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Daily Column
5 GIs killed as Sunnis leave cabinet; Democrats to force Iraq votes this summer
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/30/2007 01:23 AM ET
Politics and blood mark today's coverage, with The New York Times and the Washington Post offering dueling leads of the day's roundups. The Post emphasizes politics, but in Iraq and in Washington, while the Times covers the bases. Nothing really jumps out today, but it's a good selection of stories anyway.

Richard Oppel Jr. of the Times leads his story with the killing of five G.I.s in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora by a huge, buried bomb. (Seven were also wounded.) The attack brings to 330 the number of U.S. military deaths over the past three months, including 100 so far in June, making it the deadliest period yet for the American military in Iraq. Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil Jr., commander of the 1st Cavalry Division and in charge of Baghdad, said the coordinated attack, which included the bomb, small-arms fire and RPGs, was "very violent" and showed a level of coordination and sophistication the military hasn't often seen. These kinds of attacks are taking their toll: in the first six months of 2007, 574 service members have died, a 62 percent increase over the same period last year. Fil said the insurgents were some of the worst he's ever seen. "This is a skilled and determined enemy," he said at a news conference. "He's ruthless. He's got a thirst for blood like I've never seen anywhere in my life, and he's determined to do whatever he can." The threat of such attacks seems to have persuaded Moqtada al-Sadr to cancel the planned march to Samarra, Oppel writes. The government of Nouri al-Malaki said the route wasn't safe. Neither, it seems, is the government. Six Sunni ministers said they would boycott cabinet meetings to protest the attempted arrest of one of their own: Culture Minister Asad al-Hashimi, who is wanted in connection with a failed assassination plot on rival lawmaker, Mitha al-Alusi. The Times also picks up yesterday's story in the Post that the U.S. is investigating the attack in Khalis during Arrowhead Ripper in which 17 men were killed. Locals say they were civilians, the military says they were possibly insurgents.

The boycott of the Sunni ministers leads Joshua Partlow's roundup for the Post, with the ministers' return hinging on the formation of an independent committee to investigate the charges against al-Hashimi. They also want reform in the detainee system. Partlow adds that the Iraqi Accordance Front, to which the six minister belong, suspended its participation in parliament last week to protest the sacking of Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, also a Sunni. Over all, with six Sunni ministers and six ministers loyal to al-Sadr (they withdrew earlier this year), and the resignation of the justice minister, 13 of 34 cabinet positions are now empty. Partlow gets deeper into the thickets of Iraqi politics, reporting that the withdrawal of the six comes on the heels of an agreement between the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council and al-Malaki's Dawa Party to work together to fill cabinet seats with competent technocrats rather than party loyalists. Partlow also mentions the soldiers in Dora and ends with al-Sadr's cancelled march.

Ann Scott Tyson writes a single-source story for the Post on how Iraqis are signing up to join with the U.S. in its fight against al Qaeda in Iraq. According to Fil, a program to reach out to Sunni tribes is going well, with 1,500 fighters in the Abu Ghraib area agreeing to renounce violence against the U.S. and Iraqi government and join the Iraqi police. Fil also said the U.S. military isn't "arming" the tribes, former insurgents or militias and required them to take an oath of allegiance. Fil said attacks against Iraqis are down, while strikes against U.S. troops are up as they push into uncontrolled sections of Baghdad. It would have been nice if Tyson had talked to additional sources and/or explained why the U.S. military is referring to every insurgent as "Al Qaeda in Iraq" now.

Eilzabeth Williamson and Johnathan Weisman report for the Post that Democrats plan a legislative "surge" of their own after the June break, indicating that after facing Republican "obstructionism" on their domestic agenda, the Democrats would start introducing a slew of Iraq legislation designed to use the GOP's support for the war against it. Look for a replay of the binding troop-withdrawal timeline debate and demands for more accountability from President Bush and the Iraqi government. Banning permanent military bases is also on tap, along with the restoration of habeas corpus for detainees and the closure of Guantanamo Bay. Just to keep things interesting, they might force a vote on the deauthorization of the war. These proposals will come about once a week to force Republicans and the president to defend the war to a public just short of breaking out of the torches and pitchforks. "The idea, Democratic leaders said, is to engage voters who have turned against the president and have soured on a Congress that they still see as ineffectual," the two write. Sounds more like the idea is to play presidential politics with the war.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the Times focuses on Bush's reversal of political fortune, rather than the Democrats push, leading with the warning that the president "enters the final 18 months of his presidency in danger of losing control over a party that once marched in lockstep with him." More Republicans are growing disenchanted with Bush, and expect Iraq to dominate the next several months. Stolberg notes that September will be a test for Bush, when the surge will be re-evaluated in Congress. "He will almost certainly face Republican pressure to shift course," she writes.

Both the Post and the Times cover the United Nations Security Council 14-0 vote to finally shut down the commission charged with monitoring Iraq's programs of WMD. The Post's Colum Lynch and Warren Hoge of the Times mention the final comments after the vote of U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalizad, but the Post gets the irony award: "These efforts have demonstrated that the current government of Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction or delivery systems," said Khalizad. Neither, it seems, did the previous one.

In other coverage

Timothy Egan, a former correspondent for the Times, writes on his alma mater's op-ed page about Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, who was one of the first Republicans to break with Bush over Iraq. As famously said from the floor of the Senate last December: "I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. This is absurd. It may even be criminal." He has given up on Iraq and views it as incorrigible. Those in power "are more focused on revenge than reconciliation -- it's a quicksand of ancient hatreds."

Christina Shelton, an intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1984-2000, writes in the paper's op-ed pages a rebuttal of some sections of George Tenet's book. Her verdict: there were too connections between Iraq and al Qaeda, and Tenet is trying to be on both sides of the issue now.

Anthony Borden, executive director of the Institute for War & Peace, writes on the op-ed page an homage to Sahar Hussein Ali al-Haydari, 44, a female journalist gunned down recently in Mosul. Hers is a tragic story, and tragically commonplace in Iraq. A dedicated reporter, she wrote about honor killings, jihadis and sectarian conflict. She had already been shot and wounded last year. Borden notes that she is the 106th journalist killed since 2003 and the 84th Iraqi media professional to be killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Two other Iraqi journalists have been killed since her death. He also notes that attacks on female journalists are up all over the Islamic world: four have been killed (two in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, including Sahar) outside their homes in recent days, he reports. In Gaza, Islamists protested in the streets and called for the beheading of female Palestinian TV anchors who refuse to wear the hijab.

No Saturday edition

No Saturday edition

The Journal yesterday had a must-read by Greg Jaffe on the tensions affecting the officer corps over Iraq and lessons learned. Due to an editing error it was originally not included in yesterday's roundup. US Papers regrets the error.

Daily Column
General tensions; French Lessons; Bush says Iraq could be more like ... Israel?
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/29/2007 02:00 AM ET
Attacks and rapprochement of the sectarian sort were the two sides of the Iraq coin today, with a massive bomb killing Shi'ites in Baghdad while the big Shi'ite parties agree to a parliamentary truce. Algeria may hold some lessons for America in Iraq, while President Bush, defending the Iraq war, cites Israel as example for Iraq to follow. (No kidding.)

The Dawa Party and the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council agreed to set down the Kalashnikovs they had at each others' temples and work to keep Moqtada al-Sadr's people from ruining Iraq's government yesterday, Alissa Rubin writes for the New York Times, agreeing on paper to back appointments for cabinet posts based on experience rather than party allegiance. Officials hope this agreement between "moderates" in Iraq's parliament will grow to include Kurds and the Iraqi Islamic Party, the most moderate of the Sunni Arab parties, but it's unlikely the Sunnis will come on board, Rubin writes. There are tensions over the speaker of the parliament and the culture minister being on the lam. A Dawa spokesman says the agreement is open to everyone, including al-Sadr's people, but Iraqi politicians always say this and it can be safely ignored. The real plan is to prevent Sadrists from "derailing the program," a Western diplomat said. Dawa and SIIC have been wrangling over power for more than a year, and six cabinet seats are still unfilled. Rubin suggest, somewhat optimistically, that with the agreement the seats can be filled with competent technocrats instead of party loyalists and "improve life for Iraqi citizens." Kurdish parties, however, remain skeptical the newly harmonious Shi'ite bloc can maintain the cease-fire.

The Journal's Greg Jaffe has a major, in-depth piece about the tensions and conflicts between younger officers "exhausted from by multiple Iraq tours" and older generals on the lessons learned from Iraq. Furthermore, analyses coming from the various service branches hew mainly to expectations: An Air Force officer argues the U.S. military shouldn't commit to fighting guerilla wars while Gen. David Petraeus' rewrite of the Army's counterinsurgency manual argues that learning to fight guerilla wars is exactly what the military must do. Use more smart bombs! No, use smarter grunts! And the tensions between the junior and senior ranks of commanding officers is growing, Jaffe reports. At Ft. Hood, where a major general called a meeting to rebut an influential article critical of senior Army leadership by Col. Paul Yingling, the junior officers in the audience bristled at the idea that Yingling wasn't "competent" enough to criticize generals because he had never been one. Jaffe writes:

"If we are not qualified to judge, who is?" says one Iraq veteran who was at the meeting. Another officer in attendance says that he and his colleagues didn't want to hear a defense of the Army's senior officers. "We want someone at higher levels to take accountability for what went wrong in Iraq," he says.

Richard Oppel Jr. and newcomer to the Times Stephen Farrell tackle the roundup, leading with a bus bombing in the Shi'ite neighborhood of Baya that killed 25 people and wounded at least 50. Ten more people were killed Wednesday night by a car bomb in the Shi'ite neighborhood of Khadimiya. Oppel and Farrell note that the attacks come just days ahead of a provocative march by Moqtada al-Sadr's followers to Samarra. The two Timesmen get into the government's so-far flaccid response to al-Sadr's planned march, which is sure to inflame sectarian passions even further. After the bombing in Baya, an Iraqi national policeman cursed Sunnis and shouted, "We will finish you!" the Times reports. South of Baghdad near Madaen, Iraqi police found 20 decapitated bodies on the banks of the Tigris. Fifteen bodies were also found scattered around Baghdad, four people were killed by a car bomb in Mansour and 11 people wounded by a mortar attack on the Shorja market in central Baghdad. Three British soldiers were killed Thursday by a roadside bomb in Basra while on a foot patrol.

The Post skips the Shi'ite news and tops its John Ward Anderson roundup with news that the U.S. is investigating claims by locals north of Baghdad that America killed 17 villagers last week in a helicopter gunship attack instead of fleeing militants. At the time, the U.S. military called the dead men "al Qaeda gunmen" and said they were trying to flee Operation Arrowhead Ripper into Khalis from Baqoubah. But locals say the men were village guards trying to protect Khalis from just such an infiltration by al Qaeda. Anderson mainly follows the Times' reporting, giving a slightly lower casualty count of 22 killed in Baya and 40 wounded. He adds some more details on the headless bodies found in Madaen, saying they were all of men aged 20-40 with their hands and legs bound. Also, a U.S. soldier was killed and another injured in eastern Baghdad by a roadside bomb, bringing to 93 the number of U.S. troops killed in June. Since the beginning of April, 323 U.S. troops have been killed, making it the most deadly period for Americans since the war started in March 2003. Anderson gets the three British soldiers killed in Basra and adds that their deaths mark 156 British troops killed since the start of the war.

Examples to learn from?
At the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., Bush came to defend his Iraq war strategy and in a -- by now -- unsurprising display of tone-deafness, said Israel was a good example for measuring Iraq's success. As a "functioning democracy," Israel has not been destroyed by terrorism, Bush said. "It's not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities, and that's a good indicator of success that we're looking for in Iraq," write Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny for the New York Times. Oy, vey. The Times doesn't touch on the idea that holding up Israel as an example for the Arab Iraq to emulate might not play well in the Middle East; instead, it focuses on the Bush Administration's strategy of playing defense now that Republican senators are jumping ship. One sign however of the sea change Bush is facing: even at the War College he got, at best, polite applause and and skeptical questions. A woman asked if he was listening to his commanders -- of course, he said -- and a professor at the college asked if the U.S. was stretched too thin militarily. Bush said no.

The Christian Science Monitor runs a story by Jill Carroll about U.S. interest in France's war against Algerian insurgents as a lesson plan for Iraq. The Algerian war is of historical interest, and some of the tactics the French used -- pretty successfully, to be fair -- are applicable to Iraq (knowing community leaders, stationing troops among the people.) But there are big differences: The French deployed 500,000 troops in a country of 9 million and had help from skilled Algerian soldiers; they managed to seal the country's borders; the Algerian insurgency was unified and established diplomatic relations with neighboring countries and appealed to the U.N.; there were attacks inside France that killed 5,000 people and terrified the French. Perhaps most important, the French eventually left after the bombing campaign and extensive use of torture and murder by French forces caused political support at home to collapse.

In other coverage

Richard Butler, former head of UNSCOM, writes an op-ed calling for a permanent weapons monitoring commission in the U.N. if the world body agrees to U.S. and British suggestions to shut down the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, which was created specifically to monitor Iraq. While it seems common sensical -- there's not much need for UNMOVIC these days -- Butler says UNMOVIC was right about Iraq's weapons when it said there weren't any, so any attempt by Britain and America, the two countries that got Saddam's WMD intelligence so wrong and went to war over the U.N.'s objections, should be viewed with suspicion. "Their decision demonstrates the danger of substituting national intelligence for the assessments assembled by an independent, international body." Spoken like a true-blue U.N. lifer.

Zaid Sabah reports on the chronic gasoline shortage hitting Baghdad again this summer. It's an old story that happens every summer, but it's good to see attention being drawn to this problem. In addition to fuel for cars, Iraqis have to buy fuel for generators because electricity production is at the lowest since January 2004.

Melvin, R. Laird, secretary of defense for Nixon from 1969 to 1973, pens an op-ed for the Post on what he considers a model of responsible withdrawal from Iraq. Big surprise: it's the one he developed in Vietnam. Laird says that South Vietnam didn't collapse after U.S. combat troops withdrew, but because Congress cut off military aid to Saigon, and that's just what the Iraqi forces need. He's getting a bit ahead of the debate in Congress, however, as the talk is still of whether there is going to be a withdrawal next year or not, and aid to the Iraqi government hasn't bubbled up much from the policy wonks. (Unless you count that report from the Center for American Progress.)

Daily Column
War of the Mosques; a $150 Billion Contract Award; Iraq's Washington Lobbyists
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/28/2007 01:49 AM ET
News from and about Iraq was sparse and scattered today, what with all the news about Tony Blair stepping down. Accordingly, no single story rises to the top. If it can be said there is any thematic linkage in the coverage, it would be God, Money and Oil -- pretty much what you would expect out of Iraq.

The New York Times provides the sole daily roundup of Iraq's events, with Alissa Rubin leading with the news that talks are underway regarding the arrest warrant for Culture Minister Asad al-Hashimi, wanted for plotting the assassination of a rival politician in 2005. According to a spokesman for Hashimi, the talks involve three demands: release of the minister's 42 bodyguards who were arrested, the "restoration of the minister’s good name" and a new, independent investigation. Since the bodyguards have already been released, it sounds like he just wants the whole thing to go away.

Elsewhere in Iraq, an American soldier was killed and four others injured in mainly-Shi'ite eastern Baghdad by a roadside bomb, 21 bodies were found throughout Baghdad and a bomb killed a policman. Rubin describes the violence as "scattered." A car bomb in the usually quiet Kadhimiya killed two people and wounded four. Another roadside bomb killed three people north of Baghdad. A deadly encounter in Sadr City is disputed by local residents and American troops, and Americans are trying to break off locals from insurgents in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhimiya -- with little success. The U.S. military announced the death of a Marine in Anbar on Tuesday.

Northern Iraq is heating up, Rubin writes, probably because of militants from Baqoubah who fled Operation Arrowhead Ripper. Kirkuk police arrested 10 gunmen from Diyalah who carried material referring to the Islamic State of Iraq, a front group for Al Qaeda in Iraq. Another journalist was killed in Mosul and four cops, along with two civilians, killed in Samarra after a bomb exploded and the police opened fire.

The Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher reports on the War of the Mosques going on in Iraq, as rival Shi'ite and Sunni clerics and politicians jockey to claim credit for protecting the respective sects' holy places. Iraqi vice president didn't really help things one Friday when he told worshippers at the Khulani that Sunni extremists "want to strike your religion, sect, and faith. They trespass on the shrines of our imams." Other than stirring up sectarian passions, the government doesn't seem to be doing much. In the last month, six of Iraq's most important Shi'ite mosques and shrines have been attacked by bombings, Dagher reports, with Shi'ite leaders blaming the U.S. and its "agents" in order to extend its stay in Iraq and Sunni leaders blaming the Iran, as part of a "Persian plot" to eradicate Sunnis. The Sadrists are guarding the Shi'ite mosques, while the Sunnis are using the attacks as a rallying cry to the insurgency. It's a very tense situation.

The Washington Post offers no reporting out of Iraq, but does look at the all-important logistics contract that for years had been dominated by one firm (KBR in recent years). This time, the $150 billion contract has been awarded to three firms, including KBR, ostensibly in order to encourage competition and accountability. Dana Hedgpeth reports that the contract to house and feed troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait has been granted to Fluor Intercontinental of Greenville, S.C., DynCorp International of Fort Worth and KBR of Houston, with each company awarded $5 billion a year in a contract that can be extended for up to nine more years. Because of allegations of overcharging, poor record-keeping and inside influence thanks to Vice President Dick Cheney, awarding KBR part of the contract partially vindicates it, according to Lexington Institute, a defense research organization. The Times runs an un-bylined piece that adds nothing to what the Post covered.

The Wall Street Journal runs a story by Ayesha Daya about Iraq's move to change some of its old Hussein-era oil contracts in preparation for the new oil revenue law expected to be passed within the next two months. Contracts with China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam would be altered under the new law, but, frustratingly, Daya doesn't explain how the contracts would be changed or renegotiated. Thamer al-Ghadhban, an advisor to Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, said only that the contracts would be "amdended," over and over again.

USA Today runs a pair of stories by Matt Kelley on Iraqis' increasing sophistication in Washington's corridors of power. That's right: they're hiring more lobbyists. Since the start of the war in March 2003, 18 lobbyists and firms have registered to represent Iraqis, who have paid the lobbyists more than $16.7 million through January of this year -- more than 10 times the amount Iraqi opposition groups spent in the 12 years prior to the invasion, Kelley writes. Within the Iraqi government, seven politicians or factions have hired lobbyists, including the Kurds, a Sunni group called al-Tawafuq and Ayad Allawi. The Kurds want increased investment in the north and backing for the plan to seize Kirkuk, while al-Tawafuq wants more Sunnis in the security forces. Allawi presumably wants to be prime minister again. The biggest spender, however, is the Iraqi government ($13.4 million) in its quest to reduce Iraq's foreign debt from $140 billion to $30 billion and investigate fraud in the Oil-for-Food Program under Saddam.

In other coverage

Linda Feldman gets in a second-day analysis in on the break with the White House over Iraq by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. Norman Ormstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says Lugar's break is significant and comparable to when President Johnson lost support of the Democrats during the Vietnam War; it marks a real clipping of Presdient Bush's wings. Feldman advances the story a little by pointing to other Republicans who might bolt, including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the Senate.

The Post runs a Tony-friendly editorial, praising the former British prime minister for his steadfast alliance with the United States and his "principled" belief in internationalism. Blair's support for the Iraq invasion, the Post writes, arose from convictions "which were clearer and more principled than those of Mr. Bush."

Daily Column
Kurdish tensions; Cultural offense; Summer Reading
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/27/2007 01:47 AM ET
The discontent of Sen. Richard Lugar, Kurds and Kirkuk, and the raid on a Sunni lawmaker's home dominate Iraq coverage today, and all the papers have at least some offering, making for a full day of reportage for the Baghdad press corps.

The break with Bush's strategy by Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the GOP's eminence gris of foreign policy, said the surge had very limited prospects for success and that the U.S. should start drawing down its forces. His defection gives political cover for other respected Republican such as Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, to also question the current strategy, putting pressure on the White House. "We don't owe the president our unquestioning agreement," Lugar said.

Karen DeYoung and Shailagh Murray of the Washington Post report that Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the former chairman of the Senate Armed services committee praised Lugar's speech to an nearly empty chamber last night as "an important and sincere contribution" to the Iraq debate. Neither Lugar nor Voinovich have turned into tie-dye wearing peaceniks, however. In his speech, Lugar called for a "sustainable military posture" while Voinovich sent a letter to President Bush calling for a "responsible military disengagement." DeYoung and Murray quote Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as saying that Lugar's speech was a "potential turning point" in the debate, "adding that he looks forward to Lugar putting 'his words into action by delivering the responsible end to the war that the American people demand.'"

The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny covers much of the same, but gets some quotes from other wavering Republicans. "The one real disappointment is that the Iraqi government has not stepped up and fulfilled what we think is the role that they need to play," he quotes Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., as saying. "If that doesn't happen quickly, I'm sure more of us will come to the conclusion that Senator Lugar has." He also gets some behind the scenes scramble. The White House hastily called a meeting between national security advisor Stephen Hadley and Lugar, pointedly noting that it took place on Lugar's "home turf": Capitol Hill.

The Times and the Wall Street Journal both have stories on Kirkuk and Iraqi Kurdistan today, with the Journal explaining the ins and outs of the Kirkuk tinderbox while the Times goes for the north as a haven for business and Christians.

Yochi Dreazen of the Journal notes that while the surge may focus on Baghdad, Kirkuk could shape Iraq's destiny as much as any other city. The two main power centers of post-Saddam Iraq, the Kurds and the Shi'ites, see eye-to-eye on almost everything except Kirkuk. The Kurds want it and its oil reserves to be part of Iraqi Kurdistan while the Shi'ites want to keep it (and its oil) in Iraq. The Kurds have threatened to pull out of the delicately balanced coalition government of Nouri al-Malaki if they don't get a referendum in October, as specified in Iraq's constitution. The Malaki government, however, has yet to set a date or allocate any funds for the vote. "We cannot pick and choose which articles of this constitution get implemented and which don't," said Qubad Talabani, a representative in Washington of the Kurdish regional government and the son of Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani.

The Times runs two stories on Iraqi Kurdistan, one by Sabrina Tavernise and another by Kirk Semple. Semple opens with what seems a preposterous idea: The Kurds will challenge Dubai as the Middle East's main transportation and business hub. But the Kurdistan Regional Government is investing $325 million in a modern terminal at the Erbil International Airport and a three-mile-long runway that will be able to handle Airbus's new jumbojet, the A380. Semple notes the Kurds are targeting investors in America and Britain with a slick ad campaign called "The Other Iraq," while housing developments are taking on the flavor of American suburbia. One project, Dream City, is advertised as "the most elegant square kilometer in Iraq." It will include 1,200 houses priced from $120,000 to $700,000, and will include a supermarket, a restaurant, recreation areas, a casino and a mosque. However, corruption and the threat of violence creeping up from the south are a constant worry. Douglas Layton, director of the Erbil office of the Kurdistan Development Corporation, still keeps bodyguards outside his office and a Kalashnikov leaning against the wall behind his desk.

Tavernise looks at the exodus of Baghdad's Christians to the safe haven of the north, Kara-Ula, in the northern tip of Iraqi Kurdistan. Ironically, it was here in 1975 that Saddam Hussein drove from their farms the parents of the current internally displaced people in one of his many sectarian relocation plans. They ended up in Baghdad in some of the neighborhoods now being cleansed of Christians. With the current violence, they're coming back.

Both the Times and the Post top their roundup pieces with the news of the arrest warrant for Culture Minister Asad Kamal al-Hashimi, wanted for approving and planning the assassination of lawmaker Mithal al-Alusi, who had been harshly criticized for his visit to Israel in 2004. (Alusi survived the attack, but his two sons and a bodyguard were killed.)

John Ward Anderson writes for the Post that a "dragnet" descended on the Green Zone as Iraqi law enforcement officials sought al-Hashimi, who was an imam at a Sunni mosque at the time of the attempted murder. Alusi talked to the post and adds to the intrigue on the story. Hashimi is hiding in the Green Zone at the home of a senior Iraqi leader, Alusi said, hoping to broker a deal. He said he had been contacted "indirectly" about a deal, but he refused, saying it was a matter for the justice system. Anderson also reports on the killing of a U.S. soldier in clashes with the Mahdi Army in Diwaniya, about 100 miles south of Baghdada. The Islamic State of Iraq, which claims to be an umbrella group for Iraqi jihadists but which is mainly a platform for Al Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the Mansour Hotel attack.

Richard Oppel Jr.'s piece in the Times gets less into the intrigue -- no exclusive interview with Alusi, it seems -- but he does paint a broader picture, noting that "it is not unusual for the authorities to raid the homes of lawmakers" and that Hashimi is the first cabinet member to be charged with a "serious" crime. Although the lawmaker wasn't home when the 5 a.m. raid went down, Iraqi forces arrested 42 (!) bodyguards. "We think this whole thing is a setup," said a spokesman for Hashimi's party, the Iraqi Consensus Front, which is the main Sunni political bloc in Parliament. Oppel reports on the clashes in Diwaniya, but says they were clashes between the Mahdi Army and forces allied with the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. Seven people were killed and Iraqi reporters trying to cover the violence were threatened, with one being arrested, beaten and his equipment taken. Police told reporters that Malaki's office had forbidden any coverage of the Shi'ite-on-Shi'ite clashes. Oppel says a Marine was killed in Anbar on Tuesday.

In other coverage

Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, argues in an op-ed column that America owes the Iraqis sanctuary from the violence unleashed in their country. While this is a familiar argument to regular readers of, Bacevich gets at some of the nuances of the moral responsibility Americans have toward Iraqis, not what America owes Iraq. It's a subtle argument and touches on the opinion that most Americans haven't collectively shared the responsibility for the Iraq war. "Instead, 'we' have off-loaded our responsibility onto the backs of a relative handful of US troops, many currently serving their second or third combat tour." How to shoulder the moral burden as a group instead of letting others do it for us? For Bacevich, the answer is simple: get out, let them in, help them.

The Monitor's Jill Carrolll, Dan Murphy and Scott Peterson comb through the selection of Iraq books and pick out the must-read tomes on the war. Expected picks ("Fiasco" by Thomas Ricks) and overlooked gems ("Generation Kill" by Evan Wright) are in the mix.

Alissa Rubin writes the obituary for Nazik al-Malaika, 83, a poet from Baghdad well-known throughout the Arab world. She was an "early exponent of free verse in Arabic" and died in Cairo of natural causes. Her works, Rubin writes, "were poignant reminders of Iraq's cultural renaissance in the mid-20th century. Baghdad was then considered the Paris of the Middle East, and poets and artists flocked here to work."

On the op-ed page, Robert McFarlane, a former national security advisor for President Reagan, takes a more optimistic view of the recent gathering of Iraqi clerics organized by Canon Andrew White, an Anglican bishop who's been doing yeoman's work in Iraq for several years. Where most others see business as usual and yet another inconclusive gathering -- there have been several over the past four years like this one -- McFarlane sees hope and the possibility of reconciliation. As smart as McFarlane is, this op-ed frankly reads like someone who's never been to Iraq before.

Michael Gerson, Bush's former chief speechwriter who coined the phrase "axis of evil," weighs in on the Washington Post's op-ed page, "arguing" that Democrats are rushing headlong into disaster by proposing "precipitous" withdrawal plans leaving only some forces in the region to maintain a presence. "How effective has it been to fight terrorist networks in Pakistan from a distance? How effective has it been to fight genocide in Sudan from a distance? This is less an argument than an alibi." We're fighting genocide on the ground in Darfur? Does the Pentagon know? Gerson's piece itself is less an argument than a set of incoherent, dishonest -- he misrepresents the early part of the war, for example, as well as most of the Democrats' plans -- and rambling talking points.

Courtland Milloy, a Post op-ed columnist, tells the story of Michael Sparling, an unofficial greeter and concierge at Walter Reed's Mologne House who, through love of son and country, is waging an increasingly lonely crusade over the war's righteousness. To the majority of Americans who don't believe the war was worth it? "They don't know what's going on over there," he snaps. To the senators like Lugar and Voinovich who question whether the strategy is working? "If we start questioning the war, what does that say to our soldiers? If people don't agree with the war effort, the least they can do is keep their mouths shut." Such patriotism might be called blind, infuriating or arrogant -- and it would be coming from those who haven't watched a son writhing in pain from war wounds. His son, Joshua, 25, is an Army ranger who lost a leg to an IED while on patrol in Iraq and his father has depleted his savings caring for him in Mologne House. Sparling's prickliness -- and his efforts to bolster the morale of other soldiers and their families -- is an understandable reaction for a father who desperately wants to support his son and his buddies. Sparling's work at Mologne house is exemplary, Milloy writes.

Jim Michaels reports on the delicate balancing act U.S. troops must manage as part of their surge duties. Iraq's security services, still dominated by Shi'ites, often break the carefully brokered relationships American troops have made with Sunni leaders. Michaels' pieces is a look at the strategic thinking behind the surge and determines that it's mostly working from a military standpoint: murderous neighborhoods are safer, stores are reopening. But the Iraqi Shi'ite political leadership is not taking advantage of the breathing space the Americans are creating to make hard compromises.

Daily Column
Hotel Attack; Militant Getaway; Refugees' New Life
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/26/2007 01:59 AM ET
Most papers lead or play big the news of the attack on the Mansour hotel that killed 12 people, including six tribal sheiks from Anbar. The Washington Post fronts, however, fronts a must-read on the war's effect on Iraqi youth. In addition there are the expected updates on Arrowhead Ripper and roundups of the day's violence and news. Tuesday proves to be an unexpectedly meaty day for coverage from Iraq.

Both the Post and the Times use the attack on the Mansour to talk about the wave of bombings that swept Iraq yesterday. Richard Oppel Jr. and Ali Adeeb of the Times report on A1 that four sheikhs were killed, not six, but have good detail from inside the hotel, talking with more staff members and witnesses than the Post. Oppel and Adeeb note that this was an attack on "one of the rare bright spots for the American military," the alliance of Sunni tribal sheikhs against jihadists in Anbar province, and manage to talk to Ali al-Hatim al-Suleiman, a senior leader of the Anbar Salvation Front, the grouping of tribal sheikhs allied with the U.S. "His voice filled with fury," al-Suleiman expressed doubt the damage could have been caused by a suicide belt alone, suggesting a planted bomb, and hinted that the government had a hand in the attack. "There are a lot of security measures around the hotel, checkpoints and security forces,” he said. “How would they manage to go through all these measures? This is silly to suggest that Al Qaeda did this. We can not blame Al Qaeda for everything!" Suleiman's uncle was at the meeting, but escaped without injury.

The Post stuffs the news of the Mansour hotel attack, by John Ward Anderson and Naseer Nouri, and use it to top their roundup. They manage to place the bombing in the context of the larger violence: five bombings in Iraq killed 54 people, and the hotel attack wasn't even the deadliest one. (See below.) The duo report that the meeting included Sheikhs who had broken with the Anbar Salvation Front, and adding further intrigue to the attack, the Iraqi Interior Ministry is focusing its investigation on people inside the hotel -- either guests or staff. A source there told the Post the explosive vest used to was too big to go unnoticed by hotel security. Maybe Suleiman is right that it was an inside job with a planted bomb?

Howard LaFranchi and Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor use the attack to write an excellent front page riff on the effectiveness and wisdom of the U.S. strategy of allying with tribal sheikhs, which has come under fire from more than just suicide bombers. The two note, "the approach is facing growing criticism from both Iraqi politicians and military experts. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has complained that the initiative is creating militias outside its control and undermining his plan to strengthen the central government's control over security forces." The reporters find civilian and military critics, who charge that this alliance will only be a temporary one. "They are doing it for reasons of financing, to make money, and to control turf in the Sunni parts of the country," said Bruce Reidel, of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington "It's unlikely they will be reliable allies in the long term." He points to a sheikh he calls a "highwayman," who once worked with al Qaida in Iraq robbing travelers on the Baghdad-Amman highway and divvying up the loot. "At some point such 'allies' can be bought back by the opposing side," he adds, "and then it becomes a bidding war."

Kudos to the Post for fronting the effect of the war on Iraq's children. In today's must-read, Sudarsan Raghavan highlights the trauma the Iraq's youths are enduring, and the likely effects on Iraqi society when they grow up. Hint: It won't be good. The violence and trauma to children who have witnessed the murder of parents, relatives and friends is straining the few resources Iraq has to care for its children. Girls as young as 13, such as the lead protagonist, Marwa, are caring for even younger siblings after being orphaned, becoming surrogate parents before they've had time to leave their own childhood. "The societal impact is going to be very bad," predicted Haider Abdul Muhsin, one of the country's few child psychiatrists. "This generation will become a very violent generation, much worse than during Saddam Hussein's regime." Raghavan offers these frightening statistics:

Since the U.S.-led invasion, 4 million Iraqis have fled their homes, half of them children, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. Many are being killed inside their sanctuaries -- at playgrounds, on soccer fields and in schools. Criminals are routinely kidnapping children for ransom as lawlessness goes unchecked. Violence has orphaned tens of thousands.

Only about 60 psychiatrists remain in Iraq, most of whom specialized in treating adults before the war. The World Health Organization surveyed 600 children between ages 3 and 10 last year and found 47 percent had been exposed to "a major traumatic event" over the last two years. Another study of 1,090 youths in Mosul found that 30 percent showed symptoms of PTSD. Toy weapons are among the best-selling items in markets. Children playing in the street pretend to blow up passing cars with imaginary RPGs. At schools, kids are asking who is Sunni and Shi'ite, despite teachers' attempts to emphasize their common Muslim faith. Teachers report kids fighting on the playground invoke militias, such as the Mahdi Army or the "resistance," as a threat to other kids. Older children are looking to join militias themselves. Perhaps most awful, child specialists think that 80 percent of traumatized Iraqi children never get help because of the stigma attached to going to a psychiatrist. In all, a bleak but important story.

The news from Baqoubah is mixed today, with both the Times and Post noting that U.S. forces aren't facing the stiff resistance they expected but that there are a large number of booby-trapped houses in the city. Both papers also note the probable escape of much of the Sunni militants the U.S. intended to flush out or kill.

Joshua Partlow of the Post offers a wide-ranging piece, describing the house-by-house clearing operations U.S. troops are conducting as well as several scooplets. The western side of the city is under U.S. and Iraqi control, he writes, but senior commanders in the operation expect the insurgents to retun "in about two weeks." Partlow also notes that U.S. troops are building concrete barriers around neighborhoods in the western half of the city, mirroring a controversial plan in Baghdad that many residents complained was designed to divide Sunnis and Shi'ites from one another. Partlow also gets at the human motivation behind Arrowhead Ripper, reporting that the operation's genesis was earlier this year when Col. Steve Townsend, who is in charge of the operation, sent a battalion of Stryker combat vehicles to help out the local commander in Baqoubah. Both Townsend and Col. David Sutherland, the local commander, agreed after one deadly day that should an operation such as this one go down, they would work the province together. And both men said they wished their higher-ups had moved sooner. At least 49 people have been killed in the operations and perhaps as many as 100, Partlow reports, with U.S. and Iraqi forces capturing at least 65 people. More than 48 IEDs have been found and a bomb factory discovered. Partlow also reports that intelligence reports say the insurgents have fled to towns such as Samarra, Khalis and Khan Bani Saad.

While the Post goes wide-ranging, the Times looks through the other end of the telescope, focusing on the travails of the men of Comanche Company’s First Platoon as they navigated an urban minefield. Michael Gordon paints a terrifying picture, of pressure plates linked to mines in the front doors of empty houses and of streets spider-webbed with copper cables used by insurgents to trigger buried IEDs. Soldiers are faced with a choice of endangering themselves or calling in air strikes to level entire city blocs. Gordon writes: "The use of house bombs is not a new trick, but as the soldiers were to learn, the scale was daunting. The entire neighborhood seemed to be a trap." In one case, the platoon found one house bomb, or H-BIED in the military's jargon, and retreated to another house to call in an airstrike to destroy the booby-trapped structure. The second story of their haven, however, was also booby-trapped forcing the soldiers to scramble out of there, too. They retreated to a cleared building where they were safe, but they were back where they started. The insurgent strategy is dastardly and brilliant at the same time: "The insurgent strategy appeared to be to use deep-buried bombs under the road and small-arms fire to force the soldiers to take refuge in the houses adjoining the route — and then to blow them up," Gordon writes. Townsend said the network of housebombs was the most extensive he had ever seen in Iraq. The question that wasn't answered in this on-the-ground look is how did the insurgents have so much time to wire entire neighborhoods?

Gordon's second story of the day looks at American frustrations with the ability of insurgents to melt away. Townsend, the operation's commanding officer, told reporters that at least half of the 300-500 fighters had escaped. The goal of securing Baqoubah seems to be proceeding apace, however, and "I am pretty satisfied, with the exception of my own goal to kill and capture as many as possible so we don’t have to fight them somewhere else," he said. The fight is far from over, though, he said, and he expects militants to counterattack somewhere. And once again, a senior American military officer seemed to rue too much talk about Diyalah province and its capital, Baqoubah. "The coalition was very open, very public about our intentions to come to Baquba as part of the surge," said Townsend. But even so, some insurgents seemed to slipped away right before the start of the operation. "How they got that word I don’t know," he said.

Of the three stories, Partlow of the Post gets maybe the best line in, though: Baqoubah "feels like a long-abandoned metropolis on a planet too close to the sun." Ah, Iraq.

The day's roundups are folded into the larger story of the attack on the Mansour Hotel, but the Post still manages to give a good account. (The Times offers but a single paragraph in its story.) The Post's Anderson and Nouri, as mentioned above, report that beside the hotel attack, four bombs exploded around Iraq, with the deadliest attack being a suicide attack using a loaded oil tanker against a police station in Baiji, about 125 miles north of Baghdad. The explosion killed 30 policemen and prisoners and wounded 55 other people. U.S. military officials say, however, that the police station was hit by two car bombs, followed by an insurgent attack with small arms and RPGs. No explanation is given for the conflicting accounts. Another suicide attacker ran a black Chevy Caprice into a group of police cadets waiting outside the Hilla police station 60 miles south of Baghdad and blew himself up, killing eight and wounding 31. A car bomb in Mosul killed two policemen and killed 20 and the Post quotes Reuters as saying yet another suicide car bomb blew himself up at a police checkpoint in Siniyah, nine miles west of Baiji, killing two soldiers and wounding three. The Time's account of the Baiji account has 27 people killed, including 13 police officers and 60 wounded. The car bomb in Hilla was reported to have killed eight and wounded 25. Anderson and Nouri also mention the latest report from the International Crisis Group that says the descent of Basra into chaos while under British occupation is an example of Baghdad's probable future.

In other coverage

Ann Scott Tyson reports from Washington that Iraqi forces are far from self-sufficient and won't be ready to assume responsibility for Iraq for at least two years. Brig Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, the commander of the Iraqi Assistance Group, warned that the training shortfalls should make the U.S. cautious about reducing the number of troops in Iraq from 157,000. Pittard seems to be pushing back against last week's optimistic statements from MNC-I commander Lt. Gen. Raymon Odierno, who said by spring 2008, it might be possible for Iraqi troops to take over more security and "potentially we could have a decision to reduce our forces." Maybe for parts of Iraq, Pittard said, but not for areas like Diyalah, where a decision to reduce forces by two-thirds from 2005-2006 allowed insurgents to regain control of the city.

Philip Kennicott take a fresh look at the online presence of the global jihadist movement, focusing on the groups in Iraq, based on a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Much of this kind of stuff has been reported before, but this is the first publicly released report on the phenomenon. One of the study's authors, Daniel Kimmage, notes that almost all of the material comes from the Sunni side of the insurgency because the Shi'ite fighters in Iraq have access to government newspapers and other media outlets. The Sunnis have been forced to go guerilla media, and have been very successful. Most worrisome, however -- and somewhat buried in the story for some reason -- is the amount of religious hatred toward Shi'ites, causing him to worry about "religiously fueled genocide." "To get more conclusive evidence, we have to do the homework that the world failed to do before Rwanda," Kimmage said. Kennicott explains it further: "The basic communications climate for genocide is already in place -- the ability to spread information rapidly, a pool of suspicion and animosity, a tendency to inflate grievances into hysterical rhetoric."

Dan Murphy reports on the immigration path of one of the Monitor's former drivers, Adnan Abbas and his family, who are some of the lucky few to have been accepted into the U.S. as refugees, part of an expected wavelet of 7,000 Iraqis who will be admitted this year. Abbas' story is poignant, as he was the driver who witnessed the kidnapping of Jill Carroll and the killing of translator Allan Enwiyah. He was pushed to the front of the line from his haven in Jordan, where he fled after the incident, because his name was widely publicized as connected to an American media outlet. One of his brothers was killed, and the murderers reportedly asked, "Where's Adnan?" just before they killed him. Murphy notes that most of the Iraqi refugees will be heading to Michigan, home of America's largest Arab population, and that Iraqi Christians are disproportionately represented in Iraq's refugees.

No original Iraq coverage

No original Iraq coverage

Daily Column
Chemical Ali to Hang; Corroding Corruption
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/25/2007 01:51 AM ET
The big-splash Iraq news in all the papers reporting today is the conviction for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity of Ali Hassan al-Majeed, the former Iraqi general and cousin to Saddam Hussein known as "Chemical Ali" for his role in the brutal campaign targeting Iraq's Kurds during the 1980s. Four other defendants were also convicted by the Iraqi High Tribunal, with al-Majeed and two senior military aides to Hussein sentenced to death by hanging for their roles in the slaughter.

But the more important news comes from The New York Times and the Washington Post, although they fold it into their respective roundup pieces: Two American commanders publicly expressed doubt that Iraqi army troops soon would be up to the job of taking on the holding operations necessary to consolidate gains made against suspected Sunni militants in Baqoubah and around Baghdad over the last week.

Alissa Rubin reports for the Times that Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, in Baqoubah, and Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, south of Baghdad, pointed out that the Iraqis lack trained troops and basic supplies like ammunition, radios and trucks. This isn't a new problem (Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, in charge of training Iraqi troops, testified to Congress on June 12 that Iraq needed to boost its troop numbers by 20,000 this year and more again in 2008), but it's a chronic one for American operations. Iraqi commanders in the field, however, say they're pleased with the progress in Baqoubah despite the flight of senior militant leaders -- which the major papers and the U.S. military have all started calling "al Qaeda" without any real explanation as to why they're no longer "Sunni insurgents."

The Post's John Ward Anderson tacks the generals' comments to the bottom of the "Chemical Ali" story, but he gets a bit more detail and context than the Times does, and even throws in a timeframe for the Iraqi takeover.

"One of our biggest challenges is how are we holding and retaining the terrain that we clear," Bednarek said, and added that Iraqi security forces are "not quite up to the job yet" of holding the territory themselves.

It will take several weeks to clear Baqoubah of insurgents, he said, and "several more months" before Iraqi forces in Diyalah Province can handle the security tasks themselves.

This is the most obvious bit of news coming out of Iraq on Sunday, but it's hardly surprising. al-Majeed was a notorious figure and his conviction was pretty much assumed. The Times' John Burns paints a vivid picture of the scene as al-Majeed's five death sentences were read out (it took 18 minutes for the judge to read the guilty verdicts) but notes that the Iraqi public -- and even the primary victims of al-Majeed, the Kurds -- were more subdued than when Saddam Hussein's guilty verdict was announced in November last year. Burns explains that without Hussein the trials have lost their star luster, and the war in Iraq today has ground down many families who might have reveled in verdicts. Add in the slow pace of the trials and you have a public that just doesn't care too much anymore. Burns manages to tease out the significance of this trial, however, noting that the conviction of al-Majeed and four codefendants for genocide -- a charge many Western legal-monitoring groups said the Anfal campaign didn't legally meet -- would bolster Kurdish claims that their survival depends on autonomy within Iraq.

Anderson of the Post tops their roundup story with the al-Majeed verdict, and gets in some comments from Kurds who "felt deprived of justice because of the rush to execute Hussein." (Saddam Hussein was originally a codefendant in the Anfal trial with al-Majeed, but his conviction and execution last year prevented his appearance in this trial.)

Anderson quotes Saman Mahmood Aziz, 55: "I wished they had kept Saddam alive and had not executed him until they finish all the trials, so all Iraqis, including Kurds, could feel that they had been repaid for the injustices of his regime. ... (But) we feel so happy after seeing the verdict today against Chemical Ali." Aziz is a teacher whose wife and five children died during the Anfal campaign.

The Post notes that Human Rights Watch criticized the Anfal trial, saying it was "marred by procedural flaws," including the removal of the first presiding judge by Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki for making statements the premier and his cabinet thought were too favorable to the defense. HRW also criticized the "vague charges" and the inability to call defense witnesses because of security concerns.

The Anfal case isn't closed: Anderson reports that 423 other officials are under investigation, including the current top security advisor to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Thomas Frank and Zaid Sabah for USA Today report that Iraqi Kurdistan was thrilled with the verdict, but Baghdad was more sanguine, in part because there are fewer Kurds there. "Why should I care about it?" said Samir Abdullah, 33, a Baghdad engineer. "I care about electricity, water, security and local services, not these silly trials." USA Today contradicts the Post's reporting regarding the additional 423 defendants: It says the 423 were officially charged in the massacres of up to 150,000 Shi'ites in the south following their uprising against Baghdad following the 1991 Gulf War, which the Times says will be the next trial, part of a string of 10 more planned cases.

Today's roundup news in the Big Two is abbreviated and tacked on to the Times' piece about the doubting generals and the Post's al-Majeed coverage.

The Post's is the skimpiest. Anderson writes that a U.S. military spokesman said 49 "al Qaeda in Iraq" fighters have been killed in Operation Arrowhead Ripper and 50 detained. One soldier has been killed and 14 injured. A female Iraqi journalist was shot to death on her way home from work in Mosul, the second female journalist to be killed there this month. Anderson notes that the murder of Zeena Shakir Mahmoud occurred while al-Malaki was marking Iraqi Journalists' Day.

Rubin of the Times gives more news from around Iraq, noting Mahmoud's killing, but added that a policewoman also was shot to death in Mosul, a roadside bomb killed four Interior Ministry commandos in Samarra, 11 bodies were found in Baghdad, the director of a children's hospital was shot on his way home from work and a mortar shell killed one civilian and wounded two others. She also notes that 11 American troops were killed Saturday, and another died from wounds received the same day, bringing the total to 12 dead, four more than the eight originally reported. Meanwhile, she notes, the Iraqi government is deadlocked over the fate of Speaker of the Parliament Mahmoud Mashhadani, who appears to be an unpleasant and abusive fellow but who has support from two Sunni Arab groups that boycotted Parliament and said he should get his job back. (He was "put on leave" after repeatedly losing his temper at fellow parliamentarians, hitting them or letting his guards do the roughing up.) The main Shi'ite bloc can't stand the guy and won't accept his reinstatement. The deadlock comes at a time when parliament is trying to pass legislation deemed crucial to political reconciliation -- including an oil law to share revenue -- and needs the participation of the Sunni bloc.

In other coverage

Walter Pincus reports on corruption in Iraq, noting that "senior Iraqi cabinet members over a six-month period blocked investigations and prosecutions of corruption within their ministries valued at $35 million." The law says that no corruption cases can proceed against an Iraqi minister or former minister without the prime minister's permission. The law further allows the ministers to immunize their deputies. So much for threat of prosecution to encourage turning state's witness! It's a "undemocratic bulwark" against anti-corruption efforts, said the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week. There are at least 48 cases that have been stopped involving 11 ministries and the Central Bank. The cases might not all be sinister, an aide to Bowen said, with maybe 20 of the 48 cases being transformed into criminal cases because of political rivalries within the government -- a situation the law was originally intended to prevent. At any rate, the auditors and the politicians will be busy: Bowen said Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity has more than 2,000 cases involving $5 billion in alleged corruption.

Jim Michaels reports on the "creative" ways the U.S. is rewarding Sunni tribes in Anbar for turning on the foreign jihadis in their midst. Cash is not yet déclassé ("You're not going to see a company commander just pull a wad of money out of his pocket," said Brig. Gen. John Campbell, deputy commander of the U.S. division in Baghdad), but other, more subtle rewards include awarding security contracts and providing medical assistance to wounded fighters hurt while fighting foreign jihadis. Also considered are provisions to accelerate the entry of tribes into the Iraqi security forces. In an effort to assuage al-Malaki's concerns about creating new militias, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 ranking U.S. officer in Iraq, said, "We're not arming anybody. They're already armed."

No original Iraq coverage today

No Iraq coverage today

Daily Column
Eight troops killed; Marines' spin revealed; Progress reports
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/24/2007 01:35 AM ET
The Washington Post goes with a feature and roundup of the news in Iraq today, with no one story dominating. The New York Times rounds out a fuller selection, but like the Post, no major scoops. It does have an eye-opening Week in Review piece on the spin initially offered by the Marines in the case of Haditha, which is currently under investigation.

From the perspective of a journalist in Iraq, today's piece by Paul von Zielbauer will give a sense of vindication. In November 2005, a group of Marines killed 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha after an IED killed one Marine and wounded two others. TIME Magazine's Tim McGirk started investigating and through his reporting got an investigation going. As part of his reporting, he emailed questions to the Second Marine Division in Iraq. Last month, during hearings into the incident, an internal memo hashing out McGirk's questions came to light, revealing a contempt for the press and general defensiveness on the part of the four commanding officers from the Second Marine Division. (Full disclosure: I worked for TIME and with McGirk during his initial investigation in Baghdad, although I didn't work on the Haditha story.) The four officers' responses are exercises in cynicism, including this gem:

McGirk: How many marines were killed and wounded in the I.E.D. attack that morning?

Memo: If it bleeds, it leads. This question is McGirk’s attempt to get good bloody gouge (sic) on the situation. He will most likely use the information he gains from this answer as an attention gainer.

Another question from McGirk, ("Were there any officers?") was initially given a long, five paragraph thrashing out, but ultimately shortened to "No." Questions about how many Marines were involved "in the killings," as McGirk phrased it, are met with scorn and spin: "We will not justify that question with a response. Theme: Legitimate engagement: we will not acknowledge this reporter’s attempt to stain the engagement with the misnomer 'killings.'"

David Sanger and Thom Shanker report for the Times that while Congress has mandated Sept. 15 as the day Gen. David Petraeus' term paper on Iraq is due, there will be other reports landing on Congress' -- and President Bush's -- desks as well. The goal, Sanger and Shanker say, is to "dilute" the expected downbeat tone of Petraeus' report and give Bush "a wide range of options." Pertraeus is expected to ask for more time, despite the deep unpopularity of the Iraq war in Congress and among the American people. Reports from intelligence agencies and an independent commission on Iraqi security forces are expected to give gloomy forecasts, strengthening the factions favoring troop drawdowns. The key point, however, is this: "But with the proliferation of assessments, there may also be a proliferation of contradictory views," the duo write. "That is exactly what the White House sought to create last December, when it ordered other studies to offset the findings of the Iraq Study Group." In other words, with so many reports to choose from, Bush may again defy expectations and do what he wants, forcing Congress to choose whether to cut off funding to troops -- which would be deeply unpopular -- or go along with yet another "Hail Mary" strategy. But even Bush's tactics of stubbornness and water-muddying might have reached the limits of their effectiveness, as IraqSlogger has mentioned. Should Bush ignore calls to draw down troops, the U.S. military will run out of troops to maintain current operations by about April 2008, forcing the U.S. to either withdraw "roughly one brigade a month, or extend the tours of troops now in Iraq and shorten their time back home before redeployment." The latter would be a political time bomb in an election year.

The Post's John Ward Anderson tells the story of Amir Rahim and his rooftop pool to report on Iraqis' suffering because of a lack of basic services. Four years after the invasion, it's a cliché to say that Baghdad sucks. But there is still very little electricity, water and other accouterments of modern life. Rahim's entire monthly salary goes to repairing and running generators for his home for 14 hours a day (not including air conditioners.) So Rahim installed a swimming pool on his roof so his family could cool off and get the war out of their minds for a little while, especially in the summer when Baghdad temperatures are kiln-like. Anderson notes that "lofty talk" of government and constitutional reform is meaningless to most people who just want to flick a switch and get some light.

"You talk about sharing oil revenues and constitutional reforms -- why should we care if we don't benefit from it?" he quotes Zainab S. Shakir, an Iraqi official at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Baghdad. "If we want electricity, we need a generator, and we need fuel and we need money. And if you can't get a job, then the insurgents come and pay our kids to work for them."

Anderson gets at the stats and numbers of the story. A U.S. embassy "fact sheet" from May 31 says Baghdad gets an average of eight hours of electricity a day, but Anderson counters with people from various neighborhoods saying they get about two hours. A June 12 study by the National Security Network found that electricity production was still 6 percent below pre-war levels.

But the true gems of the story are the everyday scenes and the rapport between Amir and his wife. "Rahim and his wife sometimes sneak up at night for a private dip after the kids go to sleep," Anderson writes. It's a charming reminder that Iraqis want -- and sometimes get, in Amir's case -- a normal life. At least for a little while.

Anderson and Richard Oppel handle the Post's and the Times' roundup stories, respectively. Saturday's news was grim: Eight U.S. troops were killed yesterday, seven of them in roadside bomb attacks. These massive explosions are causing the bulk of the mayhem, both papers note.

The Post reports 30 U.S. servicemen killed in the past six days, bringing to 78 the number of troops killed in June, an average of 3.5 a day. On Saturday, four soldiers were killed in northwest Baghdad, two were killed in eastern Baghdad, an airman was killed in Tikrit -- all from roadside bombs. Another soldier died from non-combat causes, the military said. A British soldier died from wounds caused by a roadside bombing on Friday near Basra. In all, 153 British troops have been killed in Iraq. Anderson rounds out the day with the news that 12 people were killed and 14 wounded by a sniper attack, a roadside bomb "and other violence." Also, 12 bodies were found in Baghdad, all shot and bearing signs of torture.

Oppel gives a similar rundown in the Times, reporting that 23 have been killed in the last four days. He adds that the planned two-month-long summer break for parliament has been put on hold while the speaker of Parliament Mahmoud Mashadani appears to have dug in his heels and won't leave, although no one really wants him around anymore. The Times has 13 bodies found in Baghdad, news from the increasingly volatile Babel Province, reports of attacks near Kirkuk and reports of three civilians killed in Khalis and three wounded in Abu Sayda, northeast of Baqoubah. Oppel also gives the news from Operation Arrowhead Ripper: 53 al Qaeda fighters had been killed and 60 arrested, according to an Iraqi commander.

In other coverage

Frank Rich picks up on Sanger and Shanker's piece and pens another link-filled take-down of Bush Administration spin on Iraq, picking up on the tossing aside of September as a real deadline for success of the surge. "For the Bush White House," Rich writes, "the real definition of victory has become 'anything they can get away with without taking blame for defeat,' said the retired Army Gen. William Odom, a national security official in the Reagan and Carter administrations, when I spoke with him recently. The plan is to run out the Washington clock between now and Jan. 20, 2009, no matter the cost."

Julia Taft, former director of the Interagency Task Force for Indochinese Refugee Resettlement in the Ford administration, writes an op-ed for today's Post that argues the U.S. needs to do more for the Iraqi refugees displaced by the war. In her former job helping resettle Vietnamese refugees, Taft witnessed the commitment of President Gerald Ford and State Department officials in getting people over bureaucratic barriers rather than blocking them. The she adds this zinger: "The United States has committed to reviewing 7,000 cases and admitting 3,000 refugees by the end of this fiscal year, in September. That is as many as our team processed in a single day back in 1975."

No Sunday Edition

No Sunday edition

No Sunday edition

Daily Column
Military Presses on and Militants Bug out
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/23/2007 01:47 AM ET
Has Operation Arrowhead Ripper become Fallujah III? In two must-reads today, both the Washington Post and The New York Times pull out their big guns (Thomas Ricks and John Burns) to deliver gloomy assessments of this week's operations. The Times off-leads and provides more context, the tone fairly dripping with scorn at military commanders' comments. The Post, meanwhile, leads with its story and gets behind the scenes to tap officers and intelligence sources working the day-to-day fighting outside Baghdad.

Burns leads with the news that Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of the MNC-I and the second-highest military commander in Iraq, admitted that 80 percent of the top al Qaeda leaders in Baqoubah fled the city before Arrowhead Ripper. Burns seems astonished that the general appeared to blame U.S. commanders for the development. "I think they were tipped off by us talking about the surge, the fact that we have a problem in Diyala Province," he said. (He also said militants watched the news and could probably guess what was coming.)

In a news conference with Pentagon reporters, Odierno seemed to veer between blaming commanders yet still offering upbeat predictions. But then he tossed out the rather weak assessment that Phantom Thunder, as the umbrella operation is called, has "a good potential" to reduce the threat from foreign jihadists.

The same promises were made about Fallujah in November 2004, and Burns works hard to remind readers of that operation and adds that all that work has come to naught:

American hopes that the Falluja offensive would deal a mortal blow to Al Qaeda were thwarted when the leaders who fled the city moved elsewhere, and resumed the Islamic militants’ trademark pattern of suicide bombings and assassinations at a higher intensity than before. Since Falluja, Qaeda groups have shown a remarkable resilience in the face of relentless pursuit by the American forces, regrouping time and again after American offensives. Even Falluja has not escaped. American commanders said this week that, more than 30 months after the city was recaptured, Qaeda groups have reinfiltrated the city, mounting suicide bombing attacks, assassinating police and city council leaders and forcing a fresh American and Iraqi offensive this month that has been aimed at capturing or killing the Qaeda fighters.

The Post's Ricks ups the volume on the complaint from within the U.S. military that despite the addition of 30,000 more troops from the surge, the war in Iraq is still undermanned and troops are unable to prevent Iraqi militants from fleeing the scene of battle to fight elsewhere, the same story that's been told since 2003.

"We just do not have the forces in country right now to have the appropriate level of presence across the country," says one officer currently involved in Arrowhead Ripper. Ricks adds the crucial detail that U.S. commanders are worried about Mosul, the scene of Gen. David Petraeus' success in the year following the invasion when he was commander of the 101st Airborne Division. The northern city was the scene of massive counterattacks by militants the last time the U.S. conducted an operation of this size, against Fallujah in November 2004. If militants and their leaders flee there, only a single battalion of about 1,000 troops remains face them -- far fewer than before, Ricks notes.

Both reporters pick up on perhaps the most transparent piece of spin from Odierno's presser: his speculation that Iraq forces would be able to take over security "by the spring" and "we could have a decision to reduce our forces." Ricks quotes Odierno using language we've heard for years now: "The Iraqi security forces will be able to sustain and continue to improve their ability to maintain security," he said. "They are staying and fighting. They are taking casualties." Both stories note that Iraqi forces are the Achilles Heel of any operation in Iraq.

Burns picks up on the "by the spring" comment, however, and follows it through, noting that spring 2008 is the date favored for the beginning of withdrawal by Democratic leaders in Congress and matches the April 2008 date that military leaders in Washington have said is as long as the surge can be sustained.

The takeaway from today's lead stories? In Iraq, without yet more U.S. troops, the best intentions still translate into business as usual.

In the Post's daily round up, John Ward Anderson reports from Baghdad on the doings in Baqoubah. Here the Post gets at Odierno's comments on the fleeing jihadi leadership, and adds that the military killed 17 insurgents Friday in a helicopter attack. Anderson says U.S. military officials claim Arrowhead Ripper is different from earlier offenses because "U.S. commanders do not intend to abandon it." Iraqi forces will hold the city. As discussed above, this is a weakness of the plan, but it's not different from earlier operations. During the river campaign of 2005 along the Euphrates, with the biggest operation being Iron Curtain in al Qaim and Huseybah in 2005, the plan was the same then: move in, leave Iraqis to hold the city. But that didn't work and Anbar didn't calm down until 2007, when the surge dropped several thousand more Marines there to work with local tribes.

Anderson reports that military leaders in the field said "several hundred" jihadis are holed up in Baqoubah, ready to fight to the last man and that Arrowhead Ripper would likely last 30 to 60 days. The Post rounds up the battle with news that American attack helicopters killed the 17 militants as they were trying to infiltrate Khalis, a town about 10 miles northwest of Baqoubah. In all, at least 68 suspected jihadis have been killed, according to the U.S. military. A U.S. soldier was killed Thursday in Baghdad during combat operations.

Oddly, no security roundup from Baghdad today. A light day for Iraq news, other than the big takeouts.

In other coverage

Speaking of Iraqi forces, Karen DeYoung reports from Washington on a new independent commission headed by retired Gen. James L. Jones, and including former D.C. police chief Charles H. Ramsey, that will look at the capabilities of Iraq's military and police forces. Its report is due in October, which no doubt will add fuel to the debate by then raging over the effectiveness of the new U.S. strategy there following September's report by Petraeus. The commission, which is funded by last month's war appropriation bill, will "examine the training, equipping, command, control and intelligence capabilities and the logistic capacity" of the Iraqi forces.

Picking up on USA Today's package on flag-lowering protocol around the country, Ian Urbina pushes it forward to look at the various conflicts involved in flying a flag at half-mast for fallen soldiers. There are federal-state issues, pro- and anti-war disputes and the simple problem of flag fatigue: "If you lower every time a soldier dies, it will be down so often that people will only notice and ask when it’s up," said Gary Burk, a post officer worker in Crystal Falls, Mich., which didn't lower the flag even though the state's governor had ordered it. President Bush is in a tight spot on this, as Congress passed a bill last week that would give state governors authority to order all officials in their states, including federal ones, to lower the flag. Bush might want to sign it for patriotic reasons, but he would probably be loathe to give governors authority over federal officials for any reason. Under the bill, Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C., a Democrat, would have the same authority as governors to order any federal building in the District to lower the flag when a local soldier dies -- including the White House.

No weekend edition

No weekend edition

No Iraq coverage today

Daily Column
Reassuring Sunnis while Pace Spins in D.C.
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/22/2007 01:53 AM ET
It's clear from the coverage today that the U.S. military's push against Baqoubah, 65 miles north of Baghdad, is part of a larger campaign that seems to be happening all at once. Both the Washington Post and The New York Times go with reports from front lines in the south, with the Times getting the better of it. The Times also takes a look at sectarian tensions in Baqoubah, while the Post highlights Marine Gen. Peter Pace's comments on judging progress in Iraq and other Washington matters. Friday's Iraq coverage is not dominated by any one theme or must-read story, however; it's one more day in the war.

Departing from the usual bang-bang writing, Michael Gordon of the Times looks at what he says is "one of the most delicate phases" of Operation Arrowhead Ripper: "Reintroducing the city’s residents to their own army." Sunni residents of Baqoubah fear and dislike the mainly Shi'ite Iraqi troops that have accompanied the Americans' advance into the city, and they will be responsible for holding the city once the Americans leave -- a continuation of the faltering "clear, hold, build" strategy. The Americans are trying increase the city's comfort level with Shi'ites, who many Sunni residents consider "foreign" troops, by seeding Iraqi units with American troops so they can keep a closer eye on them. "Some of these I.A. guys believe what they hear," Gordon quotes Sgt. First Class Eric Beck as saying. "So when they come in here and see the people that live here, it might change their mind about the area that they are going into. We are bonding the population of this area with the I.A. and giving them a chance to actually see them and gain trust in them." This is Iraq, so it's unclear whether Beck is saying the Iraqi soldiers need to gain the trust of the locals of that the locals need to gain the trust of the soldiers. Knowing Iraq, it's both.

Further south, both the Times and the Post got on the same embed slot, with Timesman Richard Oppel filing a detailed story on the dangers facing American troops as they push into Arab Jabour, a Sunni area 10 miles southeast of Baghdad that hasn't seen much coalition presence in the last year or so. He focuses on the massive fertilizer bombs militants have buried under the roads, some big enough to destroy a 130,000-pound Abrams tank. Three soldiers have been killed so far this week, with one bomb flipping a tank and another taking the front off a Bradley fighting vehicle. Oppel notes that this is part of a simultaneous operation with the Baqoubah offensive to take back insurgent-controlled "belts" encircling Baghdad, which have provided havens for insurgents fleeing the U.S. surge in Baghdad.

Josh Partlow and John Ward Anderson tackle the Post's story on Arab Jabour, getting in the all-important number of troops involved: about 1,200. Partlow and Anderson also report that this is the first week of the southern offensive, called Marne Torch, which has already killed five militants and left more than 60 detained. Both papers note that three troops have been killed since Monday.*

Partlow gets at the interesting notion that the U.S. has finally learned its lesson about escaping jihadis. He notes:

In past large-scale assaults, U.S. soldiers frequently descended on suspected enemy hideouts only to find that many of the male adults had fled. This time, attack aircraft have dropped thunderous explosives on roads to cut off escape routes. They have destroyed at least 17 boats on the Tigris that soldiers suspected were being used to ferry munitions north to Baghdad. Two other brigades operating on the eastern and western flanks of the Marne Torch operation are trying to keep fighters from leaving the area.

The air assets brought to bear have been impressive: B-1 bombers, F-16 fighter jets and "other aircraft." Eight 2,000-pound bombs were dropped in the first night.

However, while the Post says the U.S. is being more effective in stopping the exodus of fighters, the Times says no adult men have been found in any homes the soldiers have searched, with some residents saying they were already detained by the Americans and others saying they had fled. Oppel also notes that a fight is looming with the planned clearing of a base south of the Americans' outpost where 150 insurgents are thought to have holed up, fortified by roadside bombs. Maybe that's where all the men are.

Both Partlow and Oppel describe an attack on the Americans' FOB in an abbreviated fashion and both accounts of a grenade attack that wounded two children feel strangely detached.

The rest of the Post's story is a straightforward roundup of the day's events, which the Times breaks out in a separate story: 10 soldiers and two Marines were killed on Wednesday and Thursday in various operations; a suicide truck killed 15 and wounded 72 in Sulaiman Bek, 60 miles south of Kirkuk; and nine mortar shells hit the Green Zone, with one allegedly landing in the parking lot of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki.

The Post reports that a house that was bombed in Baqoubah, allegedly by mistake, was the headquarters for the 1920 Revolution Brigades, a nationalist Sunni group. Its members are cooperating with the U.S. in Baqoubah and helping to identify foreign jihadis. According to a spokesman, two members were killed and four wounded in the attack. This probably won't help the shaky entente between Ba'athist and nationalist groups and the United States.

Alissa Rubin pens the Times' roundup from Baghdad, leading with the deaths of 14 U.S. troops killed in combat in five attacks over 48 hours in the capital and elsewhere. Only one of them was killed in Diyala, under Arrowhead Ripper. The high casualties are partly the result of the completion of the so-called surge and partly the result of stronger, more deadly roadside bombs. With more more U.S. troops in place in Baghdad and Anbar Province, they are now going into areas run by Sunni militants that were previously off-limits. "We now have the ability to fight everywhere at once," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman in Baghdad. "One of the challenges is that we are now moving operations into areas where we haven't been regularly."

Rubin beats the Post on one part of the day's events, however: U.S. and Iraqi troops are involved in operations in Hilla, about 30 miles south of Baghdad in a bid to capture or kill members of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

In other coverage

Robin Wright reports that the House voted overwhelmingly (355-69) to call the Iraq Study Group back to session to issue a report around the same time as the Bush administration is to issue its progress report on Iraq. Wright credits public pressure on Congress to do something about the Iraq war for the vote, which was sponsored by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., in an amendment to a $34.2 billion State Department appropriation bill. If all goes well, the group will be able to issue a report alongside the assessments of Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus and have it initially ignored again by President Bush.

Elsewhere in Washington, Josh White reports on the continued good-soldierism of departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who did his best to play down expectations for September, when Petraeus is due to give a progress report on the surge in Baghdad and Anbar Province. See, looking at the level of violence in Iraq is "the wrong metric," Pace told reporters at the Pentagon. Violence will rise, he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said. "We're going to go in and hold, as we're taking the fight to the enemy with the additional troops, we can expect that there's going to be tough fighting ahead," said Pace. But it's not about the violence, the general said, "it's about progress, in fact, being made in the minds of the Iraqi people" that their government is working well. Didn't we hear this in 2004, 2005 and 2006? Yes, we did. So why did the Post blow 875 words on this article, when they could have just reprinted White House talking points from the last three years?

Finally, Al Kamen, an op-ed columnist, writes a strange mini-profile of U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who, according to confidential sitreps from there, survived shrapnel blasts into his office yesterday from nine to 10 rounds of indirect fire that hit the embassy compound. The blasts inflicted damage, but no casualties. For Kamen, his admiration for Crocker is boundless: Survived Beirut embassy bombing. Working in Baghdad. Ho-hum. "A little shrapnel? Please," Kamen writes. "Just get out the plywood and get back to work." Memo from Baghdad Embassy: Dear Al, please stop publicizing that indirect fire almost killed the ambassador. Now insurgents know they one of their lucky shots was almost very lucky, and they might learn something from that. Thanks, Ryan.

No Iraq coverage today.

No Iraq coverage today.

No original Iraq coverage today.

CORRECTION: Original copy incorrectly stated that the Post reported a lower number than the Times. This has since been corrected. Return to original sentence.

Daily Column
Baghdad Hard to Staff, while Diyalah Assault Continues
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/21/2007 01:50 AM ET
Shi'ite disarray and rivalries in Iraq lead the Big Two today, with the Washington Post focusing on political divisions in Baghdad, while The New York Times looks at the Shi'ite-on-Shi'ite violence that is tearing apart Diwaniya in southern Iraq.

At the same time, the Times again beats the Post in the coverage of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, with its embedded reporting from Baqoubah while the Post is left to file from Baghdad. The Post, however, cleans up in the Washington-based Iraq reporting with two op-eds, a look at Sen. Hillary Clinton's changing stance on the war, which is cheering some war opponents, and the latest developments on U.S. relations with Iran over Iraq.

The Post leads its Iraq coverage with the news that top Iraqi officials are growing frustrated with Nouri al-Maliki. Joshua Partlow and Robin Wright report that members of the al-Maliki government are growing so disillusioned with his lackluster performance that even Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi submitted his resignation. Abdul Mahdi, whose departure from the government was averted due to promises of action (presumably from PM Maliki), is a member of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq neé SCIRI, and his attempted resignation reflects the serious splits arising among Iraq's governing Shi'ite coalition. Moqtada al-Sadr -- Malaki's main political backer outside of his own Dawa party -- has withdrawn his people (again) from Parliament following last week's repeat bombing of the Askariya mosque in Samarra, while the Fadhila Party withdrew its 15 members from the Shi'ite coalition earlier this year. With the health of SICI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim failing -- he has lung cancer -- "A highly complicated political landscape is about to get more complicated," said a U.S. official who tracks Shiite politics.

What Partlow and Wright only hint at, however, is that Abdul Mahdi also wants to be prime minister -- he was the Americans' favorite to succeed Ibrahim al-Jaafari -- and his not-so-determined attempt to "resign" allows him to put some daylight between himself and what he likely suspects is the soon-to-fail Maliki.

Alissa Rubin files a worrisome piece for the Times, datelined out of Diwaniya, describing the violence between rival Shi'ite factions in the once (mostly) peaceful south. "Shiites are killing and kidnapping other Shiites," she writes. "The police force is made up of competing militias and the inner city is a web of impoverished streets where idealized portraits of young men, killed in recent gun battles with Iraqi and American troops, hang from signposts above empty lots." She notes that Diwaniya has always been restive, being the first city to revolt against Saddam Hussein in the wake of the Gulf War in 1991. Today's splits however, break down along class lines, with the more educated, middle-class Shi'ites following al-Hakim's SICI, and the poorer, uneducated casting their lot with al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Fifty people were killed in March and "not a day goes by" without an attempt on a government official's life, she writes. It is only the presence of American and Iraqi forces -- who are taking casualties -- that seems to keep the city from erupting into all-out war.

On the battlefield, the Times' Michael Gordon and Rubin round up the day's kinetic operations with a to-the-point account of slow going in Baqoubah for U.S. troops. A slow start because of a sandstorm and roadside bombs have enforced a block-by-block pace. But there have been some surprises: a fully stocked medical lab for militants that included oxygen tanks, defibrillators, generators and surgical equipment; roadside bombs so powerful that they overturned a Bradley fighting vehicle and damaged a heavily armored Buffalo mine-clearing vehicle. So far, one soldier has been killed and 12 wounded, the U.S. military said, and 41 "al Qaeda" fighters had been killed.

John Ward Anderson of the Post files no first-hand account, however, but adds some context to his story. The U.S. military had been criticized in the past over previous offenses that allowed militants to escape. Anderson reports that "this time, military planners are trying to avoid that outcome by drawing a tight ring around Baqoubah that locks insurgents inside, where they can be captured or killed." One success, according to a military statement: six uninjured men were captured while trying to escape in an Iraqi ambulance. Anderson repeats the surprising news that elements of the Ba'athist nationalist insurgency, such as the Islamic Army and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, are working closely with U.S. and Iraqi forces to identify al Qaeda members. They've even been issued special insignias to distinguish them from al Qaeda members. It seems they do need steenkin' badges after all.

In an unfortunately buried piece on 9A, Jim Michaels reports from Muqdadiyah for USA Today on the scope of Operation Arrowhead Ripper. With so many U.S. and Iraqi forces brought to bear, the offensive is targeting multiple areas simultaneously, preventing militants to fleeing to other, nearby safe havens as they did in the past. Michaels reports the U.S. is attacking not only Baqoubah, but also Muqdadiyah in Diyalah province, areas south of Baghdad and supply lines west of Baghdad. "We want them to know we can hit these areas at the same time," said Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the MNC-I and the No. 2 U.S. military man in Iraq. "We think we surprised them with the amount of force we were able to generate." The weak point in the plan? Iraqi forces will have to hold the areas the Americans have secured for them, which has not gone so well in the past.

Both the Times and the Post note the bombing of three Sunni mosques south of Baghdad, while the Times expands on violence in and around Nasiriya between Mahdi Army fighters and local police. U.S. troops were involved and airstrikes had to be called in. The Post reports that eight Christians were abducted in Mosul on Wednesday.

Diplomatic Openings
Back in Baghdad, while the Iraqis are having trouble keeping people in government, the Americans are having trouble getting people to serve in Iraq in the first place. Glenn Kessler of the Post reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is responding to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker's plea for more staff at the Baghdad embassy by ordering that all diplomatic posts in Iraq and Afghanistan be filled first -- by order if necessary -- before any other posts at Foggy Bottom.

Kessler reports that at least 20 percent of the U.S. Foreign Service has already served in Iraq, and "directed assignments" are on the horizon. Additionally, the State Department is sweetening the pot by lifting the requirement that spouses and dependents of diplomats in Iraq, who can't take their families because of the danger, must return to the United States if a parent takes a one-year post in Baghdad from another overseas assignment.

It's a remarkable recognition of the difficulties in Iraq that the State Department is having trouble filling the posts, but it shouldn't be surprising. For years, the professionals at the Near East desk at State were denigrated by the Bush Administration. Now, they don't want to be left holding the bag on Iraq.

Robin Wright of the Post reports on the U.S.'s refusal to release five Iranians captured earlier this year despite pleas from Iraq's government because of bureaucratic foul-ups as well as a policy decisions. Part of the problem lies in the review rules for foreign fighters captured in Iraq, which is how the U.S. classifies the five Iranians. (The U.S. says they're associated with the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.) They were due to have a review in mid-July, the six-month review all detainees get, but it was instead done in April, meaning they can't get another hearing until October. The Iranians have threatened unspecified retaliation if their guys aren't released soon, and Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshi Zebari, who really, really wants to see the U.S. and Iran getting along in Iran, says their release would help U.S.-Iran talks. Zebari warned the continued detention of the Iranians might scuttle the second round.

Other coverage

Perry Bacon Jr. files a report on Sen. Hillary Clinton's evolving stance on the Iraq war and how it's playing with the Democrats' left-wing these days. In short, she's improving, as far as they're concerned, but she's got a way to go. Clinton, the most hawkish of the Democrats running for president, is a barometer for sentiment among the major candidates. All Democrats now support timetables and a way to end the war, indicating that a major shift in policy might finally arrive, should a Democrat win the White House in 2008.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., a well-known Democratic hawk, penned an op-ed in today's Post that says the Democrats are trying really, really hard to wind down the war, but like Lincoln during the Mexican-American war of the 19th Century, he and his colleagues would continue to fund the troops in the field. The tone of the piece, however, seems less a chance to explain the issue, however, than it is a plea for the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party to get off his back.

David Ignatius, a regular Post columnist, pens an extraordinary op-ed that says, a) people in the Bush administration don't see it as a failure but instead see it as "muddling through" on Iraq and b) that bringing in Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense is important because "He has an unusual ability to see reality as it is -- what might work -- rather than let his hopes and aspirations take over." (emphasis added.) Is the ability to discern reality as it is now an "unusual" attribute for powerful cabinet secretaries?

Proving the adage that kids lead, USA Today's Andrea Stone reports on a summer camp for the children of wounded Iraqi veterans. No other paper covers the homefront like USA Today in finding those stories about troops' lives left behind when they go to war, and this one's no exception. Stone writes that nearly 19,000 children have had parents injured in the military since 9/11, with 2,200 children losing a parent. For the kids of the wounded, the summer camp in Cleveland National Forest in California, gives them a chance to talk about the effect the wounds have had on their families.

Jennifer Allman of Spring Valley, Calif., says she has seen that in her children since their father, Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Corby Allman, suffered back injuries, partial vision and hearing loss and PTSD after his convoy was hit by an "improvised explosive device," or IED, in Iraq in 2004.

Brandon Allman, 12, is "distant," his mother says. Jacquelyn, 10, is angry and blames herself for her father's disability. At 7, Cheyanne appears, at least for now, just happy to have her daddy home.

"It's hard because they don't understand why he gets upset really quick with them or why he can literally forget a whole conversation in two minutes," Jennifer Allman says. "I wanted them to come to camp to be with other military kids, to get counseling and to know that they are not alone."

Gordon Lubold, sadly, seems to buy U.S. military spin on a meeting of religious leaders in Iraq. Lubold repeats military claims that a meeting of 55 religious leaders from across Iraq's spiritual spectrum is "the largest number of religious leaders from the broadest geographic base in Iraq to meet in 37 years." Well, maybe, but there have been several such meetings in Iraq since the American invasion and they've all come to naught. Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institute notes this, injecting a bit of realism into the piece. Significantly, in true Iraqi fashion, most of the meeting was taken up with "deciding how the meeting would proceed and included only a little substantive discussion." Yup, sounds about right for these kind of things.

WALL STREET JOURNAL No original Iraq coverage today.

Basra Shiekh Supports Popular Resistance to Occupation, But Advocates Dialogue
06/20/2007 5:11 PM ET
Sheikh Khalid al-Mullah, chairman of the Sunni Scholars Association in Basra, has called for a dialogue between Sunni and Shiite scholars with the aim of putting an end to the sectarian violence in Iraq, and "consolidating fraternity and amicability among the Iraqis."

In an interview with Asharq al-Aswat this week, Mullah discussed the importance of religion in the violence plaguing Iraq, and the role of Iran, the US, and al Qaeda in the conflict.

The following is an English-language excerpt from the complete conversation published by Asharq al-Aswat.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Sunnis demand the drawing up of a timetable for the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq. Do you think that this demand is realistic at the current stage?

(Al-Mullah) I would like to be frank with you. I understand very well that the largest part of the Iraqi people demands the withdrawal of the foreign forces, and if we believe in democracy we have to respect these opinions. I am for a timetable for the withdrawal of the US forces so that we send reassuring messages to the Iraqi people. In fact we need to do this. However, I am not in favor of immediate withdrawal, because until this moment we do not have a security apparatus free from partisanship, sectarianism, and regionalism. The United States made a grave mistake by leaving this issue for a long period; it can establish a cohesive and independent security system. We have to say this, and the United States has to listen to us, because it is in its nature to listen, but it does not act.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) There are those who believe that the presence of the US forces has contributed to a great extent to the current chaos and to the acts of violence and terrorism in Iraq. Do you agree with this?

(Al-Mullah) Yes, this is one of several reasons. The second reason is the presence of the Al-Qaeda Organization whose members infiltrated all parts of Iraq. The United States is also a reason, because it opened up the borders and allowed Al-Qaeda members to enter and infiltrate the country. The third reason is the widespread of criminal gangs that perhaps are masquerading in religious or sectarian dresses, hiding behind sectarian or personal masks, and hiding under various nomenclatures. These gangs are killing all Iraqis, and do not exempt anyone. They are criminals who were in Abu-Ghraib prison, and were released before the collapse of the Saddam regime, some of them even were members of Saddam's Fedayeen and Saddam's Youths; they are well-trained to kill, slaughter, and kidnap. If we drew up a correct and proper mechanism to deal with all these factors, we could say to the United States: You have no place here. If this were to happen, there would be a loud voice against the US forces, which is the voice of the people.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You have spoken about Al-Qaeda. Can you give us a picture of what it is, how it works, and what distinguishes it from the resistance movement that targets the foreign forces?

(Al-Mullah) The resources available to Al-Qaeda today are similar to there sources of major countries. Al-Qaeda has huge resources and sufficient money and weapons. It has the capability of moving from one country to another, while no one of us - the Iraqis - can move easily even to a neighboring country. Al-Qaeda is a side that has huge influence. Today terrorism in Iraq has reached a degree of strength and a level that are beyond belief. Al-Qaeda's influence is international, and is not restricted to Iraq; it has a regional influence that extends to the countries close to Iraq.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you support the resistance against the US forces?

(Al-Mullah) I support it in principle; however, I say that there is a need to engage in a dialogue. The Iraqi people have become tired of fighting for more than 25 years. In all these years, the Iraqi people have lived through wars and suffered many problems.

Daily Column
"Hearts and Minds" for Soldiers, Mental Health for Diplomats
By GREG HOADLEY 06/20/2007 01:59 AM ET

The New York Times runs circles around the other guys in reporting on the now full-blown US-Iraqi offensive in Diyala Province. After being the first off the block yesterday with the announcement of the operations, the NYT's man on the ground in Ba'quba is printing detailed descriptions of the action (from the embedded perspective) while the rest of the pack are playing catch-up.

Other Iraq-datelined news is dominated by the massive car bomb that damaged a Shi'a mosque in the capital and killed over 60, with both Times and Post reports including eyewitness accounts at the scene.

Stateside, the Monitor looks at "hearts and minds" training for US forces as the "counterinsurgency" doctrine ripples through the military establishment, and the Post riffs on its earlier series on mental health issues in the military with a look at stress, trauma, and PTSD in the diplomatic corps serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alissa Rubin leads her Iraq roundup in the Times with an on-the-ground account of the powerful suicide truck bomb in Baghdad that killed at least 61 and wounded 130. Reaction varied at the scene of the blast that devastated the Shi'a Khalani mosque on Tuesday. In addition to the outrage, sadness, and horror at the attack, reaction on the ground was mixed as to who lurks behind the bombing, Rubin writes, with some pointing to al-Qa'ida, with others implicating the US. Prime Minister Maliki blamed a “Saddam-Takfiri” alliance. 21 bodies were recovered in Baghdad, Rubin writes, and a civilian was shot dead in Samarra. Three US soldiers were killed on Monday and Tuesday, Rubin writes, including one in Diyala province, site of heavy US operations in the last two days.

John Ward Anderson and Salih Dehima catch the Post up on the major Diyala offensive, reported in yesterday's Times. Operation “Arrowhead Ripper” is expected to last at least one to two months. With 10,000 soldiers involved, it measures as one of the largest operations since the war began in 2003. The Post reporters also provide eyewitness accounts of the site of the Khalani mosque bombing in Baghdad, with an interesting note on the evolving urban war. According to US and Iraqi officials, “insurgents are now building car bombs inside Baghdad, hoping to avoid driving through the city and being detected at newly erected security checkpoints,” they write.

Michael Gordon reports from Ba'quba for the Times, where US forces seek to block the exits of the town in the attempt to prevent any escape of the estimated few hundred al-Qa'ida fighters now inside the surrounded part of the Diyala provincial capital. “It promises to be a methodical, steady squeeze against fighters from Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia, who have fortified their positions and have shown no signs of giving in,” Gordon writes. There is, however, a large civilian population now trapped inside the city with the militants. US forces leafleted the area asking civilians to remain off the streets, but to little avail. Commanders are concerned that the militants may blend in with the civilian population. As such, they will take biometrics and look for explosives residue on all “potential fighters,” and hope for tips from locals and insurgents who split with al-Qa'ida.

Fighting is expected to be heavy as US forces slowly advance the siege. Already American forces have encountered sniper fire and massive IEDs, one that overturned a Bradley, killing a US crewman. “This American counterinsurgency operation has some of the firepower associated with conventional war. American forces have already fired more than 20 satellite-guided rockets into western Baquba. Apache helicopters have attacked enemy fighters. Warplanes have also dropped satellite-guided bombs on suspected roadside bombs and a weapons cache, which produced spectacular secondary explosions after it was struck. M1 tanks have maneuvered through the narrow city lanes. The Americans have responded to insurgent attacks with mortar fire,” Gordon writes.

The fate of the thousands of civilians now pinned between advancing US columns and al-Qa'ida militants, while Ba'quba takes the full force of US conventional firepower, is extremely worrisome. Gordon’s report tells the best story available so far about the Diyala operations, but the embedded perspective naturally cannot get at the fate of the Iraqi civilians who will only appear as small objects in the cameras of American surveillance drones.

César Soriano turns the USAT’s attention to Diyala, writing, “At least 30 people described as al-Qaeda members have been killed since the coalition offensive began, said Sgt. 1st Class Tom Clementson, a spokesman for the Baqouba-based Task Force Lightning, whose soldiers spearhead the effort.”

From Baghdad, Jim Michaels writes in USAT that US commanders are striking agreements with tribal leaders in the capital. The Americans appear prepared to extend to Baghdad the strategy of arming tribal leaders to fight al-Qa'ida, Michaels write, despite the objections of the Maliki government which said he objected to the arming of tribes as it will create “new militias.” US commanders in return urged the Iraqi government to absorb the tribal groups into the security forces.

Hearts and minds

From Fort Polk, Louisiana, the Monitor’s Gordon Lubold writes that the military’s make-nice counterinsurgency doctrine, as associated with the likes of Gen. Petraeus, is beginning to win more “hearts and minds” among soldiers and officers, two years after Vice President Cheney said that the Iraqi insurgency was in its “last throes,” implying that conventional warfare would return to its historic primacy. Fort Polk is a training ground for the “new” American soldier, where vignettes are reenacted based on current battle conditions in Iraq: “The training at Fort Polk replicates to the degree possible the situation on the ground, where Iraqi police and Army units play a larger role than they once did. The training also quickly incorporates tactical changes by the enemy in Iraq. For instance, earlier this month insurgents began blowing up bridges in Iraq. Within a day or so, the trainers at Fort Polk began using the same tactic against soldiers undergoing training,” Lubold writes. "The main thing soldiers here learn,” says the camp’s commander, “is that it's not all black and white.” What all the reformed training adds up to in the long term in Iraq and in the US military as a whole is unpredictable, but Lubold’s article raises very interesting questions about the future of warfare and the American military.

If the Onion once headlined, apocryphally, “Drugs Win War on Drugs,” perhaps John Hughes’s contributed op-ed to the Monitor might be paraphrased: “Hearts and Minds Winning War for Hearts and Minds.” Much-vaunted American propaganda tactics such as embedding have run their course, and militant groups in Iraq are developing sophisticated propaganda operations. “Now some US military officers . . . charge that a clever enemy media campaign is gaining traction and that the US is losing the war in information about battlefield operations.” Hughes does not entertain the idea that there might be more to downward trending US approval ratings by the inhabitants of the Middle East, such as sharp disagreements over political and military policies in Iraq and elsewhere.

The mental health of US combat veterans has figured heavily into the Post’s reporting this week. Expanding the theme, Robin Wright reports that “At least 40 percent of State Department diplomats who have served in danger zones suffer some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder,” according to Foreign Service Association testimony on Capitol Hill. Steven Kashkett, vice president of the organization told legislators that mental and psychiatric symptoms are worsening among diplomatic personnel working in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Psychological issues of diplomats in dangerous areas are under-served, Kashkett said, both in the areas of preparedness and treatment. In a survey of personnel at high-risk posts, the State department has found so far that “35 to 52 percent complained of social withdrawal, isolation, apathy, insomnia and anxiety -- many of the PTSD symptoms -- during or after their assignments,” Wright writes.

In other coverage:


In the continuing saga of the MRAP, Tom Vanden Brook writes that the acting Army secretary indicated in Senate committee testimony that the branch is committed to bringing the armored vehicles to Iraq and Afghanistan. "I can't tell you the number, but whatever that requirement is, we're going to meet it, and we're going to move it to theater as fast as we can," said Pete Geren.

With a nod to Tip O’ Niell, "All war is local," Alan Webber writes in a contributed op-ed, arguing that the Iraq war has strained small-town America to the breaking point, citing examples from Santa Fe, where he resides. Heavy deployment of the National Guard has left areas with inadequate response capabilities to potential domestic disasters. Webber also writes that Santa Fe’s police force has a high vacancy rate at the moment, as many officers are serving overseas in the Guard. No big scoops but an interesting outside-the-beltway look at the effects of the war.

E&P: LAT Profile of Innocent Iraqi Teen Killed by US Forces Angers Some Readers
06/19/2007 9:07 PM ET
Here's an excerpt of Greg Mitchell's Editor & Publisher report:
(June 19, 2007) -- The civilian death toll in Iraq is, by all accounts, frightful. Car bombs enact a terrible toll, and this is widely covered by the press almost every day. But civilians who die at the hands of American troops get much less attention. There are many reasons for this. The incidents are widely scattered and usually do not involve large numbers at one time. The U.S. military rarely admits wrongdoing -- in some cases, it may not even know that anyone has died. The media, amid horrible violence, has trouble investigating.

But a recent episode involving a single casualty has drawn unusual attention – only because the youth happened to be the son of a Los Angeles Times employee in Baghdad.

Tina Susman told the story last Tuesday in the L.A. Times. The boy was 17, but she did not name him, nor identify the father.

Susman, the paper’s Baghdad bureau chief, wrote, “U.S. military officials say troops are trained to avoid civilian casualties and do not fire wildly. Iraqis, however, say the shootings happen frequently and that even if troops are firing at suspected attackers, they often do so on city streets where bystanders are likely to be hit. Rarely is it possible to confirm such incidents. In this case, the boy was the son of a Los Angeles Times employee, which provided reporters knowledge of the incident in time to examine it. Witness and military accounts of the shooting offered a rare look into how such killings can occur.”

The report concludes this way:

By email yesterday, I asked Susman how the military had responded to her article. She replied today: “I have not had any official response from the military or otherwise here on the article, but there is no reason that they would have been expected to say anything. They do not have time to respond to every article written about U.S. troop actions in Iraq.

“I got a few emails from individual soldiers as well as citizens, here and in the States. Most were critical and accused us of being ultra-liberals and failing to comprehend the reality of what soldiers face." She added that one letter writer suggested that the dead boy's father, the L.A. Time employee. "was at fault for not having sent his son out of the country when the war began.”

Susman's article, on the contrary, was important and balanced. As Chris Hedges, the former New York Times war reporter, puts it this week at the Truthdig site: "The reality of the war—the fact that the occupation forces have become, along with the rampaging militias, a source of terror to most Iraqis—is not transmitted to the American public. The press chronicles the physical and emotional wounds visited on those who kill in our name. The Iraqis, those we kill, are largely nameless, faceless dead."

Read the entire report here.

Daily Column
Kirkuk on a Knife's Edge; Mental Health Issue Grows; Crocker: More Staff, Please
By GREG HOADLEY 06/19/2007 01:57 AM ET
Coalition fighting outside of Baghdad leads Iraq-datelined reporting in the two big dailies, as the Post and Times report on the launch of a Diyala province offensive by US and Iraqi forces, sustained clashes involving US and British forces in two southern cities, and a growing US assault on suburban and rural areas around the capital.

The Post continues to hammer the issue of mental health among US soldiers and veterans, and the USAT also places a front-pager dealing with this issue.

The US runs the biggest embassy ever in Baghdad, and staffers serving in the rest of the foreign service say that the Iraq mission is sapping the State department. However, the US ambassador to Iraq told the secretary of State that his mission is still understaffed, the Post reports in a scoop. Moreover, Amb. Ryan Crocker stated that the embassy lacks "qualified" staff who are up to the task of US activities in Iraq.

Be sure to check out the Monitor’s dispatch from Kirkuk, where a long history of ethnic and religious pluralism is butting up against the political pressures that are reshaping the new Iraq.

US forces were involved in clashes in militiamen in southern Maysan province, Joshua Partlow and Saad Sarhan write in the Post. Earlier accounts in the Iraqi press only point to clashes between British troops and Shi'a militia fighters. According to the American forces, the fighting was touched off around 2:30 a.m. in Amara and Majar al-Kabir, as “US-led troops” conducted raids allegedly looking for men believed to be involved in moving armor-piercing explosive devices from Iran into Iraq. Iraqi soldiers were not involved in the fighting: US and UK forces said their militaries had obtained approval from Iraqi authorities for the raids. However, an Iraqi security official for Maysan province said that the “occupation forces” had launched the actions without Iraqi approval, and called for an investigation into what he said were civilian casualties. Many of those fighting the Coalition troops were Mahdi Army affiliates, the Post writes, and US forces claimed that “Iranian surrogates” were operating in the Maysan area. The US figure of 20 combatant casualties was disputed by local police, and by the Sadrist organization in Najaf, who put the figures at 34 and 30 respectively, and said they included civilians. In Nasiriya at least five were killed in a clash between Iraqi police and Mahdi Army fighters. On Monday, the military released a statement about operations on Saturday, when US warplanes dropped four "precision-guided bombs" in Arab Jubour, south of Baghdad, while 1,200 soldiers maneuvered to prevent insurgents from entering Baghdad.

While the Post looks south of Baghdad for its lead Iraq story, the Times looks northeast to Ba'quba, where US officials say a major offensive on Sunni militant positions began overnight, involving 2,000 US troops, led by the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Second Infantry Division. Michael Gordon and Damien Cave report that US forces are either taking the lead in the assault, or providing support “on the flanks,” as well as artillery and aircraft strikes. US forces sealed off the city’s western areas, and the next phase will involve what the military politely calls “clearing” operations, i.e. house-to-house fighting in the urban centers, still full of civilian inhabitants in addition to many hundreds or even thousands of well-entrenched and tactically skilled militant fighters. US forces are finding well-developed defenses in the city, including machine-gun nests and buried IEDs powerful enough to take out armored vehicles. 17 of the explosive devices were found within a single mile, the Times reporters write.

Gordon and Cave bury the most interesting piece of information on the Ba'quba operations deep in the report:

Iraqi forces (entering part of Ba'quba) were joined by some members of the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade, a Sunni Arab group with units that have recently repudiated a longstanding alliance with Al Qaeda, and witnesses said the two groups were welcomed by the residents. American helicopters could be heard overhead, ready to assist, but residents told the Iraqis they wanted help stopping the sectarian bloodshed and ridding Iraq of the Americans.
A coordinated assault involving gunmen and a suicide bomber in Samarra killed four police commandos and a civilian, and a US soldier was killed in southern Baghdad on Sunday. At least eight others died in violence around the country.

Between truck bombs and tranquility, tensions and reconciliation, Howard LaFranchi’s CSM dispatch from Kirkuk paints a picture of a city far more complex than its breezy headline allows. Drawing on a long tradition of pluralism, and yet sitting on the faultlines of most of the major issues that threaten to tear Iraq apart, including oil, the Kurdish question, national identity, minority rights, the status of Ba'th party members, the US occupation, the interests of neighboring powers, and the Iraqi constitution. Worth a full read.

"Simply put, we cannot do the nation's most important work if we do not have the Department's best people," said US Amb. Ryan Crocker in an unclassified memo to Sec. Rice, Glenn Kessler writes in the Post. Although in an interview, Crocker, who confirmed the authenticity of the cable, retreated from the idea that the over 1,000 US staff members were underqualified, another government official said anonymously that many political staffers are "too young for the job" or are "trying to save their careers" by taking work in Iraq, Kessler writes. At the same time, Crocker is embroiled in a controversy with congressional leaders who wonder if the over $1 billion annual budget and drain on the diplomatic corps is worth the results. "Can we just review who we really need and send the rest of the people home?" Sen. Leahy asked Sec. Rice in hearings last month. Crocker called for the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau of the State Department to be responsible for filling Baghdad staff, not the State Departmetn’s Human Resources division. He also asked that NEA hold off filling other Middle Eastern diplomatic positions until Iraq positions were satisfactorily filled. In the memo, the ambassador also cited an “overly restrictive” set of security rules that restrict the activity of US diplomatic staff. The rules Crocker cites go back to the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut.

Mental health

On the heels of the Post’s series of investigative reports on mental health care at Walter Reed Hospital, Ann Scott Tyson and Christopher Lee cover the scrambling official reaction to the newspaper’s muckraking charges that the mental health system fails returning soldiers. From top Army brass, to Sec. Gates’s spokesman, to the Veterans Affairs secretary, to Capitol Hill, a firestorm seems to be brewing over the issue of the mental health of those returning from combat and especially treatment and compensation for PTSD sufferers, in direct response to the Post’s two-part series. High-level heads rolled in the fallout over an earlier Post series on outpatient care for disabled veterans at the Army hospital, and it will be very interesting to watch how the charges leveled in the latest installments -- dealing with a far more taboo subject -- ripple through the establishment.

The mental health debate is mapping out over US ground forces in Iraq, Greg Zoroya writes in USAT, as top US commanders in the country vetoed a proposal by Army mental health experts that US troops receive one month of leave for every three months of combat deployment. A recent study by Army psychologists found that “U.S. forces in Iraq spend more time in combat without a break than those who fought in Vietnam or World War II, according to Army psychologists who studied troops in Iraq,” Zoroya writes. However, high-ranking US commanders, including the second-in-command Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, and his chief aide, Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, said that the US forces did not have the staff resources to conduct such rotations. The study also suggests that continual combat without respite may lead to more mental health problems among troops and veterans.

Post editors follow up on the recent Walter Reed reports, writing “There are far too many survivors who, like Jeans Cruz, have been mistreated upon their return. The intensity of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan can leave deep emotional scars. Many soldiers are returning home with mental wounds caused by traumatic head injuries or with post-traumatic stress disorder. The Department of Veterans Affairs must care for a large quotient of veterans with disabilities that were uncommon or little understood decades ago. But the military medical establishment has not prepared itself to recognize, treat or compensate for these and even more traditional ailments.” Jeans Cruz’s battle with PTSD was profiled in the Post’s series. Citing a recent study by the Institute of Medecine, the eds call for an updated and simplified disability adjudication process at the VA, “with a particular emphasis on easing the burden on those with debilitating mental wounds.” VA support and diagnostics should also be updated, to fully address the “quality of life” issues that returning vets face, the eds write, closing by calling on Congress and the White House to fund and implement the changes.

In other coverage:


The Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine have put together an index of “failed states,” in which Iraq ranks second, Robin Wright reports for the Post, up -- or down -- from last year’s fourth-place finish. “There are two driving forces behind Iraq's escalating problems,” Robin writes, citing Fund for Peace President Pauline Baker, “The first is internal fragmentation, marked by the proliferation of militias and other groups that the United States and Iraqis have been unable to control. The second is interference by external forces in the country.” (Coalition troops apparently don’t count as “external forces.”) The index is forthcoming in the July-August issue of Foreign Policy, which will also argue that “that billions of dollars in development and security aid may be futile unless accompanied by a functioning government and plans for peacekeeping and economic development,” in Iraq and Afghanistan, which ranked eighth in the index.


USAT editors note the reappearance of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, one of the few high-level military voices that called for a full investigation of the entire command chain after theAbu Ghraib scandal of 2004. In a recent conversation with the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, Taguba describes ostracism after he suggested blame carrying over beyond the site of the Abu Ghraib violations. “He told of how he was quickly ordered to a Pentagon desk job — then forced to resign in January this year. He confessed to feeling as if he had joined the Army, but wound up in the Mafia,” the eds write. “Taguba's remarks are a reminder that the scandal still lacks thorough investigation,” they add, calling for a “fuller understanding” of Abu Ghraib, “not to needlessly rake up the past but to establish clear standards for the future.”


Donald Horowitz, Duke professor of political science, calls for “a much more nuanced debate” about US Iraq policy in a contributed op-ed, arguing that “The consequences of withdrawal are worse than the costs of continuing involvement. That is where the debate should be joined, based on a careful assessment of the comparative advantages of each course and of middle courses, such as partial withdrawal. That would be a serious debate, rather than the vacuous one that Congress has so far engaged in. Is it too much to ask that Congress rise to the occasion, as it did during the Cold War, and get serious about assessing the interests of our country?”


The Iraq war will end someday, Carl Minzner of the Council on Foreign Relations writes in a contributed op-ed, arguing that post-Iraq US foreign policy should resist “the isolationist temptation.” He argues that “responsibility for the Iraq fiasco needs to be placed squarely where it is deserved – on the failed unilateralist, neoconservative policies of the Bush administration,” and that a bipartisan backing of a strong US role in “multilateral institutions and alliances” will be required to face world problems with collective responses.

The West Asian Football Federation tournament is underway in Amman, Dan Murphy writes, focusing his report on the heavy presence of Iraqi nationals in Jordan to cheer on the Iraqi side, making Amman a hospitable host city for Iraqi players. In the next match, on Monday, Iraq plays the Palestinian side, a face-off that promises to be the battle of the exiled fans, given the large Palestinian refugee population in Jordan. Regional political fissures intersect in strange ways with the tournament schedule, Murphy writes.

Daily Column
Devastating Look at PTSD in Walter Reed; UNMOVIC's Idle Inspectors
By GREG HOADLEY 06/18/2007 01:58 AM ET
Iraq-datelined reporting is dwarfed again by the Post’s continuing series on Walter Reed Hospital, the most recent installments of which have featured veterans struggling with post-combat mental health disorders, and the inadequate US system for treating their needs. Today’s filing looks at the grievous story of a young man facing PTSD after a year in Iraq, and recounting the different ways the system has failed him.

No single development dominates Iraq-datelined writing, with the Post featuring political disagreements among high-level Iraqi politicians over the latest US policy twist of arming Sunni Arab militants to fight al-Qa'ida, and the Times leading its Iraq reporting with the kidnapping death of an editor for the major government-run newspaper.

Elsewhere, be sure to check out Walter Pincus’s short presentation of the sums paid by the US military to Iraqi victims of US forces, and have a look in the Times for the latest in the ongoing saga of those underutilized experts known as UNMOVIC, all dressed up with no place to inspect.

In the Times, Alissa Rubin leads her roundup of the day’s violence in Iraq with the murder of Falieh Mijthab, the political editor of al-Sabah who was kidnapped three days ago on the way to his work. Mithjab’s body was identified Sunday in a Baghdad morgue. Though al-Sabah is known as a pro-government daily, Falah al-Mishaal, the chief editor of the paper suggested that Mithjab’s work in state-run journalism under the Ba'thist regime may have led to his assassination. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mithjab is the 146th journalist or media worker killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. The second-ranking US commander in Iraq told the AP on Sunday that only approximately 40% of the capital was under security forces control. US forces were moving into new areas, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said, including the southeast of the city and areas just south of the capital’s borders that are said to be al-Qa'ida strongholds, part of a US campaign announced Saturday by Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, to move US forces into suburban areas around Baghdad, thought to be centers of logistical support activity for militants operating in the capital. US Amb. Ryan Crocker told “Meet the Press” that the Parliament would take up the draft oil law in the next few days. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met the Turkish ambassador to Iraq

Iraqi MPs are divided over the new American strategy to support Sunni Arab militants against al-Qa'ida, Joshua Partlow writes in the Post. Several high-level lawmakers in the Kurdish and Shi'a blocs expressed unease or outright opposition to the newly articulated US policy. Some predicted blowback: “"They take arms, they take money, and in the future they will be a problem. Politically, they are still against the Americans and the Iraqi government," said Mahmoud Othman, a prominent Kurdish MP. PM Maliki has expressed reservation about the idea, and a top aide to the PM said the Iraqi government would accept the US policy if those who receive support are not opposed to the process and are “recruited in a systematic way to ensure that they are not using their newly official status for nefarious purposes,” Partlow writes. A car bomb killed four, including two Iraqi soldiers, in Baiji, and a suicide bomber in Falluja killed at least six. Three US soldiers were killed on Saturday, two in Baghdad and one in Kirkuk province. US forces killed 10 “suspected insurgents” and arrested 20 others.

The Post’s duo of Anne Hull and Dana Priest continue their unflinching look at Walter Reed Hospital, which began four months ago in their investigative reports on outpatient care in the Army’s top medical facility. Continuing their chapter on the hospital’s mental health care, which opened yesterday in another front-pager, the two reporters trace the harrowing story of Pfc. Joshua Calloway, a 20-year old infantryman suffering from PTSD after deployment in Iraq. The article, which merits a full read, interweaves an insightful description of Calloway’s condition with an indictment of the military’s inadequate mental care system which has failed Calloway and thousands others. Calloway lasted nine months in Iraq, “until the afternoon he watched his sergeant step on a pressure-plate bomb in the road. The young soldier's knees buckled and he vomited in the reeds before he was ordered to help collect body parts.” He was sent home, mentally broken down, and wound up in Walter Reed’s Ward 53, which focuses on all mental illnesses. "I can't remember who I was before I went into the Army," he said. While the hospital is building a new top-of-the-line facility for amputees, “nothing so gleaming exists for soldiers with diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, who in the Army alone outnumber all of the war's amputees by 43 to 1. The Army has no PTSD center at Walter Reed, and its psychiatric treatment is weak compared with the best PTSD programs the government offers. Instead of receiving focused attention, soldiers with combat-stress disorders are mixed in with psych patients who have issues ranging from schizophrenia to marital strife.” Short staffing, inappropriate therapy, and bureaucratic turf wars also lower the quality of care the PTSD victims receive. As one PTSD patient said, referring to the military’ s new investment in amputee care: "We are handicapped patients, too. Cut off both my legs, but give me my sanity. You can't get a prosthesis for that." Read the whole thing.

Walter Pincus, national security and intel writer for the Post scoped out a CRS report on the payments offered by US and Coalition forces to Iraqi civilians and their families for compensation for deaths or injuries, or property loss or damage. $2,500 is the highest amount payable under the military’s “solatia” payments program, for either loss of life or property. "Two members of the same family are killed in a car hit by U.S. forces. The family could receive a maximum of $7,500 in CERP condolence payments ($2,500 for each death and up to $2,500 for vehicle damage)," the report explains. The “solatia” system, which offers payments without an admission of US guilt or wrongdoing, contrasts somewhat with Foreign Claims Act procedures, which covers noncombat loss of life or property. As one ex-Army judge advocate wrote "the full market value may be paid for a Toyota run over by a tank in the course of a non-combat related accident, but only $2,500 may be paid for the death of a child shot in the crossfire."

In other coverage:


The writing is on the wall for UNMOVIC, Nicholas Kulish writes in the Times. Once at the center of the pre-war WMD controversy, the UN agency commissioned to inspect Iraq for WMDs appears close to disbanding, after the US and UK floated proposals to dissolve the agency. The vast archives of the organization will be a sensitive matter, Kulish writes, containing as they do the formulas to sensitive weapons programs. As for the UNMOVIC endgame, “The uncertainty now, diplomats here say, is Russia. The Russian delegation has said that it is the United Nations’ responsibility, not the United States-led coalition’s, to certify that Iraq is in compliance with United Nations resolutions prohibiting the country from possessing unconventional weapons.” Those interested will want to see the Post’s article on the group published some weeks ago.


The top US military and diplomatic officials did the talk shows this weekend, Karen DeYoung writes in the Post. Gen. Petraeus told “Fox News Sunday” that he did not expect September to show gains that would justify the end of the US “surge” in Iraq, and hinted at “heavy lifting” in Iraq that could last years. “Asserting steady, albeit slow, military and political progress, Petraeus said that the ‘many, many challenges’ would not be resolved “in a year or even two years’,” DeYoung writes. Amb. Crocker also presented a “mixed” view of US progress, during his appearance on “Meet the Press.”

James Gilmore III, GOP candidate for president, contributes an op-ed to the Post in the form of an open letter to President Bush. “I urge that we define our goals in terms of America's national interest, and let the people of Iraq take care of their national interests. The United States has a stake in preventing a government from emerging that is expressly hostile to us, such as in a coup inspired by al-Qaeda. The United States has a stake in not permitting the invasion and occupation of Iraq by any of its neighbors. This can be done through a military assistance program and diplomatic initiative. Beyond this, the responsibility for peace and order of the country rests with the Iraqi government, which can make a specific request to the United States for assistance like any other country of the world,” Gilmore writes. Gilmore’s op-ed suggests that the Iraqi government created under US auspices after the invasion of 2003 will be a key trope in GOP candidates’ efforts to distance themselves from president Bush without openly breaking with him.


No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Turks Back Off? U.S. on the Offense in W. Baghdad
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/17/2007 01:47 AM ET
The Washington Post hits it hard on Iraq today, with four stories, multiple op-eds and a must-read followup to last year's Pulitzer-winning stories on the scandal at Walter Reed by Dana Priest and Anne Hull. Meanwhile the New York Times plays it big that the U.S. is starting a new offensive against al Qaeda in western Baghdad as part of its uncharacteristically thin Sunday offering on Iraq.

Priest's story for the Post, co-bylined with Hull, is both a heartbreaking and enraging look at the mental health problems faced by returning veterans and the bureaucratic sclerosis that hinders them getting help. Army Spec. Jeans Cruz, who helped capture Saddam Hussein, suffers from serious PTSD, but has been denied anything more than group therapy from the Veteran's Administration because of sloppy record-keeping by the Army. "I've shot kids," he is quoted as saying. "I've had to kill kids. Sometimes I look at my son and like, I've killed a kid his age. At times we had to drop a shell into somebody's house. When you go clean up the mess, you had three, four, five, six different kids in there. You had to move their bodies."

He is one of 45,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan -- the equivalent of four Army divisions -- who are suffering from some from of mental illness, usually PTSD, brought on by the stress of almost six years of war.

They occupy every rank, uniform and corner of the country. People such as Army Lt. Sylvia Blackwood, who was admitted to a locked-down psychiatric ward in Washington after trying to hide her distress for a year and a half; and Army Pfc. Joshua Calloway, who spent eight months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and left barely changed from when he arrived from Iraq in handcuffs; and retired Marine Lance Cpl. Jim Roberts, who struggles to keep his sanity in suburban New York with the help of once-a-week therapy and a medicine cabinet full of prescription drugs; and the scores of Marines in California who were denied treatment for PTSD because the head psychiatrist on their base thought the diagnosis was overused.

One of the problems is the ridiculously high standard for diagnosis of PTSD. Priest reports the current requirements are for veterans to prove they witnessed at least one traumatic event, such as the death of a fellow soldier, or been the victim of an IED blast. "That standard has been used to deny thousands of claims," Priest writes. Another problem is the stigma within military culture: in a recent survey, nearly 60 percent of soldiers said they wouldn't seek help for mental health problems because they worried about being treated differently by their unit commanders. Fifty-five percent worried about being perceived as weak.

Priest's and Hull's story comes on the heels of the Post story yesterday about the release of a Pentagon report calling for sweeping reforms in the treatment of mental illness for returning troops.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus announced yesterday that with the final units of the surge now in Iraq, a new offensive against al Qaeda in western Baghdad will begin, report Thom Shanker and Michael Gordon for The New York Times. It's an offensive aimed at disrupting the insurgent cells and bomb factories that have wreaked havoc on U.S. forces and Shi'ite areas of Baghdad. Interestingly, this offensive is apparently taking troops away from other Baghdad neighborhoods that still need to be secured, meaning even the surge troops may be spread too thin. "There has never been a military commander in history who wouldn’t like to have more of something or other," Petraeus said. "The fact is, frankly, that we have all that our country is going to provide us in terms of combat forces —- that is really it, right now."

There have been numerous offensives against al Qaeda and other Sunni militants in the past -- Fallujah I and II, Ramadi, Tal Afar, the Euphrates River Campaign of 2005 -- and they succeeded mainly in driving the militants to other areas rather than solving a problem. Shanker and Gordon's story never really gets at this issue, but they note that success has been mixed in the past.

The Post's John Ward Anderson and K.I. Ibrahim wrap up the security events by reporting on the destruction of a second Sunni mosque in the southern city of Basra while Moqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Mahdi Army, called his followers to march to Samarra next month, the site of Wednesday's bombing of the Golden Shrine. Al-Sadr's proposed pilgrimage is incendiary, because tens of thousands of Shi'ites marching to an al Qaeda stronghold in Iraq sounds like it's asking for trouble, but knowing Sadr he's probably just agitating for some concession from his rivals. The Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq neé SCIRI said the logistics would need to be studied, indicating they're on to al-Sadr's game. The U.S. is taking a wait-and-see attitude to al-Sadr's provocation, with military spokesman being quoted as saying, "in theory, demonstrations are 'a part of democracy,' and that if Sadr 'can do it peacefully, with no one getting hurt, that's a good thing.'"

Also, the U.S. military announced that the ID cards of two soldiers captured by militants on May 12 were discovered in a safe house in Samarra a week ago. Gates' and Petraeus' presser gets a (very) brief mention by Anderson and Ibrahim. They don't seem very impressed by the new offensive.

The Times' roundup by Damien Cave plays big the destruction of the Ashrah al-Mubashra mosque in Basra, and gives a lot more detail on the security situation in that city, which a former governor calls "out of control." "The latest attack heightened tensions between Sunni and Shiite officials, and for some, seemed to confirm that Iraq’s central government had lost the ability to exert much influence, not just on areas of the Kurdish north, but also on majority-Shiite strongholds in the south," he writes. Cave buries the news of al-Sadr's call for a march on Samarra, but gets in that a U.S. soldier was killed south of Baghdad on Friday by a roadside bomb. The news of the discovery of the two soldiers' IDs gets a nod.

In other coverage
The Post absolutely dominates in extra Iraq coverage today as IraqSlogger was going to Web, with reports from the north on a possible Turkish invasion, a follow-up on Abu Ghraib that points to the involvement of senior Defense Department officials and three Outlook section pieces on Iraq.

Joshua Partlow travels to Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan to describe a tense situation with 20,000 to 30,000 Turkish troops massed on the border, families fleeing their homes, Turkish special forces in Sulaymaniyah and violations of Iraqi airspace by Turkish choppers. And yet, the headline says "Major Turkish Incursion in N. Iraq Seen as Unlikely." Huh? Only the commander of the border force, Brig. Gen. Muhsen Abdul Hasan Lazem, is quoted as saying it's unlikely. Partlow notes that Turkish premier Recep Tayyp Erdogan said his country would focus on defeating domestic Kurdish militants before turning to Iraq's Kurds and that troop movements and shelling are a relatively regular occurrence, but he buries the really significant part in the story: the suggestion that the U.S. would side with Turkey in a dispute with the Kurds. "We can't have it to where we have friction with a NATO ally," said Brig. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, who works with Iraqi security forces. The Kurdish regional government "must help out in muzzling the PKK or suffer the consequences."

Josh White and Amy Goldstein write up Syemour Hersh latest provocation: Lt. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who investigated the abuses at Abu Ghraib, said he was ordered to limit his investigation to low-ranking soldiers, that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld misled Congress about his involvement and that he was forced to retire early because of his work on the scandal. "I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib," Taguba said, according to the article. "We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. ... Civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable."

In the Outlook section, Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh, two fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, write in today's Post that Iraq is lost, full-stop. But they do offer a prescription on how to handle it. After downplaying the consequences of a defeat, they prescribe containing Iran, tamping down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and returning to realistic ideas about promoting democracy in the Middle East. "Washington faces a bleak choice: It can push its values or realize its interests. It cannot do both," they write.

George Will holds Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., up as a barometer of future Republican sentiment in Congress. Smith is a war opponent, a lonely position in a party that has come to be defined by its leader, the president, and the Iraq war. "Smith's loneliness may be assuaged in September," writes Will, "when Petraeus reports on the effects of the troop surge. 'There is,' Smith says, 'a high expectation that we' -- Republican senators -- 'will be able to vote for something different in September.' And: 'I can,' he says, 'think of a dozen Republican senators who will be with me in September.'"

Finally, David Broder writes that the Bush administration is so desperate to get its message of "yallah, yallah!" to Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki and his government, that it's resorted to using The New York Times to apply public pressure. "Remarkable," he writes. "Not only does (Adm. William J. Fallon, the head of U.S. Central Command) invite The New York Times to what would normally be a private meeting, thus signaling to Malaki that the pressure will be publicized around the world, but then the American officials -- no reference to agreement on Maliki's part -- tell (NYT reporter Michael) Gordon, 'Go ahead and quote everybody directly on the record.'" To Broder, this is a sign that the Bush administration is so desperate that "even the Times becomes a lever." (Well, it does have a larger circulation than the Post, David.) What's more surprising, however, is Broder's surprise. Remember that run-up to the war with Judith Miller and WMD? Anyone?

No weekend edition

No Sunday edition

No weekend edition

Daily Column
Sunni Shrine Destroyed; Gates Visits Iraq; PTSD on Rise
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/16/2007 01:40 AM ET
Today's big story comes from the Washington Post's Steve Fainaru, who peels back a lot of layers on the use of private military contractors in Iraq. In short, there's a lot of them, they cost a lot of money and a lot of them are dying -- all largely out of sight of the American public, which is mostly how the U.S. military likes it.

The security companies, Fainaru reports, are beefing up their presence and armor in parallel to the U.S. military's "surge," mostly for the use in protecting convoys and personal security. The statistics for the companies are sobering: one in seven convoys protected by private security forces have come under attack this year, with one company reporting 300 hostile actions in the first four months of 2004. Until relatively recently, the military routinely deleted contractor casualty figures from reports, but revised figures from last month state that 132 contractors and truck drivers have been killed and 416 wounded since fall 2004. Four security contractors and a driver are still missing and 208 vehicles have been destroyed. Even those numbers are considered low-balled.

The amount of money in play is also sobering: The U.S. military plans to outsource about $1.5 billion in security operations.

The story lacks a full accounting, however, with only the briefest of allusions as to why private security forces in Iraq are considered controversial. While it's nice Fainaru reported that most of the 100 companies operate outside Iraqi law and that the number of what might be considered "private combat troops" is in the 20,000 to 30,000 range -- about the same size as the military's "surge" -- the contention that contractors operate in a defensive role only is taken at face value. No mention is given to their rules of engagement, discipline and the opinions of U.S. troops on the ground. In the past, U.S. soldiers with contractors in their battle space have sometimes complained of the latters' cowboy tactics. The views of the employers, advocates and even U.S. commanders guarded by the contractors is given full venting, however -- all of which are bullish. Another big omission is how the contractors fit into the military's chain of command and how placing the contractors under the UCMJ (implemented in the FY2007 Military Authorization Act) is working out.

Sunni Shrine Destroyed
In the day's roundup of security incidents, Both The New York Times and the Post lead the destruction of the Talha bin Obeid-Allah shrine in Basra, the largest Sunni shrine in Basra. Alissa Rubin of the Times writes that Iraqi and American officials fear the lack of reprisal violence following Wednesday's attack on the Askariya shrine in Samarra was a matter of revenged delayed rather than prevented. "We won't see so much right away," she quotes an official in the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki as saying. "It will come later." Rubin quotes Gen. Ali Hamadi, a security official in Basra, as saying that photographers and cameramen entered the mosque and planted bombs, but local residents reported uniformed men -- likely Shi'ite militiamen from the local security forces -- entering the mosque just before the explosion.

John Ward Anderson in the Post notes the shrine's destruction and also quotes Hamadi, who says the security detail in charge of the mosque was arrested. He also reports 35 bodies found in Baghdad Friday.

Both stories note the F-16 that crashed and the deaths of five U.S. troops. Rubin skips the report of bodies in Baghdad, but reports two civilians killed and four wounded in Samarra by a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol to enforce the curfew. Anderson, meanwhile, folds Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' visit to Iraq into his daily roundup and flicks at the completion of the surge, according to U.S. commanders. U.S. troops now number about 160,000 in Iraq.

Gates of Iraq
The Times and the Wall Street Journal break out their stories on Gates' visit to Baghdad, with the Times' Thom Shanker reporting that Gates isn't very happy with the pace of Iraqi political reconciliation, a departure from the happy talk on Wednesday by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and former ambassador John Negroponte. He did defend Gen. David Petraeus, who has been criticized by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as not being candid with Congress and being out of touch with realities on the ground in Iraq.

The Journal's Greg Jaffe uses Gates' visit to talk about the U.S.'s efforts at arming Sunni tribal groups in Anbar to fight al Qaeda elements, a story that has been widely reported elsewhere. Both stories mention Gates' attempt to play down September as the make-or-break month for the surge when Congress gets to hear a progress report.

In other coverage

Ann Scott Tyson reports for the Post on a Pentagon task force's call for sweeping reforms in the nation's mental health system for returning troops. Nearly 40 percent of soldiers, a third of Marines and half of the National Guard members are reporting symptoms of psychological problems upon return home, but a shortage of mental health workers in the various services are being swamped by the tsunami of patients -- hundreds of thousands out of the more than 1 million troops who have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Gates is required to develop a plan of action within six months based on the task force's recommendations.

No weekend edition.

No weekend edition.

Daily Column
Samarra Attack Fails to Spark Widespread Violence
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/15/2007 01:30 AM ET
The news from Iraq was dominated by the sectarian violence that didn't break out following yesterday's attack on the Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, and Washington twitters as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attempts to take Gen. David Petraeus to the woodshed.

The Washington Post's Joshua Partlow writes up the day's violence with a report that 13 Sunni mosques came under fire the day after bombers nearly completed the destruction of the Askariya shrine in Samarra. But, he noted, the violence didn't escalate into the vicious sectarian fighting that followed the initial attack on the shrine in February 2006. Iraqi officials credit the relative calm to appeals from religious and political leaders, a rapid response by the United States military and a round-the-clock curfew that kept Iraqis homebound. Nine of the Sunni mosques attacked were in the southern and mainly Shi'ite city of Basra. Almost all escaped heavy damage, with only the al-Othman mosque taking RPG fire. Residents of Samarra said that when the curfew was lifted, they hoped to flee the country. Also, "only" 33 bodies were found scattered around Baghdad, which, "by the standards of recent months is not a particularly high number," Partlow grimly notes.

Alissa Rubin of The New York Times rounds up the Samarra aftermath, but the Times' Iraq is a much less violent place than that of the Post. She notes only four attacks on Sunni mosques, and reports that attacks in Basra were halted. Not only that, but Shi'ite and Sunni residents there held "unity" demonstrations. Also, only five unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad, "far fewer than the police have found daily for several weeks." Rubin gives more play to a mortar attack on the Green Zone, where seven shells "rained down" with one exploding at the gate of the ramshackle Rashid Hotel, just across from the Convention Center where Parliament meets. One person was killed and two others wounded, according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. The attack came just 50 minutes before a relatively congenial joint press conference featuring U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker; Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, one of Crocker's predecessors in Baghdad; and David Satterfield, the secretary of state's coordinator for Iraq.

Breaking with past criticisms, Rubin says Crocker and Negroponte praised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as well as Sunni and Kurdish leaders, for their handling of yesterday's Samarra attack. The Americans likely figured that criticizing Iraqi leaders as the remnants of the Askariya shrine smoldered was bad diplomacy. Negroponte even went out of his way to toss aside this silly notion of "deadlines."

"I haven't talked to anybody in terms of deadlines," Mr. Negroponte said. "I've stressed urgency."

Picking on Petraeus
Gen. David Petraeus' interview yesterday with USA Today sure ticked off Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid off, reports Thomas Ricks in The Washington Post. The Nevada Democrat said the general "isn't in touch with what's going on in Baghdad." This is one of the few instances where Petraeus has come in for criticism from members of Congress, who have publicly, at least, bought into the Petraeus-as-savior narrative. Reid goes so far as to use Petraeus' past against him: "Noting that Petraeus, who is now on his third tour of duty in Iraq, oversaw the training of Iraqi troops during his second stint there, Reid said: 'He told us it was going great; as we've looked back, it didn't go so well.' " Reid also said he was glad to see Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Gen. Peter Pace on his way out, and allegedly called him "incompetent" to a gaggle of liberal bloggers. This callout on the generals prompted White House spokesman Tony Snow to once again declare criticism of the military in Iraq as off-limits. "At a time of war, for a leader of a party that says it supports the military, it seems outrageous to be issuing slanders toward the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the man who's responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq," he said.

Jeff Zeleny of the Times weighs in, giving good play to Reid's statement that Petraeus "was never as candid as he should have been about the conduct and progress of this war." In addition to Snow's remarks, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, called Reid's comments "highly inappropriate and regrettable." No word on whether his fellow Democrats have Reid's six.

In other coverage

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, D-Calif., is leading the charge in Congress to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," reports Josh White in the Post. She and about 125 other House members say the 1993 policy allowing gay and lesbian service-members to continue in the armed forces as long as they keep their sexual orientation secret is outdated and harmful to a military stretched thin by two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Republican candidates for president, rather predictably and with an eye on the party's conservative base, all opposed repealing the policy, with McCain opposed to even talking about it. "I think it would be a terrific mistake to even reopen the issue," he said at a June 5 debate. The Service Members Legal Defense Network estimates that 65,000 troops are hiding their orientation and that 11,000 have been discharged under the policy since its inception. The GAO found that 800 of those discharged were in mission-critical positions, such as language experts.

In an op-ed, Post columnist Eugene Robinson attacks the White House for its "bait-and-switch" tactics on now playing down September as the month when things are going to show whether President Bush's "surge" plan is working. "White House spokesman Tony Snow was purposeful on Wednesday in stomping, trampling, tap-dancing upon and otherwise giving a definitive beat-down to any expectations of a serious, fact-based reassessment of Iraq policy in the fall. Never mind that the White House raised those expectations in the first place," he writes. Most of the column is a run-down of yesterday's Pentagon report that said violence was up across much of Iraq because of the inflow of troops into Baghdad and Anbar. "George Bush can't bring himself to question his basic vision of Iraq, and I doubt he ever will," he glumly concludes.

At the bottom of Rubin's write-up, she mentions that the case of Lt. Col. William H. Steele is going to court-martial. Steele, 51, an army reservist from Prince George, Va., was posted at Camp Cropper, one of the detention centers at BIAP, which held some of Iraq's most wanted, including Saddam Hussein. He is charged with "mishandling classified information, storing it on his computer, possessing pornography, and giving special privileges to an Iraqi interpreter and carrying on an inappropriate relationship with her." THe most serious charge against him, that he "aided the enemy" by allowing detainees to use a cellphone without supervision, carries the death penalty.

Paul von Zielbauer writes a very confusing story about the forensics evidence in the hearing of a Marine accused of killing three Iraqis in Haditha in 2005. Government experts testified that four Iraqi men were shot in the head from a few feet away, "undercutting prosecutors' argument that the men had been 'executed' by two Marine infantrymen."

But, in a sign of how forensic evidence can be open to differing interpretations, one expert conceded that the evidence could support the marines' account of acting in self-defense just minutes after he had asserted that it contradicted one marine's account of the shootings.

This will be a difficult story for prosecutors and the panel of judges to untangle in determining whether Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, who is accused of killing three of the men, goes to trial or not.

In an extraordinarily tone-deaf op-ed, Bing West and Owen West call for enhanced identification technology for U.S. troops (sounds good) and a vastly expanded detention policy (not so good.) "The scale of imprisonment must be doubled or tripled if we are serious about prevailing," they write. The problem is that there is no accurate census or coherent ID standard among Iraqis, and the abuses of Abu Ghraib led to "vastly excessive civil rights protections for detainees." The result? No one knows who the insurgents are and many that are being picked up by sheer luck are constantly being set free.

America's newspaper has an interesting package by William M. Welch on equipment shortfalls facing the states' National Guard units because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Units in 31 states have 60 percent or less of their authorized equipment. The shortfall raises concerns that in the event of a major national emergency, such as another Hurricane Katrina, Guard units won't be able to help other states. New Mexico is in the worst shape, with only 34 percent of the equipment it needs, while Idaho has 100 percent of its equipment.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., pens an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal saying things are going better in Baghdad and Anbar province based on his recent trip there, echoing Petraeus' assessments reported by USA Today, er, yesterday -- which earned Petraeus a scolding by Lieberman's colleague, Sen. Reid (see above). In the piece, the Nutmeg Senator attempts to rebut critics' assertions that the surge isn't working because the overall level of violence is increasing across other parts of Iraq, according to a report issued by the Pentagon. "Our troops have succeeded in improving security conditions in precisely those parts of Iraq where the 'surge' has focused," he writes "Al Qaeda has shifted its operations to places like Diyala in large measure because we have made progress in pushing them out of Anbar and Baghdad. The question now is, do we consolidate and build on the successes that the new strategy has achieved, keeping al Qaeda on the run, or do we abandon them?"

Iraq's lawyers are being killed at an increasing rate, writes Melanie Kirkpatrick for the Journal's op-ed page, an assault on Iraq's legal system that American lawyers are neglecting. She recounts a letter from Aswad al-Minshidi, president of the Iraqi Bar Association: "Dear Miss Melanie," he writes. "I know when a journalist is killed in Iraq, his or her colleagues around the world provide support and raise their voices in outrage. But where are the voices of outrage of lawyers in other countries when a lawyer is killed for doing his job?" U.S. lawyers should stop focusing on defending detainees at Guantanamo and instead help out their brethren in Iraq, she argues.

No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Samarra Shrine Bombing; Congressional Maneuvers
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/14/2007 01:58 AM ET
The biggest news of the day is obviously the destruction of the two minarets at the Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, apparently by Sunni extremists, in the hopes of stoking yet more sectarian violence in the midst of the U.S. "surge" plan. Everyone plays it big, with the exception of the Post, which strangely buries it on A20.

John Burns tackles the roundup for the Times, and makes the observation that the bombers likely had the American domestic politics firmly in mind when they blew up the minarets. By fanning more sectarian violence, the bombers hoped to undercut the generals when they report to Congress later this year. "Without significant progress by September," he writes, "when the top American military commander here is to report to the president and Congress, the generals appear to have little prospect of holding off pressure at home for withdrawal." Burns notes that the American military was getting all its pieces in place for a "summer offensive against Qaeda-linked insurgents and Shi'ite death squads," but intel reports were streaming in about plans for a "catastrophic" attack against Shi'ite shrines. The three holiest shrines in Iraq, those in Karbala, Najaf and Khadhamiya in Baghdad, all had been targeted this year. Samarra, while lacking in impact because of its prior destruction, was probably chosen because it was the most accessible.

The Post's A20 story(!) of the attack on the shrine by John Ward Anderson and Joshua Partlow has much of the same stuff as the Times, including the historical context, but adds a scooplet in its detailing of the security arrangements around the shrine. The inner ring of security came from the Facilities Protection Service, but the outer ring was was manned by police from the 3rd Battalion of the Salahuddin Provincial Police in Tikrit, near Saddam Hussein's hometowm. Perhaps guarding a Shi'ite shrine with men who blame Shi'ites for the death of the man who brought money and power to their home villages wasn't the best idea? The Post also found a witness who claimed commandos from Baghdad came up Tuesday night and pushed the police force out of the way to get to the shrine, although it's not clear what police force the witness was referring to.

Dan Murphy of the Monitor reports from Cairo on the bombing of the Askariya shrine and notes that while the original attack in February 2006 was "a watershed moment" in the civil war in Iraq, yesterday's attack "may not see the same devastating results." He notes that, like in 2006, all of Iraq's leaders appealed for calm, but the difference this time is that their followers seem to be listening. The Monitor reports that only one Sunni mosque was set on fire in reprisal Wednesday, and Murphy uses these events to showcase Moqtada al-Sadr's attempts to reach out to Sunnis and recast himself as a nationalist figure instead of a Shi'ite one.

The Wall Street Journal's Philip Shishkin has perhaps the best quote of the day in the Samarra coverage with a shopkeeper in Sadr City saying, "We have a saying that you cannot be bitten twice by the same snake, so it's a shame on the government that this happened again." Shishkin, however, reports widespread retaliatory violence in and around Baghdad including rocket fire, possibly from Shi'ite militiamen.

Cesar G. Soriano of USA Today gets a 1A interview with Gen. David Petraeus, who warns that the bombing in Samarra might fan sectarian violence. Petraeus also took the opportunity praise al-Sadr's calls for calm as "very constructive."

Both the Times and the Post report in stories separate from the Samarra coverage that violence has either not dropped or is creeping back up across much of the country.

The Times' David Cloud reports from Washington on a Pentagon report that says, based on data analyzed between February and early May -- the opening moves of the surge -- that it was too early to say whether the increased security operations would lead to a sustained improvement in the situation. That much most of us know, but it also described in more detail how the shifting of American forces to Baghdad had worsened security in other parts of the country. While Baghdad and Anbar have improved, Nineveh, Diyalah and Basra have seen marked deterioration. Ann Scott Tyson of the Post emphasizes the report's criticisms of the Iraqis, quoting the report as saying, "Iraqi leaders have made 'little progress' on the overarching political goals that the stepped-up security operations are intended to help advance."

USA Today's Soriano, however, takes the opposite tack and lets Petraeus say the surge is actually working in "half, perhaps two-thirds of Baghdad." Petraeus spins a bit however, emphasizing the progress in Anbar and Baghdad at the expense of Diyalah and elsewhere. He also said sectarian violence is down, contradicting the Pentagon report.

In other coverage

Soriano was busy today, with 1A stories and Q&As with Petraeus.

Ben Jones looks at the various states' flag-at-half-mast policies as Flag Day rolls around. Apparently, lowering the flag when a servicemember dies is not universal. More than half -- 28 -- lower the flag automatically, while 22 do not. And sometimes the flag is lowered only at certain facilities. It's complicated.

In an editorial, USA Today says this latest bombing is a test for Iraq and a message to the U.S. For the Iraqis, the challenge will be preventing all-out civil war. (A little late, no?) And for the Americans, the attack "underscored just how urgent it is to nail down a plan in which U.S. forces are engaged first and foremost in fighting al-Qaeda and disengaged from the sectarian violence among Iraqi factions."

At the end of its Samarra story by Anderson and Partlow, the Post notes that one of the success stories in Anbar -- the Anbar Salvation Council -- is facing competition from a new group of tribes that says the Council relies too much on the Americans. Raad Sabah al-Alwani, the Council's leader, says the newcomers are all foreigners. "They came recently from Jordan and Syria and the other countries, they are not like us," he said. "We suffered and founded this council, and we fought al Qaeda. They want to come and, after all these efforts, they want to take our place." The U.S. military does its best to spin the assault on its ally -- credited with helping bring down Anbar violence dramatically -- and said the dissolving of the Anbar Salvation Council would not "be an anti Coalition action by the tribes," said a Marine spokesman. The council will "hopefully dissolve because it outlived its usefulness, which was to fight al-Qaeda."

Post op-ed columnist David Ignatius spotlights a fascinating -- and dangerous -- feud between the American- and Iranian-backed Iraqi spy agencies. The American-backed Iraqi National Intelligence Service is led by Gen. Mohammed Shahwani, who is currently in self-imposed exile in the United States. Sheerwan al-Waeli, the head of the rival spy agency, the Ministry of Security, doesn't come off too well in Ignatius' eyes.

Despite the odd headline ("For Democratic Leaders, a Fear That the Focus on the War Has Blurred"), Congressional Democracts are going back on the offensive against Bush and the Iraq war, reports Jeff Zeleny. Whiel part of the party wants Congress to focus on a domestic agenda, which has been long neglected, the other, more liberal wing, wants to see a renewed push on ending the war in Iraq. After being out-maneuvered by Bush in their first attempt at setting limits on the war, the Democrats intended to wait until September to take it up again, allowing them the spring and summer to tackle the domestic chores of the nation. But both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pledged action sooner rather than later. Zeleny says Democrats "intend to reprise at least four ideas when the Senate considers the Defense Department policy bill: a measure to reverse the authorization for the Iraq war, set a deadline for troop withdrawal, block money for major combat operations after March 31, 2008, and increase readiness requirements for troops to be sent back to Iraq."

“On Iraq,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, “we’re going to hold the president’s feet to the fire.” Doesn't sound very blurry.

A Times editorial calls for better armor for vehicles in Iraq and takes the Bush administration and military officials to task for not responding more quickly to requests from commanders in the field.

On the other side of the aisle, Gail Russell Chaddock says that Bush is attempting to win back wavering GOP lawmakers who are just looking for any reason to desert their party leader. While there are several issues of contention, Iraq is the biggest one and the one most fraught with danger for Bush when September rolls around. Moderates and even some conservatives are expected to jump ship when the time comes for a vote.

Regular Monitor columnist Helena Cobban warns that the U.S. will need the United Nations when it comes time to negotiate a drawdown or -- even better, in her opinion -- a full withdrawal, but she's skeptical the U.S. can get over its "prickly, dismissive attitude" toward the world body. She also notes that this will be her last column for the Monitor because the newspaper is discontinuing its regular columns.

Iraq is bringing low GOP candidates' prospects in 2008, reports John Harwood. By 52 percent to 31 percent, the public wants to see a Democrat win next year, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Disgust with Bush is bringing down the whole party, pollsters say, and 54 percent of respondents said the situation in Iraq is getting worse. (10 percent said it was getting better.) Democrats need to watch out, too, as the "inconclusive debates" on Iraq have helped bring Congress's approval down to 23 percent, lower even than Bush's (29 percent.)

Anna Husarska, a senior policy adviser at the International Rescue Committee, chimes in on the Journal's op-ed page to argue that while the U.S. may have legally opened its doors to the thousands of Iraqis who worked for America in Iraq, the actual admission of Iraqis is woeful: Only one was admitted in May. In April, the count was also one. In the eight months after the Vietnam war, the U.S. "facilitated the movement to the United States of over 131,000 South Vietnamese refugees." Quite a difference.

Daily Column
General: Five More Years; Maliki vs. the Times on "Benchmarks"; Sweden's Iraqis
By GREG HOADLEY 06/13/2007 01:57 AM ET
The Times pitches no fewer than six Iraq-related stories today, while our other papers forgo any Iraq-datelined reporting. You may not have expected to see an op-ed contributed by one Nuri al-Maliki in the Wall Street Journal, but you won’t be surprised by what it says.

Even without Iraq-filed reporting today, the Post slips in one important read, as an American general claims that the slow progress toward the goals of training Iraqi forces will keep the US providing security duties in Iraq for years to come – while the Iraqis subsidize thousands of “ghost personnel” in the Iraqi security forces, many of whom are enrolled just for the paycheck.

The Times also looks to Sweden, a non-Coalition country that has still put itself on the map of Iraq news by accepting tens of thousands of fleeing Iraqi refugees, who, we learn, tend very often to be Christians.

The Times is the only paper to print its usual roundup of the day’s hard news from Iraq, as Damien Cave leads his Baghdad-datelined report with the unannounced visit of John Negroponte, deputy secretary of State and former US Iraq ambassador. Negroponte’s visit with Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, follows a day after Adm. William Fallon, US CENTCOM chief, met with top-level Iraqi leaders to spur Iraqi authorities to enact the US agenda of “benchmarks” drawn up for the country by Washington. Negroponte’s visit fell along the same lines, Cave writes, also noting that the prime minister spoke in a press conference, saying that the Iraqi government would attempt to push the controversial US-backed oil law through the Parliament, one of Washington’s key short-term goals for the country. However, Maliki also seemed to dispute Negroponte’s priorities, emphasizing the necessity to develop Iraqi security forces to fight against insurgent groups. “We have many tasks ahead of us,” the PM said. “On top of them is developing our security forces to handle their national roles in fighting the Al Qaeda terrorist group, Saddamists and militias to impose law and order in all the country.” Outside the Green Zone, 26 bodies were recovered throughout the capital, and IEDs killed at least three. A suicide car bombing in at a checkpoint west of Ramadi killed at least four. Militants attacked a local official’s house outside Diyala province’s Muqdadiya, abducting the official’s elderly father and three sisters.

Meanwhile, as US officials filed through Baghdad to press the American perspective on Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister presses his point of view (or a version of it) to you, the reader. The PM contributes an op-ed to the Wall Street Journal, arguing that Iraq is passing through a phase similar to the example of the American Civil War of the 1860s. Nothing too unpredictable here as Maliki speaks of a nightmare under the Ba'th party and the “great, subtle changes our country is undergoing,” outside the media spotlight on death and killing. Maliki sounds determined but upbeat on several key US demands, including reform of the de-Ba'thification law (“This has not been easy, but we have stuck to that difficult task”), and the draft oil law mentioned above (“Iraq is well on its way to passing a new oil law”). The PM also strikes a tough-guy image, writing that Iraq has “entered into a war” against militias that prey upon “the weaknesses of the national government,” arguing that these groups should be defeated by a stronger central government. Iraq opposes the engagement of regional powers, he writes, closing by saying that “we are neutral and dedicated to our country's right to prosperity and a new life, inspired by a memory of a time when Baghdad was -- as Washington is today -- a beacon of enlightenment on which others gazed with admiration.” Overall, the PM’s words are somewhat predictable, but the more interesting question lurks just offstage: How does the prime minister of Iraq, at once embraced and scorned by the United States, place a contribution in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages? Who contacted whom, and who served as broker? That would be a much more interesting piece to read.

As if by counterpoint, Damien Cave’s second article in the Times today starts off: “Iraq’s political leaders have failed to reach agreements on nearly every law that the Americans have demanded as benchmarks, despite heavy pressure from Congress, the White House and top military commanders. With only three months until progress reports are due in Washington, the deadlock has reached a point where many Iraqi and American officials now question whether any substantive laws will pass before the end of the year.” Cave runs down some of the “benchmarks” laid out by the US for Iraqi leaders, and finds little movement. The committee to amend the constitution has “passed the buck” to higher-ups in the parties, who still have not taken up the issue, one month after the constitutional deadline for amendments. Some members cite progress on less divisive issues, but other big constitutional questions such as the identity of Iraq, the strength of the presidency, or revenue distribution among the provinces, have not been advanced. On the US demand for reform in the de-Ba'thification law, little motion has happened since Ahmad Chalabi worked to scuttle a draft proposal in April, going as far as organizing dissent in the Iraqi south and taking complaints to Ayatollah Sistani’s offices in Najaf. Provincial elections are stalled, as are proposals to reform government revenues.

A US commander told a House panel yesterday that the US would need to maintain its presence in Iraq for years in order to complete its stated goals -- five years in order to patrol Iraq’s air space -- and also said that Iraq would need to train tens of thousands more Iraqi security forces than the US had originally projected. Walter Pincus and Ann Scott Tyson report in the Post that Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey told the House Armed Services Committee that he projected that Iraq would need 195,000 trained policemen, which is 40% higher than a 2003 US estimate. "Iraqi security forces will require growth in scope and scale similar to what we accomplished in 2007 in order to ensure sufficient force to protect the population throughout Iraq," Dempsey said. In 2007, 50,000 Iraqi soldiers and police are slated to enter the security forces. In addition to overall manpower shortages, Dempsey said the Iraqi security forces were still overrun by sectarian militias, and that in the military and the police, a problem of “ghost personnel” is tough to shake. Absenteeism and attrition rates run in the high teens and twenties, the Post writers report. Reasons for the gaps include soldiers and policemen who simply disappear or switch sides, injured soldiers and police kept on the payroll as a form of disability benefit, inflation of the rolls by commanders in order to pocket the payroll difference, and overhiring of police simply to distribute jobs. Local police are performing well in Mosul, Dempsey said (Does he mean Mosul, Iraq?), but in Baghdad and Diyala especially Iraqi cops are involved in “parochial political interests,” Post staff reports. Those tracking debates over the long-term US goals in Iraq will want to give it a full read.

Last year, the town of Sodertalje, Sweden, took in twice as many Iraqi refugees than the entire United States, Ivar Ekman writes in the Times. But some in the town of 60,000 have started to worry about the strain on the town’s infrastructure and resources. 1,000 Iraqis came to Sodertalje in 2006, and another 2,000 are expected in 2007 -- about a tenth of the total number of Iraqi refugees expected to enter Sweden. Although Sweden does not register religious affiliation of asylum applicants, a large portion of the arrivals tend to be Christian, owing in part to factors in Iraq, and following a “migration route for Middle Eastern Christians” established decades ago by earlier emigrants that leads to Sodertalje. Although the migrants often arrive with some capital and skills, work and housing are scarce. The town’s mayor complains that “The Swedish system for taking in refugees is broken,” saying that the town bears an overwhelming and disproportionate burden to support the newcomers.

Swedish appeals for greater EU participation in accepting Iraqi refugees are leading to disputes among the member states, Dan Bilevsky writes in the Times.

In other coverage:


From Istanbul, Sabrina Tavernise reports on Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan’s public stance in favor of focusing on the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party, in Turkey rather than in cross border operations into Iraq. Tavernise also notes yesterday's PKK announcement of a unilateral ceasefire. “Some critics of the military, a powerful force that has deposed elected governments it considers dangerous to Turkey, argue that it wants to move against the Kurdish militants simply to remain relevant at a time when democracy in Turkey has reached its most sophisticated state in the nation’s history,” she writes, noting also the long-standing tensions between Erdogan’s Justice and Development party, and the Turkish military.

In the investigation of the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians by US Marines in Haditha in November 2005, Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agents were hampered by militant activity and lack of recording equipment, two investigators testified at the ongoing hearings in Camp Pendelton, Calif. Paul von Zielbauer, who has followed the hearings for the Times writes that, according to the agents’ testimony, hostile gunfire and bomb attacks cut short some of their interviews with family members of the Iraqi victims. Moreover, an agent testified she came to conduct the interviews without a tape recorder, and later said she never attempted to purchase one. NCIS later told the Times that “no federal law enforcement agency regularly taped interviews.” “The testimony came in a hearing to weigh evidence against Lance Cpl. Justin L. Sharratt, one of three enlisted men in Company K, Third Battalion, First Marines, who are charged with murder in the killings of Iraqi civilians in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005,” von Zielbauer writes, and the -- apparently truncated -- NCIS-gathered evidence may be used against Sharratt.


GOP presidential candidates are looking to put some distance between themselves and the Bush White House, Linda Feldmann reports in the Monitor. This may not mean a general Republican disowning of the Iraq war, however. "Let's face it, whoever the Republican nominee is . . . he's going to wear the Iraq war around his neck like a millstone," says Tony Fabrizio, identified as “a GOP pollster not affiliated with a presidential candidate.” "He's going to be looking for any way he can to put some light between himself and the president. But it's threading the needle. You don't want to depress Republican turnout," Fabrizio continues. “On the No. 1 issue, Iraq, almost all the GOP candidates continue to back Bush's decision to go to war, while a majority of Americans call it a mistake. At this point these candidates probably cannot change their position without looking like a flip-flopper. The safer criticism, analysts say, is to go after the handling of the war,” Feldmann writes.


No original Iraq reporting.

Daily Column
UN, Brookings Figures on Civilian Casualties; PRTs in the North
By GREG HOADLEY 06/12/2007 01:57 AM ET
The ongoing efforts to interpret the "surge" play a role in a couple of today's reports, with the release of a UN quarterly report noting higher civilian casualties getting prominent discussion in the Post's Iraq-datelined reporting, and a Brookings figure that "large-scale" attacks in Baghdad have trended downward recently receiving attention in USA Today.

Other Iraq-datelined reporting focuses on the "vacation" handed to Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, while the Monitor runs two features, one on the projects of so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the north of Iraq, and another catching the paper up on the "Korea model" which has been, as Howard LaFranchi puts it, "slowly revealed" in recent weeks.

The head of CENTCOM was in Baghdad, engaging the Iraqi prime minister in fulsome discussions.

Stateside, the Post delivers the first stand-alone profile of the likely nominee to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while two features touch on the role of the arts in wartime, with the Post profiling a man who sends musical instruments to American soldiers, and the Monitor reporting on a high school play that has been shut down for its message of antiwar dissent.

The Iraqi Parliament has voted to oust its speaker, Alissa Rubin reports for the Times. The deal technically involves Mahmoud al-Mashhadani going on extended leave, and submitting a resignation once his Sunni Arab-based political bloc finds a replacement. 113 out of 168 MPs present voted in favor of the deal. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani has been a controversial figure in the chamber for his confrontational style that has involved at least three alleged physical altercations between Mashhadani or his bodyguards and fellow MPs. As IraqSlogger's Amer Mohsen points out, the coverage has not examined Mashhadani’s dissenting political positions, which may have also played a role in his ouster. Possible replacements may include Usama al-Tikriti and Ayaed al-Sammaraie, both members of Mashhadani’s Tawafuq Front. Deputy Speaker Khalid al-Attiya will preside over the Parliament until a replacement is approved. Elsewhere, a bridge in Diyala province was destroyed, severing a link between Ba'quba and Baghdad and a link between Sunni and Shi'a areas on western and eastern sides of the bridge, respectively, Rubin writes. The Diyala bridge came down as the US confirmed that three soldiers were in a collapsed highway overpass in Babil province on Sunday. 17 bodies were recovered in the capital, most shot in the head. 10 of the corpses were found in southwest Baghdad, which has been all but lawless for months. Eight bodies were recovered in Diyala Province, and at least eight civilians died in Mosul, including the provincial director of the Iraqi Central Bank. A truck hauling a bomb-rigged BMW and a container loaded with explosives was intercepted in Najaf, driven from Syrian by a man with Syrian papers.

A quarterly UN report has found that "civilian casualties continue to mount" in Iraq, even as US troop levels have risen, Colum Lynch and Joshua Partlow write in the Post. The report, released by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, agrees that civilian casualties are down in the capital, but that overall in Iraq they have climbed. Ban also announces in the report that the US has agreed to UN access to its detention facilities in Iraq, to begin this month. Finally, the document calls for a “hardened integrated compound” to house UN activities, as the security situation threatens employees of the international organization. Post reporters also briefly note the visit of British PM-to-be Gordon Brown to Iraq, the only coverage of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s unannounced arrival in the country.

While the Post discusses UN figures, USAT’s César Soriano looks at the Brookings Institute data which suggests that “, a wave of mass-casualty explosions in markets and other busy areas has slowed.” Soriano writes, “The number of car bomb attacks in Baghdad dropped from 38 in April to 15 in May, according to an official at Iraq's interior ministry, which tracks such statistics. The official declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the news media. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in large-scale bombings also fell, from 634 in April to 325 in May, according to a compilation of news reports by the Brookings Institution.”

Times writer Michael Gordon sat in on a meeting between US Central Command chief Adm. William Fallon in Baghdad yesterday, as he offered Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki that the United States expected the Iraqi government to meet the “benchmarks” proposed for it. Apparently, the meeting focused on the draft oil law, saying “Is it reasonable to expect it to be completed in July?” adding, “We have to show some progress in July for the upcoming report.” Maliki indicated that “some progress would be made” on the law, which the US has been backing. The Bush administration is required to submit a report to Congress in July as a component of the war funding package recently passed. “This reporter, who is accompanying Admiral Fallon on his trip to Iraq, was allowed into the meeting. It was only at the end of the meeting that American officials agreed that it could be on the record,” Gordon writes, continuing, “At times, the two sides appeared to be operating on two different clocks. While Admiral Fallon emphasized the urgency of demonstrating results, Mr. Maliki cast the political process as a long journey from dictatorship to democracy. ‘The end result will be marked in history,’ said Mr. Maliki, who was flanked by Mowaffak al-Rubaie, his national security adviser, and two other aides.” US Amb. Ryan Crocker also attended the meeting.

From Kirkuk, Howard LaFranchi writes in the Monitor about the local State Department-run Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), tasked with capacity building in the local government. LaFranchi refers to the Americans as the “civilian surge,” the 250 or so extra civilian "experts" in such fields as "economics, agronomy, communications, and rule of law." In tandem with the expansion of the PRTs, “fresh criticism is building from foreign-service experts, who say that the expansion of Iraq and Afghanistan assignments is burdening US civilian foreign operations in much the same way the wars are stretching military operations thin,” LaFranchi writes. Other interesting questions raised in LaFranchi’s article include the uneasy relationship between the “civilian surge” and US military power, and the disjointed relationship between reconstruction projects oriented toward building physical plant, and the local expertise and organization needed to operate it.

In other coverage:


Ann Scott Tyson writes a brief bio of Adm. Michael Mullin, the Bush administration nominee to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Citing other top officers, Tyson writes that Mullen has repeatedly expressed concern regarding the effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on US armed forces, particularly the Army and the Marines. “‘He's concerned the Army has been carrying the heavy load for some time,’ says retired Army Gen. William ‘Buck’ Kernan, the former supreme allied commander, Atlantic, under whom Mullen served in 2000,” Tyson writes. "He recognizes you can only stretch the rubber band so far." Mullen is currently chief of naval operations. “Mullen's Navy background would lead him to make decisions on Iraq and Afghanistan from ‘a different perspective,’ focused less on ground tactics and more on political dynamics, said retired Adm. Robert J. Natter, who attended the Naval Academy with Mullen,” Tyson reports.

A Vietnam veteran in rural Fergus Falls, Minnesota has taken up the cause of sending musical instruments to US forces deployed in Iraq, Peter Slevin reports. Steve and Barb Baker have shipped at least 300 instruments of various kinds to US forces. "When you do something like this, you're not making money, you're losing it," Steve Baker said of the volunteer project. adding, "I don't care." The Bakers have held fundraisers to support the operations, and have donated instruments from the music store that they runs.


No original Iraq coverage today, apart from a letter to the editor from Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticizing a May 30 op-ed by US Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky which claimed that the US was meeting its obligations vis-à-vis Iraqi refugees. “Of course, every little bit helps; the U.S. humanitarian contribution is appreciated. But at the least, it seems a bit tacky for the U.S. undersecretary of state to tout this as an example of American largesse,” writes Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at HRW.


No major scoops in Howard LaFranchi’s review of the recent indications that a long-term US stay may be in the works, but a useful place to start for those catching up with the “Korea analogy” as the Bush administration has let it slip into public discourse. LaFranchi also samples observors’ opinions on either side of the question, with some commentators warning that a long-term US presence would cement the idea that the US invaded to be an occupier.

“What should have been a simple hour-long spring play, like thousands of others during the season of senioritis and proms, instead has become a media-driven touchstone, not only of the rife divisions in the country but of the free-speech rights – and intellectual abilities – of high school students as they explore the complexities and horrors of war,” Harry Bruinius writes in the Monitor. At Wilton High in Connecticut, a school play with a script based entirely on the words of “real soldiers in combat” was banned by the principal after complaints about the play’s “unbalanced” message, even though the drama students themselves wrote the script, based on original research from soldiers’ blogs and other sources. “While students recognize the script brings out the negative aspects of the war, they don't want to describe it as antiwar” Bruinius writes. "It's not an issue of liberal and conservative," says one student. "We're not all liberals, and we have different views on the war, even if we see that there are no easy answers." Another cast member, Devon Fontaine, adds, "A lot of things in life are hazy, and we've really learned this as we've done the research for the play.... But I think it's the highest honor we can give the troops by letting their voices be heard.” Read the whole thing for provocative snippets of the script. The students will perform the play in New York, but not in Connecticut.

As Turkey lobs shells across the border and threatens a ground invasion, Monitor editors call for calm in the north, writing that “All parties here need to see the bigger picture” The eds survey the interests of each party to the potential conflict and conclude that a Turkish invasion would destabilize the country and the region even further. The eds call on the US, which is allied with both Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds, to de-escalate the situation, and, along with the Iraqi Kurdish government, to move against the PKK in Iraq.

Daily Column
Post: Anbar Coalition Splintering; Times: US Spreads "Anbar Model" to All Iraq
By GREG HOADLEY 06/11/2007 01:58 AM ET
It’s a great day for people who like their news with a dose of cognitive dissonance: While the Times advances the story of the so-called “Anbar model,” with a useful piece describing the acceptance of the strategy a the highest levels of US command, including a decision to disseminate arms to the new local miltias, the Post lobs a wrench in the works with a very important article suggesting that the whole “Anbar Salvation” project may be on the verge of splintering.

If the Post seems one step ahead of the Times with its fascinating -- and ominous development -- the NYT does its part to even the score with a report that the Iraqi Parliament may be on the verge of giving Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani a trip to the back bench.

In opinion, the Times carries some Iraq-inspired poetry, Post editors speak up on behalf of Iraqi refugees, and Journal editors decry the administration's decision not to reappoint Gen. Pace to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Iraqi parliamentarians are arranging the ouster of the chamber’s speaker, Damien Cave and Richard Oppel Jr. write in the Times. Bodyguards of Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, of the largest Sunni Arab bloc in the chamber, are accused of assaulting another MP and dragging him to the speaker’s office. Even a member of Mashhadani’s bloc confirmed the details of the assault, saying that negotiations were underway to find a new speaker, and that discussions continued over “how to arrange the exit.” Sunday’s alleged tussle is the third time that Mashhadani or his staff have been accused of using physical force against fellow MPs. The MP who said he suffered the assault, Fariyad Muhammad, belongs to the Shi'a-led SIIC, the largest party in the body.

Outside the Green Zone, A suicide truck bomb struck a police station near Tikrit, killing at least eight, with many still trapped in the rubble, Times reporters write. In Tuz Khormato, a Kurdish fighter died when his pesh merg convoy was hit by an IED. Two US soldiers were announced killed, one on Saturday in Baghdad and one on Sunday in Diyala Province. The Interior Ministry said that US forces clashed with members of the Mahdi Army on the eastern borders of Baghdad. Two civilians died in the fighting, the ministry said. A resident said that US aircraft bombed the area for an hour, killing four civilians. IEDs later hit US armored vehicles, he said, adding that 15 were wounded in the ensuing clash. Meanwhile, US spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said that US forces came under attack by gunmen with rifles and RPGs, leading to US forces calling in air support. Garver denied that any US troops were injured in the incident. 16 bodies were recovered in Baghdad on Sunday; two civilians died from sniper fire in the southwest of the city, and three bombs in southern Baghdad killed five. The High Tribunal overseeing the “Anfal campaign” case against “Chemical” Ali Hasan al-Majid will defer announcement of the verdict until June 24.

The Post interviews survivors of the attack near Tikrit, which struck the Salah al-Din provincial highway patrol headquarters in Alam, about four miles from the principal city. John Ward Anderson reports that director of the hospital where the wounded were evacuated said that the police station was not protected with blast walls. An overpass south of Baghdad was blown up as a US convoy passed, the AP reported, trapping soldiers in the rubble. Three were apparently killed, Anderson reports, citing US and Iraqi officials. The US Army had soldiers stationed at the overpass. 31 Iraqis died from acts of violence on Sunday, according to Iraqi officials.

Joshua Partlow and John Ward Anderson of the Post deliver a provocative look at the much-touted “Anbar Salvation Front,” which may be on the verge of crumbling, they write, citing a local tribal leader and a US military official. Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman, of the large al-Dulaim tribe, told the Post that the council was on the verge of dissolution “because of growing internal dissatisfaction over its cooperation with U.S. soldiers and the behavior of the council's most prominent member, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha,” they write. Lt. Col. Richard D. Welch, who works closely on the US tribal initiative in Anbar said "you will see, I think, in the next few days a complete severing" between the Anbar council and Abu Risha, saying that relations were tense inside the organization. Both Welch and Suleiman say that Abu Risha runs an oil smuggling operation, and that his people have committed highway banditry on the Anbar roads. Abu Risha denied these allegations, saying "I am in Anbar and I am the first fighter in Anbar. And what they are saying about it is jealousy and no more than jealousy. They are the enemies of success." Other Council members and US officials also rejected the suggestion that the council is on the verge of restructuring or fracturing. Three competing interpretations run through the commentary provided to the Post by observers and officials. One interpretation, endorsed by US officials as high ranking as than Gen. Petraeus, claims that the US-tribal alliance is cemented because of the common anti-Qa'ida interest. A second interpretation holds that the tribes will work with the US as long as they remain “bought” by American support. A third viewpoint is voiced in the words of 23-year old Emad Jasem, from an area near Ramadi: "We hate al-Qaeda, but at the same time we don't like the Americans . . . . No one should jump to the conclusion that we are on the side of the Americans and support them. Our loyalty is to our community and our city."

Meanwhile, back at Baghdad command, John Burns and Alissa Rubin of the NYT echo, and advance, earlier stories in the Post-- and in Slogger -- that the US is actively supporting former enemies in the Sunni Arab community in other parts of the country to fight against al-Qa'ida. “Now, the Americans are testing the ‘Anbar model’ across wide areas of Sunni-dominated Iraq. The areas include parts of Baghdad, notably the Sunni stronghold of Amiriya, a district that flanks the highway leading to Baghdad’s international airport; the area south of the capital in Babil province known as the Triangle of Death, site of an ambush in which four American soldiers were killed last month and three others abducted, one of whose bodies was found in the Euphrates; Diyala Province north and east of Baghdad, an area of lush palm groves and orchards which has replaced Anbar as Al Qaeda’s main sanctuary in Iraq; and Salahuddin Province, also north of Baghdad, the home area of Saddam Hussein,” the Times reporters write. Referring to a meeting earlier this month of top US Iraq commanders, they report, “Senior officers who attended the meeting said that General Petraeus and the operational commander who is the second-ranking American officer here, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, gave cautious approval to field commanders to negotiate with Sunni groups in their areas.”

In addition to advancing the story by showing the high-level US endorsement of nationalizing the “Anbar model,” the Times reporters also confirm that the US is working to arm such local partners, although it records the serial number of each weapon and takes DNA and retinal scans of would-be fighters. “Critics of the strategy, including some American officers, say it could amount to the Americans’ arming both sides in a future civil war,” they write -- and some maintain that the US strategy may be even arming future enemies of US forces. One other important point: The Iraqi central government is not pleased with the expanding US strategy of creating Sunni militia partners. “The government’s aim is to disarm and demobilize the militias in Iraq,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Mr. Maliki. “And we have enough militias in Iraq that we are struggling now to solve the problem. Why are we creating new ones?,” Times writers report.

Although the Post might be slightly ahead of the curve with its warnings of possible disintegration of US local militia partners in Anbar, both Times and Post reporting today is must-read material, and taken together they raise very ominous questions about the next chapter of US strategy in Iraq.

In other coverage:


But it is the gesture of the third,

perhaps a brother,

who has placed his open palm,

protective, firm,

on the chest of a dead man

there you can go now

that makes me, miles away

and in the wrong country,

cover my face with my hands.

In his column, Nicholas Kristof prints excerpted results of an Iraq-related poetry contest.

Kristof posts full versions of the poems, some quite moving, on his blog. One poem laments the case of Sam Ross, an Appalachian soldier who returned home without his legs or his eyes, reported earlier in the Times.


The US is "failing" in its duty to support the over 2 million Iraqi refugees, who are victims of a "crisis it helped create," Post editors write. The eds endorse a bill in Congress that would open access to some Iraqi displaced: "Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has introduced legislation to help more Iraqis, particularly those who have assisted the United States, the United Nations, U.S. or U.N. contractors, or U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations. The number of Iraqi refugees allowed in by the bill would not greatly affect the number that the State Department has the authority to admit now, given its annual quantity of geographically unallocated refugee visas. Still, supporters of the bill hope that it will pressure the administration to increase the number of refugees actually admitted, since those visa ceilings are not being reached. The bill also would waive expensive application fees and establish five processing facilities within Iraq. Unfortunately, only one Republican, Christopher Shays (Conn.), is co-sponsoring the bill," they write.


Speaking of Anbar, Laura Parker reports about the onoing legal battle between the families of four contractors who were killed in Falluja in March 2004 and Blackwater USA, their employer. The families are suing for information about what happened that day, alleging that "Blackwater sent Jerry Zovko, Scott Helvenston, Michael Teague and Wesley Batalona on a job with inadequate equipment and protection," while "Blackwater denies the allegations and has filed a $10 million counterclaim," Parker writes. The article reviews the issues in the case, pointing out that almost 1,000 US contractors have died in Iraq, according to US Labor Department statistics. The Falluja four were earning $600 per day, court records show.

A new vehicle, known as "the Bull" has been successfuly tested against IEDs, Tom Vanden Brook reports in USAT, citing Sen. Biden and the vehicle's manufacturer. Biden critizied the Pentagon for not moving quickly enough on the "Bull," which the Marines are currently testing, nor on the MRAP vehicle, o fwhich the military has ordered 7,700. "The Bull would cost about $500,000 per vehicle. By comparison, the most common version of the armored Humvee costs $150,000. The cost of the MRAPs ranges from $700,000 to $1 million, Pentagon documents show," Vanden Brook writes. "I'm tired of hearing that there might not be enough money," says Biden, "Tell us what you need to protect our soldiers and Marines, and we will find a way to pay for it."


Journal editors lash out at Sec. Gates and President Bush for the decision not to re-nominate Gen. Pace to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs, saying this projects the image of weakness for the administration and is "one more example of Mr. Bush's recent habit of abandoning those most closely identified with his Iraq policy," referring to "Scooter" Libby. "Mr. Gates seems to think he can succeed as the anti-Rumsfeld by appeasing the likes of Mr. Levin, but his kowtow only makes Mr. Bush look weaker as a Commander in Chief who can't even select his own war generals," they write. "The irony is that Mr. Pace is less responsible for our Iraq troubles than is General George Casey, who Mr. Gates was happy to support for Army Chief of Staff this year despite similar Democratic threats. As lead U.S. commander in Iraq in 2006, General Casey always had one eye on a U.S. exit and failed to counter the spread of sectarian warfare. He also opposed the current "surge" in Baghdad, while General Pace, whatever his private advice, has been a loyal public supporter of Mr. Bush," the editors add.


Gordon Lubold catches the Monitor up on the Gates-Pace affair.

From Irbil, Sam Dagher reports on some of the activities of Fakhri Karim, the owner of al-Mada newspaper, whom he likens to "Orson Welles's Charles Foster Kane," but one interested in "leveraging his power and wealth for the good of Iraqis."

Daily Column
Post Scoops Outlines of US Long-term Plans; Code Pink in Black & White
By GREG HOADLEY 06/10/2007 01:56 AM ET
The Post wins the battle of the Sunday papers this week, primarily with its important front-page article by Tom Ricks, providing insight into the outlines of long-term US plans for its Iraq presence, based on interviews with US Baghdad commanders.

The day's other Iraq-datelined reporting consists only of the two papers' daily Iraq violence roundups, both leading with an attack in Babil Province that killed 12 Iraqi soldiers. The story of the standoff on the northern border also advances: Iraq has confirmed that Turkey is shelling across the border and has formally requested that it stop.

Iraq figured heavily in an hourlong tête-à-tête between President Bush and Pope Benedict at the Vatican, with the pontiff expressing his concerns for the status of Iraqi Christians.

Stateside, the Post profiles "Code Pink," the iconic protest group that has become a lightening rod for pro- and anti-war sentiment.

At least 12 Iraqi soldiers died in a suicide truck bombing in Iskandarya, Babil Province, Richard Oppel Jr. writes in the Times. Iraqi soldiers apparently killed the bomber with gunfire before he could bring his payload closer to the target, possibly mitigating the toll. The targeted compound was heavily damaged and more casualties are expected to be found in the rubble. A midday rocket attack at Camp Bucca near the Kuwaiti frontier killed six detainees and wounded 50 more. A two-stage suicide bomb attack was averted in Diyala Province’s Ba'quba when a would-be attacker was shot dead. The man was still able to set off his explosive belt, killing one policeman. A second attacker also exploded; accounts conflicted over whether the second man was shot dead or his explosives were detonated by the first explosion. In Basra, the killing of at least 8 barbers in recent days has been traced to a decree issued by a cleric forbidding certain grooming procedures. The local Sadrist office denies any connection. A car bomb in Baghdad killed one policeman, 24 bodies were recovered in the capital, and three soldiers’ bodies were recovered in Kirkuk. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said it had formally demanded that Turkey stop cross-border shelling into Kurdish areas. “According to a statement from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, a senior ministry official in Baghdad, Muhammad al-Haj Mahmoud, summoned the Turkish chargé d’affaires on Saturday and handed him a written protest against the shelling, which Iraq says has ignited ‘huge fires’ and frightened many people in Dahuk and Erbil Provinces,” Oppel writes, adding, “At the same time, the ministry statement struck a conciliatory tone by emphasizing that the Iraqi government ‘refuses’ the P.K.K.’s presence within Iraq and considers it an illegal group.”

Joshua Partlow leads his Post roundup of Iraq violence with the Iskandariya attack that killed 12 Iraqi soldiers, noting that an Iraqi captain said the attack targeted the Iraqi soldiers as they gathered to change shifts. These gatherings are frequently targeted for attacks, Partlow writes. Two civilians died in a Mosul blast that targeted an Iraqi military patrol, and a policeman died in a separate IED attack. The US military said that a joint US-Iraqi patrol came under attack from “the al-Hussiniyah mosque” at 8:20 AM, and that the area was cordoned off and the mosque struck with Hellfire missiles by US helicopters in the course of an “escalating engagement all day.” One US soldier was shot dead in Diyala Province; it is unknown if the soldier was involved in the fighting at the Ba'quba mosque.

US commanders in Baghdad are projecting details of a “post-occupation” force in Iraq, which could number in the tens of thousands. By far the most important read of the day, Thomas Ricks’s front-pager in the Post surveys the current long-term thinking of US military planners in Iraq, against the backdrop of the “Korea analogy” that has been bandied about of late. US commanders are expecting a withdrawal of up to two-thirds of US forces in late 2008/early 2009, but the logistical reality, and US long-term ambitions, Ricks writes, mean that the US is drawing up long-term plans for an Iraq presence. The fastest withdrawal US forces could make, with only one exit through Kuwait, would still take 10 months and thousands of troops. However, the really interesting bits are the outlines of the four-point plan that US commanders are moving toward for a long-term Iraq presence, totaling over 40,000 troops: 1) A mechanized infantry division of 20,000 soldiers to protect the Iraqi government. 2) 10,000 trainers and advisors, 3) Special Operations forces to combat al-Qa'ida, and 4) HQ and logistical support staff numbering over 10,000, along with civilian contractors. Top officers “now dismiss the 2004-06 years,” Ricks writes, saying that this period represented unrealistic expectations of “transition.” "We had previously 'transitioned' ourselves into irrelevance, and the whole thing was going to hell in a handbasket," said a senior official. Even the 2005 elections are regarded as problematic in top planning circles. The big question marks in planners’ minds, however remain: the debate in Washington, the capacity of the Iraqi security forces, and the ongoing lack of political consensus in Iraq.

In the Post, Libby Copeland writes a lengthy profile of Code Pink, the women’s antiwar group that has become a household name for its quirky, and iconoclastic actions on Capitol Hill. "They can call us smelly hippies . . . but we are not going away till the troops are home," says co-founder Medea Benjamin. The group’s name is a riff on Homeland Security’s color codes for threat levels. Copeland interviews several Code Pink members, who describe various protest shenanigans, and describes the scene at the group’s house on Capitol Hill. “The group enjoys friendly relations with certain Capitol Police officers, but its members get arrested a lot,” Copeland writes.

The pontiff and the president

President Bush met for the first time yesterday with Pope Benedict XVI, at the Vatican, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Ian Fisher report in the Times. According to Bush’s remarks afterwards, the pope shared his concerns for Iraq’s Christian population. The larger issue of the two men’s disagreement over whether the US invasion of Iraq was a “just war” was not raised, according to Bush. “I assured him we’re working hard to make sure that people lived up to the Constitution, the modern Constitution voted on by the people that would honor people from different walks of life and different attitudes,” Bush said. The Vatican did not discuss the substance of the meeting in detail, but described the visit as “cordial,” saying that the Vatican brought “Israeli-Palestinian questions, Lebanon, the worrying situation in Iraq and the critical conditions in which the Christian community finds itself” to Bush’s attention. A large protest occurred concurrently in Rome’s streets, objecting to Bush’s visit to the country and American policies.

Michael Fletcher has the story for the Post, noting that Bush’s visit to Rome coincides with the opening of a trial in absentia of 26 Americans in a Milan court. The Americans are accused of being CIA operatives who seized an Egyptian on Italian soil in 2003.

In other coverage:


Michael Moss and Souad Mekhennet write in the Times Week in Review that they have discovered six relatively common rules of engagement for jihadist militants. The list is provocative, yet many of these rules are nearly universal in warfare, such as minimum age requirements (in the US it’s 18), justification of civilian casualties (in the US it’s called collateral damage, as Prof. John Voll points out in the article), and the use of subterfuge in the service of the larger goals. Other rules don’t really seem to add up, such as, “You cannot kill in the country where you reside unless you were born there.” If the rules are easily suspended, as in the case of Iraq (and other places) how can it be called a rule?

The Iraq war has figured into several university commencement addresses this season, Alan Finder writes in the Times, from both a supportive and critical position.

Jason Campbell, Michael O’Hanlon and Amy Unikewicz contribute an “op-chart” comparing various Iraq indicators in the month of May over the last four years. Check out the chart and the introductory blurb.


Steve Vogel describes several DC locals as they prepare to deploy to Iraq with the National Guard, and describes a newly released photographic book about Arlington National Cemetary, which has seen a great deal of activity lately.

As President Bush travels through Europe waxing eloquently about democracy, several activists who banked on Bush’s agenda now say the president has disappointed them, Robin Wright writes. Even as the pro-democracy rhetoric has toned down since the days of the so-called “forward strategy of freedom,” undemocratic regimes have been more assertive in talking back to the president when he offers even mild critique. And the audience of Bush supporters has shrunken to marginal figures such as the heir to the ousted shah of Iran and Syrian expat Farid Ghadry, known as “Syria’s Chalabi” to some.

The US is losing the Iraq war because it cannot combat IEDs, David Ignatius argues in his column. Describing some of the ways that the US has addressed, and declined to address, the problem, Ignatius notes that earlier generations of IEDs and EFPs were provided by US intelligence to the Afghani mujahidin in the 1980s, when the US introduced asymmetric warfare to the region, in a sense. Ignatius closes by arguing that increased nighttime special forces raids are “the kind of asymmetry that evens the balance in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Tom Ricks’s Inbox this week contains an excerpt from a recent article by Marine Capt. Zachary Martin in Marine Corps Gazette, which argues, among other things, that the logic of the Iraq war encourages conservatism in US commanding officers. “Commanders in Iraq cannot win, although they certainly can lose,” Martin wrote, adding “a commander who takes no risks and thus keeps his casualties low can be reasonably assured of a Bronze Star with combat ‘V’.”

Kevin Philips reviews two recent books about Hillary Clinton, including one by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., which takes up the issue of Clinton’s relationship to the Iraq war. The two NYT reporters had the cover story in the Times Magazine last week on the senator and Iraq.


No Sunday edition.

Daily Column
US Supports ex-Enemies against al-Qa'ida; Diyala Police Attacked
By GREG HOADLEY 06/09/2007 01:58 AM ET

In Iraq-datelined news, both Times and Post lead their daily roundups with an attack on a police chief’s home in the principal city in Diyala Province that devastated the man’s family but spared the chief.

The most interesting read comes in the Post, where Joshua Partlow reveals more information about the controversial US efforts to partner with Iraqi insurgent groups who are fighting against al-Qa'ida.

Stateside, the Iraq war saw another political casualty, in Washington, where the administration indicated that it would not reappoint Gen. Peter Pace to the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the US Army seems to have agreed to reconsider bids on the largest security contract in Iraq, after a controversy involving bidders who said they were unfairly excluded.

A Ba'quba police chief, Col. Ali Dilayan al-Jorani, was staying away from home when a large group of attackers stormed his house, killing his wife, son and at least 12 guards who were members of al-Jorani’s family. Jorani is chief of the Balda district in Ba'quba. John Burns reports in the Times that three others were kidnapped and taken out of the house, and reports conflicted on their identities. A local police official said that the kidnapped were guards, two of whom were found dead, while a “Western news agency” reported that Col. Jorani said the kidnapped included three of his own children -- two boys and a girl. Jorani, a Sunni, was an officer in the former regime’s army before being recruited to command police operations in the Ba'quba district. Elsewhere, two explosions killed at least 34, one targeting a Shi'a mosque and nearby police station in Daquq, outside of Kirkuk, and another in Qurna, north of Basra. The Daquq attack involved two suicide bombers and a car bomb, killing at least 19. The mosque was attended by supporters of the Sadrist current, Burns writes. An IED killed another police commander in Diyala province. Burns turns to Baghdad’s political scene, reporting that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki lashed out at unnamed political figures, saying, “They can’t be partners in the political process with one hand, and hold a knife in the other . . . . We will have to distinguish between those who are true partners in the search for national reconciliation and those who want to maneuver outside the political process.” Burns suggest that Maliki’s outburst was directed against ex-PM Iyad Allawi and VP Tariq al-Hashemi, both opposed to Maliki’s policies, and who have apparently stepped up their efforts to coordinate their opposition.

John Ward Anderson rounds up the days violent events in the Post, with a different take on the Qurna explosions. While the Times reports the blasts near a transit hub as bombing attacks, Anderson writes that a local police official said that a minivan packed with explosives bound for Baghdad exploded in the summer heat after sitting in the terminal’s garage. The blast of the minivan exploded a second car, also loaded with munitions, the official said.

Recent fighting in Baghdad’s Amiriya district “revolutionized” US Baghdad commanders’ approach to the Iraqi insurgency groups, Joshua Partlow writes in the Post. After the conflict between pro-and anti-Qa'ida groups, US forces in Amiriya have now allied themselves with Sunni Arab militiamen in the district, who operate under the name “Baghdad Patriots.” “The Americans have granted these gunmen the power of arrest, allowed the Iraqi army to supply them with ammunition, and fought alongside them in chaotic street battles,” Partlow writes. The alliance has apparently made gains against the al-Qa'ida in Iraq organization, heartening American troops coming off a string of bad weeks. The area’s US commander, Col Dale Kuehl, is even working to fashion the militia into a police force, since Iraqi police will not enter the area. Others however, are wary of the long-term implications: “Aligning Americans with fighters whose long-term agenda remains unclear -- with regard to either Americans or the Shiite-led government -- is also a strategy born of desperation. It contradicts repeated declarations by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that no groups besides the Iraqi and American security forces are allowed to bear arms. And some American soldiers worry that standing up a Sunni militia could have dire consequences if the group turns on its U.S. partners,” Partlow writes. As the fighting unfolded last week, terms for collaboration were struck: “Kuehl agreed to help if the militiamen did not torture their captives or kill people who were not affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq. The militiamen agreed to hold prisoners for no more than 24 hours before releasing them or handing them over to the Americans. They in turn wanted the Americans not to interfere and to provide weapons,” he writes.

The Post apparently interviewed a man identified as the leader of the militia: “The militiamen, who call themselves freedom fighters, are led by a 35-year-old former Iraqi army captain and used-car salesman who goes by Saif or Abu Abed. In an interview, he said he had devoted the past five months to collecting intelligence on al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters in Amiriyah, whose ranks have grown as they have fled to Baghdad and away from the new tribal policemen in Anbar province,” Partlow writes. The fighters are believed to be related to the Islamic Army, though that group says it has reached a truce with al-Qa'ida. Many also appear to have been military men in the former regime. The collaboration has continued as the US continues to provide firepower and logistics support. But some remain skeptical: "Pretty soon they run out of al-Qaeda, and then they're going to turn on us," says one US tank driver. Partlow’s account deserves a full read.

The US Army will reconsider offers of companies earlier eliminated from the bidding for the largest security contract in Iraq, Alec Klein and Steve Fainaru write in the Post, citing government lawyers speaking on conditions of anonymity. From information available, it appears that the British firm Erinsys will see its bid reconsidered. It is unknown if Blackwater will see its bid reopened. Blackwater and Erinsys were both excluded from the bidding process, and both filed complaints with the military. “The Army's decision could be a setback for what sources said were the two finalists, Aegis Defence Services and ArmorGroup International, both British firms. Aegis has the current contract, a $293 million deal that was to expire in May but was extended as competitors challenge the bidding process. The sources said there is no timetable for the military to reevaluate the bids,” the Post reporters write.

Changes at the Joint Chiefs

Sec. Gates has announced that he will move to replace Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Thom Shanker writes in the Times. While Gates spoke highly of Pace, he said he made the decision to avoid a backward-looking, acrimonious confirmation hearing for what would have been Pace’s second term. Though Gates said that he had received warnings from senators in both parties over a difficult confirmation hearing for Pace, Sen. Levin, the chair of the Armed Services Committee acknowledged that he had cautioned against a second Pace nomination, Shanker writes. Thus Pace becomes the highest-ranking military officer to become a political casualty of the Iraq war, Shanker writes. Gates will recommend that the president appoint Adm. Mike Mullen to be the next chair, he said, praising Mullen’s record.

When Pace’s term ends in September he will have served the shortest time as Joint Chiefs chair in “more than four decades,” Josh White and Thomas Ricks write in the Post. “Pace's departure -- along with the simultaneous retirement of Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, his vice chairman -- completes a nearly clean sweep of top military advisers linked to the tenure of Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary. Both military officers were close to Rumsfeld and have been criticized for not challenging him,” they write. Several analysts size up Mullen, the likely new nominee, noting his reputation for cross-service concerns and organization.


No Iraq coverage today.


No Saturday edition.

Daily Column
US-Tribal Alliance in Diyala; Lute Hearings; What Are Those Bases for?
By GREG HOADLEY 06/08/2007 01:58 AM ET
Two papers follow up on the tension over the northern borders with reports from the Turkish side today. Iraq-datelined reporting contains a mix of hard news and a couple of interesting reports in USAT, one in particular looking at the relationship between US forces and tribal formations in Diyala Province as US strategy goes provincial.

In opinion, the Journal prints an op-ed by Fouad Ajami who argues that the Libby trial was about the Iraq war all along, so therefore Bush should grant a pardon, and Daniel Schorr wonders just what all these new American bases are for in Iraq.

The 24 civilian deaths in Iraq yesterday included two college professors from Baghdad’s Islamic University, the head of the Education Ministry’s Research and Development Department, and Sahar al-Haideri, a journalist for the Voices of Iraq/Aswat al-Iraq news agency, who was fatally shot in Mosul. John Ward Anderson reports in the Post that gunmen stormed a barbershop in Basra, killing the barber and wounding three of his customers. The barber was the 18th killed in Basra alone this year, Anderson writes, noting that extremists have targeted barbershops as symbols of Western customs. A suicide truck bomb in Ninewa Province’s Rabiya killed nine, and four British security contractors were killed by a car bomb in Baghdad. Another suicide truck bomb killed here policemen at traffic police HQ outside Ramadi, and a falafel restaurant in Baghdad’s eastern Talibiya neighborhood killed at least five. Yet another truck bomb in Abu Ghraib destroyed a Shi'a mosque and damaged a nearby Sunni mosque, killing two Iraqi soldiers and a civilian.

Referring to five UK nationals abducted last week, British ambassador Dominic Asquith said in a statement, “We have people here in Iraq who are ready to listen to any person about this incident, or any person who may be holding these men and who may wish to communicate.” An embassy spokeswoman later clarified that the intention was to open communication, not to arrange a negotiation for the release of the five. Three US soldiers’ deaths brought the US troop death numbers to 3,504, while a UK soldier’s death in Basra brought the British tally to 150. According to US forces, an airstrike killed 19 insurgents in a house near Ba'quba, after a ground battle with a US-Iraqi patrol that killed two Iraqi soldiers.

The bombing attack in Rabiya was a coordinated assault in which a bus packed with 500 pounds of explosives detonated minutes after a suicide bomber exploded himself as officers attempted to prevent his entering the police station, Damien Cave writes in the Times. “This is a new tactic for us,” an Iraqi Army captain said, “to start with one explosion and then have the second bigger than the first.” 32 bodies were recovered in Baghdad. The US military said it detained 11 people “with ties to senior leaders” in the al-Qa'ida in Iraq organization.

An important article missed in yesterday’s column bears a mention here: The Journal’s Yochi Dreazen advances a story first broken by David Phinney on IraqSlogger, whose investigation found that First Kuwaiti, a construction contractor building the new US embassy complex in Baghdad, had committed numerous labor violations in the project, including deceptive hiring, labor trafficking, and confiscation of workers’ passports. Dreazen learns that the US Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into the allegations. See IraqSlogger’s Christina Davidson for an amplification. Regrets for the error.

From Diyala province, Jim Michaels writes in USAT that the US has mounted efforts to ally with tribal leaders in the last several months, as part of an increased attention to provincial areas in its program. “"One of the concerns that I've had ... was whether we had focused too much on central government construction in both Iraq and Afghanistan and not enough on the cultural and historical, provincial, tribal and other entities that have played an important role" in both countries, Sec. Gates said recently. With the US claiming success against militant groups in Anbar province by allying with local tribal militias, the military is seeking to replicate that strategy in other restive provinces.

Across the northern borders

The Monitor’s Scott Peterson files from Istanbul, pointing out that while recent rumors of a Turkish raid into Iraqi territory seem to be false, the rumors may have serious intent: “Analysts say news of the raid is a warning to both the US and Iraqi Kurds, nominally in control in northern Iraq, to clamp down on the PKK.” While Turkey has found good reasons not to invade since 2003, a diplomat observes, the calculus may be changing, Petserson writes. Metehan Demir, editor of the Turkish daily paper Sabah, points out that the relationship between the US and Turkey is straining under the tension as anti-US sentiment grows in Turkey. Demir adds that Turkey also faces high risks: If Turkey follows through on its threats to invade, it might find itself clashing with US or Kurdish forces, occupying a chunk of Iraq in the longer term, or withdrawing only to see the cycle repeat itself.

Sabrina Tavernise, formerly on the Times Baghdad bureau before relocating to Turkey, travels to the southeast of the country to scope out the tensions along the Turkish-Iraqi border. The Turkish military has established “security zones” along the border, she write, and Turkish forces are deployed in force along the border. The Turkish military insists that it would not move into Kurdish Iraqi areas without parliamentary approval, but other observers say anything could happen. As the security situation in Iraq deteriorates, and as US forces are pressured to withdraw from Iraq, the Turkish leadership doesn’t know “what comes next,” one Western diplomat told the Times. Meanwhile residents of the region seem to be as wary of the increasing Turkish security presence as they are of the armed Kurdish groups that the presence is meant to quash. “It’s going to be hard,” said a local herdsman: “People will investigate and stop us. If we go to the bathroom, they’ll write down our names.”

Times editors write that “Turkey’s government needs to know that it will reap nothing but disaster” if it cross the border in a large-scale invasion. The eds back the Bush administration’s call for Turkey to stand down, but also call for more American leadership to keep Turkey from invading.Suggesting that the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in the north are linked to the issues of Kirkuk and to regional geopolitics, the editors close, “Turkey’s leaders must understand that a major military operation in Iraq could touch off a series of regional wars and realignments that would harm Turkey far more than anything the P.K.K. could possibly cook up.”

Lute hearings

Confirmation hearings for Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, nominated by the president to be the DC point person on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were convened

The nominee “told senators at a confirmation hearing that Iraqi factions ‘have shown so far very little progress’ toward the reconciliation necessary to stem the bloodshed. If that does not change, he said, ‘we're not likely to see much difference in the security situation’ a year from now,” Peter Baker and Karen DeYoung write in the Post, noting that Lute’s views mirrored the assessment of US intelligence officials who spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. Lute also said that he would be Steven Hadley’s “teammate on Iraq and Afghanistan,” not replacing the national security advisor in the policy circuit.

Tom Vanden Brook writes in USAT that many of the senators on the committee said they would support Lute’s nomination, for the “czar” position, formally known as deputy national security advisor. When pressed, Lute also said that he did not believe the recent debate in Congress over funding the war affected troop morale.

In other coverage:


Paul von Zielbauer continues his coverage of the hearings stemming from the November 2005 event now known simply as “Haditha.” From Camp Pendelton, Calif., von Zielbauer writes that two images of the officer accused of failing to investigate the slayings of 24 Iraqi civilians by the Marines under his command. Supportive testimony has portrayed Col. Jeffrey Chessani as a man of faith, leadership, and integrity. Marines prosecutors, however, “have used testimony from Colonel Chessani’s subordinate and superior officers to portray him as a touchy and incurious field commander who, instead of investigating, sent deceptive reports about the Haditha killings up the chain of command.” Click through for the full portrait. The hearings will decide if Chessani is to face a former court-martial.

Stephen Benjamin, a former military Arabic translator due to deploy to Iraq was dismissed from the service before he was due to ship out, after review of his chat history on monitored military messenger revealed references to his social life that suggested he was gay. Benjamin writes in a contributed op-ed that he would be eager to work in translation in Iraq were it not for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.


In the context of a larger set of articles on water issues, USAT prints a short unsigned article on a few dry cleaners in Baghdad. While overall the number of cleaners has dwindled, USAT suggests that business is decent for those who remain. Common stains include ring-around-the-collar in the summer months, and motor oil. There is the problem of storing the clothes of those who fled the area without picking them up.


Fouad Ajami contributes an op-ed to the Journal, arguing that the Libby trial is indeed about the Iraq war, “This case has been, from the start, about the Iraq war and its legitimacy. Judge Walton came to it late; before him were laid bare the technical and narrowly legalistic matters of it. But you possess a greater knowledge of this case, a keen sense of the man caught up in this storm, and of the great contest and tensions that swirl around the Iraq war. To Scooter's detractors, and yours, it was the "sin" of that devoted public servant that he believed in the nobility of this war, that he did not trim his sails, and that he didn't duck when the war lost its luster.” Arguing that Libby was a faithful soldier to the end, Ajami calls for a pardon.


Tom Peter reviews the case of three Marines in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) whose participation in the antiwar movement has sparked disciplinary hearings in the Marines. Peter points out that the IRR is a “gray area” where the rules of conduct are unclear. For those who haven’t been following the case, Peter presents a useful overview.

Daniel Schorr takes up the “Korea analogy” in his column, writing that “President Bush used to be fond of saying that American troops would stay in Iraq as long as needed and not a day longer. He isn't saying that anymore.” Schorr suggests that the “plan for permanent bases in Iraq must have been long in the making,” looking back to at least last year. “The building of four bases along with a gigantic new American embassy in the Green Zone on the Tigris River has been moving along rapidly. The bases will have runways two miles long to accommodate the largest American planes. The Balad base north of Baghdad covers 14 square miles,” he writes. “These huge installations must be intended for more than Iraqi stabilization,” Schorr argues, noting ex-President Carter’s remark that the US invaded Iraq in order to establish bases, and adding that “few are missing the point that bases in Iraq will keep American might on Iran's doorstep.”

Daily Column
Life in the Green Zone; GOP Candidates Assert Distance from Bush on Iraq
By GREG HOADLEY 06/07/2007 01:58 AM ET
Rumors, unconfirmed and officially denied, of a long-awaited Turkish incursion into northern Iraq figure heavily in today’s reporting. The difficulty that the major news outlets have in getting hard confirmation one way or the other signals the remoteness of the regions where the fighting was, or was not, meant to have taken place.

Other big stories from Iraq include the bombing in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district, home of a revered Shi'a shrine, and a truce between two Sunni militant organizations who had been openly fighting in the streets of Baghdad days ago.

Stateside, the Post follows up on the recent Republican debate, writing that the GOP candidates edged out farther than they had before to distance themselves from the president on Iraq.

Richard Oppel Jr. and Khalid Hassan lead their Times roundup of Iraq events with the deadly twin car bombing in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district, home of a major Shi'a shrine, noting later in the article that the death toll was three, despite the Interior Ministry’s claim of seven killed. 34 bodies were recovered throughout the capital in a worsening trend of execution-style killings. US, Turkish, and Iraqi officials denied that a Turkish military incursion into Iraq had begun, despite reports, attributed to Turkish generals, that the Turkish military had begun operations in Kurdish areas of Iraq on the pretext of attacking the PKK, or Kurdish Workers Party, which operates in Kurdish areas of Turkey but is believed to have fighters across the border. Even so, “two news agencies” continued to report that a limited Turkish incursion did take place, based on Turkish military sources. Four US soldiers were announced killed, and a US military spokesman said that the last of the five extra American brigades would begin operations “within weeks.” Violence continued in Diyala province, where various attacks killed at least 12 people. In Khalis, 10 people were abducted at a fake checkpoint.

César Soriano of USAT leads his Iraq roundup with the official US and Iraqi denials of the Turkish incursion, noting that the Associated Press reported earlier that Turkish generals had spoken of an incursion into the north. Soriano also writes “However, Jabar Yawir, an Iraqi deputy minister responsible for security forces in the Kurdish area, told Reuters news agency that Turkish helicopters with about 150 troops had landed in a village about 2 miles from the border. He said they left after two hours.”

John Ward Anderson leads his Post report with news of the cease-fire agreement between the Islamic Army of Iraq and the al-Qa'ida organization, following their open fighting in Baghdad days ago. A Catholic priest and five boys were abducted in Baghdad, a Catholic news agency reported. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees released new figures on Iraqi refugees, Anderson reports, writing, “More than 4.2 million Iraqis had been forced from their homes by violence in Iraq, including about 2 million who had been displaced inside the country and about 2.2 million who had fled as refugees to neighboring countries. The U.N. agency said about 1.4 million fled to Syria, as many as 750,000 to Jordan, 80,000 to Egypt and about 200,000 to the Persian Gulf region. Syria receives at least 30,000 Iraqis a month, UNHCR reported.”

Interestingly, the reports of the Kadhimiya bombings do not address the security situation in the area, where the Mahdi Army has clashed recently with US forces, who no longer patrol within one km of the shrine. Militias including the Mahdi Army have been more visible in the area, and residents have reported some degree of higher security than much of the rest of the capital, but at the cost of militia rule, and extortion. The twin car bombing means that the attackers found a vulnerability in that model. The Times printed a report about the security situation in Kadhimiya some weeks ago, and see Slogger’s coverage as well.

In the Post, John Ward Anderson samples life in the Green Zone, writing that things are not as secure as they were once taken to be, as mortars routinely land in the district. US military will not reveal their tactics for combating mortar and rocket fire in the area, although it has carried out helicopter strikes and arrest raids recently. One US general, speaking anonymously, was apparently able to say with a straight face: “Compared to being in the Green Zone, driving in Beltway traffic scares the hell out of me.”


The Monitor continues its two-part series, penned by correspondent Scott Peterson, on “the Shi'a” in the Middle East -- of whom Peterson takes as primary representatives the Lebanese Hizbullah, the Sadrist current, and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

This premise alone is enough to trap Peterson’s reporting as it forces him to focus almost exclusively on what he sees as the similarities between the three examples, to the exclusion of any serious discussion of the differences among the three, rooted as they are in specific national contexts and histories. This is not to mention the even more glaring exclusion of all the rest of the Shi'a of the region, past and present, who only pop in from time to time to make a point here or there, while their co-religionists stand in for them.

The Shi'a, for Peterson, see the world through one coherent and inviolable framework that stems from their very Shi'a-ness -- a relatively simple framework at that, which can be accessed though conversations with Shi'a political leaders. While it would be difficult for any writer to render such a complicated topic as the rise of populist self-avowedly Shi'a political movements in two feature-length articles, Peterson is in over his head. His writing lacks the background to do anything but take his interlocutors, who are politicians after all, at face value, and build sweeping generalizations on the basis of a few interviews.

“No conversation with Shiites goes far without talk of Imam Hussein, the exalted martyr,” is a choice example of Peterson’s over-generalizing, here taking it to the point of silliness. Clearly Peterson has only been talking to a certain sort of Shi'a, who have been feeding him a certain sort of line.

The specific political situations in each country are glossed over, in order to score over-arching points about “the Shi'a” and their “new role” in the world: “In Lebanon, national unity was cemented by the war with Israel, and Sheikh Nasrallah burnished his reputation as a heroic ‘Arab Khomeini’,” Peterson writes. In fact, during the August 2006 war, nearly all Lebanese factions refrained from action, apparently in the hope that Israel would quickly eliminate Hizbullah from the Lebanese political scene. This touched off a political crisis after the war that involved Hizbullah’s attempt to topple the Siniora government. Lebanon today is teetering on the verge of renewed civil strife, the roots of which can be traced back through the 2006 war. There is no cemented national unity. Moreover, the other important players in Lebanon’s Shi'a political history (Mousa al-Sadr’s Movement of the Disposessed, the ‘Amal organization, to say nothing of secular organizations that have had many Lebanese Shi'a rank-and-file over the years such as leftist and nationalist parties or even the Lebanese military), are nowhere to be seen. There is only Hizbullah, and Hizbullah is only Nasrallah circa September 2006.

On Iraq, Peterson makes similar sweeping generalizations, also giving off more heat than light. For example, the bitter divisions between the Sadrist Current and the SIIC, which have many times erupted in deadly armed clashes, are far more than an inherited rivalry between the Sadr family and “the Hakim clan,” as Peterson writes. The missing pieces of Iraqi Shi'a political life, past and present, are too many to list here -- not to mention the many contradictions and fissures within the Sadr current itself, supposedly the archetype of Iraqi Shi'a politics, which go largely unexplained.

Peterson’s profile of a family dedicated to the Sadr movement is much more interesting, and not coincidentally far less sweeping in its generalization.

Monitor editors tie the knot on the two-part series with an editorial calling for sectarian reconciliation in Iraq, writing that the “series on the rise of Shiite Muslims in the Middle East reveals a subtle tactic among the sect's radical leaders: Don't confront Sunni rivals but rather find common cause. If they succeed, it may reshape the region, especially in Iraq, where this intra-Muslim conflict now plays out in daily bombings.” The editors, while wary of the intentions of what they see as a Sadr-Iran axis, call for quick sectarian reconciliation. If Iraq's strife is essentially a clear-cut war between Sunni and Shi'a populations, Monitor eds may have a point. If however, Iraq faces a multifaceted conflict at many levels, with many different actors pursuing many different goals, as argued in a recent Chatam House report, for example, then there is much more thinking that needs to be done about the future of the country.

Monitor staff present a brief bio of Muqtada al-Sadr.

In other coverage:


Reporting on the recent Republican debate, Dan Balz writes in the Post that GOP candidates began to assert some distance between their campaigns and the Bush administration. On the Iraq war, Balz reports, “The candidates reaffirmed their support for Bush's troop increase in Iraq but competed to criticize what happened there after U.S. forces deposed Saddam Hussein. ‘This war was very badly mismanaged for a long time,’ said Sen. John McCain of Arizona. ‘And Americans have made great sacrifices, some of which were unnecessary because of . . . mismanagement of this conflict.’ Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said the United States was ‘underprepared and underplanned for what came after we knocked down Saddam Hussein.’ Asked at a news conference yesterday who was responsible for the lack of preparation, he said, ‘The buck stops at the top, and I'm sure the president recognizes that’.”

Erinsys, a UK-based contractor has filed a complaint against the US Army in the US Court of Federal Claims, alleging that the branch did not follow consistent policy in its contracting, unfairly excluding Erinsys from the bid for the largest security contract in the country. Alec Klein and Steven Fainaru report in the Post that the company seeks to reinstate its bidder, alleging that the Army required bidders and their subcontractors to be properly licensed by the Iraqi government, and dismissed Erinsys’s bid for on that basis, but then did not enforce that requirement in later rounds of contracting.

In his column, David Broder argues that, in the recent debates in New Hampshire, both Republicans and Democrats were blasé about the real-world effects of policies they might pursue if elected. “Democrats brushed aside concerns about the impact of their votes to cut off funding for the troops in Iraq or the larger implications of a precipitous withdrawal from that country. Republicans were casual about contemplating the use of nuclear weapons against Iran or the effects of foreclosing a path to citizenship for millions of people living illegally in the United States,” Broder writes.


“Someone in Turkey is playing a dangerous game here,” Journal editors write. Although supportive of the idea of neutralizing the PKK, the editors caution Ankara to work with the US and Iraqi administrations, and to wait until after the upcoming Turkish elections in order to remove the military’s temptation to embarrass the governing AKP. They also call on Washington and on the Kurdish authorities to do more to ease the crisis. The eds are also concerned about the effect of a Turkish invasion on the Kurdish economy, one of the few arguable success stories in Iraq after the 2003 invasion that the Journal opinion pages famously championed.

An earlier version of this column missed an important article: The Journal’s Yochi Dreazen advances a story first broken by David Phinney on IraqSlogger, whose investigation found that First Kuwaiti, a construction contractor building the new US embassy complex in Baghdad, had committed numerous labor violations in the project, including deceptive hiring, labor trafficking, and confiscation of workers’ passports. Dreazen learns that the US Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into the allegations. See IraqSlogger’s Christina Davidson for an amplification. Regrets for the error.

Daily Column
2.5 Years for Libby; GOP Debates; The View from an Iraqi Art Gallery
By GREG HOADLEY 06/06/2007 01:56 AM ET
Iraq-datelined stories are relatively few today. The daily violence roundups in the two big papers both lead with a bombing in Falluja that killed 18.

The Times prints the more extensive account of yesterday’s violent events in Iraq, pointing out, among other events, a dispute over a bombing in Anbar Province, which Iraqi officials claim killed eight -- and which the US says never happened.

The “pardon Libby” campaign is already underway in the Journal, after the former Cheney aide was sentenced to 30 months in prison yesterday. Meanwhile the GOP candidates discussed Iraq in New Hampshire.

The Times profiles a segment of the shrinking Iraqi arts scene, and the Monitor begins a two-part series on Shi'a in the Middle East.

The suicide truck bomb that killed 18 people outside of Falluja may have targeted a meeting of tribal leaders who had aligned with the US against al-Qa'ida, Richard Oppel Jr. and Khaild al-Ansary write in the Times, citing local witnesses. The US military said this could not be confirmed, stating that the bomb exploded in a parking lot. US and Iraqi officials disagreed over another reported Anbar bombing: Iraqi security officials said another truck bomb killed eight policemen in Ramadi, while the Marines said this was a false report. 33 bodies were recovered in Baghdad, part of a steadily climbing trend, which Gen. Petraeus acknowledged in a televised interview on Tuesday. A US soldier was shot dead in Baghdad, and three Iraqi soldiers were killed by an IED. 12 students were kidnapped in Diyala Province’s Khalis. A second abduction attempt in Khalis was thawarted on Tuesday, when locals chased militants who had kidnapped 13 people at a fake checkpoint, later freeing the victims. North of Khalis, two Iraqi soldiers and two Iraqi police were killed in a firefight that killed seven militants. A Diyala police official said that 81 Iraqi policemen were killed in the province in the last two months. At least two bodies, and a severed head, were recovered in Baquba, the provincial capital, and another civilian was killed on Tuesday by gunmen. In Mosul, four bodies were recovered, and a Saudi Arabian militant was killed in clashes with police, along with an Iraqi gunman. Police in Mosul found a booby-trapped body inside a car, which they said was becoming a common tactic. A car bomb near a US base in Mahmudiya, Babil Province, killed an Iraqi civilian, and an IED near Hilla killed two policemen. Seven bodies were recovered in Babil province, all bound and shot in the head.

John Ward Anderson of the Post rounds up the day’s violent events in the Post, and on the Falluja bombing writes that members of the Anbar Salvation Council “said Tuesday's bombing apparently was not aimed at a specific tribal target,” which, of course, is not what witnesses told the Times, as noted above.

The Times visits an art gallery in Iraq, “the only one left in Baghdad with frequently rotating exhibits,” Kirk Semple writes. According to the Times report, the Madarat gallery and its director remain committed to the “quixotic” ideals of the transformative power of artistic expression. But the Baghdad art community is small and shrinking, they say, and the “golden age” of 2003 has faded into memory as the country plunged into violence and economic freefall. Most interesting is the ambivalence that the artists and art supporters express about the old regime: “It was a dictatorship, but that dictatorship helped,” said the owner of another struggling arts café. “Even during the terror and cruelty of Mr. Hussein’s reign, there was an active arts market, many galleries, and national and international art shows,” Semple writes. But Madabat’s owner, Hasan Nassar, argues that the political climate of the Ba'thist period outweighed the benefits of the official patronage for the art community. It is also noteworthy that the gallery is not self-financing, but is linked to an NGO that receives funding from the UN.

GOP debate

In their Times write-up of the GOP presidential debates, Patrick Healy and Marc Santora include some remarks about Iraq policy. Rudy Guliani said that it would have been “unthinkable” for the US not to have removed Saddam Hussein from power in 2003, while Sen. John McCain played the commander-in-chief card, challenging the Clinton campaign’s attempt to paint Iraq as “Mr. Bush’s war,” saying “when President Clinton was in power, I didn’t say that Bosnia, our intervention there was President Clinton’s war . . . When we intervened in Kosovo, I didn’t say it was President Clinton’s war.”

In the Post, Dan Balz and Michael Shear report several other Iraq references, with all candidates embracing the war as necessary for the US. Guiliani said the war “is part of the overall terrorist war against the United States," Giuliani said. "The problem the Democrats make is they're in denial." To a member of the audience who lost a brother in Iraq, McCain said, “I believe we have a strategy which can succeed, so that the sacrifice of your brother would not be in vain.” Meanwhile, Rep. Ron Paul, a GOP opponent of the war, was the only candidate to say he opposed the president’s troop level increase: “It was a mistake to go, so it's a mistake to stay."

Libby sentenced

US District Judge Reggie Walton handed I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby a 30-month prison sentence and a $250,000 fine for the ex-Cheney aide’s four convicted felonies stemming from the investigation into the Plame leak case, which itself stemmed from the controversy over the now-discredited prewar claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Africa. Carol Leonnig and Amy Goldstein have the sentencing story in the Post, noting that the judge said he was not inclined to allow Libby to go free pending appeals.

Neil Lewis writes the Libby story for the NYT, noting that “An intriguing question for many is what role Mr. Cheney will play in pressing Mr. Bush to grant a pardon. In a statement, Mr. Cheney noted that Mr. Libby was appealing the verdict and said that he and his wife, Lynne, ‘hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man.’”

In the Post, Michael Abramowitz looks at a series of letters sent to the court pleading for leniency on Libby’s behalf, submitted by such names as Donald H. Rumsfeld, Paul D. Wolfowitz, Gen. Peter Pace and Henry A. Kissinger.

While the pardon campaign is already underway, Peter Baker writes in the Post that President Bush now faces a dilemma: “Trigger a fresh political storm by pardoning a convicted perjurer or let one of the early architects of his administration head to prison.” Baker runs down a list of prominent political figures, who fall largely along party lines on the pardon issue. “If Bush were to decide to pardon Libby, he would have to short-circuit the normal process. Under Justice Department guidelines, Libby would not qualify for a pardon. The guidelines require applicants to wait at least five years after being released from prison. The review process after the submission of an application typically can take two years before a decision is made. During more than six years in office, Bush has pardoned just 113 people, nearly a modern low, and never anyone who had not yet completed his sentence. He has commuted three sentences,” Baker writes. However, presidential authority to pardon federal crimes is virtually unrestricted under the constitution, and several others before Bush have ignored the Justice guidelines.

“Free Scooter Libby,” Journal editors write, calling on the president to grant a pardon. “If he goes to jail it will be, above all, for two reasons: He was energetically defending the Administration's prewar intelligence at a time when most everyone else in the Administration -- from Condoleezza Rice to Colin Powell and Steven Hadley -- was running from it; and he refused to do a Harold Ickes and fail "to recall" when investigators came knocking.”

Evan Perez files the Libby story for the Journal, noting a few other names on the list of Libby leniency letter-writers: Natan Sharansky, James Carville & Mary Matalin, Dennis Ross, Leon Wieseltier. Christopher Cox. One letter, however, written by Tripp Badger of San Francisco, said that Libby “must be jailed.” Absent from the list: Dick Cheney.

Richard Willing of USAT writes that the next step for the Libby team will be to try to delay the sentence. Willing notes that President Bush’s spokesperson Dana Perino said the president felt “terrible” about the sentence. “The sentence was at the low end of the 30- to 37- month term requested by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald but substantially higher than probation, which Libby's attorneys had sought,” Willing adds.

In other coverage:


Rival campaigns have seized on a remark by Sen. Clinton during the Democratic debates to challenge her fitness to be commander-in-chief. “I believe we are safer than we were,” Clinton said. “We are not yet safe enough, and I have proposed over the last year a number of policies that I think we should be following.” Michael Cooper and Patrick Healy write, “The senator, a New York Democrat, was referring to domestic security efforts since Sept. 11, 2001, and not to the consequences of the war in Iraq or President Bush’s foreign policy, her advisers say. Yet rival Democratic campaigns, arguing that the war in Iraq has harmed security in America by breeding terrorists, are using the remark to highlight differences with her on the issue of the ability to be commander in chief, which political analysts view as a threshold issue for any woman running for president. “

Warren Hoge discusses Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Iraq, in his new role at the United Nations.


In his column, Harold Meyerson considers the “Korea analogy,” drawing on Spencer Ackerman’s reporting in the American Prospect last year, which he says documented US efforts to build permanent bases in Iraq at a time when the official line was that the US had no ambitions of creating permanent installations. “The entire pattern of this war has been to deploy first and create a theory later to justify the deployment. Now that support for the war is at an all-time low, it's plainly time for the theory to justify the long-term presence of U.S. forces,” Meyerson writes. The columnist continues to argue that the Korea analogy does not hold: US forces are stationed in Korea to deter an invasion, not to control civil strife, and the administration’s claimed functions for Korea-like bases don’t fit the situation in Iraq, he argues.


An antiwar installation of thousands of crosses on a hillside in Lafayette, Calif, has clashed with neighbor’s desires to maintain their property values, Bobby White writes in the Journal, setting off a backlash that may go to the courts.


Those who maintain that sectarian solidarities and religious ideology trump all other forces in Middle Eastern politics will see no clearer statement of the argument than in Scott Peterson’s report in the Monitor, the first in a two-part series on “the Shi'a.” Those seeking to understand, among many other apparent enigmas, recent deadly clashes between Shi'a militias in Iraq, the unraveling United Iraqi Alliance, accusations traded among Iraqi Shi'a leaders that their rivals are acting as agents of Iran, or even the unproven US allegations that Iran aids Sunni militants, will need to look elsewhere.
Daily Column
US Poll: Public Sours on War; Young Iraqis Dream of the Brain Drain
By GREG HOADLEY 06/05/2007 01:58 AM ET

Today's Iraq roundups are dominated by news of a video released by the so-called "Islamic State of Iraq" claiming the execution of two American soldiers missing since last month, and the subject of a massive manhunt south of Baghdad. Gen. David Petraeus, top commander of US forces in Iraq also suggested that the US may have evidence linking a kidnapping attack that siezed five British nationals to an earlier raid that killed five GIs.

Check out the Times profile of young skilled Iraqis eager to leave the country, and the new Post poll that takes stock of US public opinion on Iraq.

US forces will continue searching for two soldiers missing in Babil province since May 12, after a video was released today by the so-called “Islamic State of Iraq” claiming that the two are dead, and displaying what appear to be their ID cards. In the Times, Damien Cave describes the video in some detail, noting that “The videotape released Monday was significant largely because it was less graphic than usual and contained little evidence that those who produced it actually held the two soldiers captive or had killed them.” Some observers suggest that the “Islamic State of Iraq” seeks to draw out the process of discovery as long as possible for maximum public relations value. Without further evidence, a number of interpretations are plausible.

Cave also reports that Gen. Petraeus, US commander in Iraq, said that there were possible links between the militant cell that conducted a brazen raid on an official installation in Karbala in January, leading to the deaths of five US soldiers. The leader of the cell, Shaykh Azhar al-Dulaimi, was killed by US special forces in May, according to earlier statements by US officials. Petraeus said that US officials believed that the Dulaimi organization broke away from the Mahdi Army. 28 bodies were recovered in Baghdad on Monday; One Iraqi was killed by mortar fire, and three by IEDs in the capital.

Joshua Partlow files from Mahmudiya for the Post, the site of the May 12 ambush on the US patrol that killed four soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter, and left three US soldiers missing, one whose body was recovered later from the Euphrates River, and the two who were claimed killed in today’s video. The ongoing manhunt has been a trying affair for US forces, Partlow writes. To one battalion commander, the hunt is “fraught with frustration as he sifts through misinformation and dead-end leads. Attempts at paying local residents for information, potentially a simple transaction, have been hindered because many people are wary of being found carrying American dollars. Since Iraqi currency for distribution has not yet arrived at his outpost, he said, soldiers have poured water on U.S. dollars and crunched them up to try to make them appear old and worn. But the larger problem the soldiers face is a sprawling rural landscape and a frightened, distrustful population.”

Surprisingly, neither paper follows up on the allegations in the video that the Americans employed harsh and abusive tactics during the search.

Philip Kennicott deconstructs the video's imagery in the Post, examining the increasing technical -- and symbolic -- sophistication in such productions. “This latest bit of Internet propaganda has disturbing power beyond the immediate concern over the soldiers' well-being. It is a compelling visual document, with an argument to make, and it sets up a stark series of oppositions that transcend linguistic and national barriers: occupation vs. resistance, outsiders vs. locals, dilapidated cities vs. green leafy bowers.” The “visual argument” in the video draws on carefully selected and edited imagery, which makes several symbolic points outside of the spoken and written words.

They were going to be the new Iraq’s upwardly mobile young professionals, and dreamed of that their country might be “like Las Vegas” after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Now they dream of emigration or consider giving up their ambitions. Damien Cave’s second Times report of the day looks at Iraqi students who started their programs around four years ago – as the US toppled the old regime. “I had a plan one day to have a wife and kids and my own dental clinic,” he said. “They were good dreams. They’re gone,” one student said. Violence and the closing of opportunity for middle-class Iraqis has changed their choices. Many of their classmates have stopped attending school; some have been killed on campus. Worth a full read.

A new poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News finds that pessimism about the Iraq war is at a new high. Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write up the results in the Post. “Almost six in 10 Americans said they do not think the additional troops sent to Iraq since the beginning of the year will help restore civil order there, and 53 percent -- a new high in Post-ABC News polls -- said they do not believe that the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States.” Interestingly, approval ratings for congressional Democrats dropped by 10 percent since April, while ratings of President Bush remain low. “73 percent of Americans said the country is pretty seriously on the wrong track, while 25 percent said things are going in the right direction.” At the same time, while optimism about the Iraq war is at an all-time low, there was no clear national consensus about what to do, Post reporters write.

Scooped by the Times yesterday on the military’s review of the “surge” that found the new US posture is not achieving its goals on schedule, the Post catches up today and advances the story with a bit more detail about the report. Anne Scott Tyson gets quotes from US commanders who explain some of the reasons for the security plan’s failure to meet its targets in Baghdad at the three-month mark. The report, Tyson writes, is based on weekly reports filed by US commanders for each of 457 neighborhoods identified in Baghdad: “For each weekly report, the commanders gauge which neighborhoods fall into each of four distinct phases of military operations: disrupt, clear, control and retain. As of the end of May, 156 neighborhoods were in the "disrupt" phase, which means to keep insurgents off balance until a full military presence can be established,” An additional 155 neighborhoods were in the "clear" phase, in which the military goes block to block looking for weapons and fighters in order to eliminate resistance. Commanders rated 128 neighborhoods as under "control," meaning U.S. and Iraqi forces could keep insurgents out and could protect the population. Eighteen neighborhoods were in the "retain" phase, which relies more heavily on Iraqi security forces and is aimed at ensuring the area remains free of insurgents,” Tyson writes. The Post report also lists some of the reasons given for falling short on the timetable, most of which are well known by now.

From Winn Army Community Hospital at Ft. Stewart, Georgia, Gregg Zoroya reports in USAT that US military hospitals are under intense pressure under the strains of the war. Staff are overworked, the system is underfunded, and the wounded keep returning for care. Army medical officials say the reasons include the demand for medical personnel in Iraq, the funding competition with other wartime needs (body armor, weapons) and bureaucratic issues blocking the expansion of the facilities. Worth a full read.

In other coverage:


Philip Kennicott deconstructs the video in the Post, examining the increasing technical -- and symbolic -- sophistication in the production the video. “This latest bit of Internet propaganda has disturbing power beyond the immediate concern over the soldiers' well-being. It is a compelling visual document, with an argument to make, and it sets up a stark series of oppositions that transcend linguistic and national barriers: occupation vs. resistance, outsiders vs. locals, dilapidated cities vs. green leafy bowers.” The “visual argument” in the video draws on carefully selected and edited imagery, which makes several symbolic points outside of the spoken and written words in the video.

In his column, Eugene Robinson echoes the antiwar challenge raised by John Edwards to Sens. Clinton and Obama at Sunday’s Democratic debate: “The Democrats' two leading candidates for the nomination don't reflect how passionately many of the party faithful feel about the war,” he writes. While Robinson acknowledges that Edwards’s fascination with the antiwar wedge may have to do with his third-place standing in the polls, he also writes, “If the war in Iraq is the most urgent issue facing the country -- and both Clinton and Obama said bringing the troops home would be their first priority as president -- then why aren't theirs the loudest, clearest, most eloquent voices in opposition to Bush's tragic misadventure? Each is asking for the opportunity to lead the nation. Shouldn't each be showing some leadership on the war?”

“New Europe,” another Iraqism coined by Donald Rumsfeld, has failed to hold together as a coherent entity, Anne Appelbaum writes in her column.

Iraq spending is putting pressure on domestic budget items, Elizabeth Williamson writes, looking at the contest between the Democratic Congress and the White House over appropriations.


In his column, David Brooks argues that Iraqi society is fragmenting into ever-smaller areas of local militia rule, where “the thug who rules your local gas station rules your life.” Brooks is correct about this, but that does not necessarily mean that the partition plan would have either been able to prevent this from occurring, as he argues, or would not have led to some other kind of catastrophe for Iraqis. “The continuing U.S. mistake is an unwillingness to see Iraqi reality sociologically, from the ground up,” he closes.


Dan Senor, former Bush administration advisor and Green Zone official, argues in a contributed op-ed that a US withdrawal from Iraq would be disastrous for US interests and destabilizing for the region. Senor points to the so-called “realists” in US foreign policy, many of whom oppose a full withdrawal, including Brent Scowcroft and Gen. Anthony Zinni. Senor also quotes John Burns of the New York Times and officials from US allied-states in the Gulf as opposing a withdrawal.


“Scooter” Libby faces sentencing today, and court officials seem to be leaning towards leniency, Richard Willing writes in USAT, in contrast to the recommendations of the prosecution that Libby be sentenced to the fullest possible sentence.

From Prague, David Jackson writes that President Bush will speak today on his so-called democratic initiative, kicking off his 8-day European tour. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said Bush would “recommit” to the project of spreading democracy. However, observers and administration officials said that the Iraq war has made the Bush strategy of spreading democracy by force very unpopular.

USAT editors write that for all the Iraqi talk among presidential candidates, there is very little clarity about what exactly their positions are on Iraq. The eds fault both Republican and Democratic candidates in this regard. Democrats, they write, speak freely of withdrawal, but say little about the consequences for the region. Republicans, on the other hand, support the Bush administration, but say little about how to proceed when the “surge” has run its course.


No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Democrats Debate Iraq; Meet the Interrogators; Sweden or Bust
By GREG HOADLEY 06/04/2007 01:57 AM ET

June opened for US forces in Iraq in a furiously bloody way, as at least 15 US soldiers were killed in the first three days of the month.

The Times prints the day's must-read with a scooped three-month official assessment of the "surge" that concludes that the security plan has not proceeded as planned.

Meanwhile, the crowded Democratic field debated Iraq policy yesterday, and the Monitor profiles a young Iraqi who traveled across Europe to Sweden -- in a pitch-dark shipping container.

14 US soldiers were announced killed yesterday, 13 from IEDs, bringing the total for the first three days of June to 15, Richard Oppel Jr. and Khalid Hassan report in the Times. If US soldiers continue to be killed at that rate throughout the month, June would outpace May’s totals. 31 bodies were recovered in the capital. A Christian priest was assassinated in Mosul, and a director of the Iraqi Central Bank was shot dead along with his brother in Baghdad’s 'Amil district. The Times reports several attacks in Diyala Province, including a suicide car bomb that killed nine, and a bus shooting at a fake checkpoint that killed three. Nine bodies were recovered in Ba'quba, in handcuffs and bearing gunshot wounds. Also in Diyala, US forces at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, near Ba'quba, survived a chemical attack, which a Los Angeles Times reporter said released a cloud of chlorine 200 yards from the base. Soldiers complained of respiratory irritation but there were no casualties reported. US forces reported killing four and arresting six who were setting up rockets to attack the Green Zone, strafing the men with helicopter-mounted guns before ground forces moved in to arrest the remainder. The US arrested 10 Mahdi Army fighters in Numaniya, near Kut, where two corpses were also recovered showing signs of torture. Fighting erupted between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi police in Diwaniya, leaving three dead.

US forces provided air cover for Iraqi forces in the yesterday’s Diwaniya fighting, Joshua Partlow writes in his report in the Post, which he also leads with the US recently announced deaths of over a dozen US soldiers. A Sadrist spokesperson in Diwaniya said that Iraqi forces had violated a truce by attempting to arrest a senior Mahdi Army leader, Kifah al-Kuraiti, without a warrant. Al-Kuriati was wounded in the raid, the Sadrist spokesman, Haider Nateq, said. According to a US military statement, Iraqi special forces exchanged gunfire in Baghdad with “insurgents” in an attempt to arrest a militia leader wanted for kidnapping and IED activity. The US statement gave no further details on the identity of the suspect, the militia group, or the location of the raid. In Falluja, US forces said they killed at least seven members of al-Qa'ida in Iraq on Saturday, arresting eight more, and breaking up a bomb-making workshop.

USAT’s César G. Soriano also leads his Iraq news roundup with US casualties, making June’s total at 16. "They keep changing their tactics," he said. "For a while, they were using cellphone trigger mechanisms. They (pushed) it until we had good solutions. The enemy is adaptive," said US Spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Sunday that Iraqi forces would not be capable of operating without US support until the end of 2008. Soriano reports that Saleh al-Mutlak, leader of the 11-seat National Dialogue Front has called upon “moderates” to withdraw from the Iraqi Parliament, saying "The situation in Iraq is unbearable, the government is incompetent and parliament is just a cover for a political process imposed on us." Mutlak has made such statements before. Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region, said that Turkey launched shells into northern Iraq, in an attack on “Kurdish rebels.”

The escalation and redeployment of US forces, better known by its slick euphemism “surge,” has not met its targets at the three-month mark, according to an assessment completed by the US military last month. David Cloud and Damien Cave submit the day’s most important read, based on the one-page document obtained by the Times. US commanders have divided Baghdad into 457 neighborhoods, and the report concludes that US and Iraqi forces control only 146 of the areas, while in the remaining 311 zones, operations have not begun, or US and Iraqi forces still face “resistance.” The original plan held that Baghdad would be subdued by July, when the focus of operations was to switch to reconstruction, but now this goal has been pushed back to September. Senior officers point out that violence is unabated in mixed regions in western Baghdad, among other areas. American commanders cited the infiltration of the Iraqi security forces by sectarian militiamen as an impediment to locking down parts of the city, as well as absentee rates among Iraqi forces. US troops will number 30,000 in the capital by the time the last extra battalion deploys, and Iraqi forces in the capital number at approximately 52,000 between the various branches. Cloud and Cave turn to Baghdad’s al-Rashid district, which includes such notorious areas as al-'Amil, Bayya’, Al-Jihad, and al-Furat. Sectarian violence in al-Rashid has worsened. After a major clearing operation involving over 2,000 soldiers last month, the area has been re-infiltrated, US commanders say, and violence and ethnic cleansing spiral in the area. Worth a full read.

Candidates’ debate

In New Hampshire, the second Democratic debate opened yesterday with a lengthy discussion of Iraq, Patrick Healy writes in the Times, during which several of the eight candidates traded their most pointed barbs over the war. Ex-Sen. John Edwards attacked Sens. Clinton and Obama directly for not showing more “leadership” against the war in recent Senate debate. Obama especially responded by bringing up Edwards’ 2002 advocacy the threat of force against Iraq. Clinton copped an above-the-fray pose, saying that the differences among Dems were less stark than the those between the two parties, to which, Edwards replied that the differences in the Democratic field were important.

In the Post, Dan Balz and Anne Kornblut report that Sens. Clinton and Edwards both said they had been fully informed of all the issues before their 2002 Senate votes in favor of authorizing force -- sidestepping the question of not having read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Edwards needled Clinton for not calling her vote a mistake, as he has done. GOP candidates will debate in New Hampshire tonight.

Covering the event for the Journal, Jackie Calmes and Christopher Cooper write that the rhubarb among the Democratic candidates “belied the unity of the party's opposition to the Bush administration.”

In other coverage:


Laura Blumenfeld profiles three interrogators, an American who admits torturing Iraqis, an Israeli who admits torturing Palestinians, and a Briton who interrogated Irish Republicans. The three describe their methods, and Blumenfeld detects some psychological scars on the part of the American and the Israeli. Not so the Brit.

Michael Fletcher recaps a few Iraq policy developments, including the debate over the “South Korea” analogy, the decision to send Meghan O’Sullivan back to Iraq, and the upcoming confirmation hearings for nominated “war czar” Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute.


From Stockholm, Karin Rives recounts the story of Hesha Nari Saleh, a 17-year-old Kurd from Mosul whose mother paid $15,000 to have smuggled from Iraq to Sweden. Hesha made the journey across Europe in a sealed shipping container. Sweden has become a destination country for Iraqi refugees, Rives writes. Last years flow of 9,000 Iraqi refugees was three times as many as in 2005. The country is “the top destination outside the Middle East for those escaping the violence in Iraq,” Rives writes. Sweden has seen a sharp rise in the influx of unaccompanied Iraqi minors, however, causing Swedish officials to scramble to keep up. Sweden provides “free housing, classes in Swedish, healthcare services, a $400 startup check, and a daily cash stipend of about $10 to those who settle here. The provisions for unaccompanied child refugees are even more extensive. They start with the state providing adult supervision and temporary guardians and, often, help with managing their own money for the first time.” The country also makes sure the refugees finish high school. New underage arrivals are housed in temporary shelters, for an average of five months (up from four in 2005), before settling them with foster families. The Stockholm shelter that Hesha has lived in for months was meant to be overnight accommodation for new arrivals. Swedish officials say that the youth often suffer psychologically, from the trauma of the past to the pressures of the present. Hesha dreams of learning Swedish, becoming a doctor, and relocating his family to Sweden, out of harm’s way in Mosul, Rives writes. See an earlier NYT story on Sweden’s unlikely status as a destination for Iraqi refugees.


From “surge” to “squirt” to “oil-spots,” liquid metaphors are prevalent in official Iraqspeak, Lionel Beehner remarks in a contributed op-ed. “By couching the conflict in language befitting a cookbook instead of a war manual, U.S. military officials are trying to make our efforts in Iraq come off as palatable for the American public, at the risk of oversimplifying. The use of metaphor, in this instance, is just a slick way of dressing up a complicated operation while admitting not only that the enemy is slippery, or liquid-like, but so is one's strategy to defeat it,” he writes. Such language is dangerous, the Council on Foreign Relations staff writer warns: “The military should tell it like it is, not dress up the war in cutesy language.”

Daily Column
The Korea Model; Clinton's Conflict; Embracing Muqtada?
By GREG HOADLEY 06/03/2007 01:55 AM ET
This week's Sunday papers feature lots of Iraq-related reading, with both major papers leading the daily Iraq reports with the destruction of yet another piece of Iraq's infrastructure: This time, militants blew a hole in a major bridge that links Baghdad to Kirkuk.

Souped-up IEDs are the major reason for May's high US casualty figure in Iraq, according to a Post front-pager, while the Times magazine puts Hillary Clinton's Iraq record on the cover. The paper also takes a closer look at the "Korea" analogy that administration officials uncorked last week -- with the quiet revelation that the administration is drawing up blueprints for just such a plan.

An op-ed in the Sunday Times argues that the US can work with Muqtada al-Sadr as a partner in Iraq, making several important points about the young cleric that have gone largely ignored in the press, while one of the Post's mainstay Iraq war supporters argues that the current "blame the Iraqis" rhetoric doesn't wash, however much the US seeks to avoid responsibility for its failings.

A tribal leader in the area of the attack blamed al-Qa'ida for the attack that disabled the Sarha bridge, 100 miles north of Baghdad, Damien Cave writes in the Times. Near Falluja, three Iraqi children were killed on Saturday by US tank fire, American forces confirmed, saying the tank was targeting a group of people installing an IED. The incident is under investigation. 26 unidentified bodies were recovered in the capital, and the imam of a Sunni mosque in Ghazaliya district was assassinated. In Ba'quba, gunmen killed two people, including a teacher, and an Iraqi soldier was killed by an IED in Muqdadiya. Some indications point to “frustration” with al-Qa'ida-linked groups in Diyala province, Cave writes, but the upshot of these sentiments is unknown. Gunfire forced a US helicopter to land in Diyala province. In Falluja, US forces fought a two-hour gun battle that left seven al-Qa'ida fighters dead, including two in explosive vests, the military said. After the fighting, US forces found two explosives-rigged trucks.

The Sarha bridge blast left a “gaping hole” in the structure, Joshua Partlow writes in the Post, reporting that the attack prompted the Iraqi government “to prohibit oil tankers and other heavy trucks from crossing all but two of Baghdad's 13 bridges across the Tigris, worsening fuel shortages at a time when drivers must regularly wait hours for gas in lines hundreds of cars long.” Iraqi authorities arrested 15 suspects after the blast, said the police chief of Tuz Khurmatu (not “Kurhatu,” as the Post writes). The US military said that Iraqi security forces had secured the bombed bridge after the explosion, which caused no casualties -- and which could apparently have been worse, as undetonated explosives were found at the site. Residents worried that the loss of access to the structure would force them to take riskier alternatitve routes. Taxi drivers also complained that the closure of the bridge on the the main Baghdad-Kirkuk highway would cost them revenue. Residents also feared a campaign to divide Kirkuk from the rest of Iraq and exacerbate ethnic tensions. Checkpoints in force after a series of bridge attacks in Baghdad have caused heavy traffic and delays in the capital, Partlow writes. At least seven Iraqis died from mortar fire in Baghdad’s Fadhil district, a Sunni enclave in Baghdad’s eastern half, and another mortar barrage landed in the city's southern Ma'alif district. Residents of eastern Baghdad reported that US helicopters fired on the Habibiya area, but military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said he had no knowledge of such an event.

US forces in Iraq face increasingly lethal and complex attacks, Ann Scott Tyson and John Ward Anderson report in the Post. Maj. Gen. James Simmons, deputy commander of US forces in Iraq said that the primary killer of American troops in May was “large and buried IEDs.” Bigger blasts are not the only explanation for the increasing US death rate. As more US forces fan out into more intense combat, the wounded-to-killed ratio has decreased, down from a 2003-2007 overall average of 8-to-1 to May’s 4.8-to-1. Finally, after taking stock of US tactics in February as the security plan rolled out, armed groups are stepping up their offensive against American forces, and have learned to stage complex attacks, often involving several waves of explosions or ambush traps.

In the Times, David Sanger assesses the firestorm set off by the admnistration’s recent suggestion that the US military mission in Iraq would come to resemble the US presence in South Korea, writing that the analogy, made by White House spokesperson Tony Snow on Wednesday and Sec. Gates on Thursday, has stoked fears in the US and in the Middle East of unending war and US expansionism. Setting aside the question of the administration’s motives, Sanger writes that some analysts assert that the comparison simply doesn’t hold water. “It’s not that Iraq isn’t vital,” said Leslie Gelb, formerly president of the Council on Foreign Relations, “It’s just that Korea bears no resemblance to Iraq. There’s no strategy that can create victory.” Most interesting are the off-the-record details Cave gleans from administration officials, which seem to suggest that Plan Korea is more than just a rhetorical device: “Administration officials and top military leaders declined to talk on the record about their long-term plans in Iraq. But when speaking on a not-for-attribution basis, they describe a fairly detailed concept. It calls for maintaining three or four major bases in the country, all well outside of the crowded urban areas where casualties have soared. They would include the base at Al Asad in Anbar Province, Balad Air Base about 50 miles north of Baghdad, and Tallil Air Base in the south,” Sanger writes.

The Times magazine turns the spotlight on Sen. Clinton’s Iraq record, suggesting that the senator’s history on the war, which has been “hidden in plain sight,” could provide "as good an insight as we have into what sort of president she would be.” The lengthy article is worth a full read, not only for its step-by-step account of Clinton’s Iraq positions, but also for its reflection of the tortured relationship of the Democratic party with the war and other national security issues after 9/11. At the end of the article we learn that the authors, Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., are releasing a book on the same topic this week.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has released its report on prewar intelligence, Walter Pincus writes in the Post. Pincus focuses on the report’s reference to an August 13, 2002 CIA paper entitled "The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq," which laid out possible unintended results of a US invasion, including al-Qa'ida establishing itself in a destabilized Iraq. “The CIA paper also cautioned about outcomes such as declining European confidence in U.S. leadership, (Saddam) Hussein's survival and retreat with regime loyalists, Iran working to install a friendly regime ‘tolerant of Iranian policies,’ Afghanistan tipping into civil strife because U.S. forces were not replaced by United Nations peacekeepers and troops from other countries, and violent demonstrations in Pakistan because of its support of Washington,” Pincus writes, citing the Senate report. At the time of the six-page CIA document's writing, plans to invade Iraq were well underway in the White House, and ex-DCI George Tenet writes in his memoirs that the "Perfect Storm" report was pushed to the back of a think briefing binder at a September 7, 2002 Camp David meeting of the Bush national security team.

In other coverage:


Usually an astute observer of Iraqi affairs, the NYT’s Edward Wong sounds a flat note with his Week in Review piece that reduces Iraq’s complex conflicts to the cultural-essentialist idea that Iraqis simply need extra violence to make their society work. In so writing, Wong ignores the many historical, political, and economic dimensions to Iraq’s unfolding nightmare, as well as the many parallels to other civil strife outside of Iraq. Such a well-established Iraq reporter should know better than to base sweeping explanations of Iraqi history on a single dinner-table conversation. Wong may be correct to suggest that Iraqis will continue fighting until the strongest party wins, but this is a truism of civil wars, regardless of their cultural context.

Bartle Breese Bull, foreign editor of Prospect magazine, contributes an important op-ed on Muqtada al-Sadr, pointing out a few of things that have been, for much of the media, “hidden in plain sight” -- a bit like like Hillary Clinton’s Iraq record. “Moktada al-Sadr leads a movement of the poor, inherited from his father, who inherited it from an uncle. . . . Mr. Sadr speaks not for the (Shi'a) elites but for the biggest and most deprived group of people in Iraq: the Shiite lower orders,” he writes. Bull continues, “If he really wanted the Americans to leave tomorrow, we would know about it. . . His followers may continue to participate in a few freelance kidnappings and homemade bomb attacks, but a true Sadrist uprising is more like an earthquake.” The new US-Iraqi outpost bordering Sadr City, for example, would not survive if Sadr had not given it a quiet green light, Bull argues. Thirdly, for those who see in al-Sadr merely an Iranian stalking horse, Bull writes, “Mr. Sadr and his father have long differentiated themselves from the traditional Shiite hierarchy in Najaf, with its great wealth and its ties to Iran. The Sadrist movement has always been about Iraq for the Iraqis,” adding, “They might accept help from Iran . . . but the movement is not for sale. Mr. Sadr gets his strength from the street. And the Arabs of the Iraqi street have no time for Persian bosses.” In Bull’s view, the Sadrist current does not seek to foment a sectarian civil war in Iraq. “The real story about Moktada al-Sadr is not his exciting sermons but his broad underwriting, both passive and active, of the official project in Iraq. . . . It is what we should expect from the canniest politician in Iraq: the rhetoric of the dispossessed, and the actions of an heir to power.”

Bull’s essay is an important correction to the two-dimensional portraits of the young cleric (which usually pivot on the word “firebrand”), and is worth a full read. At the same time, there are open questions that remain about the Mahdi Army which Bull does not address, and his writing is the weaker for it: Self-styled Mahdi Army militiamen appear to be implicated in the worst of the sectarian violence in Baghdad, and Sadr’s apparent difficulty in purging these elements and dissociating his movement from them raises suspicions, if not of his intentions, then at least of his degree of control. Bull also does not mention the recent intense clashes in Shi'a cities outside of Baghdad, nearly all involving Mahdi Army members -- clashes that point to an intense struggle for power in Iraq’s Shi'a-majority areas, with the potential to spark armed conflict that could easily flare out of control.

Times editors call on the Senate to act swiftly in backing a House measure containing proposals and funding to improve medical and psychological care for injured and traumatized returning soldiers, and to reform disability benefits for veterans. “While talking a lot about supporting the troops and using them shamelessly in Congressional battles and election years, the administration has systematically shortchanged the wounded and maimed who make it back from harm’s way. The nation has a moral obligation to help them face a whole new challenge of survival,” they write.

In what can only be described as a staff-editorial vice-presidential smackdown, Times editors lambaste Dick Cheney’s alleged “disdain for accountability.” Iraq enters the picture when the eds point out that, “From 2001 to 2005, Mr. Cheney received 'deferred salary payments' from Halliburton that far exceeded what taxpayers gave him. Mr. Cheney still holds hundreds of thousands of stock options that have ballooned by millions of dollars as Halliburton profited handsomely from the war in Iraq.”


US officials claim that Iran has stepped up its alleged shipments of weapons to Iraqi militants, Robin Wright reports, including 240mm Fajr-3 rockets that have a range of 30 miles. British forces allege that they have intercepted similar shipments destined for the Taliban militia in Afghanistan.

Terry McCarthy, Baghdad correspondent for ABC News, contributes a sympathetic look at life in Baghdad as Iraqis experience it amid the city’s notorious insecurity. Part explanation, from his perspective, of the calculus that he sees Iraqis execute every day just to perform the simple functions of life, and part farewell message to the two Iraqi ABC News employees who were killed in Baghdad last month, McCarthy’s account is worth a full read.

Ameer Abdalameer is an Iraqi boy attending high school in Arlington, Virginia having fled the country after the 2003 invasion. Felix Herrara is an Iraq war veteran who teaches Ameer in his “English for Speakers of Other Languages” class at Wakefield High. Herrara grew up in El Salvador in the 1980s, where he learned first hand the nature of life in wartime. The two have formed an unlikely bond, punctuated by Ameer’s resentment and suspicion of the role of American soldiers in his former homeland. Tara Bahrampour reports.

In his column, Robert Kagan, still an Iraq war supporter, argues against the current “blame the Iraqis” vibe on Capitol Hill, writing, “For these Republicans (who adopt the it's-the-Iraqis-fault perspective), even more than for Democrats, blaming the Iraqis solves a number of big problems. It absolves them of having supported the war in the first place. We were right to go to war, they will say, and we gave it our best shot. It isn't our fault if the Iraqis were unable or unwilling to do their part. Blaming the Iraqis also allows Republicans to acquiesce in defeat without having to acknowledge that it is an American defeat. We didn't fail, the Iraqis did. And blaming the Iraqis clears the American conscience. We got rid of Saddam Hussein, Republicans will say. The rest was up to them, and they failed. The more sophisticated will declare that the Iraqis were culturally destined to fail.”

In a lengthy opinion piece, Brigid Schulte profiles “Jonathan,” an Ecuadorian immigrant living in Virginia who would like to serve in the US military, even in Iraq, but can’t because he is not an American citizen. Some have suggested that reforming the eligibility of immigrants to serve in the military may ease recruiting difficulties. In the context of the heated debate over immigration, such reforms may not make headway against strong conservative opposition.

Tom Ricks’s Inbox features a comment from an Army officer just returned from Iraq, who remarks how widespread the use of the Arabic term “Inshallah” (“God willing”) has become among US soldiers, and even officers.

While the Korea analogy is “misleading in many ways,” Post editors argue that it now “makes sense for Mr. Bush to begin focusing the Iraq debate on the need for an American presence beyond the current surge of troops in Baghdad and beyond his own administration.” The editors claim that the best basis for such a discussion is the Baker-Hamilton commission, and endorse the concept of a scaled-back, but long-term, US presence in Iraq.


No Sunday edition.

Daily Column
Haditha Controversy; Still Hunting for WMDs; the New Pinkertons?
By GREG HOADLEY 06/02/2007 01:59 AM ET
Two of our papers are down for the weekend, and the Post and Journal decline to send in Iraq-datelined coverage; only the Times’s Richard Oppel Jr. reports for duty, filing the day’s only Iraq-datelined story. The burden falls on the Timesman to round up the day’s violence, peer through the fog surrounding recent fighting in Baghdad’s 'Amiriya district, and report newly obtained body counts for May 2007.

The Post, however does print some important Iraq-related news, advancing the stories of the 2005 Haditha slayings -- the Marines ignored a formal request by Iraqi civilians for an investigation -- as well as the debate over Iraqi troop rotations, and a controversy brewing among Marine Corps veterans over antiwar protest activities.

The Post also reports that a lawsuit filed by a 53-year-old veteran under the 1893 Anti-Pinkerton Act has disrupted Pentagon security contracting in Iraq.

Don’t miss the paper’s front-pager with the startling news that UN inspectors are still looking for Iraqi WMDs.

In spite of the continuing refusal of the Iraqi government to release casualty figures, the NYT obtained some data from an Interior Ministry source for the month of May, Oppel writes. The figures show a striking 70% increase in unidentified bodies recovered in Baghdad, up to 726 from 411 in April. At the same time, the data show a decline in "identifiable" deaths, from 495 in April to 344 last month. This suggests an increase in sectarian militia activity, but a likely decline in deaths from various bombing, shelling, and sniping attacks. Militias, such as elements of the Mahdi Army, who are known for their death squad and torture activities, often strip their victims of wallets and identification, whereas those killed by explosions, shrapnel, or gunfire, often have identification on their person when their bodies are recovered. Three children died as an “allied tank” attempted to prevent a group from planting an IED near Falluja. Mortar fire killed ten in the capital, where fifteen bodies were also recovered. A body removed from the Euphrates River last week was not one of the two missing US soldiers who are presumed abducted since May 12. As for 'Amiriya, the Sunni Arab neighborhood in western Baghdad that witnessed heavy fighting between al-Qa'ida-linked forces and Sunni militant groups, Oppel writes that US forces confirmed that they have been involved in fighting. IN a statement, Lt. Col. Dale Kuehl said, “We have been involved in operations with the Iraqi Army and local nationals against Al Qaeda in Amiriya.” He also said that the neighborhood was quiet on Friday, suggesting that al-Qa'ida was regrouping. One resident estimated that at least 40 people were killed in the fighting. Oppel also writes that the 1920 Revolution Brigades (mis-translated in the Times as the “20th Revolution”) have denied participating in the fighting on Thursday, in spite of earlier reports and residents’ accounts asserting that the Sunni armed group came to the aid of the Islamic Army during the struggle. The “operation will last forever until we get rid of al-Qaeda,” said a midlevel Islamic Army commander.

IEDs have caused 80% of US combat fatalities in the last three months, Thom Shanker reports in the Times. This increase coincides with the escalated US operations, lifting the figure from 50% in January. The Pentagon has allocated $4 billion this year and $5 billion for next year to combat the devices, with many technical fixes in the pipeline, including improved armored vehicles, detection, and defusing equipment. But critics say the heavy focus on technical fixes comes at the expense of intelligence operations to break up the groups that plant the devices. The share of the Pentagon anti-IED spending that would go towards intelligence-gathering and attacking IED-planting networks will increase to 31% next year, up from 13% this year.

The hunt is -- still -- on for Iraqi WMDs, Colum Lynch writes in the Post. UNMOVIC continues to meet every day in Manhattan to pore over intelligence in the search for Saddam Hussein’s legendary arsenal. The commission still receives a $10 million annual budget, paid out of Iraqi oil revenues. UNMOVIC staff and supporters argue that Iraq still has the potential to reconstitute a WMD arsenal, while the US and UK argue that the commission should be shut down. The Iraqi government has also requested that UNMOVIC be shut down and the remaining $63 million in its kitty be repatriated to Iraq. There is a political dimension to the absurdity. Russia especially has resisted US pressure to shut down the commission, arguing that the UN, not the Coalition, should have the final say on Iraqi disarmament. Hans Blix, the former weapons inspector, suggested that the expertise gathered under the years of Iraq inspectors should be kept in the UN system for future operations in other countries.

A controversy is brewing over the length of tours of Iraqi forces in Baghdad, Walter Pincus writes in the Post. While US troops face lengthening deployments of up to 15 months, Iraqi forces typically serve in Baghdad for 90-day periods. Some US officials have suggested that the shorter tours and high rates of turnover complicate efforts to hand security over from US to Iraqi forces. On the other hand, some observers, including Fred Kagan and Gen. Caldwell, argue that the quicker rotations serve as a countermeasure to the traditionally high absenteeism rates among Iraqi battalions. Baghdad does not have enough Iraqi Army units of its own, and Iraqi forces must be deployed from other parts of the country such as Anbar Province and the Kurdish areas. To which, Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings says, "if the percentage strength of units going into battle is low and they don't last that long in the battle area, their presence is not a large accomplishment."

At the ongoing hearings at Camp Pendelton, a military prosecutor said that townspeople approached the Marines and demanded an investigation one week after the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November 2005. Sonya Geis writes in the Post that leaders of the town, including the mayor, the town council, and 14 other local leaders, presented the Marines with a formal request for an investigation into what they alleged was a war crime. The Marine battalion commander, however, who was present at the meeting, did not order an investigation for another several months, after Time magazine wrote an article about the events in Haditha which opened a controversy. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani did not report the events to his superiors, according to the prosecution. Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, Chessani’s superior faulted Chessani for not opening an investigation into the events and for not reporting the townspeople’s request to the command chain. Earlier, Huck had said that he also believed the Haditha events were not worth investigating. Yesterday's New York Times reported that most of the the victims had been shot at close range, many in the head.

A federal judge ordered the Pentagon to freeze the process of awarding the largest security contract in Iraq on Friday, Alex Klein and Steven Fainaru report in the Post. The reason for the order stems from an unusual lawsuit filed by Army veteran Brian X. Scott, 53, of Colorado, who has sued the Pentagon under the 1893 Anti-Pinkerton Act which forbids the US government from contracting private militias. While the goal of the suit is to shut down the federal contracting of any mercenary forces, it has in fact reverberated through the federal bureaucracy and complicated the bidding process. Blackwater and UK-based Erinys had already been excluded from the bidding for the $475 million deal, but with the lawsuit, the GAO dismissed their protests, arguing that the court case may cause the contract to be revised. With the protests dismissed -- but the lawsuit still pending – the Army is technically free to award the contract at any time. Erinys has now sought a restraining order to prevent the Army from awarding the contract. (Blackwater has indicated that it does not intend to participate in seeking a restraining order.) The Anti-Pinkerton Act was passed by Congress in 1893 against the use of mercenaries to interfere with labor union activity.

In other coverage:


David Montgomery reports that the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) has issued a statement supporting three Marines veterans who are in a dispute with the Corps over antiwar activity. The three men face action by the Marines for wearing parts of their uniform at protests, and for disrespectful speech to Marine officers – even though they have been discharged from the Corps. They veterans could see their discharge changed to “less than honorable” if the proceedings go ahead. The Marines argue that the case is not about free speech, but rather the use of the uniform during protests, and profane speech to a Marine officer: “When Kokesh (one of the three) was contacted by the major assigned to investigate the case, he responded with an e-mail about his service and opposition to the war, and concluded with a profane suggestion about what the major could go do.” However, Montgomery points out that at least one of the charges is about speech only: “While all three reservists wore parts of their uniforms during demonstrations, at least one of the charges seems to involve speech only: Liam Madden, 22, of Boston, is accused of making disloyal statements in a speech where he accused the Bush administration of ‘war crimes’; said the conflict is a war ‘of aggression’ and ‘empire building’; and said Bush ‘betrayed U.S. military personnel.’ Madden says he was not in uniform during that February speech in New York.” The VFW’s national commander, Gary Kurpius, said that even though he disagreed with the message of the protest actions, his organization would defend the right of the vets to protest. Kurpius also pointed out that retired generals seem to be able to voice protest with impunity, while veteran enlisted soldiers face disciplinary action. See yesterdays USAT for more background.

Sec. Rice’s stopover in Madrid yesterday signaled “an end to the Bush administration's diplomatic deepfreeze of the Spanish government,” which emerged after the newly elected Zapatero government abruptly withdrew Spanish forces from Iraq. Glenn Kessler reports in the Post that local media took Rice’s quick visit as a signal that all was still not well between the two countries. Kessler reports that Cuba policy looks to be divisive in the future.

“There was a time, circa 1999, when Republicans considered it the height of naivete, irresponsibility and indifference to the fate of American soldiers to commit any troops to action in a foreign country without what used to be called an "exit strategy." That was when the president was a Democrat. Now it is considered the height of naivete, irresponsibility and indifference to the fate of American soldiers to suggest the possibility of any exit strategy short of triumph. If you do, you are betraying the troops. And no one sees actual triumph in the cards, so there is no exit strategy,” Michael Kinsley writes in his op-ed column. Kinsley also takes issue with a recent Wall Street Journal editorial that goaded the Democrats to use the “power of the purse” or go along with Bush’s Iraq policies, arguing that this was a political trap to force the Democrats to take a position that could be construed as not “supporting the troops”


No Iraq coverage today.


No Saturday edition.

Daily Column
Conflicting Accounts of Militants' Clashes; Haditha Victims Shot in Head
By GREG HOADLEY 06/01/2007 01:59 AM ET

The two major dailies print differing accounts of major fighting between Sunni militant groups in Baghdad's lawless Amiriya district, providing different analyses of the cause and development of the events, which pitted the Islamic Army and the 1920 Revolution Brigades against al-Qa'ida affiliated groups. As importantly, the two papers print contradictory accounts of US involvement in the fighting, with the Times writing that American forces intervened, but the Post suggesting that they had not.

In other news, US lawyers argued that the victims in the November 2005 Haditha slayings were not killed primarily by grenades, but instead by seemininly well-placed gunshots.

The USAT wonders if antiwar veterans are experiencing a Pentagon gag campaign, and the paper prints an interesting appreciation of Iraqi firefighters.

The US military denied allegations by residents of Sadr City that it had killed two brothers in airstrikes overnight, Damien Cave writes in the Times, leading his daily Iraq report with the continuing search for five British nationals abducted on Tuesday in a brazen raid on the Finance Ministry. The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues a statement affirming that it is “doing all it can” to secure the release of the Britons. Cave reports that the kidnappers were seen headed towards Sadr City after the attack. Three US soldiers were announced killed by two roadside bombs, on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. US forces detained a Mahdi Army commander in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district. A suicide truck bomb killed five in Ramadi, including three policemen, and a police recruitment center in Falluja was attacked by a suicide bomber who killed one policeman. 29 bodies were recovered in Baghdad. Diyala authorities unearthed five bodies in Baquba.

Cave closes his report with the fighting between Sunni militants in Baghdad’s Amiriya district, writing that “Witnesses and an Interior Ministry official said the battle reflected a fight for control that began three weeks ago after the two groups met and could not agree on a strategy for resistance to American troops.” An eyewitness said that he had seen at least four bodies in the main commercial street. “The fighting started at 3:30 p.m., they said; four hours later, Americans soldiers intervened, but gunfire could still be heard after 11 p.m.” Cave writes.

John Ward Anderson, on the other hand, leads his Post report with the Amiriya fighting, providing much more detail, some of it contradictory to what Cave reports in the Times. The area’s mayor, Mohammed Abdul Khaliq, told the Post that the residents were “rising up” to expel al-Qa'ida, after a dispute over the organization’s execution of Iraqi Sunnis without reason. Abdul Khaliq appealed for the US not to intervene, saying that would prompt the two warring groups to unite against the Americans. Anderson says the Post obtained a statement posted by the Islamic Army at a local mosque, condemning the execution of Iraqi Sunnis “on suspicion only,” and warning the al-Qa'ida group to stop the practice. On Wednesday, residents say that an armed group put anti-Qa'ida graffiti on a wall; when al-Qa'ida members came to remove the writing, an IED killed three of them. This led to an attack on an Islamic Army (IA) mosque, which killed Razi al-Zobai, a leader in the group, and four fighters. Then the IA attacked an al-Qa'ida-linked mosque, killing five. On Thursday, with reinforcements from other neighborhoods, intense fighinng erupted between the two groups, according to residents. An IA leader said that six of his members were killed, along with nine al-Qa'ida fighters. 30 fighters of the IA and the 1920 Revolution Brigades faced 40 al-Qa'ida militants, but the IA leader, Abu Ahmed al-Baghdadi, said that the two resistance groups had the advantage of blending in with the local population, whereas the al-Qa'ida fighters were based in houses abandoned by Shi'a families, whose locations were well known.

Close-range gunshot wounds, not hand grenades tossed from a distance, killed many of the 24 Iraqi civilians in the November 2005 slayings in Haditha, a military prosecutor said. Paul von Zielbauer reports from the hearings in Camp Pendelton, Calif., writing “Marines were previously known to have followed the grenade blasts with some gunfire. But Thursday was the first time government lawyers had discussed how many of the victims appeared to have been targeted with seemingly well-placed gunshot blasts.” Col. Paul Atterbury, the Marine prosecutor, revealed some findings from a military investigation which has not been made public. “Referring to photographs of the bodies taken later by Marine intelligence officers, Colonel Atterbury said that in one house two Iraqi men had been shot through the head with 5.56-millimeter rounds of the kind used by American forces. In another corner, a woman in her 20s slumped in a “cowering position” was shot in the back of the neck, he said. Nearby lay a young boy, also shot dead. In a second home, photographs showed two women, three girls and a young boy lying on a bed, dead from gunshot wounds, some from shots to the head, Colonel Atterbury said,” von Zielbauer writes. Another defense lawyer said “The substantial number of head shots suggests to me that you had a nonresisting force.” The hearings will determine whether to court-martial Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, charged with failure to report and investigate the slayings.

In the Monitor, Gordon Lubold looks at the recent high rate of US casualties, noting that some observers wonder if the US can sustain the predicted high levels of soldier deaths through the summer and still call the “surge” a success. "It is possible that you could have progress and not see US fatality rates go down for awhile, but I think it's relatively hard to imagine that we would start losing 100 people a month for the summer and be able to term this strategy successful," said TX Hammes, a retired Marine colonel and counterinsurgency expert.

Is the Pentagon gagging antiwar veterans? Three members of the Marines Individual Ready Reserve, an unpaid roster of vets whose only obligation to the service is to register changes of address and return to active duty when called, are facing disciplinary charges for participating in antiwar activism, leading some to suggest that the Corps seeks to silence the most knowledgeable critics of the Iraq war – the soldiers who fought in it. Andrea Stone reports for USAT that one of the three has agreed to cease his antiwar activities in order to avoid losing his disability benefits, and another, Adam Kokesh, a 25-year old veteran who was in Falluja, faces disciplinary action for wearing his camouflage – with all insignia removed – in a March 19 protest at the White House. The military says the case concerns Kokesh’s use of the uniform in a political setting, but others suggest that the military is cherry-picking its cases, focusing on antiwar dissent among vets.

Keeping US forces indefinitely in Iraq in a manner similar to their deployment in South Korea is a “great idea,” Sec. Gates said yesterday, echoing earlier suggestions by White House spokesman Tony Snow of a Korean model in Iraq, Ann Scott Tyson writes in the Post. Democrats and antiwar critics lashed out at the comparison, with Senate Majority Leader Reid accusing the president of revealing that “he may keep our troops mired in Iraq for as long as half a century.” In a videoconference from Iraq, Lt. Gen. Odierno, the US’s number two in Iraq, said that political initiatives were underway with insurgent groups, “There are insurgents reaching out to us . . . so we want to reach back to them," he said. "We're talking about cease-fires and maybe signing some things that say they won't conduct operations against the government of Iraq or against coalition forces." Odierno appealed for more time in assessing the effects of the “surge.” Odierno praised the results thus far, and said that the next round of US fighting would focus on the areas around Baghdad in Diyala province, and to the south.

In other coverage:


In the draft fiscal 2008 intelligence bill, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee included language that would require the president “to provide all President's Daily Briefs that deal with Iraq, from the last four years of the Clinton administration through March 19, 2003, when the U.S.-led coalition began its invasion of that country,” Walter Pincus writes in the Post. Pincus continues, “The briefings comprise the highly secret material provided each day to the president, and this requirement was described by the panel's Republican vice chairman, Sen. Christopher S. Bond (Mo.), as ‘the most problematic provision in the bill’.”

In a staff editorial opposing the euphemistic “alternative interrogation techniques” sanctioned by the Bush administration, Post editors write, “the administration did not so much design as reverse-engineer its methods. The guiding authority was not the Constitution but the practices of secret police in places such as the former Soviet Union. Techniques such as prolonged sleep deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes and death threats were taught to interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay prison in 2002 and to special Army teams in Iraq a year later by military trainers whose normal duty was to school U.S. soldiers on resisting torture in the event they were captured by a lawless regime. No studies were done to determine whether the methods were effective or whether other interrogation practices might get better results.” The newly released Defense report refers to teams known as “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE),” who, Post editors allege, are the point of entry of specific torture techniques into standard US interrogation repertoire.


Which senators read the classified October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate before voting to authorize the use of force in Iraq? Patrick Healy and Marc Santora report that the John Edwards campaign has retracted the candidate’s earlier remarks that he read the classified document, saying that the former senator had only read the declassified version of the report, and that he had misspoken, having misunderstood the question.


USAT prints an unsigned article giving a small glimpse into the lives of Baghdad firefighters. Many of the city’s firemen were hired before the US invasion of 2003, when their jobs included regular smoke jumper duties such as kitchen fires. Now firefighters are concerned with the danger from snipers, explosives and retaliation for their political neutrality. "Our duty is to save lives, but people don't seem to care. I expect my death every day," one fireman says. On top of the threat of violence and hazardous working conditions, “Navigating to the scene of an emergency is no easy task in Baghdad, where hundreds of roads are barricaded for security reasons,”the USAT writes, citing Lt. Col. Adnan Hussein, commander of Karrada district’s squad. Drivers rarely yield for fire engines, “And if the Americans have besieged an area to fight the insurgency, they don't let us reach the fire at all,” Hussein says. At the same time, pay has increased for firefighters, and equipment has been easier to obtain, with the sanctions lifted and international donors new trucks supplied by international donors.

USAT prints an unusual letter to the editor, a critical response to an earlier Rick Jervis article profiling the US role in Kirkuk. The letter, written by Howard Keegan, team leader, and Lt. Col. Chris Brady, deputy team leader, of the Kirkuk Provincial Reconstruction Team reads, in part: “The lack of objectivity and liberal use of out-of-context statements has long been a staple of journalists covering the war in Iraq. USA TODAY's story didn't contain any positive elements and portrayed the entire province as an area on the edge. It also was written almost entirely from a combat commander's perspective.” The PRT's response is an interesting counterpoint to the original article, but check it out also for the team's explicit disagreement with Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, US commander in northern Iraq, whose remarks appear in the original Jervis article.


No Iraq coverage today.


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