2008 for Iraq, playing it safe by saying that political progress must follow the security gains made. There are few actual predictions, however, only what needs to happen to keep things on an even keel. But one analyst predicts that Syria will restrict more insurgents in a bid to end its international isolation. These looks ahead should take more of a stand and risk being wrong than simply presenting every possible scenario in carefully couched language.

Wall Street Journal
Fouad Ajami writes for the Journal's op-ed page that rather than despising Bush for his adventure in Iraq, Arabs respect him for his strength in transforming Iraq, grudgingly accepting the U.S.'s "right of conquest" in upturning Iraq's old Sunni-dominated order. "How else did the ruling class in Arabia, in the Gulf and in Jordan beget their kingdoms?" he writes. Ajami is more than approving of Bush's plan for Iraq and for the Middle East and his detest for the region's Sunni regimes is palpable. (Ajami is a Shi'ite from southern Lebanon.) It's a bit disconcerting to read so much neo-con rhetoric this late in the game when even Bush is abandoning his "Freedom Agenda" for something all American presidents crave in this benighted region: stability.

The paper's editorial page also takes the Democratic presidential field to task -- with some justification, frankly -- for not acknowledging the security gains made in Iraq. It being the Journal, of course it makes questionable leaps of logic -- there have been no attacks on the U.S. mainland in six year, so obviously going into Iraq made Americans safer (but not Indonesians, Spaniards, Iraqis or Londoners). But it does raise the point that Democrats running for president need to explain or even revise their plans for Iraq in light of new developments.

Bret Stephens writes a somewhat incoherent op-ed on American expectations surrounding Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the Iraq war and America, blending them all together in an intellectual mush that is difficult to untangle. He seems to be complaining that people's expectations are too high and that the lack of religiously inspired genocide in Iraq is a about the best we can expect. And that combating asbestos at Ground Zero is silly. And that all these expectations have turned the U.S. into a nation of complainers, so everyone should shut up already. Or something.

Washington Post
The Post's editorial board also dislike's the Democratic presidential candidates refusal to see anything positive in Iraq. Actually, the editorial mainly takes them to task for even talking about a pullout plan and what to do in the ensuing vacuum to help the Iraqis who helped the U.S. Does the Post want the troops to never leave?

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Bombs, Bodies and Severed Heads
01/07/2008 01:31 AM ET
With news of violence declining, a new spate of attacks have stolen the thunder of other, more endearing news stories on Iraq.

The unfortunate tale of five killed in the middle of the Iraqi Army Day celebration makes front page news in The Washington Post. During the celebration, a suicide bomber detonated himself, killing five; two of which were Iraqi soldiers, hurling themselves at the attacker, hoping to prevent another attack. This bombing was the most recent in a series that have hit Baghdad in the past few weeks. "The bombing astonished us," said Faraj Rahoo, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul on the event,"especially after Christmas passed peacefully without any sad events."

Tomorrow's paper will feature a discussion on the debate on the Iraq war in Washington, entitled,"The War Over the War". Readers can join author Karen DeYoung Tuesday and submit their comments and questions online.

The Christian Science Monitor finally offers an article regarding Iraq. The article by staff writer Gordon Lubold discusses the concept of foreign fighters in Iraq. Most are from Northern African countries, such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Middle Eastern countries such as Saudia Arabia and Libya. An analysis published by West Point suggests that the bulk of foreign fighters originate from countries with whom the United States is allied. These foreign fighters are also violent, according to Lt. Col. Joseph Felter, who co-wrote the West Point analysis,"...it seems very likely that the vast majority of the suicide bombers do seem to be committed by non-Iraqis." While the amount of fighters is unknown, U.S. military officials have determined that the flow of the fighters into Iraq is decreasing, from as many as 110 per month in the first half of 2007 to about 40 per month this past fall. This may correlate with the fact that violence in general is decreasing in Iraq.

Also featured in The Monitor is an Associated Press article on Iraq's book market improving. This is another example of everyday life starting to peek through in society, now that violence is down in Baghdad.

Thom Shanker reports the story behind the military's view of the media and highlights one of the Petraeus' military strategies that has worked well for insurgents and media alike: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. The article explores how the new military strategy embraces the media. The enthusiasm of the invasion embed days have aged into cynicism and criticism.

Last year, a Pew Research Center examined media coverage from Iraq and found more than half to be pessimistic. Now with a new wave of optimism the military is concerned that the media just may lose interest and not provide post-surge coverage. Iraq is still the biggest media story and most important political topic according to polls, but an unpopular war that is taking turns for the better seems to have lost its resonance. As Shanker points out, “The press is not the enemy,” Mr. Gates tells military audiences, including at the service academies, “and to treat it as such is self-defeating.”

Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, public affairs officer for Multinational Division-Baghdad, wraps it up with the new pragmatism exhibited towards the media: “In general, I thought the majority coverage was very accurate and fair,” said Colonel Bleichwehl, who has served twice in Iraq. “There were not always enough reporters there full-time to provide the complete story of what was going on in a city with seven million people, much less the rest of the country.”

In a disturbing trend, but with more coverage than we have seen in the last week due to U.S. elections, Solomon Moore and Mudhafer al-Husaini cover the bad news from Iraq in roundup style. Top stories are a suicide bombing (one of four around the country) during Army Day that killed the four Iraqi soldiers who tried to stop him. They mention the assassination of Sheik Dhari Mandeel, one of the leaders of the Awakening group in Diyala, the return of Maliki who insists he was somehow was suffering from exhaustion, but had to fly all the way to London to have it looked at. The laundry list of misery also includes a dozen bodies in Baghdad and five severed heads outside of Baquba.

The Times staff is renowned for digging deep and wide, lets hope the roundup format is a temporary way to shoehorn Iraq news into the top U.S. papers. Reuters goes deeper on the Army Day bombing and it is up to the wires to remind us that the U.S. death toll will be soon reaching 4000.

The best piece is a haunting story by Brian Stelter about a soldier who wrote about his death, only to be killed by small arms fire in Iraq. Army Major Andrew Olmsted, 38, wrote in his blog, “We’re all going to die of something,” Major Olmsted wrote in his final post. “I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was.”

Good journalism that puts a face on the ever growing statistics.

Daily Column
Singular Story of Two Deaths and An Excellent Graphic Recap of 2007
01/06/2008 02:02 AM ET
The New Hampshire primary dominates the news. Much of the analysis of the candidates plans for handling the conflict in Iraq have been left to television coverage.

The New York Times Opinion Section offers a recount of a year in the Iraq war. The chart is compiled from data provided by the American and Iraqi governments and news media organizations, particularly the Independent Coalition Casualty Count. The chart provides information on the type and location of each attack that caused the 2,592 recorded deaths among American and other coalition troops, Iraqi security forces and members of the Peshmerga militias controlled by the Kurdish government. The chart pictures 2007 as the deadliest year of the war.

Two soldiers killed last month during an operation in Mosul now appear to have been shot to death by an Iraqi soldier on patrol with them, according to senior Iraqi officers. Richard Oppel and Stephen Farrell describe the killings which occurred December 26th as a joint American-Iraqi patrol was setting up a combat outpost in a dangerous neighborhood of Western Mosul. "Gunmen hiding in a building and in a car opened fire on the patrol," senior Iraqi officers said, "During the fight one of the Iraqi soldiers turned his weapon on unsuspecting americans." The Iraqi soldier attempted to to flee, but was caught after being identified by other Iraqi soldiers. The suspected soldier who shot the Americans was tied to the insurgency, according to Brig. Gen. Mutaa Habib al-Kharaji., a commander in the Iraqi Army's Second division in Mosul.

Amit R. Paley recounts the shooting of two American soldiers in The Washington Post. He reminds us that his is "one of the few reported cases of an Iraqi soldier intentionally killing his U.S. counterparts since the 2003 invasion."

Daily Column
The Green Zone Gone By and Refugees Returning
01/05/2008 01:41 AM ET
The major papers of the U.S. are plastered with photos and interesting articles on each candidate. Lots of interactive videos and slideshows can be found online to supplement the reader's upcoming election research. Unfortunately for those interested in the current happenings in Iraq, there is not much to pick through...again.

The Washington Post provides the bulk of Iraq news with a story on the good ol' days of the Green Zone and the recent surge of refugees from Syria.

The "darkening of the Green Zone" is a big topic in The Washington Post. Staff writer Karen DeYoung writes an interesting article on the once "social Iraq", where soldiers relaxed in Saddam Hussein's palace and had high hopes for the war's conclusion and returning home within months, not years. Unfortunately, those upbeat soldiers are replaced with "soldiers with lower expectations, slogging diligently through their duties, collecting combat pay and envisioning an Iraq where the electricity works and where trips to the market does not court death." Today's Green Zone is more drab than "fab", with dull gray buildings and high sand bag walls to protect against mortar attacks. The author talks with Richard H. Houghton III, who spent three years in the Green Zone and is now an advisor to the U.S. ambassador. Houghton has written a 41-page "Visitor's Guide to Baghdad's Green Zone" that provides information on the actual fortress soldiers are inhabiting. One of his interesting landmarks is the Believer's Palace, a fake shell of a building built by Hussein to conceal an underground bunker.

About 50,000 Iraqi refugees have returned home from Syria in the last 31/2 months of 2007. This number reflects the lessening of violence in Iraq. "Security has definitely improved, and improved by far," says Said I. Hakki, the president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, the aid group that compiled the impressive statistics. Considering there are almost 2 million Iraqi refugees out of the country, the migration of 50,000 seems small. Iraqi officials report much higher numbers in their calculations. An Iraqi spokesman said that in October alone, 50,000 returned home. The new report says the reason for the decrease in violence is partly due to the buildup of American troops, while Hakki, the Iraqi Red Crescent president says "people are coming back because they are desperate. The majority of them are broke or their visas have expired." General David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq told reporters that there were no reliable figures on refugees coming back to Iraq. Referring to the Red Crescent figures he states,"there is certainly a softness to their data..."

The New York Times, USA Today and The Christian Science Monitor's motioning of Iraq are limited to candidate debates and opinions on the war.

Daily Column
Sensationalist Stories, War Crimes and Blow-Back are All That is Available
01/04/2008 01:48 AM ET
Despite the Iraq War being the number one topic of the Iowa caucus, the caucus itself is the story today. Odds and Ends- type news stories on Iraq are what the major U.S Papers feature today. Awkward statements from Shi'a cleric al-Hakim supporting Sunni death squads tops the list. Other stories describe how people met their end and an Opinion piece retells a very common question on the war: make peace with our enemies or fight at full capacity? America’s favorite Shi’a cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim went on record as praising the U.S. formulated Sunni militias

“While Mr. Hakim did not say whether the groups should be continued indefinitely, his speech appeared to soften more cautious comments he made just last month, when he warned that the Sunni groups should operate only in the most dangerous areas and should not be seen as a replacement for government forces.”

The Washington Post has a depressing story about a 20-year old enlisted mother from Redlands, California who was run over after a drunken night in Iraq. Donna St. George opens a disturbing window into just one of the more than 700 non-combat deaths in Iraq. St. George’s investigation uncovers the story of alcohol, sex, and a cover up.

Josh White looks into the investigation into the Haditha killings. None of the Marines are to be charged with killing 24 innocent civilians in the Nov. 19, 2005 shootings, but rather covering up the event. “The Marine Corps at first charged eight Marines and officers with murder or failing to investigate an apparent war crime. The charges have since been narrowed to four men in the unit, after three were cleared and a fourth was granted immunity to testify.”

Ellen Knickmeyer reports the simple news that a suspected PKK car bomb detonates, killing five and injuring 60 in Diyarbakir. It is a reminder that there is direct linkage between the two regions.

USA Today also features an opinion piece entitled "Moral Reasoning Doesn't Work With Terrorists". In the editorial by Walter N. Zeh, he explains that the idea of peacefully ending the current war in Iraq is a nice thought, but he explains,"Sadly, this type of conflict comes down to sheer military resolve and might." Zeh brings up the millions of dollars donated to the cause by Americans in Hurricane Katrina raised public opinion of the United Sates in outside countries. By making friends of your enemies, conflict can be resolved. Sadly, he does not think this concept can apply to our current war in Iraq.

Daily Column
Iowa Freezes Out Iraq Coverage
01/03/2008 01:49 AM ET
Three days into 2008, the major dailies are devoid of Iraq coverage. That doesn't mean there isn't news, it just means the Iowa caucus, violence in Kenya, 100 dollar a barrel oil and a host of grim New Year projections fill the pages of America's major newspapers.

Deaths are approaching four thousand in Iraq, oil exports are up to 2.4 million barrels a day and estimated to hit three million by this time next year. Movies like In the Valley of Elah, Rendition and Redacted did poorly at the box office. Reporters Without Borders pointed out the disturbing statistic that of the 244% increase in Journo fatalities in the last five years, more than half of those were in Iraq.

Based on yesterday's Washington Post story of President Bush's trip to the Middle East, it might be safe to say he will be stopping in Iraq to capitalize on recent gains in the region.

If you are looking for Iraq coverage, you will see it's in small town dailies, where you'll find stories of soldiers going off to war balanced with depressing stories about returning vets and the troubles the wounded face and an upbeat small town story about fishing licenses being waived for wounded vets.

Front Page of The Washington Post, January 3rd, 2008
Front Page of The Washington Post, January 3rd, 2008
USA Today mentions an interesting article on new, high tech Army helmets. Unfortunately the only tie to Iraq is the tie to IEDs. The helmets are premiering in Afghanistan, but will surely be useful in Iraq's war-torn areas. The new helmets will be equipped with sensors that measure the "violent pulse of air after an explosion," says Tom Vanden Brook in his article. Since IEDs account for 80% of all wounds and are the cause for 60% of deaths, being able to gauge what the causes and effects of the IED blasts are, the Army will be able to better shield soldiers from traumatic brain injuries.

For the second time in three days, a suicide bomber has attacked a pro-U.S. Sunni militia. Solomon Moore tells readers in The New York Times: "The bomber emerged from behind a fruit stand near the checkpoint in downtown Baquba, leapt onto the hood of a BMW and detonated the explosives, killing Abu Sadjat, a local tribal chief who had just left a meeting with American military officials." According to the Iraqi police, the blast killed at least six Iraqis and wounded 22.

The Christian Science Monitor: no coverage.

Daily Column
Worst attack since November kills dozens; Women vets suffer PTSD in silence
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/02/2008 01:22 AM ET
It's another slim day for Iraq news, with a few stories from The New York Times mainly dealing with the presidential angle on the war. The Washington Post and USA Today also weigh in, with America's newspaper running a valuable piece on the psychological toll on women vets after almost five years of war.

Over there
The Post's Joshua Partlow and Zaid Sabah report on the catastrophic bombing in Zayouna neighborhood in Baghdad that killed at least 25 people and wounded 20 others yesterday. The attack on a funeral was the worst in months, even as the city's residents celebrated New Year's with a newfound sense of security. The bomb struck a funeral for a man killed in a car-bombing just four days earlier. Most chillingly, the bomber was a man known to the grieving relatives of the deceased. "When the suicide bomber got inside the funeral, he shook hands with everybody," said Brig. Gen. Qasim Ata' Zahil, an Iraqi army spokesman. "When he arrived at Muataz (the host of the funeral), he blew himself up." Elsewhere, an American Apache helicopter killed nine suspected insurgents while targeting al Qaeda in Iraq fighters in Arab Jabour, southeast of Baghdad.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Qais Mizher have the story for the Times, reporting that 30 people died in the attack. That was the bulk of at least 40 people who were killed across the country on Tuesday, the Times reporters write, just hours after New Year's revelries concluded. In Jawala, a village northeast of Muqdadiya in Diyala province, five relatives were abducted and killed. North of Muqdadiya, the severed head of a member of an Awakening council was found. In Salahuddin province, police said al Qaeda in Iraq kidnapped and killed a farmer and his son in Dhuluiya. They also took 200 sheep. Gunmen killed three people in a village 40 miles south of Kirkuk. An American soldier died from a "noncombat-related injury" on Dec. 31 south of Mosul.

Andrea Stone reports for USA Today on the women who are now coming back from Iraq suffering from PTSD, military sexual trauma and other psychological ailments. The stresses of war are hitting women warriors like never before -- mainly because more women are closer to the combat than ever before. About 11 percent of U.S. troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan -- about 182,000 -- are women. By contrast, only 7,500 women served in Vietnam, mainly as nurses, and nearly 41,000 in the Gulf War. Women are barred from "official" combat jobs, but they do get to do some of the most dangerous "support" jobs in Iraq: driving supply convoys, guarding checkpoints and searching women during neighborhood patrols. Still, more than 100 female service members have died and nearly 570 have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the ranks of the psychologically damaged are growing. In 2006, the Veterans Administration treated nearly 3,800 women diagnosed with PTSD. That's 14 percent of the total PTSD cases. This is a tough issue, and kudos to Stone for delving deeply into it.

Gordon Lubold reports for the Christian Science Monitor on the big question being asked now that Iraq's security seems to be on the upswing: Does a safer Iraq mean more troops can come home? Unsurprisingly, Lubold doesn't answer the question, but instead presents varying points of view. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander on the ground in Iraq, is cautious and won't commit to a timetable for ending the war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to step up the drawdown. Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and considered the author of the surge strategy, doesn't want any withdrawal at all. Ever. "We all recognize the strain on soldiers and we're willing to accept some risk to do that, but when you get to 15 (brigades) and below, you get close to the red line where risk becomes gamble," he said. It's a frustrating story -- but that's not Lubold's fault -- which confuses more than it clarifies.

Politics, politics, politics...
Michael Gordon trudges to Iowa and interviews former Sen. John Edwards, who says he would withdraw American troops training the Iraqi army and police units as part of a broad plan to withdraw nearly all American forces within 10 months. The only remaining troops under his plan would be 3,500 to 5,000 service members to protect the embassy and possibly humanitarian workers. He said the deployment of tens of thousands of troops to provide advice and logistical support is "a continuation of the occupation of Iraq." Gordon notes that Edwards' position is one that would lead to a quicker and more complete withdrawal than his rivals. His plan would likely be strongly opposed by military commanders.

On the Times' Caucus blog, other candidates' foreign policy positions are outlined. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., would keep a sizable force in Iraq to fight al Qaeda in Iraq, deter Iranian aggression, protect the Kurds and possibly support the Iraqi military. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants to maintain a strong troop presence and has no fallback option if violence flares back up after the surge ends. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., would engaged in "aggressive personal diplomacy" with Iran and would offer economic incentives to get Tehran to plan nice in Iraq. He also would keep a residual force in Iraq, but emphasized that it would be smaller than Clinton's plan.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Baghdad hotels throw parties for New Year's Eve for the first time in years
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 01/01/2008 00:45 AM ET
Happy 2008 everyone. Don't bother looking for much Iraq coverage today. A combination of the holiday, electioneering in Iowa and a lack of published editions in several papers lead to an almost complete absence of Iraq news from today's papers. But that's OK; The New York Times and the Washington Post both devote almost all of their Iraq coverage to celebrants ringing in the New Year.

Joshua Partlow of the Post goes to a New Year's Eve party at the Alwiyah Club, a storied Baghdad social spot, where 300 beleaguered Iraqis got the party off to a ragged start in the early afternoon. Because of security concerns, the festivities needed to wrap up well before darkness lay too heavily on the city. By Partlow's account, the party wasn't so hot: Families silently picked at humous and Brussels sprouts while young men puffed cigarettes and stared at the stage. No one danced. The singer -- who asked that her picture not be taken for fear of being killed -- implored the audience to have some fun. "Iraq has just gotten safer -- you can laugh a little. We are not charging you for your applause." Partlow imparts a bit of the club's history, and notes that it's long been a scene of secularism in Baghdad's social scene. But not as much now. Couples are afraid to dance together in public because of increased religiosity. As the evening wore on, and the bottles of Teacher's Highland Cream Scotch Whisky opened, the crowd loosened up. "More beer, less bullets! More beer, less bullets!" chanted Tariq Harb, a well-known Iraqi lawyer. By 8:20 the partiers went home. This is, after all, Baghdad.

The Times' Solomon Moore and Stephen Farrell find better parties -- or at least ones that go later -- than Partlow did, but the report is more or less the same. An increasing feeling of security has Iraqis on the New Year's party circuit again, even if they continue to cast a wary glance over their shoulders. At the Ishtar Sheraton and the Palestine hotels, revelers partied until dawn -- it wasn't safe to go home in the middle of the night. Still, Moore and Farrell report that all was not entirely peaceful on New Year's Eve. Last minute attacks served as potent reminders that 2007 was the bloodiest on record for civilians and members of the American and Iraqi security forces. At least 18,000 civilians died last year, according to the Ministry of Interior. ICasualties.org counted 899 Americans killed in 2007 compared to 822 in 2006. (Total American death toll in Iraq is 3,902.) And the violence continued. Bomb attacks killed at least nine people on Monday, including two Iraq soldiers. Suicide vehicle bombers struck in Tarmiya, 30 miles north of Baghdad, and Iskandariya, about the same distance south of the capital. Five people died in Diyala province and a woman blew herself up in Baqoubah, the capital of Diyala. The Times reporters tie the spike in attacks to Osama bin Laden's latest audio message, calling for the destruction of the Awakening Councils.

Meanwhile, back stateside, Paul von Zielbauer reports for the Times that the Marine infantryman accused of killing 17 Iraqis in Haditha in 2005 will be court-martialed on charges of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder. The accused, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, will also face charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. Another Marine first lieutenant will face court-martial for his role in covering up photographs in the aftermath of the 2005 killings. The two trials indicate that the preliminary investigations are over in the Haditha incident.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor and USA Today
No editions today.

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