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Archive: May 2009
Daily Column
Devotion and Money Tie Iranians to Karbala, Terrorist or Mythic Symbol
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/31/2009 02:00 AM ET
After a couple of days very little to speak of as far as original Iraq coverage goes, the Sunday editions of the Washington Post and the New York Times come through with stories both compelling and varied.

From Iraq
In a dramatic turn of events on Saturday, former Iraqi Trade Minister’s plane was ordered turned around in mid flight, and instead of heading on to Dubai, returned to Baghdad. Upon landing, Abdul Falah al-Sudani was arrested on the tarmac of Baghdad International Airport. Al-Sudani resigned amid charges of corruption in his ministry, and was seen to be trying to escape from Iraq after it became clear that criminal prosecution was likely.

It has been the biggest story from Baghdad for some time now, and both Nada Bakri of the Washington Post and Marc Santora and Abeer Mohammed of the New York Times give background, reaction, and continued political spin by all sides. Santora and Mohammed have more juicy details, including a quote by a fellow Dawa MP defending al-Sudani, (claiming he was merely taking his wife to a hospital in Dubai after she just happened to get sick the night before), to a description of the arrest itself.
After Mr. Sudani’s plane landed at Baghdad International Airport, it was surrounded by dozens of members of the Iraqi security forces and representatives from Mr. Maliki’s office, according to an airport employee, who requested anonymity for fear of losing his job. “Iraqi security forces prevented anybody from approaching it. They opened its door and got the minister with his wife out of the plane,” the witness said. “They led the minister’s wife to a V.I.P. hall and took the minister with them out of the airport.”
In a large, front-page spread in the Washington Post, Anthony Shadid writes about the cultural stamp, still developing, that the American occupation is leaving on Iraq, especially language. It is a truly Shadidian article – densely peppered with linguistic demonstrations of the influence that the current north-American soldiers, as well as the former ones from the British Isles had after World War I.

This well-written article’s only drawback is that the Washington Post’s website only allows about 450 words per page, so to read anything of some length, one has to keep loading pages (five, in this case) – not always the quickest thing if you’re reading it on an Iraqi internet connection.
Rickety stands along the street overflowed with goods. Toy guns emblazoned with the moniker "Super Police" sat next to imitation handcuffs and walkie-talkies. A doll dressed in fatigues, with dog tags around its neck, carried an M-16 rifle, familiar to Iraqis as a weapon of the U.S. military. With a squeeze of the doll's hand, Freddie Mercury belted out Queen's "We Will Rock You" to a street speaking Arabic.

...Bootleg copies of "Star Trek," "Valkyrie" and "Marley & Me" were on sale, along with CDs by Eminem, 50 Cent and Massari. On a wall was an ad for a concert by Rap Boys, billed as the "first and biggest rap party in Baghdad."
The New York Times has some of the same, but from Iraq’s eastern border. Sam Dagher reports from Karbala on the huge number of Iranian religious pilgrims entering Iraq (up to 5,000 a day), and the influence it is having – and seen to have – in the host country.

Sentiments of both welcome and resentment by Iraqis are represented in the article. Almost everybody one runs into in Iraq speaks of how much control Iran has there, but the claims are often vague and not backed-up. The ways it can be demonstrated are economic ones, and Dagher does a good job of giving some examples related to Iraqi’s huge religious tourism industry. Someone working on this story seems to have used up some shoe leather, instead of just making phone calls – always a positive.
Behind the Imam Hussein shrine, through a dimly lighted hotel lobby and up a flight of stairs are the offices of Shamsa, a private Iranian company that has a virtual monopoly on Iranian pilgrimages to Iraq. Shamsa gets to choose which Iraqi companies to deal with for the transportation, protection and accommodation of pilgrims. Almost all its partners are companies affiliated with Iraqi political parties close to Iran, according to those in the business. An example is the Ihsan private security company, which is close to the influential Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Tucked inside a warren of alleys in Karbala’s bazaar are the nondescript offices of Setad Bazsazi Atabat Aliyat. It is a company owned by the Iranian government, involved in shrine renovation worldwide and busy at work here. An entry on a whiteboard reads: “Deliver five air-cooling units to Imam Hussein’s shrine.”
Also in the Times, Campbell Robertson writes as witty a story about confirming the identity of an al-Qaeda leader you’re likely to read for some time. It can’t be recommended higher, for it not only nestles itself in between the lines of government announcements and news reporting, but it shows what a commodity confirmable “facts” are – anywhere, really - but especially in Baghdad.

If he truly exists, and if previously reported arrests/killings of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi aren’t true, he is possibly the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, possibly captured by Iraqi security forces last month. Aside from several other little things which make inquiring minds not very confident about the whole thing, the US military (always quick to report the capture of insurgent leaders and victories for Iraqi forces) still refuses to confirm al-Baghdadi’s identity, and adeptly dances around answering questions.

Usually, whether a man is in custody is a fairly straightforward proposition: He is, or he is not. But even casual Iraqologists would find the notion of a straightforward proposition here amusingly naïve, especially in a case as politically loaded as this one.

...In mid-May, the government released a videotape in which an unimposing man with a closely shaved beard confessed to being Mr. Baghdadi and expressed regret for hurting the Iraqi people. Even to those convinced that this was him, the statements seemed off key, coming from a man who claimed to be the destined defender of the Islamic faith.

In describing how the insurgency worked, the man also implicated targets that the Shiite-led government already considered adversaries or at least competitors; they included former regime loyalists, several Sunni countries in the region and the main Sunni political party. For skeptics, it was all a little too convenient.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Lovelorn Iraqi Men Call on a Wartime IED-Setting Skills
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/30/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, there are only two pieces of original Iraq reporting, both in the New York Times. Though casualties haven’t been particularly high in recent days, the stream of them is steady. Some spurned young men are also reported to set IEDs either as revenge, or to further their cause.

From Baghdad
To start off the Times’ coverage, Rod Nordland reports that after six years of war, an anger management problem is present in Iraq. “That,” he says, “along with a lot of men with a lot of experience fashioning bombs and setting ambushes, makes for a lethal mix.” Nordland writes an interesting little article about something every jilted youngster has thought of doing, but which is actually occurring in Iraq.

Though the number isn’t high, and casualties have reported, this kind of bombing is frequent enough to warrant its own name among Iraqi security forces, a “love IED”. “These guys, they face any problem with their girlfriends, family, anyone, and they’re making this kind of I.E.D.,” said an Iraqi police captain.
The police say that many of the men are former insurgents who are no longer trying to kill foreign troops but who have an array of bomb-making skills and a stash of TNT. Even without explosives, a popular type of explosive device can be made from common household items including gasoline, a soda can and a plastic water bottle, with the innards of a cellphone as a remote detonator.

...“I’m a detective, and I don’t even know how to make one of these, but all these kids do,” the captain said. “There was a percentage of young men who were cooperating with the Al Qaeda organizations, or the Shia militias. They’ve changed their minds about fighting now, but they still have good experience in how to make I.E.D.’s.”
Examples are given of young men who turned to explosives for reasons of dissatisfaction in realms of both romance and school grades.

Campbell Robertson covers the deaths in attacks in Ninewa and Diyala on Friday. Other than the 11 Iraqi deaths reported, another is added to May’s record high tally for US military deaths since September.

The brief article has some particulars on the attacks, which include an IED attached to a motorbike, and the increasingly common practice of lobbing a grenade at a passing patrol - responsible for the death of the US service member in this case.
The increase in the number of deadly attacks on American forces may be related to the deadline of June 30, when the Iraqi-American security agreement signed last year dictates that coalition forces are to withdraw from the cities.

But Mosul is in many ways an exception to that deadline. An enormous American base on the edge of Mosul — a city that has remained a redoubt for the insurgency even as attacks have decreased substantially around the rest of Iraq — will remain open.
That’s all for today.

USA Today, no Saturday Edition.

Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, no original Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
A Woman’s Fight to Save Two Orphans
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/29/2009 02:00 AM ET
Another slow day of Iraq news. There is only one article, about Kirkuk’s oil/population disputes, and a book review.

From Iraq
Timothy Williams and Suadad al-Salhy of the New York Times write about the northern city of Kirkuk, where vast oilfields have caused it to be referred to as Iraq’s “Jerusalem,” again and again. Everyone claims it as theirs, Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen, though the first two are the powerhouses involved.

Williams and al-Salhy give a basic description of where things stand and how they got there. Both Saddam’s removal of Kurds from the region, and the mass influx of Kurds after 2003, much more than ever were there before – with the intention of establishing an artificial majority. If you know the politics of Kirkuk, there will be nothing too new here, but there is good information there.
Both Kurds and the central government have long claimed Kirkuk as their own — and many residents and Western observers fear that the awarding of the contract, along with the bonanza of jobs and cash expected to follow, may decisively stoke hostility among the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens who live here. Many worry this may tear at Iraqi unity and embroil the disputed territory in greater violence. At worst, it could bring the open ethnic warfare that many have predicted since security for the province was handed over to Kurdish forces after the 2003 invasion.
In the Washington Post, Carolyn See reviews ”The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles: A Woman’s Fight to Save Two Orphans” by Hala Jaber. See writes that Jaber might not be “the most stable person in the world,” but a more stable person wouldn’t have as colorful a past. The story begins with pre-war Iraq in 2003, and lasts into the years which followed. A central theme is the dangerous combination of Jaber’s own despair over her inability to have a child, and the terrible situation for so many children in Iraq.
Her husband, Steve Bent, had taken the iconic photograph of an armless boy of 12, gazing at the world with a beautiful, suffering face, that made front pages everywhere. After the boy was flown out of the country for medical treatment, Jaber's editor exhorted her to find an orphan from the pediatric ward to launch a fundraising drive to help child victims of the war -- another iconic face to prick the Western conscience.

The author found Zahra, a terribly burned child, being fanned by her grandmother with a piece of cardboard. The rest of the girl's family -- mother, father, all of her siblings except for one 3-month-old sister, all of them innocent civilians, of course -- had been destroyed by American fire. "The sight of Zahra and the sound of her voice provoked an overpowering urge to take care of her. The maternal instinct I had worked so hard to suppress was surging back and I had no defenses against it." Zahra became the fund's poster child, and, inevitably, plans were made to move her so she could receive better medical attention. Distraught, the grandmother demanded a promise that Zahra would make a full recovery, and, equally distraught, Jaber promised just that. The child died.
And on the story goes – with a mix of journalism, war, and instability of both country. Though the author provides analysis which See doesn’t always agree with, the review is nonetheless a positive one.

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Kurds Start Pumping Oil, Government Keeps Talking Corruption
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/28/2009 02:00 AM ET
It’s not a page-one day for Iraq, that’s for sure. Both the headlines have to do with US military deaths, as Wednesday brought the monthly tally of US dead up to 20, the largest since September. Within the articles, a few other points are brushed by.

From Baghdad
The New York Times’ Timothy Williams offers the most news of the day in an Iraq news sum-up, beginning with the explosion in an Abu-Ghraib market that was set off as a US patrol passed. Four Iraqis were also killed, and ten wounded. As stated above, this put the US military dead for May at the highest number in eight months (not counting the three US civilians who were killed in Fallujah on Tuesday).

The ongoing corruption drama in parliament, led by the Commission for Public Integrity is covered too. “Only 34 members of Iraq’s 275-member Parliament had submitted their mandatory financial disclosure forms. Parliament and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have announced anticorruption campaigns in recent weeks in an effort to curtail what is commonly believed to be widespread corruption in the Iraqi government. Mr. Maliki, according to the commission’s report, was among the officials who had submitted a disclosure form. The most interesting thing, buried deep below, is that the Kurdistan Regional Government began exporting crude oil for the first time after reaching a settlement on the issue with the government.
Though the Oil Ministry has granted approval for the exports, it has refused to recognize the roughly two dozen oil contracts that Kurdistan has signed with oil companies, meaning that Kurdistan may have to pay oil companies out of the revenue it receives back from the Iraqi government.
Aamer Madhani of USA Today covers the record number of GIs killed this year, in the context of the rising insurgent attacks and lower US presence plans being carried out. How those plans will be implemented in the cities is still not certain, with US sources saying that “flexibility” is needed on the ground. Iraqi politicians are being fairly clear on the fact that June 30 means June 30.

Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, no original Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Assertive Parliament Emerges Under New Speaker, Government/Sahwa Tensions
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/27/2009 02:00 AM ET
Three American deaths in Fallujah topped the American news from Iraq. After that, comes a parliament unfamiliar for its on-time sessions and votes actually being held, and the unraveling Sahwa.

From Baghdad
An American State Dept. official, a U.S. soldier, and a Defense Dept. worker were killed by a roadside bomb in Fallujah on Tuesday. The State Department official is identified as Terrence Barnich, deputy director of the Iraq Transition Assistance Office in Baghdad. The others have not yet been identified.

Both articles offered give the basic facts and use the attack in Fallujah as something of a yardstick for security – it’s much better than it once was, but the direction its going is unclear. The infamous killings there of four contractors in 2004 are referenced in both articles, but Marc Santora of the New York Times writes that it was only a few miles from yesterday’s incident, and that it is the second attack on US civilians in a week. Santora has more information on other points, too.
The Americans were driving along a road used exclusively by the American military and reconstruction teams when a bomb, which local Iraqi security officials described as an improvised explosive device, went off. No Iraqi vehicles, even those of the army and the police, are allowed to use the road where the attack occurred, according to residents. There is a checkpoint only 200 yards from the site of the attack to prevent unauthorized vehicles, the residents said.

The attack happened as the Americans were returning from an inspection of a wastewater treatment plant being built in Falluja, which Ambassador Hill said was the largest and most complex American-financed project in Anbar Province.
The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid also reports on the incident.

Also in the Washington Post, Nada Bakri writes of the more robust parliament which has emerged under new speaker Ayad al-Sammarraie. Bakri rightly characterizes the proceedings by parliament against Trade Minister Abdul Falah al-Sudani not as just about corruption and as “more than just the typical debate between legislative and executive powers.” Information about the case is given, but al-Sammaraie’s willingness to force issues and (dare we say it?) what seems to be an attempt to create a culture of accountability in the Iraqi government ends up being the focus, and it the more important point.
In asserting parliament's new role, Samarraie has transformed the institution from an arena for seemingly endless debate and hour-long speeches into an organized forum that starts with the ring of a bell at 10:00 a.m.

Under the former speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, discussions often drifted into minutiae, prompting many lawmakers to start side chats, talk on cellphones or read newspapers.
"We've had a 180-degree turnaround," said Tanya Gilly, a Kurdish lawmaker. "It seems that the new speaker is serious in the oversight role of parliament. He is trying to strengthen the body." In USA Today, Paul Wiseman writes about the current status of the Sahwa or Awakening (now routinely referred to as a “militia” in US papers – not really the case when the Americans were in charge of them), in an article that, though geared toward those who may not have the strongest working understanding of the situation, should still interesting to those who do.

As usual, the government says that the Sahwa did “a great job,” but acts in such a way as to make many of the Sahwa nervous. Salaries aren’t being paid in many areas, and Sahwa fighters are walking off the job. US military backing, both financial and otherwise, is diminishing or gone, and many of the Sahwa feel betrayed. "The Americans made the Sahwa militias to fight al-Qaeda, then they abandoned them," says an Awakening leader, Sheik Ali Hatem Sulaiman. "The heads of Sahwa are beginning to feel it would have been better to stay with al-Qaeda." Wiseman brings up one point which articles on the topic don’t often address - the fact that there are differences between how the Sahwa/government drama is playing out in varying regions.
The movement's rise has not caused many tensions in western Anbar province, which is predominantly Sunni, but the situation is different in religiously mixed areas such as Baghdad and Kirkuk, Sulaiman says. He says Shiite politicians "want Sahwa to stay in Anbar."
Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Tuesday Night News
05/26/2009 10:13 PM ET
By Daniel W. Smith and Yousif al-Timimi

There was a lot of political squabbling on tonight’s news. All the talking heads today seem to be getting on the “Trade Minister al-Sudani should face a no-confidence vote anyway,” bandwagon today, after Prime Minister al-Maliki accepted his resignation yesterday. Several MPs spoke about the possibility of him “escaping” from Iraq. Integrity Committee chairman Sabah al-Saadi (pictured) said “It is not constitutional to accept the Trade Minister's resignation.”

Barham Salih admited corruption within the government, but said, “The government is working to end it". The parliament formed a committee of 14 MPs to look into removing parliamentary immunity from a list of lawmakers, as a prelude to unnamed upcoming prosecutions which are being pushed for. A representative of parliament’s Oil and Gas Committee said “We are waiting for parliament leadership to decide when the oil minister will be questioned.”

And with that, illegality within government ranks leads to oil, which leads to Kurdish/Arab troubles. Nichervan Barazani was seen saying, “We don't care about Shahrestani's statement (about, of course, the legitimacy of KRG-signed oil contracts with foreign companies) We are going to export Oil from Kurdistan." On Al-Hurra Iraq, MP Muhammed Tamim said, about ongoing meetings to come to a political resolution on Kirkuk, "The committee reached a dead end." On the IIP’s Baghdad TV, a second part of the sentence was aired. “...due Kurdistan Alliance obstinacy.” Ninewa city council (not including the boycotting Kurds) voted to keeping Gen Khalid al-Hamdani as the provincial police chief.

An Iraqi Islamic Party spokesman accused the Aitilaf MP Sami al-Askari of “creating sedition among the political entities,” while Tawafoq MP Allaa Maki said, “Maliki's (cabinet) reshuffle is just an electoral campaign.”

A few security stories from various channels.
Al-Hurra Iraq reported that the brother of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was arrested in Diyala. His name was given as Mulla Zidan al-Mujamahai, but his relationship to the Islamic State of Iraq (who the government claims al-Baghdadi is the leader of) is unclear.

Security forces arrested six members of the so-called Rahman Army in Abu-Ghraib. In Anbar, an insurgent who is a Tunisian national was reported captured.

Three American civilians, including a high-ranking State Dept. telecommunications official were reported killed by an IED near Fallujah. Some channels referred to them as security contractors.

A special group member was arrested north of Kut, and the police chief there said that 60 suspects were arrested in the past two days.

Comments on the Iraqi TV roundup are welcome at
Daily Column
Minister Resigns, "Virtual Autopsies" of War Dead Reveal Ways to Save Others
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/26/2009 02:10 AM ET
Not a lot of Iraq-related news today, but still some interesting stuff. There are Iraqis who go back to Iraq as US soldiers, information about problems in the Trade Ministry which led to its leader’s resignation Monday, and CT scans providing a wealth of information.

From Baghdad
Aamer Madhani of USA Today writes about Forat Aldawoodi, an Iraqi from Baghdad’s oft-embattled Dora neighborhood who made it out of Iraq in 2007 as part a the US visa program for those who had worked with the US military. Once an interpreter, he became an Army reservist, was deployed, and until recently, has been patrolling Dora. There aren’t many like him, (only about eight are mentioned by a military spokesman. Despite being singled out some by his basic training drill instructor, he seems to be doing extremely well, an obviously valuable asset for an Army often beset by a lack of understanding of the culture in which it finds itself, and a common lack of trust in its local translators. There are no huge surprises in the article, but it is interesting and well put-together.
What makes Aldawoodi so valuable is his familiarity with the area and a native understanding of Iraqi culture, (Lt. Col. Dave) Bair said. On almost every mission, Aldawoodi accompanies him, according to Bair. After meeting with a community leader or local Iraqi security force commander, Bair usually calls Aldawoodi into his office to get his impressions and thoughts on what was said between the lines.

When not on patrol, Aldawoodi spends much of his time on the phone, reaching out to Iraqi leaders on behalf of Bair or calling friends to get a better sense of the mood on the street. Though Aldawoodi is barely a year out of boot camp and holds a junior rank, Bair said he considers him a trusted adviser. "I have to remind myself that he's just an E-4 (specialist)," Bair said. "I load him up just as much as I do some of my officers."
In the New York Times, Timothy Williams and Abeer Mohammed write of the resignation by Trade Minister Abdul Falah al-Sudani, which Prime Minister al-Maliki accepted on Monday. Al-Sudani was to face a no-confidence vote, had the resignation not gone through. The story’s been brewing for a while, and the headline is really the only new information on all the articles coming out (other than that the resignation was offered on May 14) – as everything has been summed up in previous articles.

Williams and Mohamed set themselves apart a bit by adding something which has been mostly missing from the writing – some details of the actual corruption within the ministry. The most that readers have really seen so far are somewhat vague claims about soggy sugar that came up in the questioning of al-Sudani last week. The focus here is the ministry’s oversight of imports, some of which it turns around to include in the government’s vast monthly food rations, long a staple in Iraq, and the shortchanging that is said to have generated millions of dollars in kickbacks for ministry officials.
During Mr. Sudani’s tenure, however, there were frequent shortages, and some of the goods were distributed long after their expiration dates, arousing widespread public anger. People interviewed Monday said that when the food became available, it was often inedible. “I cannot consume the items,” said Um Ali, a 47-year-old homemaker in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad. “We sell them and buy other items from the black market.”

Abu Mustafa, a merchant who receives supplies from the Trade Ministry, said he rarely got deliveries on time and often received spoiled food, including sugar that had turned black. “In general, I do not get more than five items out of nine each month,” he said. And beyond “the lack in quantity,” he added, was “the problem of bad quality.” Some merchants said they had resorted to burning spoiled food publicly to prove to people that they were not trying to pass off the goods as being fresh.
The New York Times’ Denise Grady gives a compelling report on how performing CT scans on the remains of fallen soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan returning to Dover Air Force Base became standard, and of the information being gathered. Such information is creating a detailed and expansive database which has affected battlefield medicine, body armor design, and a general understanding of injuries sustained.
The medical examiners have scanned about 3,000 corpses, more than any other institution in the world, creating a minutely detailed and permanent three-dimensional record of combat injuries. Although the scans are sometimes called “virtual autopsies,” they do not replace old-fashioned autopsies. Rather, they add information and can help guide autopsies and speed them by showing pathologists where to look for bullets or shrapnel, and by revealing fractures and tissue damage so clearly that the need for lengthy dissection is sometimes eliminated.
Aside from the medical side of the information gathering, it can also serve as a way to provide family members with a more thorough accounting of what happened to their loved ones, should they want it. One parent interviewed said of the envelope provided to them, “We may not want to read it today, but we may want to read it 10 years from now.”

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Families Affected by Suicide Feel Sting on Memorial Day, 22 Killed in Attacks
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/25/2009 02:00 AM ET
On this Memorial Day, the theme of veterans’ mental health continues to be a key one. Three populations left behind are written about – veterans who commit suicide, contractors who are killed (often performing work done by the military in previous wars), and at home, a fiancé of a fallen soldier has all the grief afforded a married spouse, but none of the support. In Iraq, at least 22 killed in attacks, and remembering the thousands who have simply disappeared.

From Baghdad
In the New York Times, Timothy Williams and Suadad al-Salhy write a disturbing story of the unanswered despair of the families of thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of Iraqis who simply never came home. In the dark years of 2006 and 2007, it is a pretty safe assumption that they were executed, perhaps after being kidnapped. Iraq has neither the manpower nor the resources to even begin to deal with such a vast problem. Keeping more deaths from happening is proving hard enough – identifying thousands of unknown dead is a luxury. Still, it makes it no easier.

“All I need is to find some clue about him,” said a woman, as she looked for a picture of her son among hundreds of photographs of unidentified bodies at a morgue. “I’d like to build a grave to visit him. Nothing more than that.”
Further, Iraq has no central database to try to link the more than 15,000 unidentified bodies that have been buried anonymously in the past few years with a list of names of the missing. There is also no record of victims of sectarian violence who have been buried informally in unmarked plots.

Even if family members think they have found a missing relative, they often need the help of government labs to be sure. Many victims of sectarian violence were beheaded, had limbs amputated or had holes drilled into their skulls, making them less recognizable. ...Identification sometimes comes down to a guess, a dim memory of a shirt worn the day a husband disappeared or of which tooth a son had lost years before in an accident.
There was no grand explosion in Baghdad so the wires weren’t all abuzz, but Rod Nordland still writes of at least 22 dead in eight insurgent attacks on Sunday in Mosul and Fallujah in the New York Times. Two car bombs were among the incidents, and as is the norm, security forces were the most common target. Nordland gives some of the details of the violence, and writes of a press conference on the same day.
At a briefing in the new and seldom used media center in Camp Prosperity, the main American base in central Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad, and Maj. Gen. David Perkins, top spokesman for the United States military in Iraq, both emphasized that a recent increase in spectacular attacks ran contrary to the overall norm, which they described as fewer and less effective attacks.
Military Matters/Memorial Day
Steve Vogel of the Washington Post writes of how soldiers fallen by their own hand are remembered. The following excerpt sums up the article well, as the mother of an Army sergeant who shot himself while on leave makes a pilgrimage to Fort Campbell, Ky., to visit the post where her son served with the 101st Airborne Division.
While it was comforting to meet with the soldiers with whom her son had served, Lindberg was upset when she saw the unit memorial. The names of two soldiers from her son's brigade who were killed in combat were on the memorial, but Ben Miller's name was not. "Because my son was a suicide home on leave, his name was not on the memorial wall at Fort Campbell, and that's just not right," said Lindberg, who said her son was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences in Iraq.
It isn’t that anybody is being overtly insensitive toward such family members, there is a difference in how they are remembered. The efforts of the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is described, as its members try to include all who grieve.

"My son was a victim of the war. He was a casualty of Iraq just as much as any combat casualty," said another parent, whose son took his life by carbon monoxide poisoning the day before he was to return to Iraq.

William Wan, also in the Washington Post, writes of Kyle Harper. When Sgt. Michael Hullender, her fiancé, was killed serving in Iraq, she received no military visit, no phone call. It is another story of isolation, added to grief. Decisions on whether she was entitled to some of Hullender’s personal belongings sent back from Iraq, as well as to be involved in his funeral arrangements, were completely up to his family, who felt she was less a part of his life than they were. For her, the engagement ring he gave her, Wan writes, is most of what remains of him.
So much now depends on the ring. For Kyle Harper, there are few other signs remaining of the life she should have had with her fiancé ...Even in a bureaucracy as large as the Army, there is no form you can fill out to verify love, to explain the messy details of life; only the marriage certificate counts. As a result, the military had to treat Kyle the way it does all fiancées -- as though she had no relationship with Michael. All the Army could offer were condolences. There would be no grief counseling, no casualty pay, no say in his burial.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Stephen Schooner (a retired Army Reserve judge advocate) asks ”Don't contractors count when we calculate the costs of war?” He said that, without including the more than 1,350 civilian contractor personnel who have been killed and the 29,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, the whole story isn’t being told. Aside from forgetting them, Schooner says, it is dangerous to allow US casualties to be reported in a misleading way. Both points are well-argued.
An honest, accurate tally is important because the public -- and, for that matter, Congress -- does not grasp the level of the military's reliance on contractors in the battle area, nor the extent of these contractors' sacrifices. Simply put, the contemporary, heavily outsourced U.S. military cannot effectively fight or sustain itself without a significant, if not unprecedented, presence of embedded contractors.

...In a representative democracy, public awareness of the human cost of our engagements abroad is critical. If we're going to tally the human cost of our efforts, the public deserves a full accounting.
The Post’s opinion page also calls for those who are emotionally scarred by war to be remembered today, a point written of commonly in recent weeks.
Today the country is supposed to honor the fallen of all its wars. But "fallen" is a word for inscriptions and oratory -- it doesn't really convey what happens to those caught up in the ghastly business of warfare and subject to all the horrors inflicted by flying metal, high explosives and machines made for destruction. Nor does it quite encompass what happened to many of those who served day after day in constant danger and surrounded by death. They lost something in the country's wars -- but not a limb or eyesight or the ability to walk or any essential physical capability. What was lost was a view of life as having meaning, order, security, purpose.
There are five letters to the editor of the New York Times on this topic as well, all in response to Bob Herbert’s insightful “War’s Psychic Toll” column on May 19, which dealt with the toll of multiple tours of duty.

A thoughtfully-written New York Times op-ed by Melissa Seligman (author of “The Day After He Left for Iraq” and the host of “Her War,” a podcast for military wives) tells of the difficulty keeping in touch with her husband while he is deployed. Where delayed webcams fell short, writing letters to one another (yes, actual physical letters) provided a connection not otherwise possible.
I know I’m not the first military spouse who has struggled to communicate with a loved one on deployment — and I know I won’t be the last. For those who came before me, the burden to overcome was communicating without technology — waiting months for letters to arrive. For me and those still to come, it’s learning to communicate despite technology.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no holiday editions.

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Daily Column
Iraqi Officials Expect Moves Amid Corruption Inquiry
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/24/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, there are people who were kicked out of their homes due to violence and people who may get kicked out of government positions due of corruption. Also, opinions on detainee abuse photos and KBR.

From Iraq
Nada Bakri of the Washington Post writes of displaced Iraqi Arabs who have ended up in the bleaker-than-bleak Qalawa refugee camp, in the very Kurdish territory of Sulaimaniya. They fled the deadly sectarian violence in places like Baghdad, and though surrounded by hopeless squalor, have no intention of returning back any time soon. Bakri shows a talent for coherently summing up complex situations in an approachable way.
The camp illustrates some of the problems Iraq faces as it attempts to build the institutions of a modern state: Although there is a semblance of peace, the country remains riddled with fault lines of sect and ethnicity, and saddled with competing authorities. Jaffar and his neighbors live at the intersection of those realities. They cannot return home, and they cannot rebuild their lives, a situation that threatens to make a temporary solution permanent.

Iraq has witnessed many tragedies, with tens of thousands dead in what amounted to a civil war. But added to the hardship of these displaced Iraqis is a feeling of helplessness. In a no man's land in the suburbs of this city in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, the families deem themselves the victims of Kurdish officials who have no interest in helping them and a distant government in Baghdad whose authority falls too short to provide assistance here.
"It is much better here," one of the more upbeat residents says. "I am happy to endure this hard life than go back and get killed."

The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson and Suadad al-Salhy report that Prime Minister al-Maliki and Parliament appear to be on the verge of carrying out an extensive housecleaning of senior cabinet officials, with lawmakers on Saturday naming as many as a dozen ministers they intend to question or investigate about allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

It is brief, but to the point, giving a reason why al-Maliki lawmakers are suddenly so shocked that graft and inefficiency exist in the Iraqi government.
With elections less than nine months away, Iraqi political leaders have been trying to find a way to aggressively address, or at least be perceived as addressing, the endemic corruption in the government. For now, their answer seems to be a wide-ranging campaign by officials to investigate ministers on corruption charges and push for their ouster.

The electoral success of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s party in January’s provincial elections seemed to stem in large part from the perception, which he promoted vigorously, that he had brought security and rule of law to Iraq. Since then, Mr. Maliki has been promising to fight corruption and bring about a significant government shake-up.
Trade Minister al-Sudani, who was grilled in parliament on corruption last week, is expected to resign before a no-confidence vote is held. Next up... Hussein al-Shahristani, Iraq’s friendly-neighborhood Oil Minister.

Also mentioned are two American contractors killed on Friday in the Green Zone – one by a rocket, and the other found mysteriously bound and stabbed in a car.

The New York Times Editorial page has a small piece about KBR, “the offshoot of the Halliburton conglomerate once run so lucratively by former Vice President Dick Cheney,” now “far from suffering for its shoddy military contracting in Iraq.” You can tell which side they’re standing on. Congressional investigators have found that KBR Inc. was awarded $83 million in performance bonuses, more than half of them awarded after Pentagon investigators linked faulty KBR wiring to the electrocution of four soldiers.
How such settings (showers and a swimming pool) became part of harm’s way for the military was the question put to an electrical engineer hired by the Army who reported finding that 90 percent of KBR’s wiring work in Iraq was not done safely. Some 70,000 buildings where troops lived and worked were not up to code, according to the engineer, who told a Congressional hearing of “some of the most hazardous, worst-quality work I have ever inspected.”
Also in the Times, Philip Gourevitch, editor of The Paris Review, and author (with Errol Morris) of “The Ballad of Abu Ghraib”, chimes in on whether hundreds of additional photos of detainee abuse which occurred in US-run facilities should be released. Gourevitch is in no way one to want what happened covered up in any way, but still thinks the photos are better off left in files marked “classified”.
Crime-scene photographs, for all their power to reveal, can also serve as a distraction, even a deterrent, from precise understanding of the events they depict. Photographs cannot show us a chain of command, or Washington decision making. Photographs cannot tell stories. They can only provide evidence of stories, and evidence is mute; it demands investigation and interpretation.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

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Daily Column
Generals Find Suicide a Frustrating Enemy, Green Zone Deaths
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/23/2009 02:00 AM ET
Though there were no big bombings, there is some good reporting from Baghdad today. A new look at the Iraq Army shows less-than positive results, an unhappy reaction in Iraq to the sentence given former US soldier, some deaths in the Green Zone and suicide among US servicemen are all looked at today.

From Baghdad
In the Christian Science Monitor, Jane Arraf talks to US Brig. Gen. Steven Salazar about an ongoing rescreening of Iraq's 253,000 soldiers, nearly one fourth of which were found to fall below the Iraqi Army’s own minimum standards. The rescreening, which has surveyed 46,000 soldiers so far, was undertaken “because neither the Iraqi Ministry of Defense nor US officials knew who exactly was in the Army.”

Araff writes of the US’s rush to build a military force after the 2003 invasion, budget problems which have caused a freeze on new hiring (even as there are large unknown numbers of “ghost soldiers – a form of corruption in which absent or fictitious troops’ salaries go to officers) and of course, the decision to disqualify hundreds of thousands of trained Saddam-era soldiers in 2003. Even as they would be accepted now, their reintegration is now limited, as is just about everything else, by Iraq’s inadequate budget.

Marc Santora and Suadad al-Salhy of the New York Times report that Iraqi tribal and political leaders complained bitterly on Friday after an American court spared the life of a United States soldier convicted of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then murdering her and members of her family in 2006. Steven D. Green was sentenced instead to life in prison without parole.
The attack in 2006 in Mahmudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, was so brutal that American commanders initially thought it was the work of insurgents. When it was revealed that American soldiers were involved, the attack became a rallying point for opponents of the occupation. The immediate family of the victims had only a muted public reaction, in part because the sexual nature of the crime is viewed as a mark of deep shame. But leaders of the Janabi tribe, of which the girl, Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, was a member, were joined by other tribal leaders in condemning the sentence.
Santora and al-Salhy not only print the normal angry reaction quotes, but also build up some context by giving a small spectrum of how it has played out in some of the Iraqi media.

The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño writes that an American working for a small company with a Defense Department contract was found dead in a vehicle on Friday morning in the Green Zone. "Our suspicion is that it was some kind of an argument that went bad," and also the possibility that it was a “crime of passion” are given as possible explanations by US officials. However...
The man found in the car had been stabbed multiple times, according to a U.S. official familiar with the investigation. He had been blindfolded and his hands were bound, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

A security alert sent by Western security officials in the Green Zone to an American client said the man was apparently abducted Thursday night as he was leaving a shop in the Green Zone. The alert, which was provided to The Washington Post, said the man's throat had been slit.
Londoño couples the incident with changes in security measures, a recent mortar shell landing within the Green Zone’s walls, and restrictions for US personnel traveling outside certain compounds within the fortified section of Baghdad.

Also in the Washington Post, Ann Scott Tyson and Greg Jaffe cover GI suicide levels, which have been worrying top officers in Iraq and Afghanistan enough to have monthly meetings dedicated to the problem. There has been much coverage of soldiers’ mental health affected by combat stress, and the usual points are brought up. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, is the main character of the article. "We probably don't know how many mental health care providers we need after eight years of war and three and four deployments," he said. The main gist of the article is Chiarelli’s push to find objective ways of assessing and treating the problem. "We can't just be players in a game of Clue here," he said. "We have to find a formalized way to get these lessons out."

USA Today, no Saturday Edition.

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Daily Column
Ex-Soldier Gets Life Sentence for Iraq Murders
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/22/2009 02:00 AM ET
Deadly bombings targeting Iraqis and Americans in uniform are the main topic, but three US soldiers back from the war are looked at prominently – One who is sentenced for a crime, one who has trouble getting back to his old job, and one who was flown back into Dover after being killed by one of his own. Also, China has an oil setback and the first-ever U.S. Embassy Gay Pride Theme Party in Baghdad.

From Baghdad
After the bad news of Wednesday night, Thursday morning brought more, with the targeting of Iraqis and Americans in uniform. There are differing accounts of what caused the blast in Baghdad’s Dora district that killed 12 Iraqis and 3 US soldiers were killed, and several more of both were wounded, as a US foot patrol visited a local Sahwa office. Timothy Williams and Abeer Mohammed of the New York Times mention that members of the Iraqi security forces in the neighborhood said American troops might have set a pattern making them vulnerable by regularly visiting the building once or twice a week. The Sahwa were the target of a bombing in Kirkuk, which killed between seven and nine of them. A police station in Baghdad was the other incident, which injured 12 police and one GI.

Nada Bakri of the Washington Post sets the scene.
In the past months, Iraq has often been beset by a vexing cycle -- lulls in violence that sometimes last weeks, disrupted by bursts of carnage that have claimed hundreds of lives. But these days, anxiety seems to have grown deeper. Under an Iraqi-American agreement, U.S. troops must withdraw from cities by June 30, and many residents worry that violence will mount as they depart.
Gina Chon gives a version much more brief in the Wall Street Journal, making the point, as did the previous stories, that “the attacks add to a wave of violence that has increased tensions in the approach to the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities by June 30.”

Chon’s brevity can be excused, as she also had a surprisingly interesting story about problems unforeseen by China National Petroleum Corp., who began work in March to develop the Ahdeb oil field in southeastern Iraq. . The Iraqi government and foreign companies are poised to dig right in, “but Iraqis near the country's oil fields may not be ready for them.” There are issues of property rights, damage to nearby houses and farmland, and compensation.
Company officials expected logistical and security challenges in the war-torn country. But two months later, their investment is running into an unexpected obstacle: angry farmers. ...Just a few weeks after CNPC started work in the field in Wasit Province, local farmers came to the site to complain that the company's oil drilling had damaged property. They asked for compensation, and they also asked for security jobs for relatives.
Chon is also good enough to mention, when referring to Saddam Hussein, that he was “the country's former dictator,” for all those people intently reading stories about Chinese oil investment in Iraq who hadn’t heard of him.

Military Matters
James Dao of the New York Times reports that a jury in Kentucky sentenced Steven D. Green, a 24-year-old former soldier, to life in prison without parole on Thursday for raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and murdering her, her parents and a younger sister in Iraq. The in previous stories, Iraqis called for the death penalty (or for Green to be tried in Iraq), particularly ones from Mahmudiya, where the incident occurred in 2006.
On March 11, 2006, after drinking Iraqi whiskey, Private Green and other soldiers manning a checkpoint decided to rape an Iraqi girl who lived nearby, according to testimony. Wearing civilian clothing, the soldiers broke into a house and raped Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi. Soldiers in the group testified that Private Green killed the girl’s parents and a younger sister before raping and then shooting the girl in the head with the family’s own AK-47, which it had kept for self defense.
Dao dedicates considerable time to the questions raised by the case about Army oversight of its combat-stressed forces (After deaths in his battalions, Green had told an Army stress counselor that he wanted to take revenge on Iraqis, including civilians), which brings us to the next article.

In the Washington Post, Megan Greenwell writes of the obvious impact Army Pfc. Michael E. Yates' death had on his tiny home town on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Last week, while Yates attended a group therapy session at Baghdad’s Camp Liberty, when a fellow patient opened fire, killing Yates and four other service members. Yates’ affect on the people he knew is written of.

Reading about Craig Lewis is an engaging, maddening experience. Christian Davenport writes an excellent piece which follows Virginia Army National Guard Lieutenant/Blackhawk pilot in more detail than one would ever expect in a newspaper article. It is surprising and refreshing that it didn’t get hacked down to a fourth of its size.

At first, it seems to be a story limited to employment difficulties faced by National Guardsmen, but it is much more than that. As understated as Lewis himself, Davenport pulls you in by organizing the story in such a way that the story seems to tell itself – one of someone to whom everything does not come easy, but excels beyond what anyone expects. It’s not a saccharine-filled feel-good human interest piece, though – you’ll want to give Lewis a call in a few months to see how things are going for him.

In Al Kamen’s “In the Loop” Column in the Washington Post writes of an upcoming US Embassy event, the likes of which could safely be said is not the norm in Baghdad. The advertisement reads, “Come celebrate the start of Summer with color . . . and in costume!” "Dress in drag or as a gay icon. All are welcome."

At least as entertaining as the costumes (and much more so than the planned lip-syncing promises to be) is picturing the Embassy spokesman walking the line between disassociating the embassy with the event, but not too much. "This is an event organized and sponsored by a group of employees. Given the lack of places to meet in Baghdad, the embassy allows groups to use its social facilities for events on a first-come, first-served basis."

USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
Iraqi Lawmakers Urge Oil Minister to Quit Over Low Output
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/21/2009 02:14 AM ET
Today, we have four papers with one story each. Subject material consists of a bombing in Baghdad, al-Shahristani being blamed for Iraq’s budgetary woes, and Afghanistan reconstruction's “shades of Iraq”.

From Baghdad
A car bomb exploded on Wednesday night, near some restaurants on a popular street in Baghdad’s northern neighborhood of Shula. It happened later than bombings normally do in Iraq. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post say the death toll is “at least 34”, yet most of the wire services have raised it to 41 in recent hours. Over 70 are reported to be injured.

It fits the same pattern as April’s bombings – apparently planned for high casualty rates in a Shi’a majority area. Campbell Robertson and Atheer Kakan’s story in the Times doesn’t vary greatly from the one by Nada Bakri in the Washington Post, except for some minor details (such as describing the establishment closest to the bombing as either a take-out restaurant or an ice-cream parlor). Both write of the recent lull in large bombings in May, after April proved to be the deadliest month in a year, and both spoke of the blasts as a probable attempt by al-Qaeda in Iraq and/or Baathists to restart sectarian violence – and the lack of retaliation by Shi’a groups, so far. Both, also, give an affecting description of the fate of those who were in harm’s way.

Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal reports that some Iraqi lawmakers called on Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani to resign over his failure to boost oil production, which some call the main reason for Iraq’s budget crisis. Chon gives some oil-production numbers, backed up by a Brookings Institution graph of pre-war levels until 2009. She also hits the political side of the accusations, which could force a no-confidence vote in parliament (apparently all-the-rage these days). "It is time for him to step aside since his oil policies have failed," said Jabber Khalifa al-Jabber, a senior oil and gas committee member.
Mr. Shahristani blames a number of factors for the oil industry's slow development, including neglect during Saddam Hussein's regime and the insurgency and violence after the 2003 invasion. Mr. Shahristani says he also has been hindered by parliament's failure so far to pass a comprehensive petroleum law, which would set the legal groundwork for international investment in the sector.

...A change in leadership could affect plans to award a handful of technical-service contracts. Several international oil companies are bidding for the contracts, which are to be awarded next month and are seen as crucial to slowing the decline in production at some oil fields. Mr. Shahristani has been heavily involved in the bidding process.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Gordon Lubold writes of unhappy similarities in US reconstruction efforts for both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is only an article about Iraq in that Iraq is held up as the standard-bearer of how not to rebuild a country.

One would hope that Iraq’s lessons were well-learned, but that’s probably too much to hope for. But wait – weren’t we rebuilding Afghanistan a few years before Iraq had its chance to be rebuilt? Lubold writes an article that coherently sums up some of the issues involved.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its first audit of reconstruction work in Afghanistan, focusing on a single, $404 million contract let by the American command responsible for training Afghan security forces.

The auditors discovered the sole person overseeing the massive contract – just one of an untold number of contracts let under the training command – cannot provide the proper oversight because the individual is not in Afghanistan but instead works an Army contracting center in Maryland.
USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
To Meet June Deadline, US and Iraqis Redraw City Borders
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/20/2009 02:00 AM ET
The main story today deals with plans afoot for a gerrymanderous US withdrawal from Iraqi cities. After that, there is a story about Iraqi budget and security enmeshed, and then complaints that US Army labs are holding up body armor testing and manufacture.

From Baghdad
Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor addresses discrepancies between the language of the security agreement and what will actually happen on the ground and also a big discrepancy between what the US military and what Iraqi politicians are saying will happen, come the June 30, the deadline for a withdrawal from Iraq’s cities. Both questions have the same answer – the US military is intending to stay in some cities past the deadline. Arraf lays it our pretty clearly in her opening sentences.
On a map of Baghdad, the US Army's Forward Operating Base Falcon is clearly within city limits. Except that Iraqi and American military officials have decided it's not. As the June 30 deadline for US soldiers to be out of Iraqi cities approaches, there are no plans to relocate the roughly 3,000 American troops who help maintain security in south Baghdad along what were the fault lines in the sectarian war.
"We and the Iraqis decided it wasn't in the city," says an American military official. A senior US commander says, "We consider the security agreement a living document."

Arraf writes what has been being read in between the lines for quite some time. Though Prime Minister al-Maliki and Iraqi security officials are on television every chance they get, saying that the deadline will not be extended, US officials say that a different story is given behind closed doors, when it comes to Baghdad and the unstable areas of Diyala and Mosul. Also, the difficulty of US forces working beneath or even on equal ground with the Iraqi military is covered.

Ernesto Londoño’s article on Iraqi budget woes limiting security forces, (and therefore security itself) posted early on the Washington Post website, and was included in yesterday’s roundup.

The New York Times’ Christopher Drew reports that an Army decision to shift the testing of body armor to its own laboratory instead of using private companies is causing complaints among the companies who manufacture the equipment, who claim it is raising costs and causing approval delays. Drew lists some of the complaints, writes that congressmen are looking into it, and focuses on body armor.
The manufacturers said the cost of the tests had doubled or tripled since the government took over in recent months. The companies said it could take a week for them to receive results that the private labs sent within 24 hours.

...Asia Fernandez, who owns Armacel Armor in Camarillo, Calif., said the higher charges for testing could make it too expensive for a small company like hers to develop more advanced gear. She said the Army lab charged more than $50,000 to determine if a new product was safe, while the private testing labs charged less than $15,000.
Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
Plunging Oil Prices Force Iraq to Cut Security Jobs
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/19/2009 02:17 AM ET
Two good stories out of Baghdad today, both about issues which question Iraq’s future stability. Some of the same from Washington as well.

From Baghdad
Marc Santora of the New York Times Iraqi government security forces arrested two prominent Sunni leaders in Diyala Province on Monday, leading to renewed concerns that sectarian tensions in the area could once again erupt into greater violence. Regional incidents like these can prove to be far-reaching in the provinces where they occur, and Diyala’s security is tenuous enough that it warrants a story.

The two men, arrested for “committing crimes against civilians,” are a high-ranking Sahwa leader in Diyala named Sheikh Yiyadh Mujami and Abdul Jabbar al-Khazraji, the head of Diyala’s branch of Tawafoq, the largest Sunni of politicians on Diyala’s council. They were taken to Baghdad by police forces from the government’s Interior Ministry, strengthening the idea of a sectarian crackdown on Sunnis by the Shi’a-dominated government among local leadership and residents. Santora focuses on the ramifications of the Sahwa leader’s arrest, versus the council member’s. He writes that a leading Sahwa (or “Awakening” in English) official named Ghassan al-Hayali complained even before the arrests that there was a secret informer program aimed at providing evidence needed to arrest members of their ranks in Diyala.
Dozens of Awakening members have fled from their villages near Baquba, he said, since the government began a major military campaign in the province several weeks ago. More than 30,000 troops and police officers have poured into the province as a part of the operation, Iraqi military officials said. Mr. Hayali said Awakening leaders believed that arrest warrants had been issued for more than 1,000 Sunni tribal figures and council members, leading some 300 members to quit.

Local security officials have said that there is no campaign against Awakening members and they have tried to reassure local leaders that no one will be arrested without evidence.
Also, he mentions three bombings in Baghdad on Sunday which killed three and wounded 19, and that January 30 has been set as the new date for national elections to be held, decided Monday by a federal court.

Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post gives plenty of queasy facts on the connection between Iraq’s budget problems and its security forces. We’ve all read about shrinking oil revenue causing big possible cuts in payable wages to Iraqi forces, but Londoño gives a bigger picture view. Unfortunately, whether the lens is being zoomed in or out, new problems can be seen.

It is easy to understand that less money means fewer soldiers, and less equipment for them to be used and driven around in. Less money also means halting development of Iraqi naval, air, and border patrol capabilities, seen as indispensable to security forces standing on their own. Londoño brings up the issue of maintenance, which might not occur to most, but is the difference between keeping their fleet of Humvees operational, or whether they will “drive something till it breaks and use the broken vehicle for spare parts.”

The most interesting point is the effect that security forces can have on the budget, not just the other way around.
According to a U.S. military summary of the Defense Ministry's personnel audit obtained by The Washington Post, there are Iraqi army majors who currently make $70,000 a month through embezzlement. U.S. officials believe that as much as 25 percent of the ministry's annual payroll budget is stolen, according to a U.S. official who provided the confidential estimate on the condition of anonymity.

Because the audit is likely to expose corrupt officers, the U.S. assessment said, some Iraqi army leaders are "predicting violent outcomes." One senior Iraqi leader agreed to participate on the condition that the building where the audit is being conducted receive more security because "he's convinced someone is going to blow it up," according to the U.S. document.
Howard LaFranch of the Christian Science Monitor writes a more US-centric take on Iraqi security threats, dealing with the withdrawal of American troops, and the accompanying return to post or pre surge levels and tactics. LaFranch gets plenty of think-tank experts, who have different gloomy takes.
"President Obama may have reasons he wants to avoid a disaster there, but he's simply not as fully committed to a successful outcome as President Bush was, and that's going to color our response to whatever lies ahead there," says Mr. (Thomas) Donnelly, who helped the US military design the Iraq surge.
In the Washington Post, Dana Hedgpeth reports that the Army said Monday that it plans to restructure its $160 billion weapons modernization program, known as Future Combat Systems, marking a major shift in one of the Pentagon's most closely watched and expensive projects. It had originally planned to outfit 15 of its 73 brigades with new technology developed in the program, but in what Hedgpeth calls the most significant change announced, all brigades will get the new gadgets.

As for significant projects being axed, “the Army also said it will cancel $87 billion worth of light armored ground vehicles following a recommendation by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. The vehicles, which were intended to replace Bradley Fighting Vehicles and tanks, would have relied on improved surveillance technology to compensate for their lack of heavy armor.” the philosophical shift Gates is leading in military development programs is explained, and some numbers are run, among them a few amounts already spent for cancelled projects.

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
Militants Test Readiness of Iraq's Forces as U.S. Prepares to Leave
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/18/2009 02:00 AM ET
Iraq coverage is centered in the north today. The always tenuous relationship between Kurdish and Arab parties in Ninewa province are taken to a new level, and prompt stories in both the New York Times and Washington Post. From Mosul, Ninewa’s capital, the relationship between US forces, Iraqi forces, and al-Qaeda in Iraq is looked at, and from the states, northern Iraqi oil is planned for Europe.

From Iraq
Ninewa’s Sunni Arabs largely boycotted the 2005 election, giving Kurds control of the local government. After strong participation in January’s election, the Sunni-led al-Hadba List gained a clear majority, and all of the province’s major governmental positions were given to its own members. Kurdish parties boycotted the provincial council, have declared that some regions of Ninewa with large Kurdish populations be incorporated into Iraqi Kurdistan, and there’s no clear end to the political standoff.

The first actual standoff occurred on May 8, when Kurdish pesh merga fighters would not let al-Hadba leader and Ninewa governor Atheel al-Najafi pass into the Bashika district for a youth kite-flying event. Al-Najafi was enraged and has called for extra government security forces to be sent to Ninewa to counter the pesh merga’s presence, which he calls illegal. Several other incidents including a bomb going off near al-Najafi’s house on Sunday) continue to raise the ante.

Both articles are disturbing to read. Sam Dagher of the New York Times gives a better overall accounting of recent events which have led to the current situation. The Washington Post’s Nada Bakri focuses mostly on the incident in Bashika, fleshing it out a little. (See photos of the standoff, obtained by Iraqslogger.)

Alan Gomez of USA Today writes an effective article on Mosul security. It juggles several familiar topics - whether US troops will withdraw from the city by June 30, the readiness of Iraqi forces, insurgent regrouping, and mistrust on the part of GIs of their Iraqi counterparts. Gomez begins with a compelling example of the latter.
The other soldiers in the room were pleading with Douglas Schmidt to put down his assault rifle and join them at the table. But the young Army private just stood there, his M-4 raised menacingly at chest level, his eyes focused on the Iraqi commanders in the room.

The other Americans had removed their helmets and flak jackets and were sipping hot tea during a regular meeting with their Iraqi counterparts. It wasn't until Schmidt's commander gave him a second direct order that Schmidt reluctantly sat on the edge of a folding chair against a back wall. He kept a tight grip on his rifle.
Guy Chazan of the Wall Street Journal reports that two European energy firms said they would invest up to $8 billion in a project in the northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan, in a push to make Iraq a major exporter of natural gas to Europe. OMV AG of Austria and Hungary's MOL Nyrt. plan to revitalize the ailing development of the Nabucco pipeline, which, if completed, will bring natural gas from Central Asia and the Middle East directly to Europe. Such a pipeline is seen as a major way to decrease European dependence on Russian oil imports.

Chazan writes an article clearly intended for people interested in the oil industry (If you like abbreviated company names like those above, you’re in for a treat), but also touches upon how Iraqi internal politics could prove to affect such deals.
Larger companies such as BP PLC and Shell have avoided investing in Kurdistan, for fear of antagonizing the central government in Baghdad, which has denounced the Kurdistan Regional Government's deals as illegal.

Mr. Jafar said the partners didn't envisage any problems with Baghdad, saying they were "absolutely convinced of the legal, moral and technical correctness of our investments in northern Iraq."
Christian Science Monitor, no Iraq coverage.

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Daily Column
Among 5 Killed, a Mender of Heartache and a Struggling Private
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/17/2009 01:44 AM ET
Not a heavy day for a Sunday, but the New York Times and the Washington Post come through with pieces about the effects of Iraq on GIs, and possible effects of GI’s pulling out of Iraq.

From Baghdad
In the Washington Post, Ernesto Londoño writes that, as preparations are being made for a removal of US troops from Iraqi cities, there are those in Sadr City, of all places, who are becoming uneasy at the thought of such a prospect. There is a strong history of a lack of love between the two, yet, as elsewhere in Iraq, improved security is not a boat that many want to rock. Particularly among those who have allied themselves with the US or the Iraqi governments, less troops (and ones without a local axe to grind) might well mean less stability. "There will be a civil war -- without a doubt," said an Iraqi interpreter. City council members have asked about political asylum in the United States.

Londoño travels with US forces in Sadr City, and points out that it is not merely the US security presence that might be missed, but the rebuilding contracts which they brought with them.
After months of being shunned by local leaders, the Americans, with $100 million to spend on reconstruction projects in Sadr City last year, soon began making friends. They employed 1,500 men as unarmed neighborhood guards. Local businessmen and other leaders who secured U.S. contracts now drive around in Mercedes-Benzes; one recently indulged in the latest fad in Baghdad: a Hummer.
As with the Sahwa, the US military has doled out economic influence to some with whom they are on good terms. It is those who stand to lose the most. The general population is at risk, too, but the Iraqi political leadership is strongly dismissive of any suggestion that US forces remain in Iraqi cities, at least publicly. "The bottom line is they are not ready for us to give over the cities," a senior U.S. military official said. "If we do, and all indications are that they will make us leave, we will be in a firefight to get back in and stop the violence. And we will lose soldiers."

James Dao and Paul von Zielbauer of the New York Times write an article about soldiers’ mental health and victims of the Camp Liberty shooting. They write that “they came to the clinic at the base in Iraq for reasons as different as their ranks,” speaking well of those fallen. Some were there to help, but the shooter, Sgt. John M. Russell, is characterized as someone who “was there because he had to be.”

Though Mr. Russell described his son as “the most stable guy in the world,” two men who served alongside Sergeant Russell said he was unhappy with Army life. “There was never one uplifting conversation that I have ever had with that guy,” one soldier said. “He wasn’t saying, ‘I’m gonna kill myself.’ It’s just a general, ‘I hate this place,’ times 10.”

The story has details about those who perished, but doesn’t address the issues involved as well as other articles in previous days. There are two more such articles in the Washington Post which were covered in yesterday’s US Papers roundup, but are technically from Sunday’s edition, as well as an op-ed about a perhaps unquestioning culture of counterinsurgency doctrine.

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
No Pre-War Waterboarding to Prove Iraq/AQ Link, Iraqis Pursue Corruption Purge
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/16/2009 02:00 AM ET
A few opinion pieces in the Washington Post shine today, addressing two huge issues today for the US military in Iraq – soldiers’ mental health and counter-insurgency doctrine. Also, the use of waterboarding is denied in the interrogations of two high-profile suspects in 2002 and 2003, corruption in the Iraqi government, and two more US military-themed pieces.

Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reports that senior intelligence officials acknowledged on Friday that two al-Qaeda operatives, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, had been questioned about alleged links between al-Qaeda and Iraq when the two men underwent CIA interrogation in 2002 and 2003. Though the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” was said to have been used to try to determine locations of al-Qaeda leadership and plots against the United States, their use in determining a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda was denied. According to the anonymous official, "Questions were asked about Iraq, but the notion that waterboarding was used to extract from either an admission that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a relationship is false, period." The most interesting part of the article is at the end, when Pincus includes information from CIA testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2004 which shows that it is something of a non-issue, because no link was established anyway.
Abu Zubaida said he was "not aware of a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda," but that he had heard some network members had good contacts with Iraqis. He named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who became leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, as having relationships with Iraqi intelligence. But Abu Zubaida added that he believed it was "extremely unlikely" that Osama bin Laden would ally himself with Iraq.

The Senate committee's report said the CIA had noted that "questions regarding al-Qaeda's ties to the Iraqi regime were among the first presented" to Mohammed, and that Mohammed, the planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, said he was "unaware of any collaborative relationship" between al-Qaeda and Hussein's government.
From Baghdad
The Wall Street Journal’s Gina Chon has the sole piece from Iraq today, with a reports on the purposefully visible fight against corruption in Iraq. To refer to corruption as rampant in Iraq is an extreme understatement, and the questioning before parliament scheduled on Saturday of Trade Minister Abdul Falah al-Sudani is the talk of the town.

Why the sudden interest? Chon makes the realistic call that it has more to do with pre-election politics than much else, now that the issue has become an increasingly important one to the Iraqi public.

In the Washington Post, Celeste Ward (a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, was political adviser to the operational commander of U.S. forces in Iraq in 2006 and deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations capabilities in 2007-08) writes the most intriguing piece of the day, an op-ed challenging conventional wisdom on counterinsurgency, the surge, and other conceptions widely held about Iraq. As writing from “experts” go, this example makes a refreshing break from overly self-assured know-it-allism. Instead of standing back after events and fighting for a particular easy-to-digest characterization of what did and did not work, she makes the bold argument that exactly how all the factors played upon each other to get the present point in Iraq isn’t entirely clear.

She warns that “Counterinsurgency doctrine is on the verge of becoming an unquestioned orthodoxy,” and that popular interpretations of what exactly happened in Iraq can be misleading.
So why did the Iraqis stop the carnage and start deal-making by 2007? We don't fully know. A number of accounts give a nod to the Sunni Awakening and the cease-fire by the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Nonetheless, the prevailing interpretations of the surge narrative -- even competing ones, which tend to differ mostly over claims of paternity -- put the Americans in the driver's seat of history. The assumption seems to be that the United States, its leaders and the tactics it employed are primarily responsible for the events on the ground.

But the decisions of the Iraqis themselves surely made a material difference. They stopped fighting, whether due to political calculations, fear or exhaustion. The full story of Iraqi motivations and perceptions has yet to be told.
Whether you end up agreeing with Ward or not, it deserves a thorough read.

Navy psychologist Heidi Kraft, author of "Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital”, was interviewed by the Washington Post’s “Outlook” page by Rachel Dry about how the military handles mental health. The issue is addressed effectively, as it has been in recent articles since the deadly shooting at Baghdad’s Camp Liberty. PTSD is likened to a sprained ankle – therapy is needed, but the same stigma within the military community is not shared for sprained ankles.

Military Matters
There are two articles hailing US soldiers who served in Iraq. In the New York Times, Randal C. Archibold writes of the oldest fallen serviceman in Iraq to date, Steven Hutchison. Before dying at age 60 on Sunday of shrapnel wounds from a bomb which exploded near his truck in al-Farron, he two tours of duty in Vietnam, received a Bronze Star, an Army Commendation Medal, a doctorate in psychology and teaching posts at several colleges.

The Post’s Ann Scott Tyson tells a war-story. It is the tale behind the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second highest combat medal, being awarded to Staff Sgt. Jarion Halbisengibbs in a ceremony at Fort Carson, Colo., on Thursday. The incident occurred in September of 2007 in Samarra.

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
A Single-Minded Focus on Dual Wars
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/15/2009 02:00 AM ET
It’s not the biggest day in recent memory for Iraq-related stories, but there are some, and most papers had a good showing yesterday. The articles today all deal with issues of US war policy - war funding and a sort of retrospective of Robert Gates. Also today, there is a small development in yesterday's top story - President Obama's reversal on releasing photographs depicting detainee abuse. Nothing is filed from Iraq.

Perry Bacon Jr. of the Washington Post reports that the House passed a bill yesterday that would provide more than $96 billion in funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through Sept. 30, as President Obama had requested. Obama’s greatest problem getting it through? –Democrats, though not nearly enough of them to threaten the bill’s passing. 51 of the Democrats dissented, making it pass 368 to 200.

Bacon writes that “Democratic opponents did not attack Obama by name, but some likened his increase of 21,000 troops and billions of dollars to win the war in Afghanistan to President George W. Bush's efforts in Iraq,” and that is really the gist of the whole article – those who saw the Bush administration’s war policy as escalation “with no clear exit strategy” see Obama’s policies the same way, though are more polite about it now. Rep. Jim McGovern said, I'm tired of wars with no deadlines, no exits and no ends."

Also in the Washington Post, Greg Jaffe writes what is really a laudatory article about Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. In it, Gates is portrayed as a pragmatist, yet the focus on emotion displayed during a trip to Dover Air Force Base stresses an emotional connection to the troops is put forth as a major factor in his decision-making process, one which puts the focus on the wars at hand.
For decades, the Pentagon's focus has been on building expensive, high-tech weapons programs for conventional wars. Gates has embarked on an ambitious effort to force the department to focus more of its energy on developing arms and equipment that can help troops on the ground as they battle insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq.
His transition from the Bush to the Obama administration is discussed, as is his hands-on anti-burocracy approach. The only detractor from Gates’ “emphasis on now” is former Air Force secretary Michael W. Wynne, who was dismissed last year. In an online column last year Wynne wrote, "Our national interests are being reduced to becoming the armed custodians in two nations, Afghanistan and Iraq."

In the New York Times, Scott Shane writes that “experts on government secrecy” said on Thursday that Obama’s best bet for making his newly-minted stance on keeping photos of prisoner abuse secret is not simply to block their release, but to classify them. Yesterday, the president declared that the release of the photos would further anti-American sentiment and put GIs currently in Iraq and Afghanistan in danger.

A few particulars are mentioned, but the headline pretty much tells the whole story, escept for a few quotes.
Christopher J. Farrell, of the conservative organization Judicial Watch, said that at the very least, the administration should be able to delay the photos’ release by months or even years. “They can slow-walk and foot-drag and stonewall,” he said. “My experience is that when the government doesn’t want to release something, it finds a way.”
Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Stress of Repeated Deployments, Is Al-Qaeda in Iraq Coming Back?
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/14/2009 1:18 PM ET
On of the top stories of the day, President Obama abruptly reverses his stance and moves to bar release of photos depicting abuse of detainees under US care. There is more discussion of soldiers’ mental health in the wake of the killings at Camp Liberty, the story of a cleric-turned-insurgent-turned-US ally-turned arrestee, and a spike in suicide attacks brings up the question - is Al-Qaeda in Iraq coming back?

Detainee Photos
Approximately 2,000 photos documenting abuse of prisoners by US military personnel were deemed releasable by the Obama administration. On Wednesday, Obama announced a reversal of that decision, and said he would work to block the photos’ release. The reason? After warnings from top Pentagon officials and Generals Odierno and McKiernan, Defense Secretary Gates and Obama concluded that, if made public, the photos would “further inflame anti-American opinion” and endanger troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The American Civil Liberties Union, who request the release under the Freedom of Information Act, decry the decision, arguing that they demonstrate an institutional problem for which, to date, no high-ranking officials have been prosecuted. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said, "Even given that the photos will undoubtedly generate outrage in the region, the best way to dampen that outrage is to hold those responsible accountable.”

Both articles have the same basic story, but Jeff Zeleny and Thom Shanker of the New York Times come out on top by delving into descriptions (by unnamed officials) of the photos themselves a bit.
Officials who have seen the photos describe them as falling into two categories: Abu Ghraib-style personal snapshots taken by soldiers; and photos taken by military criminal investigators documenting allegations of abuse, including autopsy photos of prisoners who died in custody.
The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson isn’t far behind.

The Wall Street Journal Opinion Page couldn’t be more pleased with Obama’s “pleasant reversal,” and is just a little bombastic.
The President is learning, albeit slowly, that secrecy has its uses in wartime, and that the real goal of his allies on the left is to make it harder for the U.S. to defend itself.
From Iraq
Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor reports on whether or not the recent suicide bombings portend a return in prominence of al-Qaeda in Iraq. US intelligence officials she speaks to basically say that the overall trends are still hopeful, but the escalation to tit-for-tat sectarian killings are always a danger. The article spends more time on simultaneous announcements by the US military that its troops may remain in some Iraqi cities past the June 30 deadline, and the constant announcements by Prime Minister al-Maliki and other Iraqi politicians that it will never happen. Al-Maliki is said to be telling a pre-election constituency what they want to hear.
"In many parts of the country, there is crystal-clear agreement among US and Iraqi military leaders," says a senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "The higher up you go, the more other factors are entered into the equation." At that level, he says, "campaigning has already begun for the national elections."
The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid tackles the thorny issue of one-time insurgents’ lurking pasts. With the Sahwa program, past activities of many were put by the wayside, in the interest of gaining their cooperation. In the name of stability, influential leaders were propped up and often protected by US forces from, most notable, government security forces. Now, some criminal charges are coming out of the woodwork, and real people who had real wrings done to them are demanding justice, just as the US roll as buffer is taking a back seat to cooperation with the Iraqi government.

Shadid files from Thuluyah, where until his recent arrest, Nadhim Khalil was one of these protected ex-insurgents, and speaks to a man who claims he was kidnapped for ransom in 2006 at Khalil’s behest. As usual, Shadid’s writing isn’t necessarily for casual readers, but is compelling and nuanced and the day's most interesting offering.

Military Matters
There are two articles about GI mental health, now being looked at closely after the killing of five service members by one of their own at a clinic designed to treat just that. Both articles deal with the family of Sgt. John Russell who is being held in the killings. Andrea Stone of USA Today also deals with the families of some of those killed in the attack, while The Christian Science Monitor’s Gordon Lubold focuses on the stress caused by repeated deployments.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Papers Query Mental Health of Alleged Shooter; Military to Probe Care System
By GREG HOADLEY 05/13/2009 02:28 AM ET
Monday's shooting rampage in Baghdad that left five US service personnel dead, allegedly at the hands of one lone US soldier, continues to dominate the Iraq-based news today, as the military reveals the identity of the alleged shooter, a 44-year-old man from Texas with no prior history of psychological distress.

The US military will launch a probe into its mental health care system for soldiers deployed in war zones, in the aftermath of a shooting incident on Monday in which a US soldier allegedly killed five of his fellow service members at Baghdad’s Camp Liberty. Ernesto Londono writes in the Post that the alleged shooter has been identified as “Sgt. John M. Russell, 44, of Sherman, Tex. Russell, a communications specialist with the 54th Engineer Battalion, based in Bamberg, Germany,” and that Russell “has been charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.” The top US military spokesperson in Baghdad said that Russell had been referred to counseling the week before, The Post reporter writes. Maj. Gen. David Perkins said on Tuesday that Sgt. Russell’s commanders had confiscated his weapon as a precautionary measure, out of concerns that the soldier was facing psychological difficulties. “Besides the standard criminal investigation, Perkins said, top military commanders have ordered a wide-ranging probe to determine whether there are enough mental health resources for troops serving in combat zones and whether screening and treatment are adequate,” Londono writes.

In the Journal, Gina Chon and Yochi Dreazen write that Russell allegedly grabbed the weapon of a soldier that escorted him from a Baghdad mental counseling center before heading back into the center to carry out the shootings that killed four soldiers and a naval officer. The 44-year old had seen tours in Serbia and Bosnia before deploying to Iraq, the WSJ reporters write, adding that a military officer familiar with Russell’s file said that the soldier’s record showed no indication that he posed such a threat. The suspect remains in custody at Camp Liberty near Baghdad.

James Dao and Lisette Alvarez focus their Times piece on Russell’s mental health situation, writing that Wilburn Russell, the alleged shooter’s father, in Texas, told reporters that his son had recently angered a commanding officer by “threatening” him. The officer in turn reportedly confiscated Russell’s weapons and ordered him to counselling, which Russell’s father said led to his son’s nervous conviction that the military was moving to discharge him. “If a guy actually goes to the clinic and asks for help, they think of him as a wimp and he’s got something wrong with him and try to get rid of him,” Mr. (Wilburn) Russell said. “Well, he didn’t go and ask voluntarily for help. They scheduled him in, and they set him up. They drove him out. They wanted to put as much pressure on him as they could to drum him out.” Russell’s father goes on to say: “I think they broke him,” the Times reporters write.

In the Post, Martin Weil profiles one of the five victims in the shooting, a 19-year-old from Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Developments in the north of Iraq dominate Campbell Robertson's report in the Times. Tensions have flared in Mosul as over 1,000 Arab tribesmen gathered before the provincial administration buildings demanding that Kurdish militia forces exit the province. The Pesh Merga paramilitary presence has angered Arab residents of Ninewa Province, while Kurdish leaders insisted that the militia, who do not recognize the authority of the newly elected provincial government, would not redeploy. Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded in the disputed city of Kirkuk, killing seven and wounding 18. Finally, the Islamic State of Iraq, the shadowy umbrella organization that includes the al-Qa'ida in Iraq organization, released an audio recording claiming to disprove Iraqi government assertions that its alleged leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi had been captured.

Daily Column
Shooting Took Place at Counseling Center, "Iraq: Hold And Build"
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/12/2009 02:00 AM ET
The story out of Iraq today is the killing of five US service members by one of their own, in a combat stress clinic located at Baghdad’s Camp Liberty. As is usually the case with such events, most papers featured have a prominent story about it. Also, a detainee who gave false data in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq dies in a Libyan prison, and an opinion piece warns of Iraq becoming another “forgotten war”, and collapsing.

From Baghdad
The Camp Liberty killings take the center stage, and are being called the single deadliest episode of soldier-on-soldier violence among American forces since the beginning of the war. So far, there is not a great deal of information being released by the military – the shooter is in US custody, but his identity, and that of the victims, are not being reported, though an AP wire story says the shooter is a male Army Sergeant. The articles invariably (and appropriately) become discussions about PTSD, and how it is dealt with. Defense Secretary gates said, "Such a tragic loss of life at the hands of our own forces is a cause for great and urgent concern." Other instances of “fragging” are mentioned.

The information in all the articles is all about the same, but The Wall Street Journal’s Yochi J. Dreazen and Gina Chon give the most compelling narrative by providing some context for the reader, both of the base and of the health care services provided there.
The area of the shooting is situated in a part of Camp Liberty that is popular because it is across from the Morale, Welfare and Recreation complex and near the cafeteria. A U.S. military official said the soldiers who witnessed the incident or knew the victims are receiving counseling because they are in shock from the incident, but he declined to give further details.

One soldier said he has to take a class about every two months in which mental health issues are discussed. He also said soldiers are assigned a battle "buddy," who is supposed to keep track of how his or her partner is doing and report any problems to the chain of command.
They also spoke to a soldier on the base who “heard several shots fired around 2 p.m. and wondered what had happened.” About an hour later, they write, his platoon leader checked on his men to make sure everyone was accounted for.

Before focusing on disturbing trends in GI suicide, Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post fills in some gaps on the incident.
The gunman was taken into custody shortly after the 2 p.m. shooting at Camp Liberty, part of a sprawling military installation near Baghdad International Airport, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Tribus said. The military did not identify the gunman or shed light on what his motive might have been. Tribus said the gunman's name will be disclosed when and if charges are filed.

..."A lot of soldiers are wondering why," said a senior military official in Baghdad, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We will be asking as leaders: What could we have done? How could we have protected the soldiers?"
Timothy Williams of the New York Times writes of the incident, and then gives a full rundown of other killings of GI-on-GI killings in Iraq. He mentions, as does Londoño in the Post that the US military released information on Monday about another United States soldier who died in Basra on Sunday, after his vehicle was struck by an IED. Also on Monday, Brig. Gen. Abdul Husain Muhsen al-Kadhumi, a high-ranking Iraqi police official in charge of traffic operations, was fatally shot while driving to work in Baghdad.

Gregg Zoroya and Alan Gomez of USA Today do not write much about the incident at hand, but rather contrast such killings with those which occurred in Vietnam.
Most troops in Vietnam were draftees, not volunteers like today, which made for more volatile circumstances, Anderson says. "You just can't relate this (rate of Iraq homicides) to Vietnam," he says.

Troops fighting counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan face enormous stress, says Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and former head of West Point's law of war program. "Every approaching person, every approaching car, every bump in the road can be the means of your death," he says. Still, he says forces in Iraq did not face the internal stressors and home-front issues that troops in Vietnam struggled with.
The Washington Post’s Peter Finn reports that a former CIA high-value detainee, who provided bogus information that was cited by the Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq war, has died in a Libyan prison, in an apparent suicide. Finn writes an interesting story which speaks to intelligence-gathering, rendition, secret prisons, and torture.

Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, and then “vanished into the secret detention system run by the Bush administration.” Libi was among dozens of former "ghost prisoners" who were in American custody overseas, according to human rights groups and a recently leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
He became the unnamed source, according to Senate investigators, behind Bush administration claims in 2002 and 2003 that Iraq had provided training in chemical and biological weapons to al-Qaeda operatives. ...The Defense Intelligence Agency and some analysts at the CIA had questioned the veracity of Libi's testimony, which was obtained after the prisoner was transferred to Egyptian custody for questioning by the CIA, according to Senate investigators.
The oft-referenced Anthony H. Cordesman (of the Center for Strategic and International Studies) writes that the war in Iraq, being “both a perceived "victory" and a war that many Americans and members of Congress would like to forget,” runs the risk of being the “forgotten war” (as we switch back to Afghanistan, which we are starting to remember again). Exiting without a strategy, he says, could lose both the war and the peace which might have followed. Cordesman advocates continued support for Iraq with military advisors, and equipment, as well as assisting with a host of rebuilding needs.
Helping Iraq does not mean pushing it into contracts with American firms or those that are not to Iraq's clear advantage. It does mean giving U.S. firms and teamed U.S. and foreign oil company efforts proper support, and prioritizing open, competitive bidding managed by the Iraqi government. Without this, Iraq cannot find the money to help bridge its ethnic and sectarian divisions, unemployment will get even worse, and young men will turn back toward violence. Iraq will not be able to make use of its past aid, pay for key services such as education and medical care, improve its infrastructure, or attract other forms of investment. In the short term, Iraq has no other options.
Christian Science Monitor, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Baghdad/KRG Oil Deal, Terrorist Traffic Via Syria Again Inching Up
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/11/2009 02:00 AM ET
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s surprise visit to Baghdad grabs the headlines, but brings no great developments. News of a re-invigorated insurgent route from Syria to Iraq and the first details on an oil deal between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government are the major stories. Only the New York Times and the Washington Post have original Iraq material today.

From Baghdad
Pelosi’s visit made it in the headline of two of the three Iraq stories. The most-reported sound bite was "We will have intense political involvement as we go forward," as it sort-of addresses future US involvement in Iraq. She didn’t talk troop levels, but the adjective “intense” makes it clear (from a vocally anti-Iraq war Democrat) that Baghdad’s US embassy isn’t being abandoned any time soon. Pelosi met with parliament speaker Ayad al-Samarraie and talked intelligence-sharing with Prime Minister al-Maliki.

The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid and Nada Bakri have an article dedicated to the visit, and has the basics. Fears among Iraqis that US disengagement is adversely affecting security are spoken of, as are the basics minutes of Pelosi’s discussions with the Iraqi leaders.
The talks focused on challenges in that relationship: the U.S. role in helping broker boundary disputes between Iraq's Arab and Kurdish regions, cooperation in intelligence to fight a lingering insurgency as the U.S. military presence diminishes, and efforts to combat sometimes spectacular corruption that has undermined faith in the Iraqi government.
Campbell Robertson of the New York Times has an article that splits itself between Pelosi and a deal between Baghdad and Erbil on oil contracts in Iraqi Kurdistan. For years, the issue of whether or not contracts signed by the KRG are legal has been a huge sticking point, and the political rhetoric has been repetitive, to say the least. Robertson covers the announcement of, if not the details to, a pact that would allow the Kurds to start exporting oil from two oilfields under its control.
Iraq’s central government had long insisted that it alone had control over Iraqi oil, and had refused to recognize any oil contract signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. It remained unclear on Sunday why Baghdad had softened its position or how the Kurds might benefit.
Both articles include mention of the ongoing corruption scandal in the Trade Ministry. After being on the lam for a week, the brother of Minister Felah al-Sudani was arrested.

Karen DeYoung writes of evidence that a network which smuggles foreign fighters into Iraq via Syria has again become active, just as the Obama administration is exploring a new diplomatic dialogue with Syria. In a departure from declarations of administrations past, US officials (from whom the information comes) point to unnamed elements within Syrian intelligence, but “have been careful not to directly accuse Damascus of supporting the traffic”.

From the title, it sounds like a story about insurgents, but ends up really being a fairly captivating policy piece. The carrots and sticks America is simultaneously using with Iraq’s neighbor are prominent, and the release of the information about the insurgent transit route comes across as being part of the US's policy strategy.
On Wednesday, acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey D. Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro arrived in Syria for their second visit since Barack Obama's inauguration as president. Two days later, however, Obama renewed U.S. sanctions against Syria, accusing Damascus of supporting terrorism in the Middle East and undermining Iraqi stability.

"I think it sends the message that we have some very serious concerns," Robert Wood, a State Department spokesman, said of the sanctions renewal. Feltman, he added, was "in Damascus to talk about . . . how we can get Syria to change its behavior and see if it's willing to really engage seriously in a dialogue, be a positive role in the Middle East. Up until now, Syria hasn't played that positive role."
Gen. Odierno said Syria, "has the opportunity" to stop it, and called on the Syrian government to "demonstrate a commitment to eliminating the use of its soil as a staging area."

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Al-Maliki Calls Fraud Top Worry, Once-Celebrated Iraqi Finds a Tough Life in US
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/10/2009 02:00 AM ET
Most of today’s Iraq coverage is in the Washington Post, but the New York Times makes an appearance. Topics covered are reconciliation, corruption, the readiness (or, willingness, rather) of Iraq security forces, and the not-so-rosy world of many Iraqis who have moved to America.

From Iraq
Sam Dagher of the New York Times files from Dhuluiliya, not far north of Baghdad, about the arrest of a Sahwa leader for his past insurgent activity, and how it demonstrates some of the inherent difficulties with the reconciliation process. It is a story which has been big in the Iraqi press, but the western media haven’t covered it much. The arrest in Baghdad of Sahwa leader Adel al-Mashhadani was front page news because it resulted in armed clashes, but this case is really more important for its ramifications on national reconciliation.

It is known that many Sahwa fighters were once aligned with al-Qaeda in Iraq or other insurgent groups – that was an integral part of the strategy (If you can’t beat ‘em, have ‘em join you). Often, shady pasts are known, but the specifics may not. Mullah Nadhim al-Jubouri is a great test case because he very visibly preached death for anyone who dared join the army or the police” from the pulpit, and his involvement in kidnappings for ransom, sectarian killings, and just about anything else you can think of appears to be well-documented. Al-Mashhadani’s charges were for activities since his Sahwa carreer – al-Jabouri’s for what he did before. Some kind of clean slate is implied in the Sahwa program, but the question here is - how much?

People like al-Jabouri are now seen as traitors by those still in the resistance, and he is arguably the most effective Sahwa members, precisely because of his activities and involvement. Dagher gives details, and the reader is left to make their own uncomfortable conclusions, in a time when there is much fear that such arrests might push some of these very active charter members back to previous team.

In the Washington Post, Nada Bakri reports from Baghdad about another topic that is on everyone’s lips in Iraq – corruption, and a speech about it which Prime Minister al-Maliki made on Saturday, stressing that the corruption was a problem no less pressing than the sectarian ethnic strife that brought Iraq to the brink of collapse.

"We should launch a campaign against those corrupt people just as we had launched a campaign against outlaws," Maliki said, but a gazillion charges made against his own cabinet is the biggest part of the story, as has been covered quite a bit lately. Bakri’s article will serve as an update for those who have been reading all the recent stories on graft, or as a primer for those who haven’t.
On Saturday, members of parliament said they were collecting signatures so they could question Maliki and some of his ministers about corruption, starting with the trade minister in the coming week. They need 50 signatures to bring Maliki before parliament, and several said they did not have that number but remained hopeful. The lawmakers have also called for Maliki and his ministers to face parliament at a regular weekly session.

"He treats us like enemies," said Wael Abdul-Latif, another lawmaker. "This is wrong. One branch has to work with the other." ...Maliki and his aides have long played down government corruption, and his speech might suggest an awareness on his part of a widening disenchantment with authorities.
Also in the Washington Post, Ernesto Londoño writes about the experience of Brad Blauser, an American contractor-turned non-profit distributor of wheelchairs to Iraqi children, and the not-so-successful first indications of cooperation from Iraqi security forces. There is the underlying all-too-common story of folks from countries like America being frustrated when their plans for how to help those in developing countries don’t line up they had hoped, though it is not really framed as such by Londoño. after giving a detailed account of the creation of Blauser’s organization ‘Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids’, the article focuses on the disinterest and ineffectiveness with which a group of Iraqi security forces played their assigned roll in an event which Blauser and the US military planned, to "Show them (Iraqis) that their government is trying to help its people." I guess it isn’t, at least not according to this plan. Kudos to the Washington Post for printing such a non-sexy article of this size, on a day when there are other stories about Iraq.

The Post finishes with Brigid Schulte's article about Iraqi immigrants down on their luck, one of whom found that even having rubbed elbows with the likes of George W. Bush and Colin Powell isn’t helping them pay bills. Iraqi refugees who have come to America have found the streets paved with something less than gold, and that the America, caught up in its own economic woes, isn’t quite making sure that arriving Iraqis have jobs. Schulte covers many Iraqi refugees incorrect expectation of being somewhat taken care of, once they would get to America, and gives examples of common hardships.

In 2004 Nazaar Joodi was put in front of televisions at the Pentagon and at the White House as a “living martyr” of Saddam’s regime (his hand had been chopped off and his head branded with a “X” for trading American money), intended to show that the 2003 invasion had been a worthwhile effort, just as things were starting to spiral out of control.
As he considered the bleakness of his options, Joodi's $50,000 "bionic" arm, a gift from U.S. business executives on his first trip, lay at his feet. A wilted American flag hung outside the living room window. Joodi, a frail-looking man at 45, nervously rubbed the stump from his amputated right hand. "Coming here was a mistake," said his wife, Shaymaa Mohammad, 34. "Everyone says, 'You're Bush's friend. . . . What has he done for you?' How can I tell them that this friend sends me to a homeless shelter? There is no friendship here."

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Iraqis Seek Death Penalty for Ex-U.S. Soldier Convicted in Rape/Murder of Iraqis
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/09/2009 01:58 AM ET
A pretty strong showing of news stories today. There aren’t a ton of them, but what we have are worth while and of compelling subject material. Other than the stories mentioned in the titles above, there is a look at the rising violence in Iraq, the possible US withdrawal exceptions, and poetry returning to Basra.

From Iraq
The New York Times’ Timothy Williams reports on the death of a 12 year old boy on Thursday, after a US convoy fired in response to a grenade being thrown at them. There are more details and bystander’s quotes than usually come out of Mosul, particularly a neighborhood like Raes al-Jadah which local merchants say is “controlled by jihadist groups that collect extortion payments from shopkeepers in order to finance their organizations.”

The US military said the boy, named Salwan Aido Iesho, had been the one to lob the grenade at them, but several witnesses familiar with both the boy said he was innocent, and well known in the area. Though a US military spokesman said that the incident “might reflect a new insurgent tactic of paying children to commit violent acts against American and Iraqi troops,” the article points to someone else, the other person killed by US gunfire. It was a man in his 20s, a shopkeeper said, and locals knew him too, as he had demanded extortion payments from them, accompanied by a local sheikh. Judging from comments made by Salwan’s sister, he was a Christian.
Another merchant, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that as the American vehicles approached, he saw a man standing next to him holding a grenade. He said he asked the man to leave.

“I saw him with the grenade and asked him to move away in case the Americans fired back,” he said. “He refused.” He added: “Suddenly the Americans were firing. They hit the boy in the back and the back of the head. My heart burned when they killed this boy.”
Also in the New York Times, Campbell Robertson and Atheer Kakan write that Iraqi officials and civilians called Friday for the death sentence for a former American soldier who was convicted of the rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, and the killings of her and three members of her family.

On Thursday, Steven Dale Green, an Army private in March 2006, when the event occurred, was convicted on the 17 counts brought against him, in United States District Court in Paducah, Ky. The jury is scheduled to meet Monday to begin weighing a sentence, as Robertson and Kakan write, “that will reach far beyond the fate of the convicted.” All over Iraq, and in particular Mahmudiya where the event occurred, people are waiting to see what the decision will be. The article gives plenty of background, and focuses on the decision as something of a test for Iraqis, as to whether America is serious about prosecuting its own who commit crimes in Iraq.
Three other soldiers from Mr. Green’s unit, the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne, were convicted of being present at or participating in the attack, and are serving sentences of 90, 100 and 110 years in military prisons.

...Mr. Green was charged with being the instigator, moving the girl’s parents and her young sister into a back room while two of the soldiers raped her. Mr. Green shot the family members before raping the girl and then shooting her repeatedly in the head and trying to set fire to her body.
Charles Levinson of the Wall Street Journal has a pretty darn thorough article on several disconcerting elements of Iraqi security. He begins as follows.
Violence is on the rise in Iraq as American troops withdraw. A ground-level look at the handover provides one explanation: The Iraqi government is neglecting many of the successful counterinsurgency initiatives it is inheriting from the U.S. military.
Levinson spends a good deal of time on ways that Iraq’s dwindled budget, combined with dried-up US funds are ending a lot of the jobs which might have kept would be insurgents busy and off the streets (among them, the 100,000 strong Sahwa fighters). Other issues are brought up as well, such as the closing of US bases which helped to provide security in violent neighborhoods, but the budget’s effect is the main focus. A graph showing Iraqi civilian deaths reaching low 2008 levels is included.

In the Christian Science Monitor, Jane Arraf writes sort of a sister-piece to her story a few days ago about improved security bringing back much of the city, except for jobs. Today, she writes of one thing that has come back – poetry.

When militia members openly walked the streets during the worst of the post-2003 sectarian violence, poetry (along with other examples of truly traditional Iraqi culture) could get one killed for activities deemed “un-Islamic”. Now, they’re yelling it from the rooftops – or at least from the radio stations. Arraf weaves quotes, observations, local understanding, and a clear love of Iraq into the kind of piece we need to see every once in a while, to balance out the bombs and less-than-perfect governance.
The station, an offshoot of Baghdad's Al Rasheed radio, which combines music, poetry and talk, is just two months old. But poetry here goes back centuries. To Iraqis, it is like breathing. In radio programs in Baghdad, callers phone in to request poems the same way one requests a favorite song. The death of a major poet is an occasion of national mourning.

Basra, as part of ancient Sumer, had an advanced civilization 5,000 years ago. The Sumerians were believed to have invented the first system of writing. The city, on the Shatt al-Arab, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet, is the setting for the epic tale of Sinbad the Sailor and tens of thousands of poems that followed.
Back in the New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller reports on an estimate by Gen. Ray Odierno, at a Pentagon briefing, which was the most specific yet for the extension of American combat operations in Baghdad and Mosul. According to Odierno, American combat troops have largely moved out of most other urban areas in Iraq. Though he declined to give numbers (saying they’re always changing), he did say that one-fifth of American combat troops would stay behind in Iraqi cities even after the June 30 deadline – a deadline which Iraqi politicians are constantly telling Iraqis is one which will be stringently adhered to.

There’s nothing too surprising, but Bumiller gives plenty of curt-sounding Odierno quotes provides and some analysis, too.
What General Odierno did not say was that the number is sensitive politically in both Washington and Baghdad at a time when President Obama and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq have pledged to reduce American troops in the country but as high-profile suicide attacks have increased. American commanders have already said that those combat troops who remain in the cities will be “remissioned” as trainers and advisers to the Iraqis, although many will still go on combat patrols.

Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Iraqi Forces Get Graded, Pentagon to Spend More on Afghanistan than Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/08/2009 01:58 AM ET
For the second day in a row, it’s only the Times and the Post reporting on the land between two rivers. The country’s security forces are shown as something of a work in progress, and Afghanistan’s budget is about to beat Iraq’s.

Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times gives us a front-page status report on Iraqi security forces, and a pretty darn realistic one. They’re not the best, but they’ve been a whole lot worse. It is one of the better articles on the topic, giving a wider view than is customary.

Though a portrait of a rising soldier is sketched, most of the ink is used describing their all-too-common shortcomings. Their numbers are put at 618,000, and though their capabilities are growing, they are still completely dependant on US forces for “basic military and police functions.”

Deaths are blamed on lax, inconsistent searching practices, and insurgents’ ability to infiltrate their ranks (often with just a uniform) is pointed out. Investigations by the Special Inspector General’s for Iraq Reconstruction are referenced more than once, and aren’t too complimentary, such as a Humvee training project that with a $682 million price tag, and which left the Iraqi Army’s ability to conduct maintenance operations and operate a supply system “questionable.” Details are added as the article goes, but the gist is given right at the start.
Iraq’s security forces, despite significant improvements, remain hobbled by shortages of men and equipment, by bureaucracy, corruption, political interference and security breaches that have resulted in the deaths of dozens of Iraqi and American troops already this year, according to officials from both countries.

The security forces are not on the verge of collapse. American officers who work closely with Iraqi forces emphasize the progress that has been made from the days when the security forces barely functioned, and point to a rising professionalism. Nor are rogue units routinely carrying out sectarian killings, as they were a couple of years ago. But a recent string of attacks by insurgents has highlighted shortcomings, large and small, despite billions of dollars in American training and equipment, the officials said.
The Washington Post’s Ann Scott Tyson reports that Afghanistan war funding surpasses the outlay for Iraq for the first time in next year's proposed Pentagon budget, demonstrating in numbers the shift in priorities that everyone’s been talking about.

In 2009, $87 billion was requested for Iraq and $47 billion for Afghanistan. In 2010, Iraq has been trimmed down to a lean $61 billion. What will we do with all the money we've saved? Well, with 21,000 additional troops on the ground in Afghanistan, and more planned for the future, the budget there for 2010 is set at $65 billion.

Tyson describes several changes that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is seeking to execute in defense spending, the topic of many an article of past months. Counterinsurgency wins over traditional large-scale military fights, as far as Gates’ bets are being hedged for future US adversaries. There isn’t a whole lot of Iraq-specific material, other than plans to get troops out.

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Ambush by an Ally Chills GI's Trust in Iraqi Units
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/07/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, the news about Iraq is all from Iraq. Two more car bombs exploded in Shi’a-populated areas, and the tipping point is reached for a switch from the upbeat US military’s wording about Iraqi security. Also, an attack on US troops by an Iraqi soldier they worked closely with hurts trust between the two.

From Iraq
Two car bombs killed at least 12 and wounded around 37 in Baghdad on Wednesday. The first was hidden in the back of a pickup truck, under a bag of potatoes, and caused almost all the casualties. Though the area, Dora, is largely Sunni, the market is mostly frequented by Shi’a vendors and patrons, continuing the trend in attacks on Shi’a targets. The second occurred at a gas station in central Baghdad, and appeared to target a police patrol. Both articles about it today have comparable information on the blasts.

Timothy Williams and Atheer Kakan of the New York Times write of the fact that almost all of the bombings which make up the recent rash of bombings seem to have been designed to kill Shi’a Iraqis, and that reprisals, as seen in the exceedingly deadly tit-for-tat sectarian bombings of 2005-2007, have not occurred, yet. Other than to bring it up prominently, they do not go to far into it, but it has been the focus of many previous articles, and besides yet another bombing of a Shi’a district, there really are no developments.

The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño and Aziz Alwan put the spotlight on the US military – on whether the bombings will extend the US presence in provinces like Mosul and Diyala. They have said (as has the Iraqi government lately) that the timeline for withdrawal will not be affected. The most interesting thing about the article is the change in phrasing that US military spokesmen are adopting – one that has been ringing untrue of late.
Top American military officials recently issued an order barring commanders and spokesmen from using the oft-repeated phrase "security continues to improve," because they deemed it "disingenuous" in light of the recent attacks, according to a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Back in the Times, Campbell Robertson and Stephen Farrell report on the effect that the death of two US troops in November at the hands of Iraqi soldiers they worked closely with has had on the relationship between the two, at least on the US side. There have been seven such deaths in the past six months. “The force that is providing us the security,” said a Captain who was present at the attack, “is one of the main threats.”

The attacks are seen as significant because the nature of the “transition team” of US soldiers in question is similar to the training and advisory roll which the US deployment is said to be filling more and more.
Brig. Gen. Keith C. Walker, the commander of the Iraqi Assistance Group, which oversees the transition teams, said that the shift to an advisory mission for American forces would mean changes to the way these teams worked, and that they would be integrated more fully into the rest of the military presence. But he acknowledged that there was only so much that could be done to prevent such attacks.
“There are always fringe elements or rogue elements that are there, and that risk is always present,” he said. “But as transition teams build relationships with their Iraqi comrades, I would just argue that the risk and uncertainty goes down. I wouldn’t say it’s gone.”

“The intel that we got was that insurgents are throwing down their arms and they were joining Iraqi security forces because they were able to make more money,” said another officer, also at the scene in November. “It seemed like we were on the same page,” he said.

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Iraqi Corruption Report Lists 1,552 "Dismissed" Cases Last Year
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/06/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, we have only one original Iraq-related news story, and it is fitting that the subject matter is corruption, a problem of seemingly incalculable scope in Iraq. It has always been a big issue, but it is coming to the surface and hitting the headlines a bit more these days.

From Baghdad
Sam Dagher of the New York Times gives an overview of the zillions of corruption cases that the Commission on Public Integrity (like an ethics commission) is currently juggling. The issue gained a major place in the Iraqi media when security forces sent by the CPI to arrest officials of the Trade Ministry were fired upon, and left having arrested only one of the nine they had set out to. Other than another article by Dagher on Sunday, US papers haven’t covered it. More info is given today, speaking to corruption, not as an issue for the Trade Ministry, but as an institutional one in Iraqi government.

The New York Times was given a copy of the CPI’s latest report, to be released next week, and it lists 99 corruption cases initiated last year against the Trade Ministry alone. Think that’s impressive? They’re in tenth place, far behind the Interior Ministry’s top place at 736 cases. The list of ministries involved in high levels of corruption (Interior, Justice, Municipalities and Public Works, Electricity) reads like a list of “Why aren’t things working in Iraq?”, and it seems to be a big part of the answer.

A major reason that corruption is so hard to combat is a law which could be said to create a teensy bit of a conflict of interest.
Perhaps more telling were the cases dismissed in the past few years as a result of a government amnesty and a law dating to 1971 that allows ministers to grant immunity to subordinates accused of corruption. The United States is pressing the Iraqi government to repeal that law.

Last year, 1,552 corruption cases involving 2,772 officials were dismissed as a result of the amnesty. Seven of the 1,552 involved corruption worth almost $50 million at the Electricity Ministry.

Since 2005, corruption charges have been brought against five ministers, who either were acquitted or fled the country.
Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
3 Koreans Found Guilty of Iraq Corruption, Situation in Basra
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/05/2009 02:00 AM ET
US tax dollars lost in fraud and corruption are the main focus today, with good old KBR at the center of most investigations. As usual, the numbers are staggering. Also, Basrans enjoy safety, but few jobs, and Adm. Mike Mullen says that Afghanistan is officially on the front-burner, instead of Iraq.

Overbilling, Bribery, and Extortion
Two articles from the states develop the story of graft in Iraq.

Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post writes that, In testimony before the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting, April G. Stephenson, director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, said that KBR, the Army's largest contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, is linked to "the vast majority" of suspected combat-zone fraud cases that have been referred to investigators, as well as a majority of the $13 billion in "questioned" or "unsupported" costs.

The article isn’t at all ambiguous – any folks who were high-level KBR managers in Iraq in past years might find it uncomfortable reading. 32 separate cases have been sent to the inspector general by investigators. Says Stephenson, "I don't think we're aware of a program, contract or contractor that has had this number of suspensions or referrals.”

Just how competitive the bidding was for the majority of KBR’s contracts is looked at by Nakashima. The answer? Not so much.
Stephenson also revealed that some $553 million in payments have been suspended or blocked because contract officials questioned them or said they were invalid. The payments were run up by KBR in Iraq, said commissioner Charles Tiefer, a contract law professor at the University of Baltimore.

The commissioners cited a May 1 letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates from Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), calling on the Pentagon to do more to recover more than $100 million in overcharges and excessive profits associate with KBR employees suspected of fraud.
In what the New York Times’ James Glanz, Eric Schmitt and Choe Sang-hun call “a new front in the rapidly expanding investigation of corruption in Iraq”, three South Korean military officers have been convicted of leading an extortion and bribery scheme in a reconstruction program in northern Iraq that was financed with over $70 million of United States taxpayer money.

Another officer, a colonel who directed the Korean Army’s reconstruction efforts in Iraq, has received a military reprimand, and a “senior American official” told the trio of Times writers that the official inquiry was expanding to include possible involvement of Kurdish government officials and others. They write an Iraq corruption story with a new dimension – international relations.
. The case is seen as deeply embarrassing by Korean military and civilian officials, who partly justified the mission as a necessary show of loyalty to the United States. “There is no doubt that this is a shameful incident,” a Korean Defense Ministry official said. “Our unit had done an honorable job during its four-year-and-three-month stay in Iraq. We hope that these few people did not damage that record.”

Although the convictions for accepting bribes of more than $25,000 in one branch of the scheme became official last month, they have not been previously reported in the West.
From Iraq
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf files from the southern city of Basra, where security has been vastly improved since one year ago, when militias ran the streets. In their absence (though they are often described as “waiting”), safety has become a reality, but so has extremely high levels of unemployment. Services, such as electricity and water, are pitifully low.

Arraf describes Basra through its people, as is common in her writing.
In the streets today, schoolgirls in white head scarves run to school past rivers of sewage. Down one of the twisting alleys, Raid Thamer Wadi sits outside his crumbling house in a wheelchair. He lost both legs two years ago, he says, when militiamen shot him as a punishment for drinking.
Particularly unflattering is her description of the British tenure in Basra, in the section entitled “False US and British Promises.”
Most Iraqis say that they (British troops) will be remembered for withdrawing from the city when it got too dangerous. ...As weapons from Iran came through porous borders, Shiite militias gained strength until they took Basra and its lucrative port. The British, under mortar attack at their base in the city withdrew to the airport, calling it "strategic overwatch."
Military Matters
That US military resources are being redirected from Iraq to Afghanistan has been apparent for a while, but Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post writes that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, finally came out and said it for the first time. He designated the war in Afghanistan as the military's "main effort,” or most important combat mission. Fighting "isn't over" in Iraq, he said, speaking of a country where U.S. troops still number at 136,000.

There isn’t a lot of new information, but Tyson puts the announcement in perspective a little (with a bit of a comparison to an announcement from an earlier year (and an earlier administration) when Iraq was clearly the priority. She then goes on to lay out some of the key security concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
The State Department Gets Musicians Together in Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/04/2009 01:58 AM ET
There is nothing original in either the New York Times or the Washington Post about Iraq, which is unusual. The main piece is a view of Iraq from the vantage point of Jane Arraf’s nearly 20 year career as a correspondent in Baghdad. Technically, it was published on May 3rd, but did not appear on the Christian Science Monitor’s web site until after yesterday’s US Papers Roundup posting, so is being included today.

From Baghdad
Jane Arraf’s cover story (on the now-weekly Monitor paper edition that just came out) tracks the lives of two Iraqi friends she has known throughout her tenure as the longest-serving Western correspondent in Baghdad, and how their lives have changed.

She tells of the contradictions of a vibrant, Saddam-era Baghdad “aware of its unique place in history”, the free-seeming days following the US invasion, the horror that followed, and the current contradictions which face both Iraqis, journalists, and those who are in both categories.

It is not a story of a bombing or any particular such event that will make headlines. It is as close to the “real” story of Iraqis as one is likely to get (if there is such a thing) – about change and adaptation over time, while one’s city and culture go crazy around them. Many watched this happen behind them, if they fled Iraq, as is the case with an Iraqi journalist named Nermeen, a friend of Arraf’s from the old Baghdad.
I knew dozens of Americans and Iraqis who died in this war. For Nermeen, it numbers in the hundreds. The challenge is to find meaning in it. On a recent day, I went with her to her apartment on Baghdad's Haifa Street, scene of some of the worst fighting in the war. She has only been back here four times in three years after moving to the relative safety of her parents' Kirkuk house.

"Welcome to my dusty home," she says, her high-heeled boots clicking on the parquet, coated in a layer of fine sand. The kitchen window has shrapnel holes. Seeing Nermeen again is like having a part of my life back – a part I'd lost while covering the war embedded with the US Army and Marines.
Kim Thai of USA Today covers a State Department program called Musical Overtures, a cultural exchange program which sends American musicians to other countries, and vice versa. An effort is being made to include Iraq and Afghanistan. The experiences of an American pianist who found that, music really did function as a universal language, and that he and Iraqi musicians could work cooperate while belting out some Duke Ellington.
Funding for the State Department bureau that runs Musical Overtures and other cultural programs expanded dramatically under President George W. Bush, from $900,000 to $10 million in 2008. The budget for 2009 is at $8.5 million.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has spoken of the need for such cultural exchanges as part of the Obama administration's emphasis on "smart power" — using non-military means as a way to expand American influence.
New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Photo
Babylon Opening, Gunfight Breaks Out as SoldiersTry to Arrest Trade Officers
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/03/2009 01:45 AM ET
Another case of an Iraqi soldier firing on his US counterparts in the vicinity of Mosul is today’s main story, followed by a gunfight which started when Iraqi security forces were attempting to arrest government officials on charges of corruption. The re-opening of the ancient city of Babylon is also covered.

From Baghdad
Ernesto Londoño and Dlovan Bwari of the Washington Post report on an Iraqi army soldier who opened fire on American soldiers Saturday just south of Mosul, killing two and wounding three. It is pretty straightforward article, with related information and not much analysis to speak of, except to say that “the incident raised fresh concerns about extremist infiltration of Iraq's security forces as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw”. US forces returned fire and killed him, according to US sources. About the same time, a different gunman fired upon other GIs on the same compound, but the outcome of that incident hasn’t been released yet.

Ninewa has been the site of two other similar shootings since this past December (though it is mistakenly listed as December 2007), and there has been serious talk for months about US forces staying in the violent province past the June 30 deadline. Deteriorating relations between US forces and the Sahwa are highlighted as well. U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested prominent tribal head and Sahwa leader Nadhim Khalil in Thuluyah, a town north of Baghdad.
The U.S. military in recent weeks stopped paying the 94,000 or so members of the Sunni paramilitary groups, called Awakening Councils and Sons of Iraq. They are now controlled by the Shiite-led Iraqi government, which many accuse of targeting members indiscriminately and not paying them on time.

"This is a conspiracy by the Iraqi government to eliminate all the patriotic Awakening leaders that would have fared well in the upcoming national election," Rabe al-Jaboury, an Awakening leader in Thuluyah, said in a phone interview. Jaboury said local Awakening leaders have given the U.S. military 48 hours to release Khalil.
"If they don't release him, all Awakening fighters will become like a fork in the eye of the government, even if we have to cooperate with al-Qaeda to fight the government," he said.

The New York Times’ Sam Dagher writes about another shooting, this one by officials in the Trade Ministry, which started as Iraqi security forces sent by a government anti-corruption commission attempted to arrest nine ministry officials. The incident happened on Wednesday, and has been covered by Iraqi media, but this is the first major western paper to pick it up, and credit should be given for doing so.

High-ranking officials at the Trade Ministry are charged with massive corruption by the Commission on Public Integrity, and eight of the nine employees which were named on arrest warrants reportedly escaped. The fact that they include two current director generals, four previous directors, the ministry spokesman and the minister’s two brothers, could serve to strengthen claims by the commission that corruption within the ministry is organized and institutional – using up to ten percent of the ministry’s finds. The charges have not been made public, though.
The trade minister, Falah al-Sudani, has not been accused, but on Saturday the Iraqi Parliament called on him to answer for corruption charges against several senior directors at the ministry and two of his brothers, who also work as his bodyguards. “The Trade Ministry has become one of the most significant arteries for corruption and squandering of public funds in Iraq,” Sabah al-Saedi, head of Parliament’s integrity committee, told reporters.
An unnamed source is quoted as saying that al-Sudani has been asked to resign.

Also in the New York Times, Steven Lee Myers writes that “after decades of dictatorship and disrepair, Iraq is celebrating its renewed sovereignty over the Babylon archaeological site — by fighting over the place, over its past and future and, of course, over its spoils.” What is left from what colonial archeologists didn’t cart off to Europe is dwindling, and the recent history of this quintessentially historical site is surprisingly damning of most involved.

Myers doesn’t stand on the sidelines, and sharply spells out how much blame there is to go around, from Saddam Hussein’s self-themed “reconstruction,” to US and Polish soldiers who caused incalculable and irreversible damage by using it as a base. Now, tourism officials are the ones who are seemingly doing their best to further erode what thousands of years have left standing.
The fight over ancient Babylon is about more than the competing interests of preservation and tourism. It reflects problems that hinder Iraq’s new government, including an uncertain division between local and federal authority and political rivalries that consume government ministries.
Myers draws the apt parallel to the “opening” of the Baghdad Museum, also against the strong wishes of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. In the case of the museum, though, the opening was at least a deceivingly temporary one, limiting the danger its treasures are exposed to. The biblical site of Babylon is set to be open without apparently taking proper precautions which might keep it from becoming crumbled dust, tracked out on the bottom of tourist’s shoes. A great story with many disconcerting details.

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
3 American Troops Are Killed in Anbar
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/02/2009 01:44 AM ET
There are only two original Iraq-related articles in the US paper roundup today, both from Baghdad, and both dealing primarily with the American military. Insurgent leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who Iraqi security officials claim they arrested one week ago, is featured. US military spokesman have repeatedly said they couldn’t confirm the identity of al-Baghdadi, but didn’t go into much detail. On Friday, they said the reason is that they have not been granted access to the detainee.

From Baghdad
The lack of access to prove or disprove the capture of al-Baghdadi gets the headline in Ernesto Londoño’s story in the Washington Post, but there isn’t too much new info about it that the headline doesn’t cover.

"We are in discussions with the Iraqis to determine how we can confirm or deny who he is," said Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, on Friday. "We have not had any access to him." Londoño explains the basic background about al-Baghdad which appears in stories about the arrest – that Iraqi forces have reported the capture or death of al-Baghdadi before, and that US forces aren’t even convinced he isn’t a fictional character.

The bulk of the article deals with topics also covered in a story by the New York Times’ Timothy Williams. Other than the statements concerning al-Baghdadi, the two stories are comparable, so I guess Londoño wins out as the better article, only for having that one extra element. Most information from both stories seems to come from Gen. Perkins, who called a “media roundtable” with a small number of western journalists on Friday afternoon at the US embassy in Baghdad.

The other points covered are as follows. Three US servicemen (two marines and a sailor) were killed in Anbar province on Thursday – no other information is available, except that April tallied out to become the deadliest month for US troops since September. Londoño writes...
However, a wave of suicide and car bombings over the past few weeks has sharply increased civilian deaths. At least 371 Iraqis and 80 Iranian pilgrims were killed violently in April, according to a tally by the Associated Press. The civilian death toll has increased every month this year. Five people were killed in a suicide bombing Friday at a coffeehouse near the northern city of Mosul, an Iraqi police official said.

Perkins said the recent bombings, most of which have targeted Shiites, were an effort by al-Qaeda in Iraq to foment sectarian violence. "The purpose is to generate ethno-sectarian violence, because ethno-sectarian violence is what generally escalates into an out-of-control situation," Perkins said. "The more chaos they generate here in Iraq, the better it is for them because they sort of thrive in a chaotic environment."
Also on Friday, two Iraqis were killed in a US raid on a house Tikrit. According to a US statement, an arrest warrant for the men had been issued by a local court, and the Americans were accompanied by Iraqi soldiers. Williams has the most details on the incident.
A member of the Iraqi police said that the raid had been conducted by members of an American Special Operations unit. The member of the police also said that one of the dead men, Imad Sulaiman, was a police officer, and that the second, Arkan Msir Sharji, was the officer’s cousin and a member of an Awakening Council.

Afterward, there was widespread anger over the deaths.

The episode was the latest of several house raids by American troops during the past week that have led to Iraqi deaths. On Sunday, American soldiers raided a house in the southern city of Kut and shot a police officer and a woman. The deaths set off protests, and later, an apology from the American military.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Abu Ghraib Guards Say Memos Show They Were Scapegoats
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/01/2009 02:13 AM ET
Today, a few papers cover the end of British combat operations in Iraq. Local police are accused of lax security measures, and American guards found guilty of at Abu Ghraib say that the “torture memos” show that the buck shouldn’t have stopped with them.

The UK, Packing up
On Thursday, the UK officially ended its combat operations in Iraq, just as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with his British counterpart, Gordon Brown, in London. They obviously don’t all leave on the same day, but the machinery is rolling to reduce the current 4,000 UK troops in Iraq to roughly one tenth of that. About 400 won’t be returning to Tipperary just yet, but will remain to help train Iraqi security forces.

Both articles which cover it, while naming significant security improvements which took place under the Brits’ watch, say the British military is leaving Iraq a bit tarnished, not least of all because of the wars’ great unpopularity at home. Blame from many in Iraq for Basra largely falling under control by militias for extended periods of time in past, plus London’s economic woes and blame make their rucksacks heavier for the ride home.

Kevin Sullivan of the Washington Post files from the city on the Thames.
The withdrawal of combat troops is unlikely to end debate about Iraq in Britain. David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, immediately called for a full-scale inquiry into Britain's role in the war, similar to the government investigation that followed the Falklands War in 1982.
It's been a long and hard campaign. There's been no question about that, and we've paid a very high price," Defense Secretary John Hutton said. "But I think when the history is written of this campaign, they will say of the British military: 'We did a superb job.' "
Majid al-Sari, a local politician, said Basra residents will forever be grateful for the role British troops played in ousting Saddam Hussein and for their investment in reconstruction projects. "But they leave behind more failures than successes," he said. "They let the militias control Basra -- that happened while they were watching."
For the Wall Street Journal, Alistair MacDonald in London and Charles Levinson in Baghdad give a bigger picture view of British defense, instead of making the article about just what has led up to the troops’ departure.
The U.K. military -- with a centuries-old reputation as a powerful fighting force -- has been severely cut in recent years, reflecting the country's diminished role in global affairs since World War II. Despite the cuts, London has made heavy demands on the military, which has fought alongside the U.S. in global hot spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

...Facing a dour economy and staggering government debt, the U.K. is widely expected to shrink its military power further still, despite criticism at home that the forces are so poorly funded they're ill-equipped for the roles they're asked to play. Such cuts are sapping strength from U.S.-backed military efforts in places like Afghanistan. The U.K. government says it remains committed to the military -- still one of the world's largest -- but wants armed forces tooled to fight modern conflicts, such as countering terrorist activities in failed states, rather than large-scale battles.
From Baghdad
USA Today’s Paul Wiseman writes that, in the aftermath of recent bombings in Baghdad, many police are being accused of providing ineffective security. He focuses on Sadr City, where twin bombings killed over 50 people on Friday.

The article is mostly small quotes from Sadr City residents, with paragraphs of analysis or explanation in between, and it gets the point across.
"They are not doing their duty," said Muhammad Hassan, 28, who manages his family's men's clothing store in Sadr City. "They are kind of relaxed and lazy, not tense like they were before."

Hamid al-Mualla, an Iraqi member of parliament, agreed. "Security forces start to feel too comfortable and don't do their jobs," he said. "They keep believing security has improved."

"People's psychology had changed," said Sadr City pharmacist Karim Jabr, 50. "We thought it was the end of violence."
The now-common scene of post-explosion anger directed towards Iraqi security forces demonstrates an expectation of safety on the part of many Iraqis that hadn’t been there during the worst of the sectarian violence.

If we search every car, we cause a traffic jam and people complain," said Abu Noor, a policeman at a checkpoint in Sadr City. "If we don't search, there's an explosion."

Josh White of the Washington Post writes the strongest piece of writing today, about one effect of the release of the “torture memos” – soldiers prosecuted for detainee abuse after the Abu Ghraib scandal (not to mention their lawyers) say that the portrayal of them as “a few bad apples” holds less water now.
It is unclear whether low-level soldiers who were convicted of crimes can retrospectively use the Justice Department memos to their advantage. Gary Myers, a New Hampshire lawyer who represented Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick on abuse charges, said that unless the soldiers knew about the policies specifically, the memos might be irrelevant in a courtroom. Still, Myers said he is going to use the recent developments to try to get Frederick's dishonorable discharge removed from his record.
Says Janis L. Karpinski, former Army Reserve general in charge of prisons in Iraq who was demoted and left the Army as a result of the Abu Ghraib scandal, "I always had a sense of betrayal because it's just disgusting. I'm sure those photos scared the hell out of them," she added, referring to Bush administration officials. "Here, in living color, you have a photographic rendition of your memos. Is that what they wanted it to look like? Guess what, that is what it looks like."

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at


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