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Archive: March 2009
Daily Column
Says Iraqi Prisoner Slayings Were "In The Best Interest Of My Soldiers"
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/31/2009 02:00 AM ET
There are only two original Iraq stories to choose from, one each in the New York Times and the Washington Post, but both are worth reading. The sentencing of a US serviceman in the killing of Iraqis is covered and an update given on the clashes between Iraqi/US forces and Awakening council members in Baghdad on Saturday and Sunday.

Military Matters
In the Washington Post, Craig Whitlock reports from a U.S. Army Barracks courthouse in Vilseck, Germany, where Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo, 27, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his part in the 2007 killing of four Iraqi prisoners. Each was shot in the back of the head while handcuffed and blindfolded, then dumped into a canal in Baghdad. They had been arrested on suspicion of attacking US patrols, but there wasn’t enough evidence to hold them. In his testimony on Monday, Mayo said that Master Sgt. John E. Hatley (scheduled to face court-martial next month for the same incident) suggested the soldiers take matters into their own hands. "He said we should take care of them. I agreed."

"I really believed I was protecting my soldiers," Mayo told the court. "I take full responsibility for my actions. Now I have to pay for my mistake." He pleaded guilty to premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr., a medic in the unit, was convicted last month and sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole, after he confessing to his part in the killings.
Two other soldiers, Spec. Steven A. Ribordy, 26, and Spec. Belmor Ramos, 24, pleaded guilty last year to being accessories to the murders. Charges against two other members of the unit have since been dropped.

...Ribordy testified last month at a related court-martial that one of the Iraqis initially survived a shot to the back of the head and was "still breathing and gurgling on the ground." He said Hatley then shot the prisoner again, this time fatally and in the chest. Ribordy also testified that he was told by Leahy to destroy photographs he had taken of the Iraqis after they were arrested.
From Baghdad
In the New York Times, Rod Nordland gives a status update on the two days of clashes between joint Iraqi/US forces and an Awakening council in Baghdad’s Fadhil neighborhood which broke out after the arrest of the council’s leader, Adil al-Mashhadani. The fighting has stopped, but resentment and fear of further arrests remain throughout the 94,000 strong Awakening groups (a.k.a. the Sons of Iraq, or in Arabic, the Sahwa) around Iraq. Also remaining is a curfew and virtual lockdown of Fadhil.

Most of the information is from the US military, who at this point seem to be giving out more information than Iraqi officials, but Nordland makes it clear that this information is being carefully and selectively doled out. Sahwa forces claim that eighty of their members have been detained in the raids. A US Army spokesman put the number at 24, with “Indications are that some were released,” and an undetermined number of additional arrests made.
(Maj.) General (David) Perkins ...confirmed that the United States military on Monday pressed Iraqi officials to find funds to pay the Sons of Iraq, the American name for members of the Awakening Councils. Many of them are a month or more in arrears. “I personally was in the finance minister’s office about two hours ago and he showed me basically what you would call a deposit slip, depositing the money in the Rafidain Bank,” General Perkins said. The amount was $30 million, he said, which is the monthly payroll for Iraq’s 94,000 Awakening Council members.

He added that the timing had nothing to do with Mr. Mashhadani’s arrest and widespread criticism of the action from other Awakening Councils.
That sounds a bit questionable, given the other (and quite understandable) efforts to placate the Sahwa in general. “We do feel a large responsibility to reassure the S.O.I.’s (the abbreviation for the Sons of Iraq) that this is not about S.O.I.,” Perkins said, making a distinction between the arrest of one man, and what many Sahwa members fear, that this is only one in a series of arrests and other government efforts to disband them. Nordland also includes details of some of the violence in Iraq on Monday, with 11 dead in Mosul and three dead and 14 wounded in Diyala province.

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

Daily Column
A Baghdad Awakening Council Still Defiant but Lays Down Guns, Sadrists Splinter
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/30/2009 01:39 AM ET
The firefights which followed the arrest of an Awakening leader in Baghdad on Saturday and lasted into Sunday are still the main story. Also, a group of Sadrists have split from the movement and Hummers in Baghdad.

From Baghdad
Yesterday, the issue of the largely disaffected and mostly Sunni Awakening councils clashing with Shi’a-dominated government security forces in Baghdad’s Fadhil neighborhood was well covered, as were potential ramifications. What has come out in the past day are details about how it played out, and about the charges made against Adil al-Mashhadani, the Awakening (or Sahwa) leader whose arrest sparked the whole thing. A US military statement released on Sunday stated that al-Mashhadani was charged with extorting in excess of $160,000 from Fadhil residents, that he took part in insurgent attacks and had ties to al-Qaeda. Iraqi officials said he commanded an illegal armed wing of the Baath party.

On the front page of the Washington Post, Sudarsan Raghavan and Anthony Shadid frame their story around the idea of two key American allies fighting.
...The fallout from the operation is already rippling far beyond the city's boundaries. Both the Iraqi security forces and the Sunni fighters, known as the Awakening, are cornerstones in the American strategy to bring stability. The Awakening, in particular, is widely viewed as a key reason violence has dramatically dropped across Iraq.

Many leaders of the Awakening, mostly former Sunni insurgents who joined hands with U.S. forces to fight the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, have long had a contentious relationship with Iraq's Shiite-led government. But the weekend battles have sparked fresh frustration and mistrust of both the U.S. military and Iraq's mostly Shiite security forces, according to interviews with Awakening leaders across the country.
Raghavan and Shadid show some of the fear the arrests are causing among many Sahwa by pointing out that in the Baghdad neighborhoods of Dora, Adhamiyah and Amiriyah, their offices were closed and nearly a dozen of their leaders had switched off their cellphones or declined to answer calls. "We are being chased right now by the government," said one of their spokesmen, in Amiriyah. "We're moving from place to place."

Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times gives a better feel for what things were like on the ground, of some residents’ opinions of al-Mashhadani, and and gets to the bottom of the claim that, during the fighting, Iraqi soldiers were kidnapped by the Sahwa.
Iraqi and American forces surrounded the neighborhood through the day on Sunday as American Apache helicopters buzzed overhead and Iraqi Army Humvees moved through the streets using loudspeakers to tell members of the Awakening group to hand over their guns. By evening, the Iraqi Army was searching homes for more weapons, but pedestrians were able to enter and children were playing soccer.

Five Iraqi Army soldiers, who were described on Saturday as having been kidnapped shortly after the shooting began, were able to leave the neighborhood on Sunday morning, Mr. Sammaraie said. His assertion was corroborated by an Iraqi Army officer. “Those five soldiers were at a joint checkpoint with the Awakening and when the clashes started, they turned to us for help and told us, ‘We are neutral, and we don’t want to interfere and shoot at you, so we would like to stay here until morning,’ ” Mr. Sammaraie said.
The Wall Street Journal’s Gina Chon reports on something that nobody else is – that some 200 prominent, moderate followers of Moqtada al-Sadr have broken from his movement, forming a splinter group, just as the government has reportedly begun granting secret amnesty deals to members of the breakaway group who also were members of Iranian-backed militias. Says Chon, this will further weaken al-Sadr’s “hold on what was once one of Iraq's most influential factions.”
Mr. Sadr sought last spring to transform his Mahdi Army into a social-services organization that would no longer use arms after a government crackdown on the militia. But while violence by Shiite extremists has declined, some of his movement's members disobey his orders, and others have formed splinter groups to continue the fight.

The three granted amnesty said that with Mr. Sadr residing in Iran for religious studies, some of his more moderate followers were concerned that his movement is still being infiltrated by Shiite extremists who want to keep fighting U.S. and Iraqi security forces. They felt the only way to distance themselves from the extremists was to form a new group.
Rod Nordland of the New York Times writes about the fad in Baghdad of owning a Hummer as a symbol of power and money. Alan Gomez of USA Today write a similar story not long ago, speaking to the car dealer who sells them and fairly subtly pointing out the irony of the civilian version of the Humvee in Iraq’s capital. Nordland goes further in depth, relating how the owners of the dealership rode around in Baghdad traffic to showcase their wares, and how the number of customers is growing, mostly made up of government officials – who are most likely to be about to pay for one.

Christian Science Monitor, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
Fighting in the Street Between Iraqi Army/Police and Awakening Fighters
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/29/2009 02:00 AM ET
There isn’t a great deal of Iraq coverage today, but two comparable articles about the explosion of tensions on the streets of Baghdad between Iraqi security forces (accompanied by American ones) and members of an Awakening council unfortunately make for riveting reading. A story on the US military's use of dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the call for establishing a medal for them) is worth checking out as well.

From Baghdad
In an unnerving development, American and Iraqi troops arrested the leader of an Awakening Council in Baghdad on Saturday, setting off street fighting and raising fresh concerns about the troubled Awakening program, credited with turning the tide on Sunni extremists by incorporating many of them into a kind of US-paid militia. In recent months, the nearly 100,000 strong, mostly Sunni force has been switched to the Iraqi payroll and command.

Many Awakening members, or Sahwa, have consistently complained that the payroll is often not being met, and that they are treated with little respect – or as criminals – by the Iraqi government, police, and army. A governmental promise to incorporate 20 percent of the fighters into government security forces has gone unrealized, as have promises to provide other government jobs and training to those who didn’t transition into being police or army members.

Adil Mashhadani, the leader of the Fadhil neighborhood Sahwa who was the one arrested on Saturday, said himself last week in an interview, “There’s a 50-50 chance that Awakening guys who are not very loyal to Iraq or who need to support their families may decide to join al-Qaeda again.” Iraq's chief military spokesman, Gen. Qassim Atta, said an arrest warrant had been issued for Mashhadani and an aide for committing "terrorist acts."

Both articles, in the New York Times and the Washington Post tell the same story, and readers of either will come away with the same information/characterization of the events. Sudarsan Raghavan of the Post quotes a spokesman of the Fadhil Awakening on Saturday, "We will fight them till the end if they don't release him." As he spoke by phone, wrote Raghavan, “the sounds of heavy gunfire could be heard in the background.” The spokesman goes on to say that "The American forces do not have credibility with us," and adds, "If they don't release Adil Mashadani, all the Awakening in Iraq will rise up like our uprising today.”
As Apache helicopter gunships cruised above Baghdad's Fadhil neighborhood, former Sunni insurgents fought from rooftops and street corners against American and Iraqi forces, according to witnesses, the Iraqi military and police. At least 15 people were wounded in the gunfights, which lasted several hours.
The New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin and Rod Nordland have some similarly disturbing quotes from the same source, as well as from the leader of another Sahwa council in the nearby Abu Safain neighborhood. “Do they want the sectarianism to come back, like in 2006?”
Five Iraqi Army soldiers were also taken hostage, according to two officials in the Ministry of Interior. ...The officials said the Iraqi Army called off the fighting to negotiate for the soldiers’ release. Awakening Council members demanded Mr. Mashhadani’s release in exchange for the soldiers’ freedom, the officials said.

It was the first time that disputes between the Sons of Iraq and the authorities have erupted into armed clashes in Baghdad. There have been arrests of some other Sons of Iraq members.
In both stories, the quotes are what speak the loudest, and the loudest of these is from the Post article – “If Mashadani is not released, we will all become suicide bombers."

Stateside
Christian Davenport of the Washington Post has an interesting offering. He reports that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't just forcing thousands of human soldiers to deploy for two and three tours. The military’s small army of highly trained dogs have become a valuable part of the effort, charged with sniffing out explosives, and their numbers are growing.
The use of dogs in war, whether as scouts, sentries or trackers, goes back hundreds of years. But since Sept. 11, 2001, the Defense Department has increased the number of military dogs from 1,320 to 2,025, and many have served multiple tours. Some service members say the dogs' ability to sniff out bombs and insurgents makes them as indispensable as a rifle or flak jacket. And they believe that the dogs' heroism should be rewarded.

The U.S. War Dogs Association is trying to persuade the Pentagon to create a medal for dogs. Another group is pushing for a military working dog memorial in the Washington area. And the Humane Society, which criticized the Pentagon during the Vietnam War, when many dogs were left behind or euthanized, has credited the military with working to find retirement homes for them.
Davenport writes about the experiences of “new recruits” and dogs who have been overseas and back multiple times. Worth reading.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
Kidnapped Britons Held for 2 Years to be Freed?
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/28/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, the news focuses on two disputes between the two countries which are coming to a head – the MEK and territory through which oil flows. Also, possible hope for five British citizens, kidnapped in Baghdad almost two years ago.

From Baghdad
Washington Post’ Ernesto Londoño (not “Londoño” as the Post’s web site printed) reports that on Friday, Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie's made an announcement on an issue that has been the cause of tension between Iran and Iraq for years, the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) Iranian opposition group which Saddam Hussein supported. Iran has been pushing the Iraqi government to expel them from Camp Ashraf in Diyala province. The US military protected the camp after 2003, but it now retains only a small contingent, and the camp is largely under Iraqi control. It houses almost 3500 people.

What to do with the members has been a difficult question. Iraq’s government doesn’t want them, and members say they will be subjected to unjust prosecution and torture if they are returned to Iran. Londoño spells it out clearly, from the basic history of the MEK to indications from Iraq on how it might proceed.
The Iraqi government's resolution of the conundrum is likely to shed light on how an increasingly sovereign Iraq will handle such vexing problems, and is likely to speak volumes about the extent to which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is influenced by Iran. ...Iraqi officials, including Maliki, have in recent months publicly lambasted the group, generally during or after official visits to Iran.
Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal writes that Iranian officials have again brought up a decades-old sea-border dispute with Iraq, with ramifications not only for relations between the two countries, but also between Tehran and Washington. Chon links it to Iraq’s signing of its security agreement with the United States, formalizing the presence of American troops on Iraq soil. Iran, who opposed the agreement, has since sent at least three letters to Iraq about the southern Persian Gulf waterways, through which most of Iraq’s oil exports pass, are located in Iranian waters.

"Iran is not happy because the security agreement showed we have a strong relationship with the U.S.," said an Iraqi official. "Things are shaky between Iraq and Iran now."
Iran may also be feeling it has lost some influence after local elections this year in which Mr. Maliki's more secular slate performed much better than the country's religious parties. In particular, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, seen as closely allied to Iran, lost seats on many local councils. Border disputes between the two neighbors helped trigger the Iran-Iraq War.
In the New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin reports that, according to an Arabic news web site, kidnappers of five British men held hostage for nearly two years say they have struck a deal that would trade the five foreigners for several detainees now in American military detention. Again we hear from national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, who said “things are happening,” but not much else. The American Embassy wouldn’t even say that, sticking to the “We don’t deal with terrorists” line. Rubin points out, though, that according to a US official, since Iraqi detainees are now technically under Iraqi government jurisdiction, “the Americans and British can present it (an agreement) as an Iraqi decision.”

The five men, a computer consultant named Peter Moore and his four guards, were seized in May of 2007, during a raid at the Finance Ministry by men “wearing Iraqi police commando uniforms and driving vehicles usually used by the police pulled up at the ministry and entered without firing a shot.” “After they agreed to our lists of demands we sent the video on a CD that shows the prominent hostage Peter Moore speaking to the British government about the good treatment that he and his colleagues received,” said the spokesman. The video’s release became public this week.
On the Arabic Web news site, www.elaph.com, a man who called himself Abu Ali R. said that there was an agreement among the Americans, the British and the leaders of the Shiite militant group that he was speaking for, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, to release one of the hostages in exchange for 10 detainees. Three are among the highest-profile Shiites in custody, including two who were implicated in an ambush that killed five American soldiers in January 2007.

“After they agreed to our lists of demands we sent the video on a CD that shows the prominent hostage Peter Moore speaking to the British government about the good treatment that he and his colleagues received,” said the spokesman. The video’s release became public this week.
Rubin also covers the MEK issue. Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
Baghdad Bombing Kills 16 and Wounds 40, A Bombed-Out Car as Art
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/27/2009 02:13 AM ET
It is fitting that the main story on the final daily print edition of Christian Science Monitor is one about Iraq. Considering the comparably small size of the paper, its original coverage of Iraq has been stellar, even as other larger media organizations have closed their Baghdad bureaus. (*The Monitor continues to be in print, but with a paper edition being issued only weekly - daily content will still be posted on their web site.)

A bombing, troop withdrawal, and a traveling art show in the states which carts around the skeleton of a vehicle used in an Iraqi car bombing are covered.

From Baghdad
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf talks to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top US ground commander in Iraq, who is saying that the planned pullback of American soldiers from all Iraqi cities by the end of June will probably not be fully met. There have been indications that this was coming, but this is the most declarative announcement to date that the still very violent cities of Mosul and Baquba are likely to retain US combat troops past June 31. Senior military commanders say US troops will also likely stay on in the southern city of Basra.

"In Mosul and Diyala , as we do a combined or joint assessment of the situation on the ground, I have every expectation that both sides will say we need to stay with this a little bit longer until this improves," said Gen. Austin.
In a wide-ranging interview, the three-star general and commander of the 140,000 ground forces here says the Iraqi military has greatly improved in a key area – the ability to develop plans and operations. But he and other senior officers voiced concern that counterinsurgency practices, which have helped stabilize Iraq over the past year by protecting the Iraqi population and dismantling support for the insurgency, might fall by the wayside once US forces withdraw.
Among the reasons given are the fall in oil revenue leaving Iraq unable to buy needed equipment and “maintain the intelligence capability needed to prevent insurgents from regrouping.”

The second major attack in Baghdad struck in a market the Sha’ab neighborhood, killing 16 and wounding 40. The coverage in two papers focused on who should be held responsible for the attack – in one article, those who detonated the car rigged with explosives, and in the other, those who failed to stop it.

Women shouted "All of this is your fault!" to police arriving at the scene, writes Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post. In a country where the government is always telling everyone how wonderful things have become, how safe it is now, perhaps this is quite normal. Shadid writes of a child's severed hands and a woman's scalp “strewn in the street,” and the rage that followed.
"Why all these problems?" a woman named Um Ali shouted as she walked down the street hours later. "We're celebrating there are no explosions and now they're back?" She screamed to no one in particular. "Why did they come back?"

...Anger directed at Iraqi security forces is not unprecedented, and in places like Abu Ghraib and Dora, it has sometimes born a sectarian bent. But Thursday's outburst was in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood, directed against predominantly Shiite security forces. It also illustrated the task ahead as security forces are forced to assume more and more responsibility. Although far more popular than the U.S. soldiers they replace, the goodwill they enjoy can last only as long as security they provide.
In the New York Times, Campbell Robertson writes a smaller story, but includes an element not uncommon in bombings, that “Doctors at the hospital treating many of the wounded, some with severe burns, said the toll was likely to rise.” Anger toward the government for not preventing the attack is touched upon, but ideas of who was behind the bombing takes precedence.
Though Shaab became a mostly Shiite neighborhood when the insurgency was flaring, many Sunni families who fled have returned, residents said. They were largely unable to explain the motives behind this attack. A police official at the scene blamed Al Qaeda. A 15-year-old boy said the Americans were behind it. Many noted that the market had only recently been opened to vehicular traffic. One woman even suggested that the bombing had been committed by the sidewalk vendors who wanted the street closed again.
“The municipality of Baghdad is responsible for this violence,” said a student. “If they open it, they have to protect it.”

Outside Iraq
The late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi , former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, figures in a Christian Science Monitor story filed from Riyadh by Caryle Murphy. It deals with the status of the Jihad movement(s) by checking on Jordanian cleric Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, once the spiritual adviser for the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Some say he’s softened his stances, but al-Maqdisi, under house arrest, says otherwise.

Arts, Stateside
The Washington Post’s Dan Zak reports on what is billed as an art exhibition where discussion, not art itself, is the focus. Along with an Iraqi artist and an American soldier who’s served in Iraq on hand to talk to, there was a sort of found-object-sculpture on the DC mall for one day that Zak calls “a good conversation starter” – a destroyed car from a 2007 Baghdad bombing.

Zak doesn’t seem too thrilled with the whole thing, detailing the sometimes odd group of onlookers, eager for the promised discussion. It may be somewhat thrown together, but hey, anything that makes it more real for those who’ve never been there is likely to have inherent worth.

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
Iraq Problems Cited, Thousands of Veterans Exposed to HIV, Hep at VA Center
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/26/2009 01:48 AM ET
How bad are things looking for Afghanistan reconstruction, if Iraq is the better candidate? Also, companies beating the recession with Defense Dept. contracts and veterans exposed to disease in a VA hospital by improperly cleaned equipment - for five years!

Stateside
Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post has the news that is most closely related to Iraq, and that’s by it being a bad example for how to do things in Afghanistan. According to special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Jr., much of Iraq reconstruction has been disastrous, and it is a country more likely to have such projects succeed than Afghanistan.

There have been innumerable issues with financing (to put it politely), construction, and oversight, but the issue Nakashima focuses on is one of Iraqis being unable to run projects, part of the warnings government auditors made yesterday in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. "Afghanistan has a much lower absorptive capacity for investment," said Bowen. "Any investment has to be aimed at capacity. You build above that, you lose it."
They pointed to American-built projects that Iraqis cannot run themselves as an example of an issue that could be even more problematic in Afghanistan, where three-quarters of the population is illiterate, the average annual income is $800, and the country has few paved roads, no railway and only a handful of airports with paved runways. By contrast in Iraq, 74 percent of the population is literate, the average annual income is $4,000, and the nation has a network of roads, railways and airports.

At least $3 billion to $5 billion in U.S. taxpayer money has been lost to contractor waste, Bowen said. That's 15 to 20 percent of the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. He pointed to a $40 million prison in Diyala province north of Baghdad sitting unfinished in the desert. The Iraqis, who he said did not want it and cannot maintain it, call it The Whale.
In the New York Times, Damien Cave reports that Iraq veterans were among the over 3,200 vets who were possible exposed to H.I.V. and hepatitis after colonoscopy equipment used at Veterans Affairs clinics in South Florida was improperly cleaned. After VA officials publicized a warning, “Hundreds of veterans, some in fatigues, others in wheelchairs, streamed into the Miami Veterans Hospital on Wednesday” to be tested for the diseases. Thousands more called an info hotline that has been set up. Welcome home!

Cave didn't include contact info, but we are. Rates of infection are supposed to be low, but if you or someone you know underwent procedures with an endoscope at a VA Medical Center in Miami between May 2004 and March 12, 2009, call 1-877-575-7256 for more information.

Also in the Times, Kate Murphy writes of how some companies are more recession-proof than others – lucrative Defense Department contracts. From marketing firms to makers of sports-bras, there’s nothing like the US military as a customer.

Murphy showcases a few businesses, and writes of how hard it can be for a new vendor to break into the world of selling to the Defense Department. Personal connections help a lot in getting that crucial first order. Once you’re in, it becomes a lot easier to get your sports-bras paid for and sent to soldiers in Iraq.

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com


Daily Column
Addressing GI Suicide, 'Global War On Terror' Given New Name
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/25/2009 01:52 AM ET
In case you're wondering, it's a leopard cub at a Virginia zoo.
In case you're wondering, it's a leopard cub at a Virginia zoo.
Today, it’s just the Washington Post and USA Today providing Iraq-related material. We look at the changing nomenclature of war policy, the huge financial cost of withdrawal, and new ways of trying to prevent GI suicide.

Stateside
Out with the catchy, in with the cumbersome. Scott Wilson and Al Kamen of the Washington Post report that the Obama administration appears to be backing away from the phrase "global war on terror," a signature rhetorical legacy of its predecessor. The Defense Department's office of security review noted that "this administration prefers to avoid using the term 'Long War' or 'Global War on Terror' Please use 'Overseas Contingency Operation.' "

A reason or two for such a change are briefly looked at, but Wilson and Kamen focus on whether or not the change has been facilitated by a memo e-mailed to Pentagon staff members this week by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the executive-branch agency that reviews the public testimony of administration officials before it is delivered. An OMB spokesman says it isn’t. Examples of the term’s fledgling awkward use are given.

Military Matters
Also in the Post Karen DeYoung writes that the removal of about 140,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 will be a "massive and expensive effort" that is likely to increase rather than lower Iraq-related expenditures from its beginning until several years after its completion. It’s the kind of thing that makes sense, but DeYoung provides plenty of numbers and quotes to make you realize how substantial the US presence really is in Iraq, and how unenviable the job of coordinating military logistics might be. Whether you’re a “combat” troop or a “support” troop (you know, those guys that are staying behind after the initial withdrawal in 2010) there’s plenty of planning needed for you to either stay put or go home.

"Although reducing troops would appear to lower costs," the Government Accountability Office said, withdrawals from previous conflicts have shown that costs more often rise in the near term. The price of equipment repairs and replacements, along with closing or turning over 283 U.S. military installations in Iraq, "will likely be significant," the GAO reported.

Even the smallest facilities, with 16 to 200 combat troops, will take up to two months to close, the report said. Several dozen large installations -- such as Balad Air Base, with 24,000 inhabitants -- are likely to take 18 months or more.
In the one story today from Baghdad, Alan Gomez at USA Today writes his most comprehensive story to date, of ways the US military is addressing the spike in serviceman suicide.

We’ve all read stories that talk about the change in attitude of the Pentagon on addressing mental health and working to overcome the stigma of seeking help for PTSD. Gomez actually shows how it is playing out on the ground, with “stress-management” classes, cards now handed out to every soldier detailing the warning signs for depression and suicide, and lots of discussion. A struggle to change the “suck it up” attitude is ongoing.
Two-star generals appear on the Armed Forces Network talking about their experiences with mental health specialists and how it helped. And mental health experts are spending more time on the front lines to make the counseling process informal and accessible to troops who may be reluctant about seeking out a psychiatrist.
The challenge is to get soldiers to open up about their troubles, says Lt. Col. Peyton Hurt, the senior psychiatrist in Iraq. "We're rolling out program after program and making a very concerted effort at lots of levels," Hurt said. "The government is just pouring money into this stuff right now."

"I don't want to be cynical about it, but I'm not convinced that necessarily it'll make much difference," Hurt said. "It might. We don't know."

New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com


Daily Column
Awakening Fighters Say Iraq Didn’t Keep Promises
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/24/2009 01:58 AM ET
Today, the news is of bombings and disaffection with the government with large numbers of Awakening members (themselves the targets of some of the violence). Only the New York Times and the Washington Post have original Iraq material.

From Baghdad
On Monday, there was a suicide bombing at a funeral for a Kurdish official of the PUK in Jalawla, a small town that has seen its share of violence in the past year, even as much of the country has gotten much safer. It is in a part of Diyala province that is territory largely disputed by the central government and the Kurdish Regional Government. At least 19 mourners were killed. Campbell Robertson of the New York Times gives background, but focuses on disturbing accounts by eye-witnesses, as does the Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid.

A bomb was also placed at the house of an Awakening leader in Haswa. Not long after it was noticed, another hidden one went off, killing the intended target and members of his family. Officials were giving out different numbers, so bodycounts and the breakdown of family members differs in the two articles, as does even the location and number of explosions in the area. Other than that, there isn’t a great deal of variance between the two. Both Robertson and Shadid also cover Turkish president Abdullah Gul’s state visit to Iraq, and his demands for the PKK situation to be dealt with. President Jalal Talabani, just back from a water-conference in Turkey, gave his toughest statements to date about the PKK having to disarm or leave Iraq – sure to make Gul happy. Shadid features Gul's visit more centrally, and connects the water issue to the PKK (without coming out and saying it) by mentioning that “Iraq wants Turkey to allow more water to flow through dams along the Tigris River, an issue of tremendous importance for a country that is largely desert,” right at the end of the story.

Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin report on the always-tenuous relationship between the Iraqi government and the 94,000-strong Awakening forces, almost all of whom are now under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi military. They have been transitioned over time from the payroll of the US Army.

Since their inception, The Awakening movement has been referred to in all manor of language, often falling short of calling them a militia. Here, they are called a militia in the headline and the history of many of them is summed up as “former insurgents who agreed, for cash, to stop killing American soldiers”.

The story begins with a ceremony by US forces, “marking a milestone” in security, as ceremonies in Iraq always do. “Significantly,” writes Nordland and Rubin, “the militiamen themselves were not celebrating.” Anyone who’s been watching this at any time in the past several months knows what the complaints are – pay is low and often not distributed, promised government jobs are not being given, Awakening forces feel they are looked at only as al-Qaeda insurgents and not given the credit they deserve for making the country safer, and many of them are being hunted down and arrested. On the payment side of things, Iraq’s financial crisis calls into question the ability to pay the soldiers in the future. All of this points to the fear that they, without that cash they accepted to stop killing American soldiers (not to mention unknown numbers of Iraqis), that Iraq’s stability could suffer their change of loyalties.

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com


Daily Column
Decision Largely Depends Upon Upcoming Iraqi National Election
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/23/2009 01:56 AM ET
Very little to choose from today. Nothing from the New York Times, and the Washington Post only mentions Iraq in passing in an article about Afghanistan strategy and Obama’s pick for US Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill is given part of a paragraph in a story about cabinet positions left bare. The Wall Street Journal has a small article about US troop levels.

From Iraq
The Journal’s Gina Chon is our sole lifeline to Iraq today, with a small piece, covering Gen. Ray Odierno’s comments that, if security continues to improve and political progress advances, he may recommend further troop reductions by the end of this summer.

Chon writes a trimmed-down no-nonsense article about factors which could lead to or away from an earlier withdrawal of troops, according to Odierno or US military spokesmen.

Ups: improved security, positive political developments, a peaceful upcoming national election.
Downs: low oil price budget woes which have caused a hiring freeze on Iraqi security forces, negative political developments, a not-so-peaceful upcoming national election. There is also talk about Kurdistan/Baghdad tension and the possibility of an al-Qaeda resurgence in rural areas.
President Barack Obama last month announced an accelerated timetable for withdrawal, with combat troops leaving by the end of August 2010 instead of the end of 2011 date outlined in a security agreement that went into effect on Jan. 1. He left the pace of the withdrawal up to Gen. Odierno. The general has said the schedule would largely depend on whether political tensions increased in the lead-up to the national elections -- to take place at the end of this year at the earliest -- or if violence increases in the aftermath.
That’s all, folks.

New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com


Daily Column
Iraqi Offer of US/British Scholarships, Stopping ‘Stop-Loss’
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/22/2009 02:00 AM ET
The Washington Post takes the lead this Sunday, mostly owing to their story about the release of thousands of Iraqi detainees with questionable loyalties. Also, we have Iraqi students being recruited for Western education, a protest of the Six-Year’s War back home, an interview with a counterinsurgency adviser of Gen. Petreaus at the time of the surge, and an opinion on stop-loss.

From Iraq
The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid again shows he can structure a somewhat lengthy article so that it reads like a short one, with his report on the release of hundreds of prisoners from the US-run Camp Bucca prison facility. He writes how it has facilitated the revival of Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents in Basra, Baghdad and the borderless expanse here along the Euphrates, according to police chiefs, intelligence officials in the Interior Ministry and residents. The story isn’t filed from Bucca, with trucks of prisoners leaving, it’s filed from Garma, one of the areas where residents “brace for the return of dozens of fighters and such men as the police chief here, openly admit to being overwhelmed by their influx.” Officials suggest that insurgent groups are preparing for the withdrawal of US troops.
Their warnings make for an irony at the beginning of the end of the American presence here. As the United States dismantles Bucca, viewed by many as an appalling miscarriage of justice where prisoners were not charged or permitted to see evidence against them, freed detainees may end up swelling the ranks of a subdued insurgency.

In hardscrabble Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, some former inmates of Bucca speak of revenge. Others talk of their own conversion there: as prisoners, giving their support to militiamen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric whose forces were routed in Baghdad and Basra last year.
A senior intelligence official at the Interior Ministry said that the "special groups" organized within Sadr's militia but believed to wield autonomy were reorganizing in Basra and some in Baghdad as well. Sunni insurgents allied with al-Qaeda are preparing south and west of Baghdad, and then farther west toward Garma. "These regions are becoming a danger to the government," he said. "Al-Qaeda is preparing itself for the departure of the Americans. And they want to stage a revolution." He suggested that 60 percent of detainees freed in those areas were returning to the fight. Col. Mahmoud, the colonel in Garma, put the number in his region at 90 percent.

Shadid covers the Sahwa members’ often inadequate pay not being distributed in some areas for three months, contributing to a 50 percent desertion rate in Garma. "Please return to your faith, and we will receive you in our hearts, with open hands," read one leaflet signed by the Awakening of Muslim Youth and found in the town. "If you don't, we will bring to you men who love death in the same way you love life." Also amply covered is the argument that Bucca has become a breeding and training ground for insurgent groups. "The fight hasn't ended," said one recently released detainee, loyal to al-Sadr after being converted in Bucca. "This is a temporary truce."

For some positive news from the northern city of Sulaimaniya, Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times gives a report of the nearly 100 Kurdish college students who thronged to a conference center to talk to representatives from American and British colleges and universities at a recruiting session for Iraqi students who want to study abroad in these countries.

The fair is part of a new educational initiative spearheaded by an American/Iraqi political scientist who was educated in America, and sponsored by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. 500 students will be sponsored this year.
The scholarships, which the government hopes to expand to 10,000 students a year, will be based on merit. Once a student receives a scholarship, the government will pay tuition and a living stipend until they complete their degrees. It will cost Iraq about $75,000 per student annually, according to Iraqi government officials. If students do not return, they would have to reimburse the government for the cost of their education.
Stateside
Back in the Washington Post, Donna St. George covers thousands of demonstrators who marked the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq yesterday, demanding that President Obama bring U.S. troops home. She points out that it was the first protest march on Washington of the Obama presidency, “replete with many of the same messages of protests during the Bush era.” It is a straightforward article, with a basic description of the protest, and some quotes from those on the ground.
Some protesters hoisted mock coffins draped with flags -- about 100 in all -- to represent casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries where U.S. actions have claimed lives in the war on terror.

..."I do support him, but I'm also critical, and I think the escalation in Afghanistan is a mistake," said Alice Sturm Sutter, 61, a nurse practitioner who campaigned for Obama and took a bus from the Washington Heights area of New York. After six years in Iraq, she said, "we need to pressure the government to work for peace and bring all the troops home."
Opinion
The editorial page of the New York Times applauds the announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the US military’s stop-loss program is to be phased out, a program which has forced an estimated 102,000 US troops to remain in service after the end-dates of their enlistments since 2001. Harsh words for former President George W. Bush are not spared, but Gates is given the benefit of the doubt.
It is hard to argue with critics who deride the program as a back-door draft. But then, the all-volunteer military was never designed to be abused as it was during the Bush administration: indefinitely deployed and in permanent crisis mode. Mr. Gates seemed appropriately contrite when he told reporters that holding so many soldiers against their will was “breaking faith.” He was right.
On the “Outlook” page of the Washington Post Carlos Lazada has an interview with David Kilcullen, an Australian anthropologist/army reservist, top adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus during the troop surge in Iraq, and recent author of "The Accidental Guerrilla". In it, he gives brief opinions on insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. When asked what lessons from Iraq could be useful in Afghanistan, he says, “I would say there are three. The first one is you've got to protect the population. Unless you make people feel safe, they won't be willing to engage in unarmed politics. The second lesson is, once you've made people safe, you've got to focus on getting the population on your side and making them self-defending. And then a third lesson is, you've got to make a long-term commitment.“

Books
Jonathan Steele of the Post writes a positive review of "The Weight of a Mustard Seed: The Intimate Story of an Iraqi General and His Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny" by Wendell Steavenson. Steele has a few issues with wording, but gives kudos to the product of the four years Steavenson spent tracking down former officials of the Baath Party (lots of the guys on those playing cards, in hiding or in prison) and winning their confidence.
At first sight, her aim -- writing the history of an era that we all know was appalling and that mercifully is gone -- may seem unfashionable, especially now that the succeeding period has produced insecurity and bloodletting that have touched every Iraqi family, not just the elite. But the period immediately after a regime change, when fear subsides and memories remain vivid, is the best time to conduct oral research.
Steele calls the book a “quilt of hard reporting and intelligent speculation that tells the reader more about the tensions of living close to power in Saddam's dictatorship than almost any previous effort by a Western writer.”

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
Tensions Churn Over Who Benefits In Kurdish Economy Dominated by 2 Parties
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/21/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, a sizable story about claims of nepotism in Kurdistan, a short story about the first sanctioned “adventure travel group” to Iraq, and a lesson for President Obama on how not to handle meetings with veteran leaders.

From Iraq
Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post reports from the small Kurdish town of Akra about names that keep coming up wherever money is being made in Kurdistan’s vast development. It is a subject spoken about commonly in Kurdistan, but not one which is reported on all that much. Raghavan tells the story effectively, beginning with a new $28 million hospital gleaming on a hilltop, and it is clear that the patronage of Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani made the building possible. The other last name that is commonly uttered in such contexts is that of president Jalal Talabani.

It is sometimes less obvious than others, with middlemen being used for investments and construction, but the two parties, the PUK (led by Talabani) and the PDK (led by Barzani) have their hand in a majority of business that goes on in Iraq’s Kurdistan. A member of an opposition party and leader of a large tribe sums it up by quoting an old regional saying “If you buy a kiosk in the street, make sure half of it belongs to Barzani or Talabani,” "Otherwise, don't get the kiosk."

It is claimed that each party gets $35 million monthly from the central government in Baghdad, without controls or even an accounting of how the money is spent. The translation of an American article with similar claims from last year just got a Kurdish newspaper and its editor slapped with several thousand dollars in fines. Iraq's minister of planning, Ali Baban, said the central government does not monitor how Kurdish authorities spent their 17 percent share of the national budget, and in response to the claims, gave a guarded response. "If that is true, it would be a violation and a breach of the regulations governing the spending of public funds, but such breaches do exist in most provinces of the country."

Campbell Robertson of the New York Times writes of the first officially-sanctioned adventure tour group to travel in Iraq (outside of Kurdistan) since 2003. The group of eight travelers was taken by a “specialist adventure travel company” to sites that, well before the US invasion were known as tourist spots. “Not so long ago,” says Robertson, of places like Babylon, Basra, Ur and two Shiite shrines, “a visit would have made the return ticket unnecessary.”

The youngest member was 36, and an English traveler clocks in at 79. Robertson briefly points out some of the violence that continued during their trip, and mentions some “loud thumps of explosions” which could be heard not far from their hotel. Their travel has not been trouble-free, but has been absent of security incidents.

Stateside
The Washington Post’s Phillip Rucker sheds some light on the back story to recent PR problems of President Obama, and the death of a recent proposal in the VA budget. Rucker describes a group of veteran leaders made up of two retired generals, a blind man, three men with prosthetic legs and one in a wheelchair as they visited the white house for a one-on-one meeting with Obama. Their service spanned from Vietnam to Iraq.
They thanked Obama for proposing an 11 percent increase in the budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs and expanding health care to more veterans. But the leaders of veterans service organizations warned the president that their goodwill would vanish if he pursued a budget proposal to bill veterans' private insurance companies for treatment of amputations, post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related injuries.
They left the meeting without resolution, and began to speak to the press, leading to an easily-guessable reaction. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel began damage-control, calling them back to the Oval Office. During a second meeting, a phone call was made to Obama aboard Air Force One, and the resolution was taken off the table.

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
6 Years After Invasion, Iraq "Slow to Regain Confidence"
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/20/2009 02:00 AM ET
I guess the fifth anniversary was the hip one to write about. Still, for a low-volume day, the coverage is varied, and there are a few interesting pieces. At the head of the pack is the Washington Post. The New York Times is unusually thin for such a day, with just a chart with info by some Brookings folks.

From Baghdad
The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid writes a political story that is worth reading. At first it only looks as though it deals with Iraqi Front for National Dialogue leader Saleh al-Mutlak’s new alliance in several provinces with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but on the way, it covers quite a lot.

"There is a new political map," said Anwar al-Luheibi, a Sunni adviser to Maliki, who is a Shiite. "And I anticipate this map will be far better than the one we had before." We hear such statements from folks close to al-Maliki all the time, but it seems like something is really happening here.
Mutlak draws backing from among the still-numerous supporters of Hussein's Baath Party in Sunni regions, and he has long pushed for reconciliation with its members. Despite his reputation as a Shiite hard-liner when he came to power in 2006, Maliki echoed the call this month. In a speech, he urged Iraqis to reconcile with rank-and-file Baathists, those he described as "forced and obliged at one time to be on the side of the former regime." He declared that it was time "to let go of what happened" in the past.
Al-Mutlak, who in February was threatening violence if his party did not win the election in Anbar, is getting closer to al-Maliki now – while still keeping his edge. It looks as though the Sadrists are, too. Both parties voice mistrust of al-Maliki, and say they are waiting to see how he behaves. It is obvious that everybody is forming coalitions in the provinces where they do not have a clear majority in order to create a winning team to be on. If there is some mistrust or skepticism there, they seem to be saying “so be it” – again – depending on the actions of al-Maliki.

Says al-Mutlak, "We want to see what he's going to give," he said in the interview. "Is he going to behave as a real partner or is he going to try to isolate the others?" According to a high-ranking Sadrist official, "Yes, there are big obstacles between us. They can all be bridged. But until now, Maliki has not acted on any promises he made us."

In USA Today, Aamer Madhani writes of an Iraq where “an endgame is in sight”, but one that falls short of the hopes of many Iraqis. Below, on the website “comment” section below the article, someone writes that that they just saw the opposite story on TV, that things are looking up. Madhani doesn’t say everything is terrible, or that everything is wonderful – there isn’t much analysis - but rather gives a few points of view of others, framed in the basic information of a “six years later” story.

He starts off in the motorcycle repair shop of Kadhim Sharif, who shows snapshots of him swinging a sledgehammer at the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square in 2003, moments before U.S. troops toppled it. "I felt out of control with emotion and filled with happiness," said Sharif. "Now I feel regret for all that Iraq has suffered since then. At that time, no one thought it would end up like this."

"Right now, things in Iraq are 70% good and 30% bad, which is much better than it was just two years ago," said Azher Amin, 45, a steel fabricator. "But if the Americans leave too quickly, the situation will reverse itself. I don't think anyone — Iraqi or American — believes realistically that by 2012 our army will be good enough to protect the people internally or to secure our borders."

The article is ended with comments by an American sergeant, about to return to Iraq. Some of his men were hoping to go to Afghanistan, where the action seems to be. "I've been reminding the guys that this (Iraq) is an important mission,” he said. We might be able to say we were there when we started to wrap this thing up."

Stateside
Gordon Lubold of the Christian Science Monitor seems like he is a day too late with his story of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ announcement on Wednesday that the Army would be mostly phasing out its “stop-loss’ program, which forced US troops to stay in service past their end dates. Actually, even though everyone else covered the announcement yesterday, Lubold writes a story with less figures, but a story of the Pentagon’s general move away from programs like stop-loss, and toward ones which are designed to foster better mental health and other well-being in US troops.

" seems to care about the people and he does seem to be addressing people issues in a way that his predecessor didn't," says Joyce Raezer, chief operating officer of the National Military Family Association in Alexandria, Va. "The suicide numbers, the divorce numbers, a lot of that is a result of the accumulation of years of multiple deployments, the family separations, and stress. It's going to take awhile to reverse some of those trends."
The Army is training its force with skills relevant to what soldiers are confronting, not just with deployments but to help families cope, says Master Sgt. Terry Easter, an infantryman who deployed to Afghanistan in 2003 and then to Iraq in 2006 for a 15-month tour. "The training definitely has us smarter. It has us stronger, mentally, to accept what's going on," he says, adding that the Army is taking steps to "mitigate" the difficult circumstances that soldiers face.

But there is still work to be done. Most troops want more time at home between deployments – a period known as "dwell time." The Army and Marine Corps both aim for a period at home that is equal to about twice the amount of time deployed, but neither have achieved that yet. New deployments to Afghanistan will, for now, keep that a distant goal.
A small part of the “Local Briefing” section of the Washington Post reports that Arlington-based CACI International, a provider of intelligence-gathering services for the U.S. government, will face a lawsuit by four former detainees who say they were tortured at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The suit alleges that the CACI employees participated in physical and mental abuse of the detainees, destroyed documents, videos and other evidence and prevented the reporting of the torture to the International Committee of the Red Cross and other agencies.

Opinion
The New York Times has run charts on their op-ed page of indicators of the state of Iraq every three months since the first anniversary of Iraq. Today, they have a double chart, which includes Afghanistan as well. These charts are put together by three researchers from the Brookings Institute and a graphic designer. In the introduction, they speak of the seven out of eleven of the famous Iraq Index benchmarks, which have been met, and compare Iraq to Afghanistan in a few ways. In the chart, they look at various troop levels, fatalities, political progress, electricity production, etc.

Faud Ajami, professor of Middle East Studies at The Johns Hopkins University, longstanding supporter of the war in Iraq, has an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, in which he says that President Obama “can't build on the Iraq victory, because he has never really embraced it.”

He mostly derides the opponents of the “Iraq project” (as he most commonly refers to the war), and says they don’t understand the complexities of Afghanistan. No argument here on the lack of understanding by anyone involved, but some of Ajami’s explanations of Iraq could be questioned as well. “George W. Bush answered history's call -- as he saw fit. The country gave him its warrant and acceptance, and then withdrew it in the latter years of his presidency.” It is as though it was all following a well-oiled and finely executed plan. Ajami also writes that Anbar “turned only when the insurgents had grown convinced that the Americans were there to stay,” not taking any domestic issues at all into the equation.

As with others who have been consistent vocal proponents or detractors throughout this confusing “project”, he has his negative comments about the other side down pat, but his own positives seem like they are written with less fervor. His closing sentence, about Obama and Afghanistan, is well-put. “It's odd that so articulate a president has not yet found the language with which to describe this war, and the American stakes in it.”

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
Program Forcing Troops to Stay In Service Past Their Enlistment to End... Mostly
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/19/2009 01:55 AM ET
It’s a day of mostly US military news. Soldiers who have been happy to be participants in the military’s stop-loss program have cause to be disappointed today – fortunately, there don’t seem to be too many of them. Another program, this one for veterans (and was likely to become equally popular), is shot down before it gets going. Also, the military is weighing weapons systems and its use of contractors(they think they just might want to start moving away from those “cost plus” contracts). In the one story from Iraq, the government is considering new incentives for oil investors.

Stateside/Military Matters
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced that the unpopular program of stop-loss will be mostly finished by the end of 2011. The program, enacted after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and widened as the military was straining to keep up with the war in Iraq in 2004, has been seen to keep US soldiers and their families in limbo. Crushing news of redeployment or an extended deployment was sometimes given with little or no notice. About 13,200 troops are still unable to leave the military under stop-loss, but that is said to be phased out over the next two years (with some exceptions, of course).

"I felt, particularly in these numbers, that it was breaking faith" to keep soldiers in the service after their end date comes up, Gates said. "When somebody's end date of service comes, to hold them against their will...is just not the right thing to do."

Gates added that the Army retains the authority to use stop-loss under "extraordinary" circumstances, and that “scores”, but not thousands would continue to be under the program after 2011, depending on the Army’s need for particular skills. Soldiers currently under stop-loss will be paid an extra $500 per month, retroactive to October. All the details haven’t been released yet, but the Army Reserve will start mobilizing units without stop-loss soldiers in August, the National Guard in September, and the active duty Army at the beginning of 2010.

Thom Shanker in the New York Times has the most thorough article, but not by too much - everyone had the same info to start with, and stop-loss isn’t exactly something that any of the papers weren’t familiar with. The Washington Post’s Ann Scott Tyson has a similar article, and includes a bit more of Gates’ actual words. Yochi J. Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal has a brief offering without all the numbers, but focusing more on the controversial nature of stop-loss. Also, Dreazen is the only one to draw a connection between the stop-loss story and the other big story today, affecting those in uniform.
The move could also help defuse the anger in military circles over the Obama administration's aborted plan to make veterans' private health insurers reimburse the government for the cost of treating combat-related injuries. Amid a political furor, the White House dropped the proposal Wednesday.
That pretty much explains it. You can fill in your own guess for what veterans’ groups spokesmen were saying, and it’s probably just about right. Robert Pear of the New York Times writes of the about-face.
David K. Rehbein, national commander of the American Legion, said the president had indicated at a meeting on Monday that he “intended to move forward” with the proposal, which could have saved the government more than $500 million a year. But on Wednesday, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said Mr. Obama had scrapped the idea. “The president has instructed that its consideration be dropped,” Mr. Gibbs said.
The Washington Post’s Phillip Rucker has Gibbs referring to it as a “third-party billing issue,” and characterizing it as not a money-saving plan, but a maximizing-resources-to-veterans plan. Gee, when you put it that way, what’s the problem?

In the Washington Post, Dana Hedgpeth has yet another story about a press announcement having to do with Pentagon programs. In this one, Robert F. Hale, undersecretary of defense-comptroller and chief financial officer at the Pentagon testifies before the House Budget Committee about plans going forward for contractors and weapons systems.

Hedgepeth goes into detail as much as possible, given the lack of specifics gone into by Hale, and gives background on the programs he mentions, making it understandable. "We need to look at how many contractors we are using and are there cost-effective ways we could do that in-house," Hale said.
President Obama has said he favors cutting back on the use of contractors. He also has called for cutting down on the number of no-bid deals. Hale said the Pentagon is likely to "move more to fixed-price" contracts and away from cost-plus deals, where the government is more at risk for cost overruns.
Details were being fished for, as far as the funding of scrapping of weapons systems, but were not in nearly as much abundance as speculation. "Nothing's off the table in this review, but no final decisions have been made," said Hale. Well, that narrows it down!
Michael J. Sullivan, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, also testified, calling the Pentagon's acquisition program "fragmented and broken." He said 95 of the military's largest weapons programs are nearly $300 billion over budget and 21 months late on average.
From Baghdad
And finally, a story from Iraq, pertaining in some way to Iraqis. The New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Jad Mouawad report that, to attract badly needed investments to increase its oil production, the Iraqi government is considering new incentives for foreign companies. In the past, Iraq’s oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani has opposed any kind of production-sharing agreements with foreign companies, but as Nordland and Mouawad write, the stand was softened Wednesday, at a conference hosted by OPEC in Vienna. Instead of the 49 percent stakes in developing new oil fields that were previously offered to foreign companies, they can now own as much as 75 percent of the ventures.
There has been stiff opposition in Parliament from many political parties to any foreign investment, much less the idea of letting foreign companies own majority stakes in joint ventures. Even a proposed contract with Shell for producing natural gas in southern Iraq, which would give Shell a 49 percent share, was condemned in Parliament.
(A Short Note: For anyone mired in Iraqi politics, a scan of the following headline in the Wall Street Journal “FDA Panel Backs Multaq For Approval” might look for a second like something you had better take a look at. It refers, however, to a new heart medication called Multaq, NOT Iraqi lawmaker and head of Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, Saleh al-Mutlak - whose last name is sometimes spelled Mutlaq. This is probably good news, given the possible explanations behind the FDA backing Mutlak.)

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
US Combat Deaths at 5-Year Low, Two Hours at a Baghdad Shawarma Stand
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/18/2009 01:59 AM ET
Today, we look at the Iraqi economy, and the effect that cheap Iraqi goods pouring over the border are having. Also, a comparison of US combat deaths in Iraq today and in years’ past and a slice of life (plus several of shawarma) on the streets of Baghdad. Nothing at all in the New York Times.

From Iraq
Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal writes an interesting story of Iraqi manufacturers of all kinds having their business dry up from the flood of cheap Iranian goods all over the Iraqi market. "Iranian bricks are invading Iraq," says the owner of a brick factory whose company employs 300 people. "And the government is doing nothing to help us." Even if you’re not interested in the welfare of a brick factory, there is a secondary issue to think of. The same man points to a group of young men who work for him. . "If we close, these young people will have to do bad things to support their families."

Iranian goods, often at prices well below those that Iraqi manufacturers can afford to sell similar products at, cant cross the border fast enough, and many Iraqis are complaining about it. Chon explains that though Iranian goods make up about 50 percent of the country’s imports, Iraqi exports to Iran are a tiny fraction of Iraq’s overall production.
Iraq's hopes for peace and growth increasingly depend on domestic manufacturers like Mr. Shimary(the brick factory owner). Until now, Iraqi agriculture and industry have been peripheral to the country's recovery efforts. That's because in recent years, Baghdad funded more than 90% of its state spending with oil revenues, capitalizing on high international prices to bankroll its reconstruction and provide state jobs for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

But with oil prices down sharply in the past nine months, Iraq's leaders have slashed the budget repeatedly. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki says one of its top priorities is to diversify the economy and create private-sector employment. Such new jobs would not only stoke the economy but also prevent a wave of joblessness that could threaten Iraq's fragile security.
The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid spends some time with another business owner, at his food cart in Baghdad's Adhamiya neighborhood. As Shadid points out, it was once one of the city’s most dangerous areas (journalists write this about nearly every part of the city – and it’s generally true).

Four months ago, Bahloul Younes brought his shawarma cart back out on the street for the first time since 2003, a sign of the growing normalcy in a city known in recent years for its inhuman violence. Shadid writes a story not of a completely safe, nor a completely lethal Baghdad, but of the much, much more complex place that it really is.
Baghdad is still a dangerous city. On this day, bombs blew up two cars. Two mines detonated along the curb. A rocket hit an oil refinery on the capital's outskirts and another crashed into the Green Zone. Insurgent weapons caches were uncovered.

But on a spring day, as the sunlight softens and the coals of Younes's cart warm the street, there are times that feel like any evening in a hardscrabble stretch of Beirut or Cairo. There are moments that are ordinary.
Stateside
In USA Today, Tom Vanden Brook and Paul Overberg report that U.S. combat deaths in Iraq have flattened at the lowest level since the war began six years ago Thursday - and the Navy has not lost a member to combat in more than a year.
In January and February, 15 U.S. servicemembers were killed in hostile action. That compares with 60 for the same period in 2008 and 149 in 2007. In all, through Tuesday, there have been 4,260 U.S. servicemembers killed in Iraq, 3,424 in combat, since the war began in 2003. Lower combat deaths match the overall drop in violence levels throughout Iraq, military officials and analysts say. In February, there were 340 attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — the top threat to U.S. troops — the lowest number since October 2004, according to Pentagon figures.
That’s how the whole story reads. It is good information (all pertaining to the U.S. military), but it isn’t much more than a list. I’m sure that this is preferred by some, who hate reading all that tedious analysis, but one wonders why it took two people to write. One interesting point mentioned is that Iraq’s IEDs still outnumber Afghanistan’s.

Christian Science Monitor, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
America Moves to Replace Contractors, Iraqi Goalie Killed by Post-Game Gunfire
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/17/2009 01:58 AM ET
Today, there is a a nice variety of Iraq-related news, even if it is the New York Times and the Washington Post pulling all the weight. Unmanned drones, both Iranian and American, are featured in different stories. More bad news for contractors in Iraq, as the State Dept. moves to "stop outsourcing services that should be performed by the government." Also, an Iraqi goalie was mistakenly killed by celebratory gunfire and the US government returns some funds to Iraq which it says were improperly held by Army officials.

From Baghdad
According to an announcement made by US and Iraqi officials on Monday, American warplanes shot down an unmanned Iranian aircraft last month as it flew over Iraqi territory. It had been tracked for over an hour on Feb. 25 about 60 miles north of Baghdad, the officials said.

"This was not an accident on the part of the Iranians," the US military said, striking down speculation that the “Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle” had accidentally strayed off course.

Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post writes that “U.S. military officials in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said they could not recall the United States ever before publicly acknowledging the downing of an unmanned Iranian aircraft.” Shadid mentions US/Iranian relations, and lists one of the touchy issues between the two countries as the fate of followers of Iranian opposition group Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK). Since 2003, thousands of members have been in Camp Ashraf, 57 miles north of Baghdad. In past months, the Iranian government has been putting increasing pressure on Iraq to turn the group’s members over, and the situation appears to be coming to a head.

Notice a geographic proximity here? (“60 miles north of Baghdad” - “57 miles north of Baghdad”) The New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin go the extra mile and bring up the possibility of a connection between the two issues.
The drone may well have been intended more to monitor Iranian dissidents in Iraq than to eavesdrop on American or Iraqi military operations. The location where it was shot down is not far from Camp Ashraf, where 3,500 followers of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran(MEK), an Iranian dissident organization, have taken refuge.

...Iran has long insisted that Iraq close the camp and expel the dissidents, but United States officials have intervened and prevented that. Since January, when the Iraqi military took over security of the area from the United States, several Iraqi officials have vowed it would soon be closed.
Nordland and Rubin also highlight the ongoing violence in Mosul.

The New York Times has a brief uncredited story of tragedy at a soccer match between two teams representing the Shiite villages of Sinjar and Enana, near Hilla. When Sinjar won, an off-duty police officer and fan of Sinjar “started firing his service pistol into the air but lost control of it,” lethally shooting the Sinjar goalie, an 18-year-old high school senior named Mohammed Amin. Celebratory gunfire is extremely common after an Iraqi soccer match. If the national team wins, it can sound like another “Shock and Awe” campaign has been launched in Baghdad.

Stateside
Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post reports that “the days of massive U.S. reconstruction contracts in Iraq are over,” and while the military continues to outsource much of its supply chain, contracts for services such as transport and food will diminish in the near future. Both President Obama and Gen. Ray Odierno have publicly called for a reduction in the outsourcing of work that can be done by either the US government or Iraqi government/private sector.

Of course, DeYoung goes over Blackwater shootings which played no small part in de-romanticizing the role of the security end of contracting in Iraq, and mentions that DynCorp International and Triple Canopy have been listed by the State Dept. to be the companies to take over for much of the work that Blackwater (now trying to be known as “Xe”) has done in Iraq.

Most of the article will not be new to anyone familiar with the topic, but DeYoung does give a few interesting quotes from those vying for the contracts on their feelings about operating in an Iraq where contractors could potentially be tried in an Iraqi court. A program head pointed to the Rockville-based contractor BAE Systems...
...which he said has informed employees that it would no longer accept liability for any legal problems they might have in Iraq and suggested they stay inside U.S. military installations at all times. "So here I am, paying exorbitant contractor wages for people whose company is not going to provide them any legal defense, and is recommending they don't go outside" to make contact with Iraqis, he said. "Which is mission failure."
In the New York Times, Christopher Drew continues today’s coverage of unmanned drone aircraft, this time the ones used by the US military. He writes an engaging and thorough article about how they work, who is flying them (usually from 7,000 to 8,000 miles away from the missions themselves, in America), and how the prominent they have become.
The planes have become one of the military’s favorite weapons despite many shortcomings resulting from the rush to get them into the field. An explosion in demand for the drones is contributing to new thinking inside the Pentagon about how to develop and deploy new weapons systems. Air Force officials acknowledge that more than a third of their unmanned Predator spy planes — which are 27 feet long, powered by a high-performance snowmobile engine, and cost $4.5 million apiece — have crashed, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

...The Predators and Reapers are now flying 34 surveillance patrols each day in Iraq and Afghanistan, up from 12 in 2006. They are also transmitting 16,000 hours of video each month, some of it directly to troops on the ground.
“We spend 70 to 80 percent of our time doing this, just scanning roads,” said one pilot, and added, “When you’re on the radio with a guy on the ground, and he is out of breath and you can hear the weapons fire in the background, you are every bit as engaged as if you were actually there.”

Back in the Washington Post, Ellen Nakashima writes that the United States has returned to the Iraqi government more than $13 million that had been "improperly held" for contingency purposes by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers following an investigation by the top U.S. investigator for Iraq reconstruction, officials said yesterday. Nakashima writes a story which makes it very clear that more happened here than a simple accounting mistake.

The money, according to Stuart W. Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR), had been "ferreted away into nameless accounts that had no purpose," he said. It was identified and returned by the Army Corps following an investigation by SIGIR and the Pentagon.
The Army Corps probe began with a tip to a SIGIR hotline, according to officials. The money, part of the Development Fund for Iraq, was supposed to go toward restoring electrical infrastructure under a $1.5 billion Army Corps project, and all unused portions were to be returned to the Iraqi government by the end of 2006, a SIGIR report said.

But instead of returning the money, "the Army Corps of Engineers held a portion and transferred the rest to three major U.S. contractors who were working in Iraq," SIGIR spokesman Danny Kopp wrote in an e-mail. The Corps directed the contractors to submit false claims, he said. "No work had actually been performed," he said.
The ever-busy Bowen (not a popular guy with the military members and businessmen who saw the invasion of Iraq as a cash free-for-all) estimates that 15 to 20 percent of the $21 billion in the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, financed by U.S. taxpayers and spent on reconstruction projects, has been lost to waste. An SIGIR official said, "It was certainly not a misunderstanding on the contractors' part. . . . It was the Army Corps that came and told them what to do with those funds."

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
Cheney, Bush Strongly Disagreed on Libby
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/16/2009 02:00 AM ET
There isn’t much Iraq news at all today in American newspapers. The only piece of reporting from Baghdad, in the Times, concerns disturbing trends with local police in Iraq, and is worth reading. Other than that, we only have Dick Cheney speaking out against his former boss for his not pardoning Scooter Libby, after his conviction in the “Yellowcake” affair.

From Baghdad
Rod Nordland of the New York Times reports that some kinds of violence have increased in some areas since Iraqis took greater control of affairs in the provinces. The majority of the cases cited are violent acts committed by local police officers. Nordland provides mostly a list of them, but the reoccurring themes speak for themselves, and paint a portrait of local police, empowered by the Iraqi government, abducting and killing people. Some of those killed are thought to have been involved in insurgent activity, or former detainees having been released from Camp Bucca prison facility. Personal retribution for the killing of a family member of a police member is listed in one instance. An increased level of the killing of women in Kut is listed by an Iraqi official at the Kut morgue, and Nordland does well to point out that the number does not include “honor killings” (apparently in a different category than criminal killings). Also, another touchy situation seems to be coming to a head.

And in a remote part of northern Diyala Province, Iraqi soldiers surrounded a refugee camp for Iranian dissidents, Camp Ashraf, blockading food and water to the roughly 3,500 residents there. A spokesman for the dissidents’ group, the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, said Sunday that only the presence of Americans had prevented an attack on them.
Stateside
The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson covers former vice president Dick Cheney remarking in an interview on CNN Sunday that he strongly disagreed with President Bush's decision not to pardon I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, saying his former chief of staff had been left "hanging in the wind."

Libby was found guilty of involvement in the contentious outing of Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA operative in 2003, after her husband, Joseph C. Wilson, criticized the Bush administration for what he said was a deliberate misrepresentation of Saddam Hussein's ambitions to build a nuclear weapon in order to justify the 2003 Iraq invasion. Libby, who received a 30-month prison sentence and a $250,000 fine, was Cheney’s top adviser. "I think he's an innocent man who deserves a pardon," said Cheney.

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

Daily Column
"What We Don't Know About Iraq"
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/15/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today’s papers boast wide-ranging subject material on Iraq. There are stories about strategy, media analysis, Iraqi politics, film, and killing stray dogs.

Two Wars
The New York Times’ Thom Shanker reports on comments last week by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates which make it clear that the Pentagon is beginning to reconsider whether the assumption that the US military need only prepare to fight two major wars at a time “makes any sense in the 21st century,” as a guide to planning, budgeting and weapons-buying. Shanker breaks down the basic thinking behind the strategy in an understandable way, and explains how the Pentagon, in preparing the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review, is trying to come up with the best way to plan for the most effectiveness and flexibility for the kinds of missions the United States is most likely to engage in.
Thomas Donnelly, a defense policy expert with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said he believed that the Obama administration would be seeking to come up with “a multiwar, multioperation, multifront, walk-and-chew-gum construct.” ...But Mr. Donnelly cautioned that the review now under way faced a familiar challenge. “If there has been one consistent thread through all previous defense reviews,” he said, “it is that once the review is done, there is an almost immediate gap between reality and force planning. Reality always exceeds force planning.”
“We have to do many things simultaneously if our goal is to remain the ultimate guarantor of international security,” Mr. Donnelly said. “The hedge against a rising China requires a very different kind of force than fighting an irregular war in Afghanistan or invading Iraq or building partnership capacity in Africa.”

From Baghdad
Alissa J. Rubin writes in the New York Times about President Jalal Talabani’s decision not to seek a second term, and the speculation that has begun over who will be his successor - and, as importantly, from which group will the successor come from. When the current Iraqi government was constructed, the presidency was given to a Kurd as part of power sharing agreements, which also assigned key positions to members of Sunni coalitions, in an attempt to give representation to those groups in a country with a majority Shi’a population.

Rubin covers the controversy over the possibility of a Sunni candidate getting the post, but focuses on the kind of leader that Talabani has been seen as by many – that he is one to reach out to different factions and countries on behalf of Iraq, not just Kurdish Iraq, in the interest of a unified Iraq.

“President Talabani really is a unique person who has a sort of national attitude rather than a Kurdish attitude,” said Qassim Daoud, an independent Shi’a member of Parliament. “All sides work with him because everyone feels he is working for Iraq.” Not everyone in Iraq feel exactly this way about the president, but it is clear that there are plenty of more divisive characters out there, and that he might be hard to replace.

And finishing up the Times’ coverage is Sam Dagher, who reports on the efforts to rid Baghdad of its huge number of stray dogs, seen as a nuisance and carriers of disease. Packs roam the streets, and Baghdad’s music of the night is continuous barking. Attacks are not unheard of, and there have been cases of rabies, so since December, about 10,000 feral dogs have been slaughtered.

Dagher describes strips of meat laced with strychnine being fed to dogs. In other cases, they were just shot. The relationship between Iraqi people and canines is explored. Few Iraqis keep dogs as pets. Even those that might not feel particularly sorry for the dogs are quoted as saying that the resources allocated to the mass killing of dogs is misguided while water and electricity are so sorely lacking. Thus, the killing of dogs becomes one of so many municipal projects which battle for dominance in Iraq.

Opinion
Philip Bennett writes an excellent piece in the Washington Post entitled "What We Don’t Know About Iraq”. The answer is... Iraqis. Bennet writes of the often too-nuanced-to-notice lack of understanding between Americans in general, and the Western media in particular, in how the war in Iraq is thought of by those who live there. He takes some of the best writing that has come from the war, and looks at how reporting of the war has developed (and continues to do so).
It's now clear that we owe an enormous gap in our understanding of Iraq to the violence unleashed in early 2004, when kidnappings and beheadings, hundreds of suicide bombings and street fighting forced Western reporters to end the serendipitous daily contact with Iraqis that had produced the most telling stories. As The Post's foreign editor at the time, I started asking fewer questions about our coverage and constant questions about our reporters' safety. The media withdrew into armed convoys and hid behind blast walls, or abandoned the country altogether. (The Post and others stayed.) As Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, who emerged in those years as the premier combat journalist of his generation, wrote: "Iraq disappeared for us then, and it never came back."
American journalists are called upon to “take up the mission of reporting their stories as increasing security makes that possible. Public interest in these stories may have disappeared, but their importance hasn't.” Read the whole thing. If you’re a journalist – read it more than once.

Film
For a good example of material shot in Iraq having little to do with Iraq itself, Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post reviews "Brothers at War." (covered in Friday’s US Papers roundup) Neither review gives an idea of what it is like to watch the film, and that’s because it doesn’t seem all that relevant. It is spoken of less as a cinematic experience, and more as the obvious product of someone making a film to impress his brothers, who are US servicemen.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
A Counterinsurgency Primer
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/14/2009 01:55 AM ET
There are no event-driven news stories today. What we do have is an explanation of Montadar al-Zaidi’s status as a heartthrob and a few reviews – one a book on counterinsurgency, and the other, a play by an Iraqi playwright. The Washington Post takes the day off from Iraq.

From Baghdad
In the New York Times, Abeer Mohammed and Alissa J. Rubin write a lighthearted piece with the title, “To Make Female Hearts Flutter in Iraq, Throw a Shoe”. It begins, “In parks and dress shops, in university halls and on picnics, Iraqi women are still smitten — three months and one new American president later — by the shoe thrower, Muntader al-Zaidi. His conviction and sentencing for three years on Thursday, only burnished his image as someone who lives out the dream of the common man and in doing so becomes gallant and desirable.

That pretty much sums up the story. Mohammed and Rubin speak to several young Iraqi females, almost all of whom dote on the bejailed correspondent. He is said to have been the only one to have stood up to Bush, to have restored dignity to Iraqi women, and to have made Iraqis proud to be Iraqi. Two sisters who were in Syria at the time of the incident, said that they noticed a marked improvement in how Syrians treated them, after the shoes flew.

Books
In the Wall Street Journal, Max Boot reviews “The Accidental Guerrilla”, the new book by counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen. Boot, himself writing a history of guerrilla warfare, spends much of the review on Kilcullen’s resume, on what makes him someone to listen to. He has commanded troops in East Timor, earned a doctorate in political anthropology, and served as a counterinsurgency adviser for Gen. David Petraeus and for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In the latter, he spent considerable time with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq “observing what works and what doesn't.”

Though Boot keeps harping on whether “accidental” is the correct word for one kind of fighter, he gives the book a glowing review, writing that “another soldier-scholar has emerged in the tradition of Callwell, Galula and Thompson.” Kilcullen’s focus on the distinction between "population-centric" and "enemy-centric" operations is seen as particularly valuable by Boot.
Enemy-centric operations involve trying to kill as many terrorists as possible. As U.S. commanders discovered in Iraq, this strategy tends to alienate the population and thereby produce more enemies than it eliminates. Population-centric operations, adopted in 2007, have been more successful. They put U.S. troops into smaller outposts in urban centers, where they can work on safeguarding the population. Now that Iraqis feel protected, they are willing to rat out insurgents.
Theatre
Back in the New York Times Wilborn Hampton reviews a play by Iraqi playwright Jawad Al Assadi, called “Baghdadi Bath”, called “an alternately humorous and bleak look at Iraq under the American military occupation.” One of Assadi’s brothers was murdered by Baathists under Saddam Hussein, and another was killed with his teenage son by militants within the insurgency after the US invasion. He returned from 25 years of exile in 2005, but left again after only a few weeks and wrote “Baghdadi Bath” as a response to the occupation.

It is given a bit of a mixed review by Wilborn, but a mostly positive one. He makes it sound a bit unfocused, but perhaps one has to see it to understand how it all comes together. The play is in Arabic, with English super-titles.

Washington Post, no Iraq coverage.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
Shoe-Thrower Avoids Possible 15-Year Sentence
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/13/2009 02:00 AM ET
On Thursday, Montadar al-Zaidi was finally sentenced for throwing his shoes at President Bush at a now legendary press conference in December. There are a couple of articles about it, which give comparable accounts. Several people called out “Hero”, at the trial, and in the end, he was prosecuted on a lesser charge than many of his family and supporters had feared. Both papers focus somewhat on Iraqi’s opinions of what al-Zaidi did – whether it should have been illegal, or was just a democratic expression of opinion.

From Baghdad
Riyadh Mohammed and Anwar J. Ali of the New York Times mention his beige suit, and write that, just before sentencing, that al-Zaidi’s family journalists were cleared from the courtroom. The journalists apparently kept their shoes on, but the male members of al-Zaidi’s family are reported to have insulted the guards who kept them out.
Many people here had expected a longer prison term, but at the sentencing trial on Thursday the prosecutor asked that the charge be changed to one that carried a lighter penalty. Instead of assault of a foreign head of state, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, Mr. Zaidi was charged with assault of an official during the execution of his duties, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of three years.
The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid has him shouting “Long live Iraq!”, as the sentence was read, and that he smiled and waved to vocal supporters as he was led out of the courtroom. The case, as a whole, is said to have “bordered on both the farcical and poignant.” The beige suit, too, is mentoned.

"I am innocent," Zaidi said in court. "What I did was a natural response to the occupation."
Prosecutors had said his confession warranted his conviction, but Zaidi and his family maintained that he had been beaten and suffered electrical shocks in detention. Zaidi's lawyers argued that he was only expressing himself, without criminal intent. "It wasn't a rocket," said Dhia Saadi, the chief defense attorney, who said his client's team would appeal Thursday's decision. "It was a shoe."
Film
Iraq is said to make a “cameo appearance” in a new documentary called "Brothers at War," reviewed by Dan Zak in the Washington Post. Zak describes the film’s director as a “civilian who rushes to the front lines to show his younger brothers (both soldiers) that he, too, can be in the thick of things.” Though not the best review, Zak says it, as well as all other documentaries involving the war, are relevant, this one for bringing up issues of war’s effect on military families.
Yes, there are IEDs and bullets and bleeding Iraqis, but that's all secondary to Rademacher's "Wow, look at me in this flak jacket!" experience.
Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
'No One Values the Victims Anymore'
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/12/2009 01:58 AM ET
It’s a good thing the Washington Post had some original Iraq-related stories, because nobody else did. K. I. Ibrahim tells of sentencing in the “merchant’s case”, and Anthony Shadid keeps writing about yesterday’s bombing in Abu Ghraib, and the lack of reaction to it.

From Baghdad
Just after being acquitted in another case before Iraq’s high court, Tariq Aziz, Saddam’s former “mouthpiece” and deputy, was handed a 15 year sentence for his role in the killing of 42 merchants accused of profiteering on UN sanctions in 1992. “Chemical Ali” al-Majid also had fifteen years added to his three life sentences from other cases earlier tried.

Ibrahim runs through all the defendants and their sentences, and then mentions a car bomb detonated near the College of Medicine in Mosul, killing three Iraqi soldiers and wounding 10 “people.” (Iraqi soldiers are sometimes not nice to journalists, but the wording of this distinction is hopefully a mistake)

Anthony Shadid follows up on his reporting yesterday’s suicide bombing in Abu Ghraib, most famous for its more than infamous prison. On Wednesday, writes Shadid, the deadly attack “failed to make the front page of the government newspaper,” and “Abu Ghraib was a symbol of death's anonymity, in a conflict where hundreds of people still die every month, even as a sense of the ordinary returns.”

The loss of life, the gore, the suffering of the explosion is too much forgotten, he says, and so writes a gut-wrenching article dedicated to the loss of life, the gore, and the suffering.
"It's hurting," Ahmed (a 12 year old wounded on Tuesday) cried... as a doctor tried to snake a tube through his nose to drain blood from surgeries that removed part of his stomach and intestine. His spleen was, in the doctor's words, shattered. "I can't bear it!" he cried again.

"Shut up!" the doctor barked. "It's for your own good."

"Don't let him put it in my nose," the boy begged, sobbing, swallowed by the blanket that was tossed over him. "Don't let him. Somebody please talk to him."

His brother leaned against a grimy wall, crying.

What did he do to deserve this?" Hossam said. "Why? He didn't do anything wrong."
New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
Afterwards, “Insurgents Paraded” Down Streets, With Guns, RPGs
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/11/2009 02:00 AM ET
Just about all the papers have a single story about the recent spike in violence, particularly some high-casualty bombings which call to mind events of past years in Iraq. Common themes are that this is happening amid announced plans to pull US troops from Iraq, and the violent chaos which followed Tuesday's attack.

From Baghdad
The target was a group of tribal elders and security officials, touring a local market in Abu Ghraib after a conference on tribal reconciliation. Such events have been the recent target of other bombings as well. 33 are reported killed, and 46 injured. Two among the dead were Iraqi journalists, covering the event.

Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post has the most compelling account of the bombing, and is the only one to report that gunmen paraded the streets of the al-Amarat neighborhood in their cars with machine guns and RPGs, according to “an official at the National Security Ministry”.
Abdel-Hassan, the police general, who is responsible for tribal affairs in the Interior Ministry, said it was his second visit to Abu Ghraib as part of efforts to ease tensions over Shiite residents returning to the predominantly Sunni area. "I was standing at my stall when the explosion occurred," said Ali Mahmoud, 23. Struck by shrapnel in his chest and right hand, he lost three fingers and spoke with difficulty. "I passed out and woke up to find myself in the hospital," he said.
All the papers mention the chaotic shooting by security forces and officials’ guards which followed the incident. This also occurred two days ago, following a blast outside a Baghdad police academy. Shadid reports a doctor saying that most of the wounded were injured by police gunfire, an account corroborated by several patients in the ward.
Security officials gave different accounts of the shooting. Abdel-Hassan blamed the gunfire on clashes that erupted after the bombing, when his men came under attack from gunmen hiding in the market. "The shooting was still going on behind us," he said.
The New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin and Marc Santora described it as follows. “Wild shooting followed the explosion as emergency medical workers dragged limp bodies to ambulances and sheep stumbled through the blood-streaked wreckage to escape the bullets.“ “I saw some of the corpses were riddled with bullets,” said Abu Jamal al-Zubaie, who lives near the market.
As best he could tell, most of the firing was done by security guards protecting the visiting dignitaries. After the shooting subsided, angry residents rushed to help the wounded and search through the debris. Mr. Zubaie said that “angry locals were pointing at the flesh” of what they said was the bomber, cursing his name. The remains appeared to be those of a male, he said.
“The tensions between the tribes mean that instead of being focused on the threat from Al Qaeda, they are focused on their own rivalries,” said a Parliament member.
Although the number of bombings with double-digit casualties has remained at a relatively low level for the past three months — and Baghdad parks and markets are crowded with families — behind the blast walls a growing unease is palpable.
Rubin and Santora quote Maj. Gen. David Perkins saying “We know that Al Qaeda, although greatly reduced in capability and numbers, still is desperate to maintain relevance here in Iraq.”

Alan Gomez and Aamer Madhani of USA Today spoke to John Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert and president of the Center for a New American Security in Washington, who said the same thing, that al-Qaeda was trying to remain relevant.

Gomez and Madhani also report that the White House downplayed any suggestions linking the recent bombings with Obama's plans to withdraw troops, with a peculiar quote. "The previous administration negotiated and signed an agreement that ends not just our combat commitment, but our entire military commitment," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "And I don't think that that would be done if it presented a scenario in which the country would fall into further danger." In other words - the situation will not get worse in Iraq because an agreement was signed on the assumption that the situation would not get worse. Hmm.

Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal includes mention of a deadly bombing in Mosul, and writes that “if violence persists -- or flares -- it could threaten President Barack Obama's recently announced plan to accelerate the American withdrawal, with combat troops leaving Iraq by the end of August 2010.”
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh acknowledged Sunday that Iraqi security forces aren't yet ready to take full responsibility in Iraq, but they plan to be ready by the end of 2011 when U.S. troops leave.
Christian Science Monitor no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
The No. 1 Service-Connected Disability for Iraq Veterans - "Tinnitis"
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/10/2009 02:00 AM ET
The Christian Science Monitor has the only real news story about Iraq today, about displaced Iraqis’ difficulty returning home. The Washington Post and New York Times give us a science article and a theatre review.

From Iraq
Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor reports that although security has improved, bringing families displaced by sectarian violence back to their homes is proving difficult. The main issue keeping them away isn’t violence, it’s services.

According to the International Organization of Migration, between 1.6 and 2.8 million internally displaced people (not counting those who left the country) exist, and only 288,000 have returned. Peter reports that many who have, found their old lives and livings impossible to continue. Houses, jobs, infrastructure, water, farmland, places of business, etc. are severely damaged or out of commission entirely.

A severe draught in past years has exacerbated the problem, particularly in Diyala province(once Iraq’s overflowing breadbasket), where Peter files from. He begins the article with a prominent Sunni Sheikh in Diyala, who is trying to repopulate his village, and it is a good foil for the story.

Nationwide, efforts are being made by the government to bring people home.
Now, in an effort to encourage returnees, the government of Iraq plans to compensate those whose houses were destroyed by insurgents. Depending on the scope of damage and the value of the house, residents will receive anywhere from 50 to 100 percent of their home's original value.

If the government pays the money, many residents say they'll return. So far, compensation has not reached the majority of those eligible. As part of the compensation program, an evaluation committee must visit the house of each applicant to determine how much they'll receive. Until recently, threat levels stopped most committees from making on-site inspections. As security strengthens, locals have become impatient with the government's reluctance.
"I don't blame the government for everything, because we weren't 100 percent secure , so they couldn't send an evaluation committee, but now it's secure so I will expect them to come," said one Iraq.

Peter ends with the idea that, although improved security is one of the things needed for people to return, their return is also needed for improved security to continue.

Stateside
Tom Wilkinson of the Washington Post writes of a hearing disability that is being experienced by close to 500,000 Iraq veterans – a kind of hearing damage called tinnitus. Explosions and other loud war-time occurrences have caused not only a loss of hearing, but a loud ring or hum.

The article is more about tinnitus than the veterans, but returning soldiers being such an obvious population to focus on, he does so in the beginning. He does give a well-worded explanation of why researchers think the ringing occurs (it is not known for sure). A captain who suffers from it is described as always hearing “the high-pitched whine and static buzz of an AM radio.”

Arts
In the New York Times, Neil Genzlinger gives a mostly positive review of a new play about female US soldiers called “The Lonely Soldier Monologues (Women at War in Iraq)”. The playwright, Helen Benedict, interviewed an assortment of female veterans and constructed the play from their words. Genzlinger doesn’t like to hear soldiers complaining about routine everyday things, but when the play deals with the issue at hand, the increased role of women in the military operations, he finds it effective.

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

Daily Column
Reminder of Bloodshed in Baghdad as Withdrawal of 12,000 US Troops is Announced
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/09/2009 02:00 AM ET
Most Iraq-related headlines today include the number 12,000 in them but wire photos of wooden coffins being transported by crowds of sobbing relatives in Baghdad were the image of the day - as on the front page of the New York Times, left. Two of the three stories offered today, from Baghdad, combine the bombing and withdrawal announcement, both indicators of security. The third, filed from the states, focuses on withdrawal logistics as provided by US officials.

From Baghdad
New York Times’ Marc Santora reports mostly of the bombing which Iraqis on the street were witness to, and leaves the joint US/Iraqi press conference about troop withdrawals largely behind the blast walls of the Green Zone.

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle targeted prospective recruits for the police academy, killing 28 and wounding at least 57. Though the academy itself has fortress-like protection, the applicants were made to wait in a line outside, both visible and vulnerable. On her way to work, an Iraqi employee of the Times was passing by the bombing site in a public minibus when the blast occurred (a reminder that Iraqi journalists have to go home to their neighborhoods), and serves as an eye-witness to the chaos which followed. “...The police began shooting randomly,” she said. “There was gunfire all around.” Of course there was carnage, but the way in which the situation was handled, right in front of a police facility, gives an indication of the current situation.
The recent calm has returned some sense of normalcy to the city, but the scenes that played out near the bombing revealed how on edge both the residents and the security officers remain.

Shortly after the attack, less than a half mile away, security personnel in a convoy escorting a government official frantically waved off traffic as they crossed from one side of the road into oncoming traffic. When they got stuck, armed guards jumped from the cars, screaming and brandishing weapons, slamming their hands on the hoods of cars that had no chance to move.
For an article that interweaves the bombing and plenty of reporting on policy and the withdrawal plans, turn to the Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid, always ready with complex but readable material.

"The Iraqi government has no intention to accept the presence of any foreign troops or bases after 2011," said Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. US Maj. Gen. David Perkins said, "We will not leave any seams in regards to security," and added, “We know how to do this. This is not the first time we've reduced our forces."

Shadid covers the bombing (and other violence in Ninewa and Diyala provinces) as a something of a challenge to the officials’ confident statements. The chaotic scene afterward is mentioned as well.
Survivors recounted scenes of mayhem and carnage in the bombing's aftermath, as ambulances tried to force their way through snarled traffic and police fired in the air -- either in confusion or, fearing a second bomb, to try to disperse the crowd. ...By afternoon, there was little sign of the attack, save for the shattered glass that littered the asphalt. A tattered poster left over from January's provincial elections hung from a bridge pillar. "With the blood of our martyrs, Iraq is liberated," it read.
Stateside
Gordon Lubold of the Christian Science Monitor covers how the troop drawdown is expected to play out, and talks policy. Unless you’re not interested at all in the situation on the ground, you’re better served to read the Washington Post piece.

Lubold references comments by Gen. Ray Odierno on Sunday, in which he stated that two combat brigades (about 12,000 troops) will be sent home over the next six months. The two which were slated to replace them are instead being sent to Afghanistan, a demonstration of where the Obama administration has been leading.
The redeployment could be seen as a down payment on the promised withdrawal of forces. Administration officials have indicated that, as expected, most of the rest of the combat forces won't return from Iraq until much later this year or early next, in order to ensure security for the Iraqi elections.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, announced Sunday that over the next six months, two combat brigade teams and their supporting elements, or about 12,000 troops, would return home from Iraq without being replaced. An American F-16 fighter squadron will also be sent back without being replaced.
Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
Withdrawal Warnings, Electronic Warfare, Reports on Iraqi Women, Mental Health
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/08/2009 02:00 AM ET
Most of today’s news is filed from the states and deals with how the US military is dealing with current challenges in Iraq – from logistics to the media. From Iraq, new studies on both mental health and women are looked at.

From Baghdad
The New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin reports on two new surveys just out which aim to quantify war’s effects on the Iraqi population. One of the studies is on mental health in Iraq, the other on the status of women there. Rubin sums up the basic findings of the two studies, one commissioned by the Iraqi government and the other by the WHO, and provides some context. Rubin points out that the recent security doesn’t make these problems go away, but it does allow them to surface. “Only when the guns fall silent does the extent of damage wrought by conflict become visible. So in Iraq, as security improves, only now are the full effects of the violence on the Iraqi people emerging.”

The WHO’s mental health study found 17 percent of the Iraqi population with mental disorders of some kind (as you might expect, depression, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety are the most common) in the 4,332 Iraqis over 18 years old it surveyed. The researchers hypothesized that Iraqis had developed defenses to protect themselves. “Iraqi society has suffered for nearly 50 years from difficult circumstances, but gradually people seem to have become accustomed to enduring hard experiences,” said a psychiatrist who supervised the study. Women are particularly susceptible to mental illness, and few seek out the pittance of mental health services available.

On the report which deals exclusively with women, the outlook isn’t too positive. Three quarters of an estimated 740,000 strong population of widows aren’t receiving pensions, and the list goes on. Many of the issues facing other populations, such as children and those with health problems end up being shouldered by women, as usual. One curious finding of researchers is that “Quality health care is harder to obtain than it was in 2006 and 2007.” Jeez!

Stateside
Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post reports on the logistical ramifications of the withdrawal of the majority of US troops from Iraq. Military officials are warning that when these troops go, they are taking much of the support which US servicemen currently count on with them.

Tyson focuses much of the article on the challenges for Special Operations, who routinely count on communications, helicopters, and other support provided by conventional forces. "A lot of people do not understand that SOF are really unable to support themselves," said Roger Carstens, who studied the problem as a nonresident fellow for the Center for a New American Security.
In the longer term, the Pentagon should consider creating at least two additional helicopter battalions dedicated to Special Operations forces, according to Robert Martinage, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, who also testified last week before the terrorism subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, about two-thirds of Special Operations ground units do not have their own aviation and rely on regular Army units to provide it, Martinage said. As a result, he said that "in Afghanistan, nearly 50 percent of the lift requests" to support the Special Operations task force there "are routinely unmet," he said.
In the New York Times, Thom Shanker reports the US Army, viewed by its sister services as the less brainy branch of the armed forces, neglected to maintain its own ability to fight electronic warfare over recent years. Often, the army relies instead on the expertise of the Air Force and the Navy, but that has proved insufficient in today’s warfare, operating in a world of hyper-communications.

One example is that mobile phones and garage door openers, used as triggers for deadly IEDs, have led to complex jamming equipment, which in turn complicates regular communications between the troops themselves. Add to that the sheer volume of signal traffic to be sorted out, and having competent communications specialists becomes more and more important.

“When I first got over there in 2004 and in 2005, we didn’t have any Army electronic warfare capabilities,” said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff.
The Army reached out to the other services for help. Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chief of naval operations but since promoted to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, immediately ordered to Iraq hundreds of sailors who specialized in electronic warfare.
“They saved a lot of lives when they came over,” General Chiarelli said. “They became the most important person in each formation down to the battalion level. They were sought out by soldiers who knew they had to learn this kind of warfare.”

Back in the Washington Post, Walter Pincus writes that, even as President Obama is calling for the Defense Department to stop outsourcing services that the government could perform, the Army is making actively recruiting contracting firms – in one case, for media specialists in north Iraq.

The article basically dissects a “wanted” ad for which the deadline has just been extended to demonstrate that a dramatic contracting overhaul may not be imminent, and looks at numbers. The extent to which Pincus reproduces a US military media specialist ad verbatim might give some conspiracy theorist a whole new area of study.

An editor might have been utilized, but if you’re looking for a job, and are interested in the exciting world of expanding “public information reach beyond traditional recipients of media products in order to garner maximum exposure to publics in the U.S. on a 24 hour basis," then this article is for you!


Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
6 Years In, Troops Glimpse Real Path Out of Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/07/2009 01:55 AM ET
US Papers are continuing their strong lack of Iraq coverage that has been the rule in the past week. Iraq policy is, of course, mentioned in the multiple of stories about Obama and the financial crisis, but really only with the same standard wording about the withdrawal announcement, etc.
Our one and only offering today is in the Times, and at least was deemed important enough for a photo on the front page.

From Iraq
Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times reports that in places like Mahmudiya (where he files from) the war is “effectively over already”, the “contours of an exit strategy having taken clearer shape than at any time before”.

Myers’ take on the current situation, though mindful of some pretty big big potential problems, is unabashedly upbeat. Of course, the familiar explosions, ethno-sectarian divides, etc. are not a thing of the past, and it is an understatement to say that kinks in the Iraqi security forces have to be worked out – but it really looks and feels different now, both on the bases and off. Soldiers on both sides are heard from here, and a straightforward picture of an Iraq that has a chance of working is painted.
Lt. Col. Jim M. Bradford, commander of the First Battalion, 63rd Armor, said what he now faced were “good problems.” The Iraqis, he said as an example, are carrying out raids without telling him. “It’s not unusual for us to wake up in the morning and learn the Iraqi Army did a search last night, and then we’re running around trying to figure out what happened,” he said. “The good part is they’re doing it.”
“Iraq is safe,” Colonel Wassin Saedi of Iraq’s 25th Brigade told an American Captain. “This is the right time for you to leave.”

Maj. Gen. Guy C. Swan III, General Odierno’s operations director did also warn that “I don’t think there is any illusion by anyone that this is by any means over,” and added, “In fact this may be the most fragile time in the six years we’ve been here.”

The Americans are still counted on by the Iraqi security forces to provide training, intelligence, airpower, logistics, etc. and will continue to do so after “combat” troops are scheduled to leave in mid 2010 (though, as now, as non-overtly as possible). For now, there is momentum, and a possible “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

Daily Column
Why 10,000 Ugandans are Eagerly Serving in Iraq, US Abu Ghraib MP Slain In Afgh.
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/06/2009 02:00 AM ET
The Washington Post, New York Times, and Christian Science Monitor have one story each today, in Iraq coverage. Other than the budget and bombing story, the remaining two deal with the killing of a former US serviceman who had been involved in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse and Ugandans doing all they can to get to Iraq.

From Baghdad
In the one story filed from Iraq, the New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin reports Iraq’s $58.6 billion budget for 2009 being passed, after much discussion in Parliament over past weeks. The original numbers for the budget were crunched when oil soared, but with the current price of $40 a barrel, it just wasn’t adding up.

The 7 percent cuts total about 4.2 billion. There were grumblings of concern on the streets of Baghdad about where these cuts would come from. Rubin says, “But mindful that it is an election year, lawmakers made sure not to touch workers’ salaries, pensions or the social support system of food rations and health care.” Seemingly to this same end, not only did Iraqi lawmakers get their act together and actually pass the budget, but they gave themselves a ten percent decrease in pay to contribute to it – sort of. As Rubin points out, the ten percent will be subtracted from their regular monthly salary of about $7,600 per month, but are keeping the more lucrative $12,800 per month stipend for security.

A bombing in Babel which killed 15 and wounded at least 36 is also mentioned. An Iraqi policeman tells the Times, “They are just doing this to show they are still there.”

Stateside
Josh White of the Washington Post writes of Santos A. Cardona, a former Army dog handler involved in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, along with his dog Zomie. Cardona’s image, along with another dog of his, was one of the most famous of the Abu Ghraib abuse photos, with an Iraqi prisoner cowering before the growling animal. It proves a brief but interesting profile.

He was acquitted of all but one assault charge brought against him in the trials which followed, but his involvement had a far-reaching affect in his life. He was to return to Iraq in in 2006, until the military cancelled the deployment after it became publicized. "Emotionally, it was a huge drain on him,” a family member.” I don't think he ever wanted to be remembered like that, and I know he was angry that people who were giving orders didn't pay a price or defend what happened and instead let the lower enlisted take a hit."
He traveled to Afghanistan as a government contractor, using a German shepherd to search for improvised explosive devices and weapons stockpiles. On Saturday, Cardona and his dog, Zomie, were killed when his military convoy hit a roadside bomb, according to Cardona's employer and his family.

Cardona's death was a violent end to a quest for redemption. His loved ones said he undertook one last year at war to earn money for his young daughter, show the military that he was good at his job, and dispel the cloud caused by photographs from Abu Ghraib that circled the globe.
Max Delany writes the page-turner of the day from Kampala, about the thousands of Ugandans working as contractors for the US government in Iraq (10,000 of them, according to the Ugandan government). The reason is obviously economics, and though the companies they work for seems to be keeping the vast majority of the money they get from the State Dept, the amount that is to be made is preferable to many jobs back at home.

There are many fascinating little tidbits in here, and it is worth reading – it says quite a lot about the United States and Iraq, as well as Uganda.
For Uganda, however, another country's war on a continent far away has proved to be lucrative. "The Iraq opportunity brings in about $90 million dollars, whereas our chief export, which is coffee, brings in around $60 or $70 million a year," says the former state minister for labor, employment, and industrial relations, Mwesigwa Rukutana, now minister of higher education. That figure is mostly made up of remittances.

But domestic criticism has been fierce, with some equating the system to human trafficking or slavery. Reports of abuse, ranging from poor conditions and changeable contracts to sexual assault, have appeared in the media.
Wall Street Journal,USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Where is the Iraq News?
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/05/2009 02:07 AM ET
Well, not much today. At least at the time of posting, nothing but one editorial in the Washington Post has been offered for original Iraq-coverage. The New York Times’ web site appeared smaller than normal, so perhaps stories are still coming up. If they do, we’ll add ‘em.

Opinion
Washington Post op-ed columnist George F. Will writes that any major plan regarding the US presence in Iraq should have to pass congress, not just the White House desk. This includes the status of forces agreement, already passed by the Iraqi legislature. They had to run it by their parliament, so why shouldn’t we have to get Congressional approval?
America, having nurtured constitutional government in Baghdad, should not neglect it here. If Congress is going to rebuild some of the institutional muscle that has atrophied from disuse under majorities of both parties and in relation to presidents of both parties -- if Congress is going to regain responsibilities it forfeited to the executive branch during the Cold War and other undeclared wars -- Congress must debate the new agreement with Iraq.
Sen. James Webb, a Virginia Democrat said "any" agreement with Iraq should earn "the explicit consent of Congress,” and Will is of the same mind. New York Times, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Urban Sprawl, SUV's, and Justice in Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/04/2009 01:55 AM ET

None of the papers that had Iraq stories also had front page scans available.
None of the papers that had Iraq stories also had front page scans available.
The Christian Science Monitor leads the day for Iraq coverage with two stories from Iraq. Nothing in either the New York Times or the Washington Post, the first time that’s happened since July. USA Today and Washington Post both contribute.

Contactors
From Washington, Gordon Lubold writes in the Christian Science Monitor about declining numbers ahead for foreign contractors in Iraq, American troops’ “silent partner.” As troops are withdrawn over the next year-and-a-half, so will tens of thousands of the civilian employees from all over the world who provide them with support services, including security, construction, food, laundry, etc.

Lubold incorrectly states that President Obama announced that “all” US troops would leave Iraq by mid 2010, when it is only the “combat” troops who are slated to leave by then. According to Obama's speech on Friday, as many as 50,000 US soldiers could remain until the end of 2011.

He quotes from a recent directive issued by Gen. Ray Odierno, asking his subordinate commanders to reduce the use of civilian contractors on at least 50 bases and small installations across Iraq.
There are now 150,000 contractors in Iraq, comprising about 39,000 Americans, 70,000 "third country nationals," and 37,000 Iraqis. A little more than half provide support to the more than 50 American bases and installations in Iraq, and they are the ones Odierno wants to phase out. His directive asks for a 5 percent reduction in the use of contractors each quarter. Many will simply be terminated as the need for services like cleaning bathrooms and serving food ends with the US departure. But Iraqi security forces will take over other bases and the need for those jobs there will continue. Whenever appropriate, the remaining contracting jobs should be given to Iraqis, says Odierno's directive.
"Employment of Iraqis not only saves money but it also strengthens the Iraqi economy and helps eliminate the root causes of the insurgency – poverty and lack of economic opportunity," the directive says.

From Iraq
Also in the Monitor, Jane Arraf continues her recent coverage of the Iraq’s more important antiquities. After lasting 3,000 years, war and looting have taken their toll of Iraq’ ancient sites, as well as trade sanctions in the 1990s against which Iraq led to poverty and banned other countries from providing cultural assistance to Iraq. Now, for the ancient city of Ninewa in Iraq’s northern province of the same name, it is urban sprawl that is the most immediate risk.

As modern Mosul spreads out, encroaching on Ninewa’s borders, it is getting harder and harder to keep people away. Water and sewage lines being developed can not only do physical damage, but also do what they are designed to – support a population. With services provided, it becomes very difficult to control how and where populations grow. People could be paid to move in the past, but now it becomes increasingly tricky to preserve such sites.
American archaeologist John Russell, who excavated in Ninevah in 1989 and '90, documented the remains of part of the palace. Five years later, stolen fragments of the reliefs he had photographed were appearing for sale in international markets – all had been broken from large panels that had been intact in 1990.

The UN cultural heritage organization UNESCO considers Ninevah among the world's most endangered heritage sites. For archaeologists, it is a wealth of untold stories about the world's first civilizations.
Alan Gomez of USA Today has an idea to help bail out the American auto industry – Send unwanted SUV’s to Iraq. "Eighteen-year-olds, they buy the Hummer," says Hidar al-Dalfiy, owner of a Baghdad car dealership. "It's showing off."
Just as General Motors is halting production of the Hummer, and other sport-utility vehicles fall out of favor with cost-conscious and eco-friendly Americans, the gas-guzzling behemoths are experiencing a rebirth among young and wealthy Iraqis.
Flashy cars (along with anything else that might get one noticed) were avoided during the more violent years here, but one of the visual signs of improved security is that SUVs are appearing on the streets. General Motors has just halted production of the Hummer due to lagging sales in the states, but in Iraq, they’re all the rage among those who can afford them. Now, the gas-guzzling version of the Humvee is out of favor in America, but popular in Baghdad. I think that could safely be called irony.

Opinon
The Wall Street Journal has a small piece called “Justice in Iraq,” in which they give yesterday’s acquittal of Tariq Aziz as an example that Iraqi justice is more than “sectarian, vengeful and crude.” This is true, but the writers also seem to give credit to the US invasion for any fairness or humanity that Iraqis, or Arabs in general, might exhibit.
But in acquitting him now, the court has done something rare in the annals of Arab justice, and demonstrated again that the Iraq the U.S. liberated is worthy of the world's respect and support.
Washington Post, New York Times, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Americans' Lasting Mark on Iraq: Colorful, Complex Tattoos
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/03/2009 02:00 AM ET
Not a great deal of material today, but we meet again with an old character in Iraqi media coverage as he gets some good news. Other than that, there is a story about the tattoo culture and an opinion piece that challenges the right of the Pentagon to refuse media coverage of returning war dead, whether families consent or not.

From Baghdad
Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times reports that, in the first of three cases against him, Tariq Aziz was found not guilty for crimes against humanity that occurred under Saddam Hussein. “Chemical Ali” Hassan al-Majid, however, received his third life sentence for his role in the killings for which Mr. Aziz was acquitted. For a third time, he was sentenced to death. Two other senior Baath officials who also appeared in court (and previously on those Iraq’s-most-wanted deck of playing cards) Saif al-Din al-Mashhadani and Uglah Abid Siqir al-Kubaysi were also acquitted. The charges stemmed from a violent 1999 crackdown on Shi’a demonstrators who were protesting the assassination of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, Moqtada’s father.

Aziz served as Iraq’s foreign minister during the invasion of Kuwait in and later as Iraq’s deputy prime minister. Myers describes him than as “the man who once served as the urbane, cigar-smoking public face of Saddam Hussein’s rule,” and now as appearing “frail and aged.”
When the judge finished reading the verdict, Mr. Aziz showed little emotion, but raised his hand and said simply, “Thank you.” In his second courtroom appearance of the day, however, he disputed that he had had a role in the massacre of Kurds, saying he had been defending Kurdish rights, and criticized the court in general. br
...Mr. Aziz, who will turn 73 next month, remained in custody. Only hours after his acquittal, he appeared before another judge to defend himself against charges that he was involved in the massacre of Kurds in 1983.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Tom A. Peter writes about tattoos. Foreigners have brought them in (not least of all, the US and British militaries), and it seems they’re here to stay - at least on the increasing numbers of Iraqis who are getting them. Also, many Iraqis who have been living abroad in exile for years in countries where body art is common are now returning, their bodies adorned with designs. "Before the war, no one knew about the cultures from outside, but now so many people know about Western culture," said a sociology professor at Baghdad University. "Now, young people like to do almost anything they see in Western culture."

Peter tells how traditional tattoos are giving way to more modern ones, and addresses the legal status of tattoos (members of the police and military are forbidden from getting them – a “loosely” enforced rule), which is a little unclear. All in all, it is an interesting little glimpse into another interesting little Iraqi subculture.

Opinion
In USA Today, DeWayne Wickham begins his editorial by writing that the Pentagon's lifting the outright ban on media coverage of America's war-dead returning home is bad news for journalism. Now, the Pentagon will work with the families of the slain, and will giving them the choice of which returns and ceremonies journalists can cover, and banning the journalists when the families request. To Wickham, this doesn’t speak to the heart of the matter.
Sure, it's good news that the Pentagon moved away from the flat-out ban on these photographs. But that's just the silver lining here. Our free press is still being stage-managed by those who run the wars.

Under the new rules, news organizations can take photographs of the flag-draped coffins, most of which arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, if the family of the war dead give permission, Gates said. Understandably, this will be a gut-wrenching decision for some families. But news organizations shouldn't let such a policy — or the family's wishes — dictate how they cover war news.

...By allowing the Pentagon to establish the rules for photographing the most telling evidence of the human cost of war, news organizations have abdicated a significant part of their reporting duty to those who manage America's war machine.
Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Election Results Protested in Diyala, Blackwater's CEO Steps Down
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/02/2009 01:55 AM ET
First, we have the MEK (A.K.A. the MKO), one of those rebel groups in Iraq that are interesting, but tough to explain to your average reader because they’re not involved in the current war. Then, election results are questioned and protested, and then on to the “worn out” CEO/Founder of Blackwater, who is stepping down. An opinion in the Wall Street Journal decries the shrinking of the defense budget. The most noteworthy thing today – in the New York Times, not even so much as an ad in the personals is dedicated to Iraq.

MEK Rebel Group in Iraq
Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor writes from Tehran and Istanbul that pressure is growing on Iran's main opposition group to leave Iraqi territory after living under US military protection in a camp north of Baghdad since 2003.

Saddam Hussein supported the Mujahideen-e Khalq during the Iraq/Iran war, and they just hung around afterwards. The US’s jurisdiction of the camp from 2003 until recently kept Iraq out of the fold somewhat, concerning Iran’s insistence that they be expelled back to Iran. Now that the Iraqi government is in control of the area, Iraq’s national security adviser said, "Over 3,000 inhabitants of Camp Ashraf have to leave Iraq, and the camp will be part of history within two months."

Instead of just explaining the situation, Peter breathes some life into the story by featuring one of the “quitters”, or former MEK members who returned to Iran, only to find that Iran’s promise of amnesty was honored (who knew?). He now denounces the group, and says they lied to him about the situation in Iran. Peter covers the predicament of what to do with the remaining members of the MEK who face expulsion, and calls them cultish. The US still calls them a terrorist organization, and the EU can’t completely make up its mind, making it unclear where they will be expelled to.

From Baghdad
The Washington Post’s Zaid Sabah and Sudarsan Raghavan report on Shi’a protesters who took to the streets Sunday in Diyala, asserting that electoral fraud had given almost all the provincial council seats to the area’s majority Sunni Arab and Kurdish candidates. As is usually the case, those who win an election aren’t the ones demonstrating.
"...The results were tampered with 100 percent by Kurds and the Iraqi Islamic Party," said Mohammed Mahdi, a politician from the Shiite Fadhila Party, referring to the country's largest Sunni political bloc. Mahdi did not offer specific evidence to back his assertion; Kurdish and Sunni groups have denied accusations of electoral fraud.
For a concise explanation of the current status of confusing regional Iraqi politics, you could do a lot worse. They go on to report on a man who blew himself in Fallujah on Sunday, killing a policeman and wounding two others, in an attempt to kill a tribal leader of the Awakening who turned against the Sunni insurgency.

Stateside
In the Wall Street Journal, August Cole writes as positive a story as you’re likely to see in a major paper about Erik Prince, who founded security contractor Blackwater Worldwide, and is now stepping down. After the incident in Baghdad which “left” 17 Iraqis dead, Prince remained defiant and later distanced the company from its employees who were charged by a US federal court. After the Iraqi government publicly denied them an operating license, the name of the company was changed to “Xe”. Cole mentions these points, but a few paragraphs read like an infomercial about Blackwater... I mean Xe.
With unrivaled equipment, including a fleet of helicopters, and an American contracted guard force in Baghdad, Blackwater retained a perfect record of never having one of its State Department clients killed or injured under its protection.
Cole writes sort of a mini-retrospective on Prince’s career, from his humble beginnings with only a crazy dream and an unspecified portion of $1.35 billion dollars (from the sale of his father’s company) to his current plans to start a private-equity venture.
Looking back, Mr. Prince said he is proud of the company's record in the security business, as well as its training operations in the U.S. and abroad. "The PR challenges were far more relevant than I thought they would be," he said. "I thought we operated in a meritocracy."
Poor guy.

Opinion
Also in the Wall Street Journal, the editorial page says that defense spending in the 2010 budget isn't high enough to safeguard against future threats. If you’re fuzzy about the details of the Pentagon’s budget, and need it explained in simple, easy terms, just read the following.
The White House proposes to spend $533.7 billion on the Pentagon, a 4% increase over 2009. Include spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, which would be another $130 billion (or a total of $664 billion), and overall defense spending would be around 4.2% of GDP, the same as 2007. However, that 4% funding increase for the Pentagon trails the 6.7% overall rise in the 2010 budget -- and defense received almost nothing extra in the recent stimulus bill. The Joint Chiefs requested $584 billion for 2010 and have suggested a spending floor of 4% of GDP. Both pleas fell on deaf ears. The White House budget puts baseline defense spending at 3.7% of GDP, not including Iraq and Afghanistan.
USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Opinions Galore on President Obama's Iraq Timetable Speech
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/01/2009 02:00 AM ET
Being Sunday, we have only the New York Times and the Washington Post to draw from. Neither has a big day of Iraq news, and there’s nothing from Baghdad. The Times talks about how war affects the US economy, and if you need help forming an opinion on the withdrawal timetable, you’re in luck. The Washington Post has experts!

Stateside
In the New York Times, James Glanz waxes economic on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the possible effects they have on the economy. He uses congressional reports, research groups, and books to challenge conventional thinking. Much of the notion seems to have come from Robert Higgs, a senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. “It’s more complicated than the war got us out of the Depression, the way most people think it did,” he said.
Beyond all those numbers, the assertion that a war’s end has had a direct economic effect in lifting the United States out of its fiscal doldrums in the past becomes weaker the more it is analyzed. ...An economic blooming, Mr. Higgs said, often is due as much to an outburst of confidence and optimism with the end of hostilities as to any particular element of industrial or economic rearrangement.
The idea that a drawdown of US troops in Iraq will mean piles of extra cash sitting around is challenged as well. Several budgetary figures are given, with an unnerving amount of commas. If confidence is a major factor, Glanz says, then bring out the Sousa parades.

Opinion
The Washington Post asked some foreign policy mucky-mucks for brief impressions of President Obama's speech at Camp Lejeune on Friday. Here are the respective gists.

Randy Scheunemann, who founded the “Committee for the Liberation of Iraq” in 2002; and was director of foreign policy and national security for the McCain-Palin campaign (not hard to imagine what he’s going to say), says Obama is right to make “those committed to retreat and defeat in Iraq” upset by not pulling the troops right out.
National security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, applauds Obama for his focus on diplomacy, and suggests a conference on regional security as part of the drawdown, to help facilitate U.S.-Iranian dialogue.

Meghan O’Sullivan, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School and former deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, calls the move away from the stringent 16-month timetable “welcome and reasonable.” She goes on to ask “Does the Obama administration view Iraq's stability as fundamental to U.S. interests?” and warns against an attempt at a grand simple fix for the issues still facing Iraq.

President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Jessica Mathews writes that, “After six years, it makes no difference whether U.S. troops leave in 16 months or 18,” and argues that the larger picture is that we’ll have to leave sometime, and no matter when that happens, there is likely to be complications. “There is no substitute for Iraqis sorting out their own political future. But after so much sacrifice and bloodshed, it may not feel much like a victory.”

Qubad J. Talabani, a Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government to the United States, says, “No doubt the security situation in Iraq has improved, but the country has made little progress toward reaching political accommodation.” It is a warning against pulling out to quickly and thus leaving “to chance” such an important country to regional stability.

Professor of history and international relations at Boston University and author of "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism" Andrew J. Bacevich calls for an end to the “open-ended military endeavor” and says that its continuation is incompatible with the political reform that Obama promised. “Lost in the shuffling of troops is any clear understanding of that endeavor's strategic rationale. ...To imagine that simply trying harder in Afghanistan and Pakistan will produce a happier outcome is surely a fantasy.”

Douglass J.Feith, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former undersecretary of defense for policy, lauds Obama for accentuating the positive elements of the war, even though “he presumably still thinks the war should not have been fought.” Calling the speech “the defeat of the defeatists” seems a bit dramatic, though.

Vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute Danielle Pletka doesn’t like timetable politicking. “The real question that the plan elicits is: What's the strategy? Wars, after all, do not end; they are won or lost.”

And in case you still want opinions in the Washington Post, the editorial staff gives its own, about the lifting of the ban on media coverage of returning slain US soldiers' coffins. It calls Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ decision to include the families of those returning in the decision, on an individual basis, and make their point with more patriotic fervor than one might expect.
The only people with any business making that choice are the mothers and fathers, wives and husbands and children of the servicemen and women who gave their lives in noble service to country.
Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Sunday editions.

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