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Archive: February 2009
Daily Column
US Soldiers Drinking and Dancing (!) in the Red Zone
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/28/2009 02:00 AM ET
President Obama’s announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of combat troops and the reaction to it is examined from several angles, as would be expected. From Baghdad, a story on the reemergence of Baghdad nightlife is well worth reading, even if just to be able to visualize the look on a US military spokesman’s face as he responded to a query by the Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan - "Just so I understand this clearly, you saw U.S. soldiers at a nightclub in downtown Baghdad outside of the Green Zone in uniform drinking and dancing?"

On Friday, President Obama announced his plan for a withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq. There have been articles all week with information about what he was expected to say, and there were no surprises. He gave the date for the end of combat operations as August 31, 2010. There has been some quibbling over the number of training and support troops that will remain, but it still stands at between 35,000 and 50,000. This means a withdrawal of over 100,000 troops in the next year and a half. Mr. Obama also said that he intended to have all troops out by the end of 2011.

Of the stories offered today, Peter Baker of the New York Times gives the most bang for your buck by laying it out succinctly, with most of the analysis on the general consensus behind him on both sides of the aisle, and explores how that point was reached.
Mr. Obama presented his plan at the same base where, in April 2003, with American forces nearing Baghdad, Mr. Bush declared that “we will accept nothing less than complete and final victory.” Nearly six years, more than 4,200 military deaths, tens of thousands of civilian deaths and $657 billion later, the definition of victory has evolved. If the uneasy but relatively democratic Iraq that is emerging counts as a victory of sorts, it proved to be longer, bloodier and more damaging to America’s reputation than anticipated.
As Mr. Obama put it, "There are some Americans who want to stay in Iraq longer," Obama acknowledged in a speech to Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., "and some who want to leave faster." Some worry on the part of Iraq’s Sunni population is mentioned.

The Washington Post has two stories which cover a lot of the same ground somewhat repetitively. Karen DeYoung writes an article that is just about comparable to the one described above, but with more of a focus on what military officials are saying, including what is actually still undetermined.
Under the plan, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, will assess the overall situation every six months to allow Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to provide guidance to Obama. Although some U.S. units will leave Iraq between now and early next year, the bulk of the combat force is expected to remain, under Odierno's recommendation, at least until national elections take place in December and their outcome is decided.
Anne E. Kornblut and Ann Scott Tyson give more time to Obama’s emphasis on a new diplomacy, and include reactions of the troops’ at Camp Lejeune, NC, where he gave the speech.
When he promised to raise military pay, a large cheer erupted from the crowd -- much more so than when he declared that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq would be over by September 2010. "I figured that'd be an applause line," Obama said.
Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times reports on the speech from US Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Iraq’s still-violent Diyala province, where the cheering wasn’t so loud, and it makes a good sister piece to any of the earlier articles. Until Friday, the end of the war in Iraq was, for enlisted soldiers and officers alike, little more than an abstraction — a distant goal that remained out of reach, that would last longer than this tour and that would, in all likelihood, mean they would return to Iraq.

“I don’t think the war is over,” said Col. Burt K. Thompson. “We’ve thwarted the main objective of the insurgency, but the enemy has a vote, and the moment you let your guard down, something bad will happen.”

From Iraq
Someone is sure to be getting a stern talking-to while you read this, as a result of the story about Baghdad nightlife by Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post Baghdad’s famed Abu Nawas Street, a well-protected riverfront area, is witnessing the return of some small clubs which stay open late, serving liquor and providing music – but while reading, something else kind of jumps out at you. There are descriptions (and even a photos – youch!) of US servicemen dancing and, as it appears, drinking beer at a table. Apparently, those two cans allowed during the Super Bowl aren't all that flows through the US military.

It isn’t the kind of nightclub dancing that many in the states or Europe would picture – Iraqi style clubs often feel more like a loud family reunion at a restaurant than a nightclub, and all the patrons are men. This is taken up a notch here, though, by the quiet reemergence of hired female dancers. Also noteworthy are the presence of women Raghavan says appeared to be prostitutes - probably more responsible wording than the picture gallery (at least on the WP website) which clearly shows a woman’s face and simply calls her a prostitute. Despite improved safety, this is something with potentially dire consequences in Baghdad.

If you are a press relations officer in the 82nd Airborne, you may want to sit down before reading this one.
Club manager Salah Hassan said Thursday's visit was not exceptional. "The Americans come here four or five times a week," he said. "They buy drinks and pay for them." Others at the club said the soldiers had been there more than once. "I love the Americans," said Amal Saad, a petite young woman with blue contact lenses and thick red lipstick. "I like it when they come here. I feel so safe."

"Many times, I went with them in their Humvees," she added. "They took me to shops and bought me chocolates and gifts."
The Post’s editorial page writes that Mr. Obama “was broadly faithful to his campaign promises” of a 16 month withdrawal, and called the changes “praiseworthy”. Congressional Democrats are called upon to follow him. Nothing terrible, nothing groundbreaking.

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday editions.

Daily Column
Media Ban Lifted For Bodies' Return
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/27/2009 02:00 AM ET
The big news today is the lifting of the media ban on coverage of returning slain US soldiers, but there aren't many details. The large number of death penalties handed out to members of the Followers of Mahdi is also covered, as is the low oil-price budget crunch, Obama's troop withdrawal plan, and a truly international story about a guilty plea in an American court by a Dutch national who is accused of being an Iraqi insurgent.

Media Ban Lifted
Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post reports that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates went through with lifting the 1991 government ban on news coverage of the return of the remains of fallen service members to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. We all know what the arguments for and against it are - the new information here is that, according to Gates, it is the families who will decide whether to allow photographs and videos of the return of remains of their loved ones.

Gates does not say how such permission is to be granted or denied by the families, and Tyson doesn’t address it.

From Baghdad
The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson writes of the 28 members of a Shiite messianic cult responsible for brutal attacks on Shiite pilgrims in Iraq that were sentenced to death on Thursday. Nineteen other members of the Followers of Mahdi , or Ansar al-Imam al-Mahdi, were also sentenced to life in prison. Robertson explains...
The condemned were members of the Followers of the Mahdi, itself a part of the Soldiers of Heaven, a fringe cult that believes that sowing chaos will pave the way for the coming of the Mahdi, the 12th Imam, who disappeared in the ninth century, and who Shiites believe will return as a savior of humanity.

The Soldiers of Heaven have fought Iraqi and American security forces in a series of clashes. None have been more brutal, or bizarre, than a battle in January 2007 on the outskirts of the holy Shiite city of Najaf, where an estimated 1,000 cult members entrenched themselves with plans to overthrow the city’s Shiite clerical leadership.
Police said that they were making plans to stage attacks against Shiite pilgrims again this year in Karbala, during Ashura observances.

Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal reports that Iraq's parliament is considering fresh budget cuts of some $4.2 billion, or 7% of its current spending plan this year, as it scrambles to cope with low oil prices. Several cash-saving measures are at hand, including a freeze on new hiring and further cuts in the dwindling food-ration program.

Many of the issues were covered in yesterday’s featured report on the US Papers roundup by Campbell Robertson and James Glanz in the Times, but Chon is clearer about a few things, and if you like numbers, she’s got ‘em.
About 20% of Iraq's budget is earmarked for capital expenditures like new roads and repairs to oil, water and sewage infrastructure. That $12 billion capex budget is $1 billion smaller than in 2008. Much of the rest of the 80% of the budget represents government salaries, costs politicians will be especially loathe to cut.
Here is an interesting point.
Iraq's creaky bureaucracy may end up helping the country cope in the short term with the budget crunch. ...Iraq has been extremely slow spending money it earmarks for projects. While the cash has been committed, it may sit in federal or ministerial bank accounts for months or years before actually being spent. That has meant that building projects already started across the country haven't been impacted.
Del Quentin Wilber continues his coverage from yesterday in the Washington Post about Dutch national Wesam al-Delaema pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to kill Americans in Iraq, and faces a mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison. He will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman on April 15. As part of the deal that led to his extradition, Delaema will serve his time in the Netherlands, where a judge may amend his sentence under Dutch law. Wilber reported yesterday that this was expected, and he was right.

Daily Column
Al-Daini Freed, Obama Adjusts Withdrawal Plan, Terror Suspect Tried in US
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/26/2009 02:00 AM ET
A strong and diverse showing of Iraq news, much of it filed from Baghdad. The continuing thread is the fragility of Iraqi stability, as faced with falling revenues, projected US troop withdrawal, and continuing sectarian mistrust among both neighbors and lawmakers.

From Baghdad
Campbell Robertson and James Glanz of the New York Times start us off with a gloomy outlook of Iraq’s finances. The front-page story gives a good understanding of some of the most important developments needed for a functioning Iraq, beyond just security. Parliament is currently discussing the 2009 budget, the early numbers of which were based on elevated oil prices in past months. Now that those prices have tumbled, so have chances to pay for rebuilding and basic government projects. The old standards - electricity, water, sanitation, etc. - are still a big deal.

Robertson and Glanz point out that identifying the causes of Iraq’s financial problems is much easier than most other countries. Oil accounts for about 90 percent of government revenue and the credit crisis really doesn’t apply – not much credit, and no mortgages. A raise in salaries for government employees and actually paying for the ever-growing security forces are some of the main issues.

A stable Iraqi economy and an adequately prepared Iraqi military are crucial if American combat troops are to withdraw by August 2010, as aides to President Obama suggested this week. And illustrating just how closely the two countries are still intertwined, a faltering Iraq could also complicate Mr. Obama’s plan to lower the American deficit with billions in savings that would come from such a withdrawal.
On the social side of Iraq’s furrowed brow, Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post writes “A Quiet Filled With Wariness,” about the deep sectarian mistrust and often animosity which can remain between members of a particular Baghdad district, but obviously applicable elsewhere. It is a good article to read for all those people back home who ask journalists (and, I’m sure, others returning from Iraq) questions like, “So, how are things, really? Is it much safer, or is it still dangerous?” The answer is “Both”.

Raghavan covers several indicators, from interaction in public places to haircuts not previously allowed in 2006 when the Mahdi Army militia openly patrolled the streets. Baghdad’s Tobji neighborhood is an entirely different and safer world now, but still there lurks the past. The language people use has changed, but there are still undertones.

Militia members are a personification of a potential return to violence – they are quiet, but ready. One Mahdi Army leader interviewed, known as Abu Sajjad, speaks of the difference between the “bad” members, who took part in the worst of the sectarian violence, and the “good” ones, like himself, who interceded to help some Sunnis.
Sajjad pointed at a concrete warehouse owned by a Sunni but now occupied by a Shiite family. "That's where the Sunnis were taken to get slaughtered," he said matter-of-factly. "The bad Sunnis," he swiftly added.
For the complexities of both the micro and the macro view, it is well worth reading in its entirety.

Also in the New York Times, Marc Santora continues coverage of the Mahammed al-Daini affair, as the lawmaker is stripped of his parliamentary immunity in the face kidnapping, murder, and bombing charges, only to escape, be arrested, and escape again. Santora runs through the known facts coherently, as is needed.

The skinny seems to be that al-Daini hopped on a plane headed for Amman (intriguingly accompanied by some other MPs), but which was ordered to bring him back to Baghdad, mid-flight. He was apparently arrested upon arrival, but then released, as his parliamentary immunity had not yet been stripped. Al-Daini’s whereabouts are not known, and security spokesman Gen Qassim Atta is asking for the public’s help in finding him.

There are two articles about President Obama’s expected adjustment of a US withdrawal of combat troops, from his initial 16-month plan, to probably a 19-month plan. The military is reluctant to pull out too fast, and numbers discussed for those to remain afterwards as “Advisory Training Brigades” or “Advisory Assistance Brigades,” (or, as Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell termed them, “enablers”), run between 15,000 and 50,000. The Christian Science Monitor’s Gordon Lubold and Jane Arraf (she isn’t stateside, but has sneakers on the ground in Baghdad) focus on the numbers and are similar to some of yesterday’s articles on the topic, but do interestingly point out that there are still about 28,000 troops stationed in North Korea and another 54,000 in Germany. The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Thom Shanker go a bit further, providing more interesting quotes and in-depth viewpoints.

Del Quentin Wilber of the Washington Post reports that a Dutch national accused of planting roadside bombs to kill U.S. troops in Iraq is expected to plead guilty today, ending the first prosecution of an alleged Iraqi insurgent in a U.S. courtroom. Wesam al-Delaema, 36, born in Iraq, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington on charges that include conspiring to murder U.S. citizens and possessing a destructive device during a crime of violence, is scheduled to plead guilty, according to a brief docket entry made in the case yesterday.

Al-Delaema was arrested by Dutch authorities in May 2005 and extradited to the United States in early 2007.
Authorities have alleged that Delaema traveled to Iraq in 2003 and was a member of the group Mujaheddin From Fallujah, which deployed roadside bombs. On a videotape seized from his Dutch home, Delaema and other alleged insurgents were shown making, planting and discussing explosives intended to harm U.S. troops operating near Fallujah, authorities have said. On the video, Delaema said in Arabic that "we have executed several operations, and most of them were successful."
As per the extradition deal, al-Delaema was not to be transferred to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and any sentence handed out would be served in the Netherlands.

In the New York Times, op-ed contributors Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and Kenneth M. Pollack, director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings tell us that, as far as a US pullout, the Obama administration needs to act according to what happens on the ground in Iraq. They speak of the issues inherent in “young democracies” and detail several major issues which face this particular youngster. Notable among them is the still-growing tension between the Kurdista Regional Government in the north, and the central government in Baghdad. Their report on Iraq’s status is not overly rosy, nor is it pessimistic.
...we agree that Iraq continues to make tremendous strides, thanks to American assistance and, increasingly, the efforts of Iraqi politicians and security forces. But both those ready to dust off the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner and declare victory and those who continue to see Iraq as an inherent disaster that must simply be abandoned have to realize that continued American involvement will be crucial for several more years.
America, they say, “should not baby-sit Iraq through all of its problems as a young democracy,” but need to help the country through the crucial period of the next 12 to 18 months, “then we can bring our troops home quickly, but responsibly.”

Wall Street Journal, USA Today no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Obama Expected to Set Date for Iraq Pullout, Counterterrorism in Diyala
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/25/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today’s stories deal with the death of US servicemen (and interpreters who work wit them), their counterinsurgency challenges, and when they might be able to go home.

From Iraq
In Mosul on Tuesday, Iraqi policemen - or men dressed as Iraqi policemen - opened fire on four American soldiers and two Iraqi interpreters, the third deadly attack on U.S. troops in two weeks in the still-volatile provinces of Nineveh and Diyala. What we know is that is happened inside a police station in Mosul, that the US confirms the death of one of its soldiers, and one interpreter. Three more GIs are reported wounded, plus one additional interpreter and an Iraqi police chief. We also know that the attack seemed well planned, and the attackers evaded capture.

The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan writes that the two were policemen, and gives details of the changes in the US confirmations – first just of soldiers wounded, then of one killed. He covers the brazen nature of the attack.
Tuesday's assault occurred in broad daylight. About 2 p.m., the American soldiers were inside the headquarters of a brigade that protects bridges in the western section of the city, said Brig. Gen. Saeed al-Jubouri, a spokesman for the Nineveh provincial police. ...After firing their weapons, the policemen ran outside the station and up the stairs of a nearby bridge. "They got into a car that was waiting for them and escaped," Jubouri said. By the time police forces went to the assailants' homes, their families had also fled, police officials said.

"Al-Qaeda has infiltrated the police forces in Mosul," said an Interior Ministry official in Baghdad, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. The ministry oversees the police.
Marc Santora of the New York Times question whether the attackers were in fact policemen or not, describing them as “Iraqi insurgents wearing police uniforms.” If, as mentioned in the Washington Post article above, police forces went to the assailants’ homes and their families had fled, their identity seems confirmed. Santora writes of efforts to purge security forces whose loyalty is questionable.

In the past year, some 62,000 people have been dismissed from the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police. In Baghdad and other cities across the country, there are few complaints about fake checkpoints. But in Mosul and a number of other cities where the insurgents remain entrenched, there is still concern about infiltration of the security forces, according to Iraqi officials.
Both cover the statements by Sunni leader Saleh al-Mutlaq, responding to government accusations of involvement in several illegal acts against fellow lawmaker Mohammad al-Daini. He complains that Shi’a politicians’ criminal behavior is not given the same scrutiny as that of Sunni lawmakers. “Let’s begin a real effort to disclose information about those involved in killings and sectarian displacement,” Mr. Mutlaq said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Then we will discover that there are leaders inside the political process who took part in these events.”

Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor files from Baquba reports on the difficulty US forces can have distinguishing who's insurgent, and who isn’t. He speaks to US Army Lt. Drew Vanderhoff, while looking over a canal to a small village.
"We know for a fact that there is AQI in that village," he says. Although he has the names and even biometric data of everyone in the village, 25 miles outside of Baghdad, he's still not sure exactly who's working with the home-grown Sunni insurgent group and who's not.

...During a joint US-Iraqi patrol, the shadow of an active insurgency loomed large. Searching a dried-up canal, members of Vanderhoff's platoon discovered "spider holes" and tunnels dug into the sides of the empty waterway. Insurgents use these tunnel systems to hide from passing helicopters and stash everything from weapons to motorcycles.
It is a basic counterinsurgency story, quoting US military on the ground and Rand folks from the states. Things are said to be improving, but pesky insurgents remain. "Everywhere we go people tell us they're here and they're around, so you know they're here," says a Staff Sgt.

The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Elisabeth Bumiller and the Washington Post’s Ann Scott Tyson and Anne E. Kornblut write about signals that the Obama administration is sending out, suggesting that a pullout of “combat troops” by mid 2010, about three months later than his election promise of a 16 month withdrawal, from the time of taking office.

Both articles are comparable, and you can guess it from the headline, mostly. Here is a paragraph from the Post to stop the presses for.
"He is approaching a decision on this very soon," said one official, speaking, as others did, on the condition of anonymity because no announcement has been made. A senior administration official said Tuesday night that Obama is "nearing a decision" but insisted that no final plans had been made.
The expected decision would set in motion a major logistical effort by the U.S. military of pulling out a combat brigade about every five weeks. Gen Odierno says that “significant” numbers will need to remain to train Iraqi troops. A decision might be announced on Friday.

Wall Street Journal, USA Today no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Official Opening of Museum, Europe Returns to Iraq as War Ebbs
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/24/2009 01:50 AM ET
Today, there are stories of building an army, quickly readying a museum, and old players returning once again to rebuild a country.

Iraqi Special Forces
Jim Michaels of USA Today in Washington reports that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's effort to have a special military unit report directly to him is raising concerns that he is accumulating too much power and following in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein. It’s not a small group of Maliki’s bodyguards in question, it is about 4,000 of Iraq’s most highly-trained security personnel, its special forces, and legislation has been introduced to remove them from the authority of the Defense and Interior ministries and establish a separate budget.

Though Michaels’ story is presented in a non-sensational manner (compare our title of “Maliki’s Private Army?” to USA Today’s “Chain of Command Concerns Raised in Iraq”), all the information is in this brief report to spell out an addition to the common theme of al-Maliki as power-garnerer.
"The danger is ... he'll use it to target his political enemies," said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who served as a brigade commander and top staff officer in Iraq. Iraqi security forces have grown more professional in recent years but are still accused of carrying out sectarian agendas, particularly in Diyala province, a mixed Sunni-Shiite region.

Moderate Sunnis last year suspected Iraqi security forces and U.S. troops of using operations to intimidate moderate Sunni leaders and self-defense groups, according to the latest quarterly Pentagon report on Iraq. The report mentions an incident in which members of Iraqi special forces detained a prominent Sunni leader in Diyala, provoking Sunni outrage.
Former prime minister Ayad Allawi, said the proposed law is a dangerous throwback to Saddam's days. "It mimics very much the old days of darkness."

From Baghdad
Iraq’s National Museum reopened temporarily on Monday, making way for government officials, the press, and al-Maliki himself for a decidedly high-profile event. Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times calls the museum “far from whole” and points out the smell of fresh paint, as did the Times’ Sam Dagher when writing last week of another press event at Abu Ghraib Prison. It is not for lack of originality – there is a pattern here which bears bringing to light, demonstrated by the pressure which was put on the museum’s workers to have the museum ready for the cameras.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki pushed to reopen the museum, against the advice of his own Culture Ministry, as a sign of Iraqi progress. Symbol it was, and symbol it remains — not only of how much Iraq has improved, but of how far it has to go.

...the museum is only one institution in a place where little functions as it should — not electricity or even sewerage — nearly six years after the beginning of the war that toppled Saddam Hussein. The museum, like life here, may be more secure than at any other time since then, but it is not normal.
The Tourism Ministry announced the event two weeks ago, and was challenged by the Culture Ministry, who said the museum was far from ready. They were overruled, and it was decided to open the institution for at least one day, and not to the public – who were kept behind metal bars outside (more imagery in common with Dagher’s article). Culture Ministry officials boycotted the opening.

Despite the museum’s workers best efforts, it is indeed “far from whole,” the 2003 looting having transformed it into “a symbol of the chaos that followed the American invasion.”

Sudarsan Raghavan and K.I. Ibrahim of the Washington Post dedicate the first half of their article to the efforts to make the museum again whole, but make it sound as though it is open to the public from Tuesday on – not the case. The rest is about the status of lawmaker Mohammed al-Daini, who is accused of orchestrating a 2007 suicide bombing inside Iraq's parliament building, along with involvement in several kidnappings and deaths. told reporters that Iraq's Shiite-led government had tortured two of his former bodyguards to elicit the accusations, and he urged human rights groups to investigate the matter.

...Daini has been a vocal critic of the government, alleging human rights abuses against Sunnis and publicly asserting that Iran's Shiite theocracy controls many of Iraq's Shiite politicians.
"The confessions of my bodyguards were forcefully taken and they lack evidence to support them," he said. "I am paying the price of revealing many cases of human rights violations and corruption."

"Old" Europe Goes to New Iraq
William Boston of the Christian Science Monitor files from Berlin, and the first two paragraphs of his story about European governments courting lucrative Iraqi contracts sum it up pretty darn thoroughly.
“President Bush was hardly out of the White House before his European opponents to the invasion of Iraq began lining up for what are expected to be lucrative contracts to rebuild the oil-rich country.

In recent weeks, France and Germany, which Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of Defense, once chided as "Old Europe" for their opposition to the war, spearheaded Europe's forceful return to Baghdad. On separate visits with similar goals, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier swung through Baghdad. Their message was clear: As the danger subsides and the US scales back, Europe should move in quickly with money and know-how to rebuild everything from power stations, water systems, schools, and hospitals to roads and bridges.”
Sarkozy was all the rage while visiting Iraq, and al-Maliki is quoted, saying that German companies "won't have to undertake any special efforts in order to establish themselves here. They used to be very active here and enjoy a fine reputation."

Boston gives plenty of figures, and draws a connection between the friendly relations being demonstrated and the fact that both France and Germany were among the main Paris Club lenders that agreed, after the ousting of Hussein's government, to forgive 80 percent of the $39 billion in Iraq's foreign debt owed to Paris Club members.

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Widows' Need Dire and Aid Scant, MP Charged in Parliament Bombing
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/23/2009 02:00 AM ET
The Washington Post’s excellent two-part feature on a Guantanamo Bay detainee who carried out a suicide bombing continues. Also, the Iraqi lawmaker who has been charged with being part of the 2007 bombing in the parliament building, the difficult position in which Iraqi widows find themselves, and the controversial planned opening of the Iraqi National Museum.

Detainee-Turned Bomber
Rajiv Chandrasekaran finishes the captivating two-part report on Abdallah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti detainee of Guantanamo Bay Prison who was released after being considered at low-risk for future criminal activity, only to kill 13 Iraqis and wound 42 in a suicide bombing in Mosul. Yesterday’s lengthy first part bore no indication on the Post web site of being only half of a two-parter, and was given very good grades in the US Papers roundup standing alone. Today’s finale, coupled with yesterday’s offering or on its own, deserves the same positive reaction.

We left off with al-Ajmi’s release from Guantanamo, a seemingly much embittered and hostile version of the young man who was picked up in Pakistan nearly four years earlier, according to the legal team representing him. Today, Chandrasekaran files from Kuwait City, and follows his return to the custody of the Kuwaiti legal system.

His case illuminates a key challenge facing the Obama administration as it considers how to close the U.S. military prison and resolve the futures of the approximately 245 incarcerated there. Once detainees are sent home, even to friendly nations, the United States has very little influence over what happens to them... Although the United States may never say so publicly, it is likely to want more explicit promises from the countries where detainees are repatriated, and the administration will seek the establishment of rehabilitation programs, along the lines of one in Saudi Arabia, that provide former jihadists with jobs, homes and money to pay for dowries.

But there is also a view in some quarters of the U.S. government that cases such as Ajmi's are the inevitable result of locking up 779 foreigners in an austere military prison, without access to courts or consular representation, and subjecting them to interrogation techniques that detainees say amount to torture. Some of them are bound to seek revenge, these officials believe. The challenge is figuring out which ones.
Much of what led to al-Ajmi’s release was the fact that the US government was unwilling to share evidence, so it was unclear whether al-Ajmi served as an underling with the Taliban or just went to Pakistan, as he contended “to study the Koran and... was apprehended when he traveled toward the Afghan border to help refugees.” "Everything the prosecutors alleged, it came from the Americans, and the Americans got that material from their interrogations," said Ayedh al-Azmi, one of the lawyers. "How can we trust what came from the interrogations? How do we know they were not tortured to say those things?"

He returned to Kuwaiti society as largely an outcast, except among a group of radical men with whom he surrounded himself. "Before he went to Afghanistan, he was a normal teenager... People liked him," said his brother. "After he came back from Guantanamo, he seemed like a completely different person. He stared all the time. You could not have a normal conversation with him. . . . It seemed as if his brain had been washed."

The saga continues, and ends with tragedy. Absolutely worth a full read. Chandrasekaran also follows up with a separate brief discussion of how many former Guantanamo detainees are thought to have committed terrorist acts after being released. Pentagon officials say the number could be as high as 60.

From Baghdad
Timothy Williams of the New York Times reports on the huge and visible plight of Iraqi widows, and it is really no more upbeat than the previous story. With years of violent war creating a widow out of an estimated 1 in 11 women between 15 and 80, the problem as described by Williams seems insurmountable.
Women who lost their husbands had once been looked after by an extended support system of family, neighbors and mosques. But as the war has ground on, government and social service organizations say the women’s needs have come to exceed available help, posing a threat to the stability of the country’s tenuous social structures.

With the economy limping along, dependent almost entirely on the price of crude oil, and the government preoccupied with rebuilding and quelling sectarian violence, officials acknowledge that little is likely to change soon.
Women often find no choice but to become prostitutes, or to participate in a system of temporary marriage (which is usually about sex and can amount to the same thing). “We can’t help everybody,” said Leila Kadim, a managing director in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. “There are too many.” One way the government has seen fit to help is to enact a campaign to arrest beggars and the homeless, including war widows.

Mazin al-Shihan, director of the Baghdad Displacement Committee, a city agency, has proposed a plan to pay men to marry widows.
When asked why the money should not go directly to the women, Mr. Shihan laughed. “If we give the money to the widows, they will spend it unwisely because they are uneducated and they don’t know about budgeting,” he said. “But if we find her a husband, there will be a person in charge of her and her children for the rest of their lives.”
Someone "in charge" of them for money who will keep them from spending their money foolishly on things like shelter and food - who wouldn't endorse that as a perfect solution?

Also in the New York Times, Marc Santora reports that Iraqi authorities charged a sitting Sunni lawmaker with masterminding a string of murders, kidnappings and bombings, including an attack on Parliament in 2007, a military official announced Sunday. The charges against Sunni MP Mohammad al-Daini have been covered on Iraqslogger in both the Iraq TV and Iraq Papers roundups of late, but Santora comes up with some chilling details from the videotaped confessions which implicate al-Daini by two members of his security detail, including a nephew.

“Those guys were my bodyguards,” he said in a telephone interview on Sunday after watching the news conference on television. “They were arrested two weeks ago and they were pressed to accuse me,” he said. “I know that Iran is behind this operation.”
Riyadh Ibrahim, Mr. Daini’s nephew and former bodyguard, said he drove a suicide bomber who attacked Parliament in 2007 into the Green Zone, and that the bomber used Mr. Daini’s badge to get past security. After entering the Parliament building, Mr. Ibrahim said, the bomber was given an explosive belt by a cafeteria worker. He said the attack, which killed eight people, was masterminded by Mr. Daini.

Some of the crimes alleged by Mr. Ibrahim and another bodyguard, Alla Khairalla, were particularly gruesome. In 2007, after 11 guests that Mr. Daini had over to his home in Baghdad were killed on their way home, Mr. Ibrahim said, Mr. Daini ordered him to get revenge. “He got very angry and demanded that we find 10 people for each one that was killed,” he said. “We found about 110 people and gathered them in the area of Tuwella,” in Diyala Province, he said. “They were all buried alive.”
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf writes about the run-up to the "opening" of the Iraq Museum. It was the famously infamous site of widespread looting of an estimated 15,000 archeological treasures, directly following the 2003 arrival of US forces in Baghdad. Since then, about 5,000 of the artifacts have been returned, many with the help of the United States, which, as Arraf points out, “is eager to turn the page on this particular footnote of Mesopotamian history.”
Over the past two weeks, the Ministry of Tourism had declared it would reopen soon. The Ministry of Culture had said it wouldn't. During the ministerial feud, experts proclaimed that it was still to dangerous and the museum itself wasn't prepared for the public.

In the end, there was a compromise: The museum will reopen Monday for the first time in six years. But only eight of the museum's 26 galleries will be accessible, and for only a few hours, to highlight stolen pieces that have been recovered – some from as far away as Peru. Notably absent will be the heart of the collection – including gold jewelry and ceremonial objects from the royal graves of Ur and Nimrud, which rival the treasures of King Tut's tomb.
"The opening of a museum is more than putting items in the showcases," says museum director Amira Edan. "It means lighting, it means having security control systems, alarms. But we received the order and we are doing our best.... We still do not know what we are going to do after the opening."

Arraf describes archeologists and other museum employees (some with formidable histories of their own) working round-the-clock to get ready for Monday’s highly-covered visit by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, when the museum is to be “reinaugurated”, or as Edan puts it, "I think we can call it an exhibition."

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Staff Sgt Found Not Guilty of "Fragging" Two Officers Had Confessed Guilt
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/21/2009 02:00 AM ET
The only Iraq-related stories in the US papers with Saturday editions concern prosecutions of US servicemen. The Washington Post covers a U.S. Army medic convicted of murder for his role in the execution-style slayings of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi detainees, but it is something they picked up from AP. For original material, there is just the New York Times.

Military Matters
On the front page of the Times, Paul von Zielbauer writes from the states about curious elements in a case of fragging, which had an unexpected outcome. The military court’s not guilty decision was handed to Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez of the New York Army National Guard on Dec. 4, and he was honorably discharged last month, so at first, it is hard to figure out what the news is.

Zielbauer covered the case in June, in an article that leaves seems to leave little doubt that Sergeant Martinez was guilty of detonating a Claymore mine he had placed at the window of Capt. Phillip Esposito, with whom he had personal problems, at a forward operating base in Tikrit. The explosion caused the death of Esposito and First Lt. Lou Allen. The current article is much clearer after reading the previous one.

Zielbauer states that the New York Times obtained documents that show that more than two years before the trial, Sergeant Martinez signed an offer to plead guilty to the murder charges, came “after he and his lawyer learned that a soldier had admitted that weeks before the deaths, she had given him Claymore mines that her unit, about to return home, no longer needed.”

The prosecutors’ sought the death penalty, and both the guilty plea and the judge’s rejection of the guilty plea seem to hinge on this. Sergeant Martinez appears to have signed the plea in order to avoid the death sentence and be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, and thereby avoid the death penalty. Also...
Major Benson, the Army prosecutor in the case, said several factors could have swayed the jury in the sergeant’s favor. “A strong opposition to death penalty was a definite factor among some of the panel members,” he said. “It’s quite possible that they were not able to separate the conviction from the punishment.”
A former Marine judge said the rejection of the plea offer was unusual. “The only reason you should turn this down is if you have an absolutely bulletproof case,” he said. “I can’t imagine why they didn’t take it. You’ve got life in prison in hand.”

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Is a Vehicle Used in a Car-Bombing Art?
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/20/2009 02:00 AM ET
On the morning after Iraq’s final election results were announced and when a new parliament speaker was to be chosen, there are only stories about the trial of correspondent Montadar al-Zaidi. It is important news, and all three of the stories are worthwhile, but it is surprising that there isn’t another single headline.

From Baghdad
Montadar al-Zaidi’s trial began and was abruptly postponed until March 12, to clarify a peculiar legal point, if shoe-ducking President George Bush was indeed a guest of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and therefore a visiting head of state at the time of the incident. If found guilty, this fine-point could mean the difference between al-Zaidi paying a fine and serving up to 15 years in prison. Al-Zaidi wore a scarf “thrust” at him by his aunt on the way into the proceedings. Crowds cheered him on, and had to be held back. He was decidedly nationalistic in his statements of self-defense, characterizing his act as one of righteous rage.

The Post, Times, and the Monitor all give the story plenty of ink, and adorn it with plenty of details. Ernesto Londoño and Zaid Sabah of the Washington Post give the most complete minutes of the proceedings, with extensive quotes.
"I am charged now with attacking the prime minister's guest," he said stoically, making his first public remarks since the incident. "We Arabs are famous for being generous with guests. But Bush and his soldiers have been here for six years. Guests should knock on the door. Those who come sneaking in are not guests."

...Bush smirked "icily" as he spoke, Zaidi said, and flashed a "smile with no spirit." As the news conference was winding down and the two heads of state were preparing to dine together, Zaidi said he was overtaken by rage. "In that moment, I only saw Bush," he said. "I was feeling the blood of innocent people flow under my feet as he was smiling. I felt that he is the killer of my people, and I am one of those people. I became emotional because he's responsible for what is going on in Iraq, so I hit him with my shoe."
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf asks the question if al-Zaidi was a hero or a villain, and focuses on the mixed reception his athletics have gotten among Iraqis, going beyond the western media’s general simplification of just saying that he is a hero to the Arab world. Less of a newsflash, but more zeitgeisty understanding, which is always a good thing.

Campbell Robertson of the New York Times has some interesting tidbits.
Mr. Zaidi, ...whose actions led to copycat shoe attacks outside Iraq, appeared far from reluctant to deliver his half hour of testimony. ...Mr. Zaidi’s assertion that he was spontaneously moved to act was undercut somewhat by his admission that he had planned to throw something at Mr. Bush at a previous news conference that he was, in the end, unable to attend, in Amman, Jordan.

With such a high-profile case, the court itself is to some degree on trial. Human rights groups have criticized the court in the past for what they say is its failure to ensure fair and speedy trials, and Mr. Zaidi has claimed that he was beaten while in custody. Iraqis have accused the judiciary of having partisan leanings, particularly in favor of the government and party of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
Robertson goes on to briefly cover the lack of a new parliament speaker, and finishes with the election results. The victory of the Awakening movement in Anbar province is featured.

Ken Johnson of the New York Times ponders whether several new pieces commissioned by museums are art or not – one of which is the remains of a car from Iraq that was used in a bombing. Accompanied by talks from Iraqis and American “guest experts” on Iraq, Johnson calls the piece important, but, “It has terrific sculptural presence, but it’s not an artwork; it’s an artifact and a conversation piece.”

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
USA Today, no Iraq coverage at the time of posting.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
New Lessons for US Army on Iraq Duty
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/19/2009 02:00 AM ET
There isn’t much original Iraq coverage today. The Washington Post keeps you up to speed on some major issues, and the New York Times deals with US military lessons learned in Northern Iraq.

From Baghdad
Ernesto Londoño and Zaid Sabah write a brief rundown in the Washington Post of some recent happenings in Iraq, with the headline given to seven Shi'a pilgrims that were killed Tuesday night in Basra when their bus slammed into a stationary armored British military vehicle on. The British soldiers were on a “routine night patrol” when the bus slammed into it from behind, according to a British military spokesman. There is a second chapter that Londoño and Sabah include which the Brits aren’t commenting about.
Lt. Murtada Jawad Kalim, a police official in Basra, said the pilgrims were returning to Basra from Karbala, Iraq, which draws millions of devout Shiites this time of year. Kalim said British soldiers opened fire toward vehicles behind the bus shortly after the collision because they feared they were being ambushed. He said an unspecified number of civilians were injured by the gunfire.
Wednesday, Samir Safwat, a politician and major organizer for the Iraqi Islamic Party was fatally shot in his home in Baghdad. "He was always calling on people to do away with sectarianism," said Salim al-Juburi, a senior party official. For that, "he paid the price." His name is added to other politicians slain before and since the Jan. 31 provincial elections.

Also included is mention that the Iraqi Parliament has narrowed the choices for a new speaker down to just two members and that supporters of shoe-throwing Montadar al-Zaidi held demonstrations in his favor, as his trial approaches (though it keeps being postponed).

Military Matters
Thom Shanker of the New York Times files from Garmisch, Germany, with a story on many of the unexpected troubles that Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling faced on his 15-month command of coalition forces across northern Iraq. “the best intelligence, military assessments and political analysis led him to believe his division’s mission would be 70 percent reconstruction and development, and just 30 percent combat. But the enemy was different than anticipated,” Shanker writes.

It was not just bombs hidden along the roads that claimed the lives of soldiers. Entire houses were booby-trapped. Explosives were packed into cars, even bicycles. And terrorist networks, pushed north by successes of the additional American “surge” forces flowing into Baghdad and of the Awakening alliance with tribal sheiks in Anbar Province, fielded a new and unexpected weapon: women in suicide vests.
There is a good amount of interesting information on ways Hertling found to combat the unexpected challenges, from military means, to pushing through the idea of female police with Iraqi commanders, to media psyops. It is worth reading, but more of a grouping of interesting paragraphs than a well-formed story with a coherent narrative, and ends very abruptly.

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Turkey Best Iraq Exit? Iraq Interrogating Ex-Guantanamo Detainees
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/18/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, there are no big features, but a steady flow of varied material, concerning contractor woes, continued uncertainty for Guantanamo detainees, Turkey as an exit, and a reemerging Baghdad social club.

Del Quintin Wilber of the Washington Post reports that, despite attempts to have charges dropped against former employees of Blackwater Worldwide (now known by the snappy moniker of “Xe”), the trial will go on as scheduled. In December, the five guards were indicted on federal charges of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and using a firearm in a crime of violence in the infamous September 2007 incident which left at least 24 Iraqis dead, 20 wounded, and an extremely angry Iraqi population and government.

Wilber details the defense’s arguments somewhat, which challenged the court’s lack of jurisdiction over the case because the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 was intended for American servicemen, not private contractors. A 2004 amendment expanded the act to cover those working "in support" of Defense Department missions, which U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina saw as applicable.

From Baghdad
The New York Times’ Marc Santora writes of the four prisoners held at the American prison at Guantánamo Bay for years, and who were turned over to Iraqi custody last month. According to the Iraqi government, they are currently being interrogated. Santora gets across how unsure their fates are, despite previous announcement by Iraqi officials which suggested that they would soon be released.

“The lack of clear information about these men’s fate since their return to Iraq raises obvious concerns,” said Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch. “All these men have already been held for years without charge in Guantánamo and should now be either charged by the Iraqi government and prosecuted in a fair process, or released.” Human Rights Watch identified the four prisoners, all arrested in Afghanistan, as Hassan Abdul Said, Arkan Mohammad Ghafil al-Karim, Abbas Habid Rumi al-Naely and Ali Abdul Motalib Awayd Hassan al-Tayeea.

“The government is reviewing their files to see if there are any charges against them,” said Wijdan Mikhail Salim, the minister of human rights. If they are not found guilty of any crimes, she said, they will be released.
The prisoners, who had been arrested in Afghanistan, were sent to Iraq more than a month ago, according to a senior American defense official, and contradictory statements about their fate by Iraqi officials in recent weeks have troubled critics. Mrs. Salim said that reviewing their cases could take several more months.

The interim justice minister, Safaldin al-Safi, speaking on the United States-backed satellite channel Al Hurra, said that their families had been informed and that Iraqi human rights officials would be allowed to visit them. “If they have committed crimes in Iraqi law, they will be punished,” he said in the interview, which was broadcast Tuesday. “If not, they will be released.”
Santora adds a more human element that other recent stories about the four, with quotes by one of the detainee’s older sister.

Aamer Madhani of USA Today pens an interesting piece about the culture of Baghdad’s Hunting Club, where “Iraq’s Leisure Class” is making a cautious return.

The building has seen better days, but members of the elite social club don’t seem to mind. Families are again crowding some rooms, men drink liquor in others, music is being played and food served. Everything is getting back to normal (except that Uday Hussein is no longer a regular).

One rule... "No talk of politics, and no talk of religion. It's absolutely forbidden," says manager Maksood al-Sanjary. "People come here to enjoy themselves, and talk of such things does not belong at the club."

Gordon Lubold reports that Turkey is likely to play a prominent role as the US begins to remove thousands of tons of equipment and supplies from Iraq over the next year or so, according to defense officials. Using Kuwait alone doesn’t seem possible, due to the fears that it will “choke” the huge amount of material being shipped, and even with a probably secondary route of Amman, Turkey (possibly on to the southern coast of Aqaba) will likely not be enough, either.
The American military has been quietly shipping construction materials, food, fuel, and other nonlethal items into Iraq through Turkey using a two-lane commercial border crossing known as the Habur Gate in southeastern Turkey.

...The country, which hosts a large US airbase at Incirlik, could also be a major hub for the United States as it ramps up operations in Afghanistan. Earlier this month the government of Kyrgyzstan announced it would no longer allow the US to operate a key base there. That presents a prickly logistical challenge as the US prepares to send as many as 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan. Today, some 1,000 commercial trucks cross the Turkish border into Iraq every day, many of which carry goods for the US military.
Lubold mentions that the Turkish government, opposing the 2003 US invasion, did not permit US forces to invade from Turkey. Things have changed, he says, since the two countries “allied in response to the growing threat posed by the PKK,” which might be seen as a mischaracterization of events, since Turkey had been badgering the US about the PKK for years, and eventually made it clear that they were crossing the border, either way.

Other than that, the dustiness of the Habur Gate seems to have impressed Lubold.

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Pentagon Reconsiders Photo Ban on Arriving Remains
By GREG HOADLEY 02/17/2009 01:49 AM ET
Today’s papers sound contrasting notes on the subject of the traditional Arba'in pilgrimage in Iraq which culminated Monday in the shrine city of Karbala (and which seems to have slowed the news coming out of the country today). While the New York Times reports on the violence that claimed at the lives of at least eight Shi'a Iraqis returning from the pilgrimage, the Christian Science Monitor carries a feature on what Jane Arraf suggests is a trend toward sectarian reconciliation as residents of predominantly Sunni Arab areas along the pilgrimage route openly share food and drinks with pilgrims and neighbors.

Meanwhile, the Post writes that the Pentagon is reconsidering an 18-year ban on photography of the repatriation of US soldiers' remains, a controversial policy whose reversal may also prove divisive.

Writing in the Times, Sam Dagher reports on a series of deadly attacks on pilgrims returning from the traditional visit to Karbala, in which Shi'a faithful commemorate the end of a 40-day mourning period after the observation of Ashoura, which itself marks the seventh-century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, on the battlefield in Karbala. An IED struck a minibus on the edge of Sadr City, killing four and wounding ten. Another four were killed later in the day when a second minibus hit another IED in a separate attack in the Obeidi district of eastern Baghdad. Dagher’s report includes gory details (“We saw a man with his brains blown out,” said one bystander who rushed to help victims after the first blast), and notes that the Iraqi security forces impose “draconian security measures to protect” pilgrims to Karbala, “involving thousands of troops.” The second blast took place near a checkpoint, faulted by an anonymous Iraqi policeman for not catching the IED before it could go off. Meanwhile, two civilians were shot dead in separate attacks (no word on where), and an Iraqi soldier was killed in an IED attack in Mosul. Dagher also reports that five homes were torched in the Al Hajj Ali village 40 miles south of Mosul, where tribal leader and electoral candidate Hasan al-Luhaibi was killed last month in a suicide attack.

For the Monitor’s Jane Arraf, however, the glass is half-full. While Arraf notes the “massive security effort” for this year’s Arba'in pilgrimage and the ongoing attacks that claim the lives of pilgrims, her report focuses on what she sees as a sign of recovering sectarian relations. In Sunni areas that were recently strongholds of militant groups, citizens have resumed the tradition of preparing food and drinks for passing pilgrims. In areas on the southern end of Baghdad such as Dora, al-'Adil, and Radhwaniya, Sunni Arab volunteers in the “Sons of Iraq” provide security and Sunni residents distribute food to neighbors and passing pilgrims. Hanan Faleh Abdul Qadir, a retired Sunni accountant, said that this year she cooked food in her garage and openly distributed it to her neighbors, a sign of community as well as a note of reverence for the prophet’s grandson. Last year in the same area she had to smuggle small amounts of food gifts under her clothes to avoid detection. Arraf also notes the local security operations in Mahmoudiya, in Babil Province south of Baghdad, coordinated between Iraqi and US forces and local Sunni Arab volunteers. “With the almost unimaginable violence of the last two years waning, Iraqis seem to be finding a way to live together again,” Arraf writes.

The Pentagon, now under the direction of the Obama administration, is reconsidering its 18-year ban on photography of the arrival of remains of US soldiers at Dover Air Force Base, Ann Scott Tyson and Mark Berman report in the Post. The possible reversal of the policy instituted during the first Gulf War against Iraq in 1991 “would carry some political risk” for Pres. Obama “as he ramps up the war effort in Afghanistan with tens of thousands of fresh troops, increasing the likelihood of combat deaths that could produce photographs of numerous coffins arriving at one time at Dover, the sole U.S. port of entry for the remains. At the same time, Obama has advocated transparency in government, and continuing to hide the Dover ritual from public view conflicts with that principle as well as with public opinion on the issue, polls indicate.” The policy is divisive, even among family members of war dead, the Post writers note, citing interviews and survey data, although a majority of the US public and families of deceased appear to favor lifting the ban. “Soon after the war in Afghanistan started in October 2001, however, the Pentagon restated the ban on coverage at Dover, and in March 2003, the same month that the U.S. military invaded Iraq, it expanded the policy prohibiting media coverage of the coffins of fallen troops to other ports of arrival as well,” the two write.

No Iraq-related original reporting in the Wall Street Journal today.

Daily Column
Row Over Opening of Iraqi Museum, Bombing in Sadr City
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/16/2009 02:00 AM ET
There is not a great deal of news today, as Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today have no holiday editions. The New York Times and Washington Post have one straight news story each.

From Baghdad
In the Post, K.I. Ibrahim reports that, on Sunday, Iraqi election officials said that some fraud was committed in virtually every province during local elections Jan. 31 but that it was not widespread enough in any of them to require a new vote.

"We have received complaints over violations in all 14 provinces, with varying degrees of seriousness, but most of them were not critical and did not change the final results," said Kareem al-Tamimi, a member of Iraq's national electoral commission. "Some of the provinces had more than others." There isn’t much specific information included, as the electoral commission isn’t giving much out, other than the violations occurred in more than 30 polling stations throughout Iraq. Final election results could be released as early as Tuesday, Ibrahim writes, but it doesn’t look likely.

A violence roundup takes up the second half of the article, and includes the following: A US soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in south Iraq, a sticky bomb attached to a car in Sadr City killed one and wounded four others, another was attached to the car of an al-Hadba candidate in Mosul (not the safest place for political figures, of late), wounding seven, and a few more bombings. In Fallujah, police said they had arrested a man believed to be a senior al-Qaeda in Iraq operative, who has been accused of kidnapping and beheading victims.

Last week, Iraq’s state minister for tourism and antiquities announced that the Iraqi National Museum, famously looted in the chaos which ensued after the US invasion in 2003, would reopen to the public for the first time since then in late February. The New York Timess Steven Lee Myers covers counter announcements by the culture ministry that the museum would, in fact, not open.

Myers tells how the return of so many of the plundered treasures has left the culture ministry scrambling to process and identify them all, and not feeling that an opening is possible now, despite the government’s desire to show that everything in Iraq is back to normal. One after another, Myers quotes contrary announcements by both sides, showing that settling who has authority to do what is still a bit unclear, at least to some. Security is also cited as a reason for postponement.
In a statement issued later on Sunday, Baha al-Mayahi, an adviser at the ministry, said he was surprised by Mr. Jabiri’s comments and reiterated that all efforts were being made to reopen next Monday. He said invitations had already been sent out to government and foreign officials. Reached in the evening, Mr. Jabiri was not backing down either, calling the reopening announcement an “illegal action” that was outside the Tourism Ministry’s authority. “We are going to use all legal means to close the doors of the museum to preserve our historical heritage,” Mr. Jabiri said, attributing the chaos to “parties that have no experience in government.”
Myers also reports on a bomb in Sadr City which doesn’t quite sound like either of the bombs in the Washington Post article above, but with all the conflicting reports that come out after such occurrences, it is a little hard to tell if it is one of the same ones or not.
Two people were killed and 20 wounded Sunday when a bomb exploded in Sadr City, a poor Shiite neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said. The bomb had been placed between two blast walls. It detonated when traffic was passing, and most of the casualties were shoppers at a nearby market.
Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no President’s Day Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Graft Investigation Widens, Military Recruiters to Offer Path to Citizenship
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/15/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today is unusual in that there is nothing at all filed from Iraq. There is compelling stateside reading though, mostly involving the US military in some way.

Reconstruction Graft
A must read in New York Times, is the article by James Glanz, C.J. Chivers and William K. Rashbaum, who tell a story of shrink-wrapped blocks of one-hundred dollar bills making their way throughout the Green Zone, but not quite to legitimate reconstruction operating budgets. The investigation into what could only be called a cash free-for-all involving “breathtaking” amounts of reconstruction money has now become focused on high-ranking U.S. military officers, who oversaw how the funds were distributed to contracting companies.

There seems to have been a fair amount of shoe leather spent on this story. They weren’t just copying down press releases, but inspecting court records, sifting through government documents, and getting hung up on.

Prosecutors have won 35 convictions on cases related to reconstruction in Iraq, most of them involving private contractors or mid-level officials. Nets are being cast for bigger fish by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the Justice Department, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command and other federal agencies. Two officers who are the subject of either inquiries or subpoenas are Col. Anthony B. Bell, who is now retired from the Army but who was in charge of reconstruction contracting in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, and Lt. Col. Ronald W. Hirtle of the Air Force, who was a senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004.

Much of the evidence appears to have stemmed from Dale C. Stoffel, an American arms dealer and contractor who was involved in previous investigations, and who was granted partial immunity for his information on the two officers. Stoffel was killed in 2004 while on a highway north of Baghdad as he returned from a business meeting at a nearby military base. The authors don’t come out and say that foul play was involved, but they couldn’t have been clearer about leaving the reader with that impression. When Stoffel is first mentioned, it is abruptly stated that “There is no evidence that his death was related to his allegations of corruption.” Later on I the article, it states, “A previously unknown Iraqi group claimed responsibility for the killings, which remain unsolved. The men may simply have been unlucky enough to be engulfed in the violence that was then just beginning to grip the country.” Hmm.

On May 20, 2004, a little more than a week after Colonel Hirtle signed the Lee company’s warehouse contract, Mr. Stoffel was granted limited immunity by the Special Inspector General for what amounted to a whistle-blower’s complaint. Copies of the immunity document were obtained from two former business associates of Mr. Stoffel. The picture of corruption Mr. Stoffel painted, including the clandestine delivery of bribes, was “like a classic New York scenario,” said a former business associate.

“Fifty thousand dollars delivered in pizza boxes to secure contracts,” said the former associate, a consultant in the arms business with whom Mr. Stoffel sometimes worked in the former Eastern bloc. “Of course, it just looked like a pizza delivery.”
Both Bell and Hirtle are repeatedly caught off guard and evasive in attempted interviews, making them sound none-too credible. An interesting read, to say the least.

Military Matters
The New York Times’ Julia Preston reports that the American military, stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq, will begin recruiting skilled immigrants who are living in this country with temporary visas, offering them the chance to become United States citizens in as little as six months. The catch? You guessed it.

It is a strategy to not just get warm bodies in uniform, but to actively seek out an often unused resource, immigrants whose skills, training, and cultural awareness than many American citizens who the recruiters are courting.
Recruiters expect that the temporary immigrants will have more education, foreign language skills and professional expertise than many Americans who enlist, helping the military to fill shortages in medical care, language interpretation and field intelligence analysis.

“The American Army finds itself in a lot of different countries where cultural awareness is critical,” said Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, the top recruitment officer for the Army, which is leading the pilot program. “There will be some very talented folks in this group.”
According to Pentagon figures, about 8,000 permanent immigrants with green cards join the armed forces annually. About 29,000 foreign-born people currently serving are not American citizens.

Still in the New York Times, Adriana Lins de Albuqueque, Alicia Cheng, and Sarah Gephart supply a chart called “A Year in Iraq and Afghanistan,” showing the date and type of every death of an American or allied soldier in 2008, based on data from the Pentagon and, an independent research group. It is broken down into the kind of death (hostile or non-hostile) and color codes whether the deaths happened in the first or second half of the year – intended to give an idea of where things might be going. Download it here.

The Washington Post has a triple review by Chris Bray of two books by U.S. soldiers, all three “coming of age” tales. They are not given marks that are all that great.
In this round of war memoirs, Iraq and Afghanistan mostly appear as a stage on which things happen to Americans. Thinly described locals trundle across the proscenium as cues for action, then roll away into the wings as if loaded onto mechanical tracks. The peculiar realities of military institutions are noted and set aside with little reflection.
One of them, “Mission: Black List #1: The Inside Story of the Search for Saddam Hussein -- As Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His Capture” by Eric Maddox with Davin Seay is not raved about. As the title suggests, it is somewhat self-congratulatory, and, as Bray writes, inaccurate. Bray reserves some positive comments for the other two - “Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood” by Donovan Campbell, and “The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education” by Craig M. Mullaney. Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Blackwater by Any Other Name... More Deadly Bombings, Al-Sadr as Art Patron
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/14/2009 02:00 AM ET
A company trying to take the black reputation out of its name, a popular movement does the same, and photographer/journalists who go to Iraq are portrayed on stage as the benevolent heroes they truly are.*
(*unbiased remark).

Blackwater No More
A catchy new name - well, that should do it. August Cole of the Wall Street Journal reports that Blackwater Worldwide is restructuring and will drop the name Blackwater from its various units, a move that coincides with the winding down of the State Department guard work in Iraq after the Iraqi government announced they would not renew Blackwater’s license to operate in the country. The new name... Xe (pronounced “Zee”). The company’s training-and-security business is now called U.S. Training Center Inc. and the company's airship operations is "Guardian Flight Systems." -A mere coincidence, of course – there couldn’t be any attempt to keep operating in Iraq under a restructured new company.

The rejection follows Iraq's new rules for contractors that give the Baghdad government more control over foreign firms. A September 2007 shooting incident involving Blackwater guards in the Iraqi capital left 17 Iraqis dead and caused an international crisis, including calls in Iraq for the company's departure.

Five of the guards were charged with manslaughter by the U.S. Justice Department and pleaded not guilty. A sixth guard entered a guilty plea and is cooperating with the government. A trial of the five men is scheduled for early next year.

In a memo to employees explaining the change, Mr. Jackson wrote: "Xe will be a one-stop shopping source for world class services in the fields of security, stability, aviation, training and logistics."
From Baghdad
Another large-scale bombing, targeting Shi’a Arbaeen pilgrims, this one in Musayyib, south of Baghdad. A woman wearing an explosive vest killed at least 35 Shiite pilgrims Friday morning. At least 67 were wounded. "This attack has the stamp of al-Qaeda organization," Shiite lawmaker Hassan al-Suneid said. "By these kinds of attacks they want to lure Shiites and Sunnis to create a battle zone so they can exist inside it."

Both articles about it run through the basics of Arbaeen, the other recent bombings, and the questions they bring up about Iraqi security and issues of sectarianism.
Saad Sarhan and Ernesto Londoño writes...
Sectarian violence has ebbed considerably in recent months, as once-mixed neighborhoods have become Balkanized and insurgent groups have been crippled. Shiite militias, which used to provide security during yearly pilgrimages, have gone underground as Iraq's security forces have strengthened.
Sam Dagher of the New York Times goes into a bit more detail on this point.
For the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, which has been widely credited with improving security significantly in the past year, the pilgrimage had represented an opportunity to showcase the efficiency of its security forces. But after the recent spate of attacks, including four in Baghdad alone this week aimed at pilgrims, his government is now facing criticism.

“There have been failures in the intelligence-gathering of the security agencies,” said Sheik Sabah al-Saeidi, the head of the anticorruption committee in Parliament and a member of a rival party.
The New York Times’ Steven Lee Myers covers “Baghdad’s first Sadrist art exhibition.” Hm. “Beacons of Humanity” is a collection of 80 works of art by 39 Iraqi artists, displayed for three days on the eve of a Shiite holiday commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. Myers writes a worthwhile piece, and describes well an Iraq that most people reading an English language newspaper might not think about too much.

Until now, not particularly known as the greatest arts patrons, the Sadrists are branching out in new directions. The simple reason is that, looking for wide public support, being part of Baghdad’s vibrant arts scene that the worst of sectarian violence could not kill is a pretty good strategy.
Some of the works are jarring, challenging fundamentalist interpretations of Islam that forbid depictions of human figures. Others suggest peace, reconciliation and the triumph of good over evil. For Iraqis, the mere fact of the exhibition was a sign that Iraq’s artistic traditions might have not only survived years of war and chaos, but also emerged reinvigorated. Hassan Nassar, who owns a gallery called Madarat, one of the few that stayed open during the worst of Iraq’s violence, called the Sadrists’ patronage of the arts welcome, if unexpected. “It’s a good thing,” he said, “when they lay down their weapons and show their ideas through civilized methods.”

Whether it is a cynical ploy of a movement that has lost popular support or a genuine shift in tactics remains to be seen. Mr. Sadr’s military wing has splintered, having been routed by Iraqi government offensives last year in Basra and its Shiite stronghold in Baghdad, even as the organization’s political and social wings have sought to refashion themselves as purveyors of what the Americans call “soft power,” convincing rather than coercing.
Sharles Isherwood, also in the Times, write a review of the new play “Time Stands Still” by Donald Margulies, which opened in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Isherwood calls it a “reflective but low-key new drama,” and gives this story of Western journalists and photographers working in Iraq and the toll it takes on them, a generally positive review. There are some reservations, though.
Under the typically astute direction of Daniel Sullivan, a master at this kind of contemporary naturalism, all four actors give effective, engaging performances, inhabiting their characters with an ease that gives a sense of moment-to-moment truth, crucial to holding the attention in this loosely structured play.

“Time Stands Still” is, however, weakened by the lack of a compelling dramatic arc. ...The play often seems to consist of individual scenes built around debates or arguments artificially inserted into the proceedings; the recriminations and accusations that flow forth in the second act do not always seem natural extensions of the characters’ personas.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

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Daily Column
...But not Completely, At Least 13 Killed and 39 Wounded in Attacks
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/13/2009 02:00 AM ET
All of today’s stories, whether dealing with interpreter’s masks or post election violence, address the overarching question facing Iraq today (and everyone who writes about it) – Just how good is security?

From Baghdad
The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño reports that Iraqi interpreters working with the U.S. military in Baghdad are again allowed to hide their identity during certain missions, after a Pentagon decision to grant battalion commanders the discretion to disregard an earlier policy banning the practice. The ban, though not universally enforced, was never in effect outside of Baghdad, and caused widespread fear among many interpreters, who fear reprisals from those who might recognize them working with Americans and regard them as traitors. Over 300 “terps” have been killed since the start of the war.

Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disclosed the reversal last month in a letter, but Londoño found that several interpreters and American soldiers in Baghdad said they were unaware that battalion commanders can waive the mask ban for "high-risk" missions.

After the military instituted the mask ban in September, some officers said the new policy reflected an overly optimistic assessment of the security situation. Violence in Iraq has dropped markedly in recent months, but bombings and assassinations continue to occur daily. On Thursday, five people were killed in an explosion near a revered mosque in Karbala, south of Baghdad.

Battalion commanders, who oversee between 500 and 800 soldiers, cannot delegate the lifting of the ban to junior officers. Wyden, as well as soldiers and interpreters, said they remain concerned that any restrictions preventing interpreters from shielding their identities put them at risk.
Kirk Johnson, the director of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, said the new policy does not protect interpreters. "If you're an Iraqi interpreter working alongside our soldiers, there's no such thing as a high-risk mission," he said. "Every mission is high risk. I don't comprehend how people who are not on the front lines are pushing a policy that doesn't seem to resonate with anyone who is indeed on the front lines."
In November, (an) interpreter said, shortly after the mask ban was put in place, armed men sprayed his house with bullets. "Bad people in my neighborhood," the 24-year-old interpreter explained. "They know who I am, who I work for." He stopped returning to his neighborhood after the shooting and now stays with an uncle when he's not living at a military outpost.
"Telling a terp that his country is safe when he doesn't feel it's safe is as pretentious as it gets," said an Army captain. "The terp-mask thing is just the latest disconnect between what happens on the ground and what people want to be happening on the ground. We're in full-on dress rehearsal now. I think we're in such a hurry to get out of here, we're wanting this place to be safer than it really is."

Sam Dagher of the New York Times writes of an uptick in violence across Iraq, which included the assassination of a Sunni Arab political leader in the violent northern city of Mosul. Despite thousands of extra security forces being deployed on routes to Karbala which Shi’a pilgrims walk from around Iraq to commemorate Arbaeen, attacks (mostly in Baghdad) have occurred in past days. Karbala itself, where security was the strongest, was hit on Thursday. Arbaeen pilgrims have been a frequent target of Sunni extremist groups in recent years.
A bomb placed inside a propane gas canister exploded on a pedestrian-only road teeming with pilgrims not far from Imam Hussein’s shrine, killing at least eight people and wounding 35, according to an Interior Ministry official in Baghdad who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In Mosul, which has seen frequent violence in past weeks, saw the assassination by gunmen of Abdul-Karim al-Sharabi, a high-level local official with the Sunni-led National Dialogue Front.

Dagher discusses the sustained activity of Sunni insurgents linked with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and runs down a list of recent assassinations in Ninewa province. In the 2005 election, most Sunni parties boycotted the election in Ninewa, but the provincial elections on Jan 31 included several. The son of one of them received a call by a man, who said, “the Islamic State of Iraq in Mosul has decided to start killing all those participating in the political process.”

Alan Gomez of USA Today reports on claims by Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, who oversees US operations in most of southern Iraq, that security gains there are permanent. Without the standard chorus of “fragile” being added to the end of this US commanders’ upbeat characterizations of security, Oates goes out on something of a limb. "In southern Iraq, it's my considered opinion that (the progress) is not reversible," he said.

Gomez runs down some of the percentages of past violence versus current improved security, and mentions recent flares of violence, particularly in Mosul. Improved training of Iraqi soldiers is touched upon, as is Iranian influence within southern Iraq and Oates’ response to grumblings by soldiers who find hearts-and-minds work less than exciting.

"We're not going to let an infantry guy sit on a (base) if he can go out there and help with a veterinarian inoculating goats."

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
Sectarian Killings, Iran Signals That US/Iran Talks on Iraq Not Necessary
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/12/2009 02:00 AM ET
We are getting back to pre-election levels of Iraq newsmongering in US papers, and there isn’t a great deal of volume. that being said, the reporting that exists is from Baghdad, and it’s good. The Iranian foreign minister in Baghdad and an unfortunate return to large bombings with sectarian motives are the stories today.

From Baghdad
Twin car bombs hit a bus station in the Shi’a neighborhood of Baya on Wednesday, killing at least 16 and wounding more than 40. It was the largest bombing in Baghdad since January. Both targeted Shi’a pilgrims.

Also Wednesday, Iraqi officials said a Shiite pilgrim walking to Karbala was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Baghdad. Two others were wounded in a similar attack in central Baghdad, officials said. Also in Baghdad on Wednesday, another pilgrim was killed and two wounded in two separate roadside bombings. Qais Mizher and Ernesto Londoño speak to a taxi driver who was outside the bus station when the explosion happened, and noted that the guards had not been checking the underside of the car for explosives with mirrors, a common practice in Baghdad.
He said the station was formerly guarded by militiamen loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The current guards work for the Transportation Ministry. "When the Mahdi Army guarded this station, we didn't face these incidents," Hadi said.
Mizher and Londoño also cover the official visit to Baghdad on Wednesday of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who said that his country intends to open two more consulates in Iraq and broaden economic ties between the neighboring nations.

Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times uses the statement by Mottaki that improved security in Iraq makes it unnecessary for US/Iran talks on Iraqi as an introduction to the Wednesday’s deadly bombing.

“We can say that this government is totally capable of restoring security totally to Iraq,” Mottaki said, referring to the Iraqi authorities. “On this basis, there is no place for such talks under the current circumstances.”

Within a few paragraphs, Myers describes the dramatic events of the bus station explosion.
The force of the blast, which an American commander at the scene estimated involved 200 pounds of explosives, hurled the car’s wreckage dozens of yards, where the debris landed on people waiting for buses. “I saw bodies shredded,” said one young man, who would identify himself only as Ameer.
Returning back to Mottaki’s visit, Myers writes that he “echoed remarks on Tuesday by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said his country was prepared to test President Obama’s pledge to engage in diplomacy, though he called for ‘talks based on mutual respect.’”

Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said “We have welcomed the new trends of the American administration regarding the dialogue with the Islamic republic.”

The New York Times' Dave Itzkoff reports from the states that the Iraqi National Museum by the end of February. According to an Iraqi official, the museum and other archaeological sites will be protected by a new Interior Ministry force called the “relics protection force.”

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
Different Takes on Sarkozy Visit, Archeologocal Treasures in Danger
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/11/2009 02:00 AM ET

The visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy uses the most ink, but a review of a controversial ban on media coverage is certainly of interest (to journalists, at least). Also, the continued lack of archeological preservation in the cradle of civilization.

US War Dead
Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post reports briefly that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Tuesday that he has ordered a rapid Pentagon review of a policy that bars the media from covering the return to the United States of military personnel killed overseas. Some who support the ban say it honors the soldiers, while critics say it dishonors them to cover up their sacrifice. He said that he had requested a change in the policy more than a year ago.

"From a personal standpoint, I think, if the needs of the families can be met and the privacy concerns can be addressed, the more honor we can accord these fallen heroes, the better," Gates said.

From Baghdad
On Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy surprised Iraqis by visiting Baghdad, with talk of renewing economic relations between the two countries, and pledging his country’s strong support for Iraq. Sarkozy met with both Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani. His intended message toward Iraq was clear, that French companies were poised to invest in Iraq’s future.

K.I. Ibrahim and Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post also saw it as an olive branch extended toward the United States – getting past the days of “Freedom Fries” and such.
President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday became the first French head of state to visit Iraq, hoping to renew France's long-standing business ties with Iraq and erase resentment over France's opposition to the Iraq war.

...By coming to Iraq, analysts said, Sarkozy hoped to distinguish himself from his predecessor Jacques Chirac, whose opposition to the war in Iraq infuriated the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress. Sarkozy's trip was meant to signal a French attempt to promote closer ties with the United States and Iraq as the U.S. military reduces its presence in the country under a new American administration.
In terms of a statement towards America, Mark Santora and Alan Cowell in the New York Times characterize the visit not from the French point of view, but as a “swipe” at America by al-Maliki, saying he “signaled a desire to gradually diminish American power over Iraqi politics and increase ties to other Western powers...”
In a rare news conference with a Western leader who is not from the United States or Britain, Mr. Maliki gave Mr. Sarkozy a warm welcome and rebuffed a recent statement by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. that the United States would have to be “more aggressive” in forcing the Iraqis to reach political reconciliation.

“The time for putting pressure on Iraq is over,” Mr. Maliki said in answer to a reporter’s question about Mr. Biden’s remarks. “The Iraqi government knows what its responsibilities are. We are carrying out reform, and we are in the last step of reconciliation.”
Santora and Cowell include mention of a bombing less than a half-mile from the French Embassy aimed at a security officer for Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, and the continued violence in Mosul.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf files from the archeological site of the ancient city of Nimrud, thought to have been founded 5,000 years ago, and known in the bible as Calash. Though once a city of great importance (if Arraf was around in the mid 800’s BC, she would likely be filing current events news stories from there), now it lies in shambles, and the World Monuments Fund lists Nimrud as one of its most endangered sites.
Here on the banks of the Tigris River, King Ashurnasirpal II built a six-acre palace of cedar and exotic woods. The walls were lined with glazed and painted seven-foot-high stone bas reliefs of his epic battles. Inside, furniture was inlaid with the most delicate ivory carvings. When the palace was completed around 869 BC, 70,000 guests attended a feast that lasted 10 days.

Now, inside the North West Palace, dead birds lie at the feet of the mythical beings depicted on the alabaster panels. Droppings from pigeons flying in and out of the broken windows stain the seven-foot-high reliefs of King Ashurnasirpal and the winged genies that protected him. The weather has softened the sharp details of feathers carved by craftsmen 3,000 years ago, as well as the cuneiform inscriptions below them.
Arraf makes a distinction between the disrepair of Numrud and that of many archaeological sites in the south, which were systematically looted.

"It's a place that's just been neglected," says the Iraqi site manager. "Before, there was more attention paid to it. From the occupation to date, there has been no renovation at all – there's no money."

Major looting occurred in the mid-1800s, when some of the most impressive panels from the thrown room were carted off to the British Museum, and then smaller pieces sold to private collectors. The current problem started when United Nations sanctions barred the import of “even rudimentary conservation materials.” After the invasion of 2003, there has been some desecration and looting, but most of the damage, as has been stated, is form inaction.

Some of these structures have stood for 3,000 years – one would think hat there is a way to keep them from crumbling in the next few.

USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
The Language of War Returns to Anbar, Guantanamo Prisoners Return to Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/10/2009 02:00 AM ET
The most deadly single incident for US troops in nine months is covered by the Times and the Post, and the troublesome post-election situation in Anbar province is looked at.

From Iraq
There are two articles which report on the death of four US soldiers and an interpreter after a pickup truck filled with explosives rammed into an armored military vehicle and exploded. According to US sources, three of the servicemen died shortly after the explosion, the fourth and the interpreter afterward. Two Iraqi policemen and one civilian were also wounded.

Both Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times and the Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño and Qais Mizher give about the same information on the incident, and provide a little context for the security situation in Mosul, where groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq still have a foothold.

Londoño and Mizher follow up on yesterday’s report on a 12 year old girl (originally said to be eight) in Diwaniya who was killed Sunday by US gunfire.
Col. Asaad Malik, the director of the provincial joint coordination center, said American soldiers who were part of a logistics convoy used a loudspeaker to instruct pilgrims to get out of the road. Shortly after the warning, a soldier opened fire, he said. The convoy didn't stop, Iraqi officials said. The U.S. military said in a statement that the weapon "was unintentionally discharged." It did not provide more information about the shooting, which it said is under investigation.
Also, they report that four Iraqi detainees who were recently returned after years at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility face no extra charges in Iraq. Iraq’s minister of justice, Safaa al-Safi, said "There is no reason to keep them in our jails."

Steven Lee Myers and Sam Dagher of the New York Times write that though elections themselves passed with little or no violence, in Anbar province, many fear a return to violence, due to the anticipated results.

Even before the results were announced, the leader of the party now known as the Awakening, Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, threatened to turn his followers into an “armed wing” to overthrow the provincial government. The head of the Tribes of Iraq bloc, Sheik Hammid al-Hayes, threatened to set the streets of Ramadi ablaze and turn the province into a graveyard.
Rubin lays out the players – the Awakening Party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, Saleh al-Mutlak’s Iraqi National Project, a few others - as coherently as one can be asked to do, and acknowledges the confusing state of things.
Mr. Taha, the winning candidate from Anbar, who was one of the front-runners on Mr. Mutlaq’s slate there, has served as a sports and youth adviser for the region’s governor and was, he claimed, a protégé of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday during the 1990s. (That the governor is affiliated to the Iraqi Islamic Party shows how convoluted politics have become in Anbar and elsewhere.) He said his supporters had been threatened and beaten by police officers loyal to the Islamic Party — before the election and after. “People will be eliminated,” Mr. Taha, 37, warned.
Threats are made, but almost everyone voices a dedication to democracy. “We are armed by papers and evidence,” one leader said of his party’s official complaints, “and paper is the strongest weapon. That is the weapon we will use.” From reading the piece, the question becomes whether the “language of war” is being used simply as a tool, or whether the tactics of war might be employed as well.

Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times writes a review of Thomas E. Rick's new book about the US military's surge strategy, "The Gamble." Mr. Ricks, the senior Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post, continues where he left off in his 2006 book on an Iraq spiraling out of control, “Fiasco.” Kakutani calls the book “important and chilling”, and writes highly of it.
Mr. Ricks writes as both an analyst and a reporter with lots of real-time access to the chain of command, and his book’s narrative is animated by closely observed descriptions of how the surge worked on the ground, by a savvy knowledge of internal Pentagon politics, and by a keen understanding of the Iraq war’s long-term fallout on already strained American forces.
Ricks’ writing on the surge has been showcased prominently in a two part series on Sunday and Monday in the Washington Post. In “The Gamble,” he gives an interesting assessment to the oft-celebrated surge, since the final outcome is unknown, and a long-term US presence in Iraq is likely. “The best grade” the surge campaign can be given, he says, “is a solid incomplete.”
This volume leaves the reader with an understanding of the hard-won military dynamics of the surge and the professionalism and competence of the generals who designed and executed it. But the dominant impression left by “The Gamble” and “Fiasco” is one of the devastating consequences of an ill-conceived and ill-planned war — an unnecessary war of choice, waged with too few troops and no overarching strategic plan, a war which was going badly but was allowed to continue along the same unfruitful path for three years by a White House “in denial” about its downward trend. It is a war, Mr. Ricks writes, that may well become “America’s longest war, passing the American Revolution and even the Vietnam War.”
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
A Military Tactician's Political Strategy, New Partnerships in Anbar
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/09/2009 02:00 AM ET
Shots were fired into a crowd of pilgrims walking to Karbala are shot in what the US military has said was an accidental discharge of a weapon. Also, Thomas E. Ricks’ two-part series on the “surge” continues with the focus on General David Petraeus, and coalitions are being made in Anbar.

From Iraq
Marc Santora of the New York Times reports that an 8-year-old Iraqi girl was killed Saturday and several other civilians were wounded when gunfire from an American military convoy struck a crowd of Shiite pilgrims traveling to the holy city of Karbala, witnesses and Iraqi officials said. On Saturday, a US military statement confirmed said that an accidental discharge of a weapon had occurred, and that they had reports of two casualties.

Santora mentions recent claims by Iraqi officials that US forces have violated the US Iraq security agreement twice in as many weeks. He makes a distinction in the nature of the previous incidents, which happened during raids, and what happened in Diwaniya, an official mission guarding a supply convoy.

The road was crowded with pilgrims heading to Karbala, witnesses said. Salah Mon’em, 26, who was wounded, said the patrol had sounded horns to keep the crowds at bay. Before he realized what was happening, he said, “I fell down because of a bullet that hit me.”

...After the short burst of gunfire, the 8-year-old girl, Sa’adiya Saddam, collapsed on the ground by her wailing mother, witnesses said. Her brother, Hussein, also 8, said: “We didn’t notice the Americans before the gun shooting started. My sister fell immediately, swimming in her own blood.”
A representative of the US military is said to have been sent to apologize to the victim’s family and begin the compensation process.

Santora also reports that February 19 has been set as a new trial date for Montadar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi correspondent who threw shoes at President Bush. The bits of information do not look to be in his favor.

Aamer Madhani of USA Today writes that the strong showing in preliminary election results has allowed Anbar Awakening leader Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha to form a coalition that will change which party controls the restive province.

"We have found partners across many political parties," he said.
Both Abu Risha and Saleh al-Mutlaq of the Iraqi National Project slate repeatedly criticized the Iraqi Islamic Party for being ineffective at governing and accused its supporters of stuffing ballot boxes during the vote.

The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission is investigating the allegations but has found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Warnings by Abu Risha of a possible violent response made for some tense moments, and Madhani briefly covers the envoy which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent to help smooth things out between the parties.

Military Matters
The second installment of the two-part story on the surge by Thomas E. Ricks is the main Iraq-related piece in today’s papers. The first, yesterday, billed Gen. Ray Odierno as the man who came up with the surge. Now, Petraeus is brought in to push it through - to advocate for a more long-term solution at a time when everyone was looking for the quickest way out possible. If the last story was, at heart, about military strategy, this one is about diplomacy. It begins...
As Gen. David H. Petraeus flew into Baghdad in February 2007, preparing to take command of U.S. forces in Iraq, Col. Peter R. Mansoor, his executive officer, knelt alongside his seat. "You know, sir," he said, "the hardest thing for you, if it comes to it, will be to tell the American people and the president that this isn't working."
Mansoor was right, and the article details Petraeus’ difficulty in just about everything he tried to do. It is well put-together and unfolds dramatically, making you wonder how it’s going to turn out (in case you haven’t heard). Adm. William J. Fallon is the moustache-twirling villain.
As Centcom commander, Fallon was technically Petraeus's new boss. In practice, however, Petraeus bypassed the chain of command and answered directly to Bush, enjoying what was probably the most direct relationship between a frontline general and his commander in chief since the Civil War.

...Fallon soon began holding up troop requests for Iraq that until then had been considered routine, such as for a company of engineers or specialists in traumatic brain injuries. "Fallon's default position was 'no.' You had to prove why he was wrong," recalled Maj. Gen. David Fastabend, Barbero's predecessor working for Petraeus. To smooth the way, senior Centcom staffers began to send back-channel notes to Baghdad, advising Petraeus's subordinates on what not to request.
The piece culminates with Gen. Petraeus’ famously covered September 2007 appearance before a Congressional Hearing, where he sought to turn the tide on the American public’s perception of the war in Iraq.

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
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Daily Column
Odierno as Surge Hero, US Score Card in Iraq, and Letting Your Feet Be All They
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/08/2009 02:00 AM ET
All the Iraq coverage in the world of US print today is based on US involvement there. A reassigning of credit is featured, as is more post election stock-taking opinions, and soldiers’ feet looking prettier than they were ever meant to.

Military Matters
In the Washington Post, Thomas E. Ricks writes “The Dissenter Who Changed the War,” the story of a lone American general in the war in Iraq, who “challenged the military establishment, pressing for more troops and a long-term strategy to guide them.” The bulk of it reads like countless past articles about General David Petraeus – but he barely makes an appearance.

One of the most interesting aspects of the piece is that it feels like you’ve read it before, only the name Raymond T. Odierno is used instead another. The following sounds very much like Bob Woodward’s “The War Within, but with a casting change.
Communicating almost daily by phone with retired Gen. Jack Keane, an influential former Army vice chief of staff and his most important ally in Washington, Odierno launched a guerrilla campaign for a change in direction in Iraq, conducting his own strategic review and bypassing his superiors to talk through Keane to White House staff members and key figures in the military. It would prove one of the most audacious moves of the Iraq war, and one that eventually reversed almost every tenet of U.S. strategy.
Ricks calls Odierno “an unlikely dissident, with little in his past to suggest that he would buck his superiors and push the U.S. military in radically new directions.”

The surge seems to have a thousand fathers – with the idea’s genesis attributed here and there to White House staff, etc. – but, according to Ricks, it is Odierno who, even while questioning the success of the surge’s long-term political success, deserves the lion’s share of the credit. "They had nothing to do with developing" the way it was done, Odierno said. "Where to go, what would do. I mean, I know I made all those decisions."

He was once looked at as “the best of the Army's conventional thinkers -- intelligent and ambitious, but focused on using the tools in front of him rather than discovering new and unexpected ones.”
As commander of the 4th Infantry Division in the Sunni Triangle, Odierno led troops known for their sometimes heavy-handed tactics, kicking in doors and rounding up thousands of Iraqi "MAMs" (military-age males). He finished his tour believing the fight was going well. "I thought we had beaten this thing," he would later recall.
The severe wounding of his son is said to have played no small part in a sort of inner growth and a major strategy reassessment which led to, among other things, Retired Army Col. Stuart Herrington (a veteran intelligence officer once very critical of Odierno) concluding "General Odierno has experienced an awakening. I've now completely revised my impression of him."

Interesting reading.

From Iraq
In a case of GI-Joe meets Barbie, Ernesto Londoño continues the Post’s coverage with the story of a solon on a base in the violent city of Mosul, which offers manicures, pedicures, back massages, and eyebrow trimming to soldiers, after a hard day’s patrolling.

It is a quirky piece, but when you get past the whole macho vs. pedicure thing, it really is the story of “third country nationals” who keep various businesses running, within the blast walls of Iraq. The company which employs these workers is a subcontractor of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, and they staff staffing 89 stores, 228 fast-food restaurants, 642 concessions and 72 phone centers at bases in the Middle East.
Aina Isaeva, 45, a nurse from Kyrgyzstan, didn't think twice when the opportunity arose to work in Mosul for a year as a beautician. U.S. defense contractors have brought thousands of laborers from Central and Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America to keep American military bases humming and service members well fed and comfortable.

"Nurses earn very little money" back home, Isaeva said as she worked on the feet of a former infantryman now employed by a nonprofit organization. "I have two sons and a girl. And I am a widow. I need the work."
It is a glimpse into the world of the odd international community which has sprung up in Iraq.

From Baghad, Steven Lee Myers, in the New York Times Week in Review offers a “scorecard” for American involvement in Iraq, and where it has brought the nation. It begins...
This is what victory in the war in Iraq was supposed to look like: Fifteen million Iraqis voting in free and fair (largely) elections, emerging from their polling stations with their purple-stained fingers in an atmosphere that was free (largely) of intimidation or violence.
Before long, he comes to his point.
But there are other measures of victory in Iraq, and so at this, yet another hinge in Iraq’s tortured history, it seems a fair time to ask: Has the war enhanced American strategic interests in the troubled Middle East, as President Bush and the other champions of the war long argued would happen? The answer really is no, or at least not yet.
A fair question, to be sure, but if this is thought to be the most important question when considering the future of Iraqi politics and people, then there may be trouble to come – for a couple of reasons.
“We are not necessarily weaker,” said Marina Ottaway, director of Middle Eastern affairs for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and an author of “Beyond the Facade: Political Reform in the Arab World.” “But,” she added, “after all these years and the money that we’ve spent, I’m not sure we’re coming out in a stronger strategic position.”
The fracturing of Iraqi business and culture is mentioned, and Meyers is of the mind that “Given the alternatives, today’s Iraq might be the best strategic outcome the United States can hope for.”

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.
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Daily Column
Iraq's Ambassador to the US on the Election, An Italian Tourist in Fallujah
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/07/2009 02:00 AM ET
Not as much Iraq-related news as we’ve been used to lately, but there’s something. There are charges in Iraq’s north of the US military overstepping their bounds, a tourist off the Lonely Planet grid, and an op-ed by Iraq’s Ambassador the United States.

From Baghdad
In the New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin reports that Iraqi leaders in Kirkuk Province have charged that twice in the last two weeks, the American military violated the security agreement signed in November. Their complaint is that US troops attacked Iraqi criminal suspects without coordinating with Iraqi security forces.

Rubin gives the known particulars of the two cases, the first of which occurred when American soldiers fatally shot an Iraqi couple in their home near Kirkuk. American officials say that the woman was reaching for a pistol. The complaint is not that the couple were innocent, but that the raid happened without any kind of coordination between US and Iraqi forces.
were detained elsewhere in the village at the same time. The police chief of the nearby city of Hawija said that he had not been warned of the raid, and that when his officers tried to enter the village, they were stopped by American soldiers. “An American force told us that, ‘There is a special force in there,’ ” said the police chief, Ibrahim al-Juboori.

“The police department for Hawija District had no knowledge of the operation,” he said. “The people who were arrested and the one that was killed were not known as terrorists.”
Hussein Ali Saleh al-Juboori, local politician and founder of the Hawija Awakening Council, said, “There have been repeated breaches after the signing of the strategic agreement,” he said, citing the January case “when a man and his wife were killed and his daughter was injured. We demand immediate investigation.”

Also in the New York Times, Stephen Farrell and Alissa J. Rubin report on 33 year old Italian tourist Luco Marchio, 33, who made his way from Turkey to Baghdad, and then briefly on to Fallujah, where he was picked up by police, and then the Italian Embassy was notified. An embassy official said, “He will leave with the earliest flight tomorrow morning.” Farrell and Rubin write it in a lighthearted, entertaining way, and were probably happy to get a break from election numbers and political factions.

Samir Sumaida'ie, Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, writes an op-ed in the Washington Post called “The Promise in Iraq’s Rebirth”. It begins as follows.
When the United States went into Iraq in 2003, Americans had a very limited understanding of the country. Political pundits tended to reduce Iraq to neat categories: an oppressed Shiite majority; a Sunni minority linked to Saddam Hussein's regime; and the Kurds, who had no interest in remaining in Iraq. The strife between these supposedly monolithic communities was often portrayed as permanent and violent.
He goes on to explain how the Iraqi people have demonstrated, not least of all in the recent election, that they have much more independence and unity than that. He also includes a message, that “Those who thought that they could dominate Iraq from outside, directly or by proxy, surely have realized that their influence will always be limited.”

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

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Daily Column
Prime Minister’s Party Wins in Iraqi Vote but Will Need to Form Coalitions
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/06/2009 02:00 AM ET
Preliminary election results, released by Iraq’s independent High Electoral Committee are the talk of the town. Back home, there are bad feelings about Iraq’s ambassador post.

From Baghdad
In the first official, yet still incomplete, election results so far released, the Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the clear winner. Still, there is not enough of a majority that it does not need to work with other parties and build coalitions with some of them.

Among the significant changes in the political map of Iraq, parties allied with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq dramatically lost ground in the south, and a new Sunni party called al-Hadba took control of the Ninewa provincial council, formerly held by Kurds.

All three articles cover the same material, but to different degrees. Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times and the Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan and Ernesto Londoño are in front, with comparable stories, really. Rubin makes al-Maliki the focus.
The election outcome conveyed a dual message: many Iraqis want a strong central government, rather than one where regions hold more power than the center, but they do not want all the power in the hands of one party.

...Some politicians have voiced concerns in recent months that too much power was being concentrated in Mr. Maliki’s hands, and the election results suggested that Iraqis were not ready to rally around a single leader. They responded far more enthusiastically to candidates who espoused a united Iraq that is Muslim, but not overtly sectarian.
Raghavan and Londoño’s offering is entitled “Iraqi Elections Deliver A Victory for U.S. Goals,” begins from a US policy perspective, somewhat, but quickly switch to a story about Iraqi politics.
U.S. officials are not likely to be thrilled by the political resurgence of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Independent parties backed by his movement took second place in Baghdad and posted strong showings in Iraq's south, underscoring the cleric's street power. The Sadrists could emerge as kingmakers, as they did after the 2005 elections.

Perhaps the most surprising victory occurred in predominantly Sunni Anbar province, where a party led by Saleh al-Mutlaq, a secular Sunni Arab nationalist, won narrowly over a party led by American-backed tribal leaders as well as established Sunni politicians of the religious Iraqi Islamic Party.
Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal is smaller and more general, but covers the same basic ground. If you’re in a hurry, you’ll walk away with the same overall impression.

The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Mark Landler report on how Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the former top American commander in the Middle East, was offered the post of US Ambassador to Iraq and then unceremoniously passed over, in favor of surprise choice, Christopher R. Hill.

When the vice president, the secretary of state and the national security adviser all say you have been tapped to be the next United States ambassador to Iraq, odds are it’s a done deal, right? Apparently not in the Obama administration.

...With General Zinni fuming in undiplomatic fashion about the way he was treated, the question of who should be the next ambassador to Iraq has turned into an embarrassing mess for the Obama administration as it struggles to recover from other stumbles over high-profile nominations. There has still been no formal announcement about the Iraq job.
“As a sorry offer to placate me, they offered ambassador to Saudi,” he said in a separate e-mail message, referring to Saudi Arabia. “I told them to stick it where the sun don’t shine.”

USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
Some Cry Foul After Early Election Results
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/05/2009 02:00 AM ET
There are only two news stories filed from Iraq today, and they’re about the same thing. That’s understandable though, because it’s a pretty big thing -post-election violence being threatened amid accusations of voter fraud by a major party.

From Iraq
From Ramadi, Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post writes the better of the two articles – better, simply, because he went there, and has more information and more quotes.

In what may be a case of ballot-tampering or sour grapes(or most likely, both), preliminary election results which show the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) ahead of leaders of the Anbar Awakening movement are being contested with strong words. Ahmed Abu Risha, a major figure in the Anbar Awakening vowed that, if his party did not win, ”disaster” would follow. He said, "An honest dictatorship is better than a democracy won through fraud."

Raghavan sums up the situation as follows.
Abu Risha and other leaders of the Awakening, the U.S.-backed Sunni sheiks who rose up to quell the insurgency, charge that Sunni politicians of the Iraqi Islamic Party have committed electoral fraud, which party officials deny. The allegations, coupled with threats to use arms, have prompted provincewide curfews and strict security measures. Although the United States handed responsibility for the security of Anbar to the Iraqi government in September, U.S. Marines this week returned to Ramadi in observation roles, patrolling areas from which they had largely withdrawn.
The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has taken seriously the claims against the IIP, and calls them the only “red” or extremely serious allegations brought so far, and is continuing investigation. A recount, they say, is unnecessary,

The other article, by the New York Times’ Sam Dagher in Baghdad explains the actual claims more thoroughly.
As was the case in all the other provinces, ballots in Anbar were supposed to have been counted at the individual polling stations by commission employees in the presence of observers from all political parties. The tallies were then to be manually recorded on forms that were sent to the commission’s headquarters in Baghdad. The actual ballots were to be sealed and stored in depots in every province.

Sheik Issawi (one of Abu Risha’s allies and a candidate on his slate) asserted that the cheating occurred during the recording of the tallies at several voting sites in Anbar and was committed by officials beholden to the Islamic Party. A party official has denied the charges and condemned Sheik Risha’s threats of violence.
Stephen Milioti of the New York Times reports that Zaha Hadid, the Iraq-born architect "known for fantastically angled buildings, was commissioned to design the faucet of the future". Ms. Hadid’s futuristic tap, which she created for a British company, comes in two models, for the bath and the kitchen. They start at $7,000. Perhaps some could be donated to the people of Iraq. Even if potable water isn’t reliable, who's day wouldn't be spruced up by an artsy faucet?

In the Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Kagan (president of the Institute for the Study of War) and Frederick W. Kagan (resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute) show they can beat the pants off most op-ed writers, when it comes to effortlessly-referenced background information on Iraq.

Iraq's Remarkable Election: The government ensured integrity and security. Iran and sectarianism were the big losers”, is one of two opinion pieces today which laud the election, and there has been a steady stream of them since Saturday.

They hit everything from Moqtada al-Sadr to Khanaqin, and it all seems to fall together for them in one grand scheme of things getting better and better. They don’t minimize the sticky issues all that much, but it does read a little like an op-ed by two people from institutions with a stake in how things play out, as “American forces will continue to play a vital role as honest brokers and impartial arbiters standing behind efforts to resolve conflicts peacefully.”

The Wall Street Journal’s “Review and Outlook” page continues its celebration of the peaceful election, but switches gears at the end to question President Obama’s choice of Christopher Hill as the next US ambassador to Iraq.
Especially with U.S. troop levels going down, Iraqis need the assurance of someone both more knowledgeable and sympathetic. Plenty of Iraqis -- especially Sunnis -- remain suspicious that the U.S. will bargain with Tehran by conceding Iranian interests in Iraq. As ambassador, Mr. Crocker held talks with the Iranians but emerged with a sober view of Tehran's malignant role in Iraqi politics. The elections were another notable sign of Iraq's democratic progress, and the U.S. needs an emissary who won't lose the Iraqi trust so painstakingly won by so many.
USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
Iraq Probes Possible Voter Fraud, Party's Rise Signals New Nationalist Current
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/04/2009 02:00 AM ET
Aside from the headline-grabbing confession concerning female suicide bombers, we get a tour around three provinces where early election results are making big news, and some conflict. Each of the three election-related articles are strong and coherent. At least a perusal of all three is recommended, for readers to be in the loop on some of Iraq’s key political hotpots.

From Iraq
In the New York Times, Steven Lee Myers reports that the Iraqi government claims to have caught a woman accused of recruiting female suicide bombers and helping them to carry out multiple bombings. A video of Um Huda (also known by her code name, “The Mother of Believers”) giving a confession was shown, where she admitted to having recruited 28 women.

“I got her to the bank and left her there,” she said, of one recruit. “She detonated herself at a police station in Muqdadiya.”
According to her account, she met Shakir Hamid Malik, a leader of Ansar al-Sunna, a Sunni insurgent group in Diyala believed to have links to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and joined the group as a recruiter. Her remarks suggested that she had to work diligently to persuade women to become bombers, speaking to them many times. She also appeared to confirm what many military and intelligence officials had asserted: that insurgents prey on women in dire social and economic situations who are often suffering from emotional or psychological problems, or abuse.
“I met her, and for more than two weeks I tried to convince her,” she explained, of another recruit. “She was living in difficult conditions. Her husband and his family were having problems with her brothers. She was in bad psychological shape.” Ernesto Londoño reports in the Washington Post that the head of Iraq's electoral commission said Tuesday that it is investigating "serious" allegations of electoral fraud in Anbar province that, if corroborated, could alter the outcome of Saturday's election. The announcement provides the clearest indication yet that voting irregularities occurred during provincial balloting.

Londoño writes gives a good overall understanding of the situation. Among the hundreds of complaints received by the commission, allegations against the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) in Anbar province are the first the commission has labeled as "red," or highly serious.
A coalition of parties that competed against the Iraqi Islamic Party in Anbar submitted complaints that the commission considers grave, commission chief Faraj al-Haidari said. "We will deal with it seriously because it might change the result of the election in this province," he said. As tensions sparked by the allegations of electoral fraud spread through Ramadi, the provincial capital, Iraqi law enforcement officials and U.S. Marines braced Tuesday for a possible outbreak of violence.
Leaders of the Anbar Sahwa, “citizen patrols” which have elevated to a new force to be reckoned with in the region. after receiving U.S.-backing and getting much of the credit for toppling insurgent control of the region. This has put them in direct competition with the IIP for influence in Anbar.

"I am afraid of the bad consequences if the results of the election will be the opposite of what the blocs and parties expect," said Maj. Gen. Murdhi al-Duleimi, the province's chief of security operations. "I am afraid that we will return to the starting point due to the increase in threats."

The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf writes from Mosul of an emerging nationalist Sunni Arab party there, and brings warranted attention to the other main cause for post-election jitters. She speaks to Atheel al-Nujaifi, of the al-Hadba “Gathering” Party, who are thought to have gained a majority in the Ninewa provincial council, as preliminary election numbers come out. When many Sunni parties boycotted the 2005 election, Kurds retained control of the council.

Discussion of the Kurdish/Arab struggle for power and land in Iraq’s north is often centered around Kirkuk, but Ninewa province seems to be no less of a powder-keg. The main talking point for al-Hadba’s campaign was keeping the Kurds at bay. Critics call them “anti-Kurdish” and say they have strong Baathist connections. They claim that Kurdish parties in the area have misused power and are trying to gain power over Arab-majority populations.

"We are not enemies of the Kurds," insists Nujaifi, his black Italian cashmere jacket offset by a subtly striped red and white tie. "There are certain issues and we would like to discuss these issues with Kurdish parties but we are not going to give up the rights for the people who have voted for our party."

"This is a change in politics – a real change," says Nujaifi. "We're not like the parties of the past.... We have never been part of the old regime and we were not against the old regime either," he says, blaming many of the country's problems on Iraqis who joined forces with the United States to oust Mr. Hussein and pave the way for the US invasion and occupation.
From Tikrit, Alissa J. Rubin and Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times bring up a familiar name, being spoken again with increasing regularity – Ayad Allawi. Again, projections of election results are shaping public discourse, and the strong showing by former prime minister’s Iraqi National List in Sulahuddin province is no exception. Allawi looks to have done well in at least two other provinces as well, being among the top three vote-getters.
Mr. Allawi’s probable gains are the latest sign of a trend toward secular leaders who support a strong centralized state, and of the role of provincial elections in potentially realigning power.

...Mr. Allawi appears to have won because he has been a strong critic of American post-invasion policies that hurt former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and others who worked in the Hussein government. Mr. Allawi is himself a secular Shiite and a former Baathist turned opposition leader in exile during Mr. Hussein’s rule.
Don’t expect heated arguments over the breakfast table over this one. The Washington Post editorial page has the title “Elections strengthen secular moderates who seek to curb Iran's influence” and poses the question “Will President Obama support them?” The main point is for Obama to show caution, without outlining anything specific to agree or disagree with - fairly ho-hum for an editorial.

The 2005 election is termed a “procedural victory”, but last weekend’s one, a “political triumph,” and writes of the effect it may have on President Obama’s reluctance to not withdraw troops from Iraq.
Oddly, the biggest beneficiary of the election other than Mr. Maliki may be President Obama, who has been a skeptic both of progress in Iraq and the value of elections in unstable states. Mr. Obama acknowledged on Monday that "Iraqis just had a very significant election with no significant violence" and called that "good news" -- but only in the sense that it could justify withdrawing "a substantial number" of U.S. troops this year. While such a drawdown is certainly a desirable goal, the president would do well to recognize, value and exploit the very real political progress Iraq has made -- and to be careful not to undercut it by acting too quickly on his exit strategy.
Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
Under "Abu Isra’s Shadow", Hill Tapped as Ambassador, Heavy Metal Refugees
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/03/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, we have some descriptions of how Iraq’s political map is being redrawn, as sense is beginning to be made of election results. Also, a new US ambassador to Iraq is named, Montadar al-Zaidi’s shoe-throwing fad continues to catch on, Heavy Metal from Baghdad moves to the states, and John R. Bolton waxes democratic.

From Iraq
On page one of the Washington Post, there appears an article by three Post heavyweights - Sudarsan Raghavan, Anthony Shadid and Ernesto Londoño – who report on preliminary election results, which are looking kindly towards candidates allied with al-Maliki .

It is dense, but intelligent writing. With an opening sentence like “Iraq appears headed toward a reapportionment of power that favors the emergence of a strong central government, with supporters of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki showing strong returns in Saturday's elections, according to early tallies seen by election and party officials,” casual readers aren’t likely to make it very far. That isn’t necessarily to its discredit, though, as political analysis which delves further than the issue of Shi’a vs. Sunni is welcome.

Dawa officials say they will now control as much as 55 percent of the seats on the Baghdad council. "The results of the election show that Iraqis support a strong central government and good local governments," said Dawa’s Muhsin al-Rubae. "These results reflect the confidence of people in Maliki."

Maliki fared well in the south too, appearing to have beaten Hakim’s Supreme Council in most provinces, and with Basra going to the secular party backed by Iyad Allawi. As has been pointed out frequently, the big religious parties are losing popularity, with lack of services provided being commonly cited as a major reason (not to mention years of sectarian violence). Al-Maliki has stepped away from religious rhetoric for the time being. The two “independent” parties that Moqtada al-Sadr endorsed have actually ended up doing fairly well in places like Najaf, Babil, Dhi Qar, and Maysan.

The two main battle fronts are likely to be Anbar province in the west, where rival Sunni factions duke it out for dominance, and Ninewa province in the north, where Arabs and Kurds don’t quite see eye to eye on everything.

Sam Dagher and Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times offer a similar roundup of the state of things, but with tighter and more vibrant writing. We pick up in Ninewa, where we left off.
In Mosul, the seat of Nineveh Province, the presumptive victory of Sunni Arab nationalists reflected a determination by majority Arabs to push back what they see as hostile encroachment by minority Kurds since the fall of Saddam Hussein. These Arab groups, disenfranchised from power, have embraced Mr. Maliki’s calls for a strong central state, which have put him on a collision course with Kurds.

Many believe that empowering Arabs again in Mosul would also reduce much of the violence that remains, particularly because the winning Arab coalition, Al Hudba, is believed to be in communication with insurgents, mostly members of the former ruling Baath Party.
Dagher and Myers hit Basra and the rest of the country as well, and make an interesting observation about the public’s disaffection with religious parties in relation to lack of services provided, and how Maliki has somehow escaped blame for this lately.
Though Mr. Maliki has been prime minister since 2006, many did not blame him for the poor state of municipal services. Entire streets and alleyways in these neighborhoods are still flooded with sewage and festering heaps of garbage.

“God willing, we will get better services if his list wins,” said Rasul Hani, 18, who voted for Mr. Maliki’s slate. Using Mr. Maliki’s nickname, he added, “We will count our blessings for as long as we remain in Abu Isra’s shadow.”
The Post’s Glenn Kessler reports that Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, will be nominated as ambassador to Iraq. He wasn’t the first on the list of many to succeed Ryan C. Crocker, who has just retired from the position.

Hill is a consummate dealmaker, but he does not speak Arabic, and his expertise lies in Europe and Northeast Asia. He was ambassador to Poland, Macedonia and South Korea and also was a top negotiator to the Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war in the mid-1990s.

Hill won plaudits for his efforts in the face of opposition from within the Bush administration and the often frustrating negotiating tactics of the North Koreans. But he also was criticized for appearing at times too eager to strike a deal, or too eager to court the news media.
Perhaps as a sign that he can overcome the latter criticism, the story has no quotes by Hill, as he did not respond to a phone call or e-mails by Kessler.

Ben Sisario in the New York Times writes of Baghdad Heavy Metal band Acrassicauda’s journey to America as refugees and of their backstage meeting with Metallica’s James Hetfield, who presented them with one of his guitars. The band was featured in the 2007 documentary, “Heavy Metal in Baghdad.”

Sisario’s article is engaging. He portrays the band members in a likable way, while using their surreal journey as a foil to describe some of what Iraq’s more than two million refugees who have left Iraq since 2003.
“That’s for keeping the faith,” Mr. Hetfield said, adding as he disappeared with his entourage down a corridor, “Write some good riffs.”
Form Across the Pond
In an obvious reference to Iraqi news correspondent Montadar al-Zaidi’s celebrated act of head-of-state shoe-throwing, John F. Burns in the New York Times and an uncredited Wall Street Journal news roundup report that a protester at Cambridge University threw an athletic shoe at the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, during a speech he gave at the university on Monday.

New York Times op-ed contributor and former controversial US ambassador to the UN John R. Bolton writes of the Iraqi election, calling it “a major success for both that country and the United States.” He decries the lack of celebration of the election in the media, and those pesky surge-denyin' lefties. The estimated 51% doesn’t realy jive with his opening statement that there was a “strong voter turnout”, but the elections were actually peaceful, as he also says.

Iran’s ambitions can be kept in check by such an election, he argues, and calls “fundamentally wrong” the theory that Iran would be less of a global threat, had the US not invaded Iraq.
Long before the American ouster of Mr. Hussein, Iran was supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank. It was seeking hegemony in Syria and Lebanon, and was well along in its clandestine program to acquire nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. After Mr. Hussein’s conviction and execution, Iran increased efforts to advance its radical brand of Shiite Islam in Iraq. But the success of the election should substantially retard those efforts.
Daily Column
Vote Expected to Define Disputes in North and Bolster al-Maliki Throughout
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/02/2009 01:55 AM ET
Things have settled, and the numbers are starting to roll in. Things are looking up for al-Maliki and less so for the Kurds, in some areas. Also, the US’s main reconstruction auditor in Iraq warns that hard reconstruction lessons learned also apply to Afghanistan.

From Baghdad
The reoccurring storyline is that the election was peaceful but had a few glitches problems, included just a hair above half the population, and the counting and analysis have begun. Different articles have different focuses.

On page one of the New York Times, Allisa J. Rubin writes that, if the early returns prove accurate, the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could be strengthened in dealings with Parliament before national elections are to be held by next year. Maliki’s Dawa Party is already claiming to have won in Baghdad and Basra, surprisingly corroborated by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which previously controlled Baghdad.

Faraj al-Haideri, the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), said the commission was “very pleased with the turnout,” adding, “Very rarely in other parts of the world do you get such a high percentage voting in provincial elections.”

Low turnout of just 40 percent in Anbar Province was a particular surprise because the area, for years racked by a brutal insurgency, is now relatively calm and many people were eager to vote after having sat out the elections in 2005. Despite the low numbers in Anbar, the electoral commission said Sunni participation nationwide was higher than it had been in 2005.

The turnout appeared to reflect confusion over voting procedures as well as voter apathy. There were complaints across the country from Iraqis who had tried to vote but were unable to do so. Most were prevented either because a strict curfew prevented them from reaching their polling center or because their names were not on the center’s voter roll when they got there.
Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal writes “While the election itself went fairly smoothly, observers say it's critical that the polling--and now, the counting of ballots--be perceived as free and fair. A successful election would provide a shot of confidence for the Iraqi government as U.S. forces begin to pull back combat troops from cities at the end of June.”

At the beginning of her article, the US pullout is at the center, but she moves on to the Iraqi side, giving preliminary turnout numbers in different provinces, and runs down the normal issues.

In USA Today, Aamer Madhani’s focus is what brought people to the polls, and what kept them away.
A number of Iraqis interviewed Sunday said they stayed away because they are disillusioned with the government and its efforts to provide basic services, like electricity and clean water.

The turnout was lower than the 58% who voted four years ago for a transitional national assembly and provincial councils, in an election largely boycotted by Sunni Arabs. And it was a significant drop from the 76% turnout in December 2005 to elect Iraq's first national government after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
He puts in into perspective, though, by comparing it to turnout for the U.S. presidential election in November, which was only 61.7 percent.

From Mosul
Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor reports from Mosul that, though the election itself went smoothly even there, that “Sunni Arab voters, many participating for the first time, were believed to have voted in significant numbers for al-Hadba candidates, a new party that has pledged to challenge Kurdish expansion.” – something which forecasts high chances of further discord.

She takes us around Iraq, describing how the election has played out so far in the provinces, but returns to Mosul, where she touches on the area’s Yezedi minority and low general turnout.

The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño keeps his focus on Ninewa province. He describes the environment in which the elections took place – elections that will “provide the first snapshot in decades” of the area’s disputed demographics.
In the weeks leading up to the elections, U.S. officials brokered a deal between the Iraqi army and the pesh merga, the Kurdish regional government's armed force, to have a combination of forces stationed at polls in disputed areas. The arrangement was deemed necessary because the two forces came close to an armed confrontation a few months ago in neighboring Diyala province and have been used by Kurds and the central government to exert control over disputed areas.

Sunni Arab politicians accuse the Kurds of using money, threats and violence to gain control of dozens of towns and villages along the 300-mile "green line" that separates the autonomous Kurdish region from the rest of the country.
"For us Arabs, this election is a turning point," said a teacher. "We boycotted the last election, and the result was catastrophic because we became a target for some who want to change the identity of this area."

Also in the Washington Post, Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus report that, after five years of investigations and 250,000 pages of audits, Stuart W. Bowen Jr. wishes he could say that the $50 billion cost of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq was money accounted for and well spent. He can’t.
Instead, the largest single-country relief and reconstruction project in U.S. history -- most of it done by private U.S. contractors -- was full of wasted funds, fraud and a lack of accountability under what Bowen, the congressionally mandated special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, calls an "ad hoc-racy" of lax or nonexistent government planning and supervision.

And despite the Iraq experience, he said, the United States is making many of the same mistakes again in Afghanistan, where U.S. reconstruction expenditures stand at more than $30 billion and counting.
"It's too late to do the structural part and make it quickly applicable to Afghanistan," Bowen said in an interview last week. DeYoung and Pincus detail some of Bowen’s findings, and explore how lessons somewhat learned could, in fact, help in ongoing reconstruction efforts in both countries.

"I didn't know that we didn't have a system to protect our interests abroad in post-conflict or contingency operations,” said Bowen, of when he arrived in Iraq. “It would have been a much funner job to issue 250 reports on how well our rebuilding program went . . . and that the money was well accounted for and that we're leaving Iraq a peaceful and democratic place and nonviolent country."

DeYoung and Pincus predict Bowen will not be needing to look for a job for the foreseeable future, as $4 billion in appropriated U.S. reconstruction funds remain unspent in Iraq.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Iraqis Vote Under Intense Security, US Forces Pull Back
By DANIEL W. SMITH 02/01/2009 02:00 AM ET
Well, it happened, there were no car bombs, and the city has far more purple fingers now – though exactly how many is a matter of question.

From Iraq
As would be expected, today is a day of reporting about how the election went, and there is more than one offering. Since the results aren’t in yet, a lot of the writing strongly resembles that which immediately preceded the election – getting readers as familiar as can be asked about such a challenging political situation, and what’s at stake. A similar scene is painted by all.

The big news, of course, is the lack of violence. Security was extremely high all over the country, with curfews and roadblocks galore. In Iraq, what people are talking about is how many people were turned away without getting to cast a vote. Given how prominent a domestic issue it is, US coverage (and international coverage in general) seems to have glossed over it a little bit. It is mentioned, but skimmers might miss it altogether.

IN his overview of how voting went throughout the country, Stephen Farrell of the New York Times gives more attention to this issue than the other Baghdad filers, and conveys some of the frustration which many would-be voters felt. He focuses as well in some of the difficulties in Neneva province, where minority groups like Yezidis feel railroaded under the weight of the Kurd/Arab struggle for land and influence.

Also, preliminary turnout figures in various provinces are given, something the other articles didn’t have. (Since the Independent High Electoral Commission and UN observers refused to even speculate on turnout numbers as of a press conference in Baghdad late last night, Farrell certainly seems to have good sources).

The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan writes an overview of the day as well, spending time on individual Iraqis, and what brought (or did not bring) them to the polls.

Also in the Washington Post, Anthony Shadid reports from Diyala, “a sometimes picturesque province known for its orange groves and its killing fields.”

He reports that, on election day, even war-torn Baquba felt somewhat relaxed, with curfews making it possible for children to play soccer in the road (something seen all over the country). Still, the threat of sectarian violence looms large.
Shiites worry that the Popular Committees loyal to Abu Talib are infiltrated by former insurgents, who are eager to become part of the security forces but still bent on sectarian strife. A new government, some warned Saturday, could ensure their entry, with the unintended consequence of making men like Abu Talib warlords in uniforms. "There's fear," said Saif Amr Shaker, a 21-year-old student outside a polling station in Hawaider, which lost hundreds of residents in the fighting. "The majority of them are al-Qaeda, and we know that. If they come, we're going back to square one.
The New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin reports on the waning role of the U.S. military in Iraq, something seen on Saturday in the streets of Iraq. Americans were visible on election day, but considering the incredibly high level of security, their absence was conspicuous.

The signs of mutual disengagement are everywhere. In the days leading up to the elections, it was possible to drive safely from near the Turkish border in the north to Baghdad and on south to Basra, just a few miles from the Persian Gulf — without seeing an American convoy. In the Green Zone — once host to the American occupation government, and now the seat of the Iraqi government — the primary PX is set to close, and the Americans have retreated to their vast, garrisoned new embassy compound. Iraqi soldiers now handle all Green Zone checkpoints.
The final point is perhaps too simply put, and therefore a bit misleading. U.S. soldiers can still often be seen manning checkpoints, and when they are, it is often quite clear that they’re in charge (Just this week, at a Green Zone checkpoint, a US soldier noticed my passport and told one of his Iraqi counterparts who was searching me, “Hey. He’s American, you don’t have to check him.” The checkpoint led to, among other things, the Iraqi Parliament.)
The shifts are subtle, often unspoken. The American military role now has less to do with protecting Iraqis and more with giving them the psychological reassurance that they can handle what comes their way.
Of course, what we’ve been hearing from US and Iraqi government/military spokesmen for years – that US troops act largely in a supportive role – finally has some truth to it today. Still, when Rubin writes that “in parts of the country where the fighting has stopped” that “The Americans no longer tell the Iraqis what to do, and the Iraqis, especially Iraqi Army officers, no longer look to the Americans for approval,” it may be too clear-cut a statement. Sure, Iraq is “pointing to a new era”, as the title states, but we’re not there yet.

Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post reports that carrying heavy combat loads is taking a quiet but serious toll on troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, contributing to injuries that are sidelining them in growing numbers.
Rising concern over the muscle and bone injuries -- as well as the hindrance caused by the cumbersome gear as troops maneuver in Afghanistan's mountains -- prompted Army and Marine Corps leaders and commanders to launch initiatives last month that will introduce lighter equipment for some U.S. troops.

Army leaders and experts say the injuries -- linked to the stress of bearing heavy loads during repeated 12- or 15-month combat tours -- have increased the number of soldiers categorized as "non-deployable." Army personnel reported 257,000 acute orthopedic injuries in 2007, up from 247,000 the previous year.
As injuries force more soldiers to stay home, the Army is having a harder time filling units for upcoming deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the service's vice chief of staff. "We refer to soldiers as tactical athletes," said a rehabilitation specialist. "You want to help take care of them early so they can get back in the game."

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