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.
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.
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