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MediaWatch:Print
Archive: June 2008
Daily Column
Americans in Oil Ministry more involved in deals than previously reported
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/30/2008 01:48 AM ET
It's another thin day, but The New York Times offers up three meaty stories that make up the coverage today. USA Today also has a good report out of Basra.

Over there
Andrew E. Kramer manages to confirm what everyone already suspected: That U.S. advisors to the Iraqi Oil Ministry as well as State Department officials played a key role in drawing up to the contracts between Iraq and the Western oil giants that will be announced tomorrow. "The disclosure, coming on the eve of the contracts' announcement, is the first confirmation of direct involvement by the Bush administration in deals to open Iraq's oil to commercial development and is likely to stoke criticism." You think? The advisors say they only helped with technical and legal details and that they in no way helped decide who got the contracts. The White House continues to deny it had any input on the decision, despite the presence of State Department officials in the process. "Iraq is a sovereign country, and it can make decisions based on how it feels that it wants to move forward in its development of its oil resources," said Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman. It just looks shady all around from here on the rim of the Persian Gulf.

Alissa J. Rubin reports that Iraqi officials are again criticizing U.S. troops for two recent raids that killed people the government says were civilians. A government called for the soldiers involved to be held accountable, a delicate subject given that one of the sticking points on the U.S.-Iraq negotiations involves the legal status of American soldiers. Iraq wants them prosecutable under Iraqi law; the U.S. says no way. Currently, troops and contractors can only be tried under U.S. military law. Rubin writes that the reaction of the government to these latest shootings shows it will push hard on this issue in negotiations. Elsewhere, a car bomb in Salahuddin province killed seven policemen and police in Diyala province shot a female suicide bomber. A civilian was badly wounded when her bomb went off after she was shot. American officials will hand over Diwaniya province in southern Iraq, making it the tenth province to be transferred. Finally, the intelligence commander for Basra was assassinated while he was visiting Baghdad on Saturday.

Charles Levinson of USA Today writes that reports of the militias' defeat in Basra may be exaggerated. The discovery of a cache of 1,100 pounds of plastic explosives and dozens of EFPs reveals that militants are merely hiding and planning to return. "I'm afraid to talk; they are still watching everything," says Haidar Abdel Zaher, 25, a resident of the Hayaniya neighborhood, which was one of Basra's most dangerous militia strongholds until recently. "The militias are still here, and the army won't be here forever. If they see me talking with a foreigner, they'll just wait until the army moves on to other battles and kill me then," he said.

Military matters
Rachel L. Swarns has a feature on Lt. Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, who will likely become the first four-star female general in U.S. Army history. If confirmed by the Senate, she will lead the Materiel Command of the Army, which supplies soldiers with hardware, repairs armored vehicles and sustains combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

USA Today
Brian J. Grim, a senior research fellow in religion and world affairs with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington, sums up the precarious situation for Iraq's Christians in an op-ed for America's newspaper. About half of the country's Christians -- one of the oldest such communities in the Middle East -- have fled Iraq in what many liken to ethnic cleansing.

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post
No Iraqi coverage today.

Daily Column
Occupation muffed by poor preparation; Obama will visit Middle East and Europe
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/29/2008 01:40 AM ET
The big story today is that the U.S. Army will publish a report slamming pre-war planning for post-war Iraq. Both The New York Times and the Washington Post go big with the story. The Times also shines with some Baghdad enterprise.

Military matters
The Times leads with Michael R. Gordon's story on an Army history to be made public tomorrow that faults Gen. Tommy Franks and the Pentagon for the poor planning around the Iraq occupation. The nearly 700-page account says Franks revamped the command in Baghdad because he assumed major fighting was over and felt "a short-staffed headquarters led by a newly promoted three-star general" would be sufficient. This revamping was done over the objections of the Army's vice chief of staff. This is a big report from the Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, and it's based on 200 interviews conducted by military historians. It's going to be very hard for war boosters to refute this, although in all probability, they probably won't even bother. Since 2006 the likes of Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, L. Paul Bremer III et al., have decided the war's problems aren't their fault and blame everyone else for the "planning" that went into the war.

Josh White has the story for the Post, and notes the report can be downloaded from the Army's Combined Arms Center's Web site. (Warning: big honkin' PDF file)

Over there
Ernesto Londoño and Saad Sarhan of the Post report that Iraqis in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's home town of Hindiyah are calling for an investigation into an American raid that may have killed a relative of the prime minister. Oops! The reported raid went down in Karbala province, which has been handed over to Iraqi security forces, but the Iraqis say the Americans didn't consult with the Iraqis before staging the assault. The Americans have no comment. This incident might hinder negotiations on the security agreement between the two countries.

Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for a Thursday attack in Anbar province that killed 20 Iraqis and three marines, reports the Times's Alissa J. Rubin. Elsewhere, 25 bodies were found near Lake Tharthar in Samarra, near an area of active AQI cells. Near Hilla, police captured three fuel tankers with 29 tons of hydrochloric acid, which is used to make explosives.

Andrew E. Kramer of the Times has a great story on Iraq's Paralympics team, which is a better team than the country's Olympics roster. With three wars in two decades, Iraq, unfortunately, has a lot of disabled people. But they love sports and they're filling out Iraq's team list. The determination these men and women show is inspiring.

Correction
Due to an editing error (and a late posting), this column missed yesterday's New York Times roundup from Baghdad. I regret the error.

Presidential politics
The Post's Dan Balz and Anne E. Kornblut report that Sen. Barack Obama is looking to make a Middle East trip soon, which might include Iraq and Afghanistan. The two reporters note that Obama has shifted his rhetoric from emphasizing an urgent withdrawal to a "responsible" withdrawal.

Jeff Zeleny of the Times reports Obama's itinerary will include Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain, and that Iraq and Afghanistan will get a separate trip some other time.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Peter S. Goodman has a meaty piece on those non-competitive Iraq oil contracts to ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Total -- all countries that had been kicked out of Iraq by Saddam Hussein. He doesn't really break much new ground on this story, except to tell an anecdote that paints some American troops in a very bad light, but he rounds up the issue and admits the whole thing sure looks shady from an outsider's perspective.

Washington Post
Linda Blum, a clinical psychologist in New Jersey, writes about the difficulties of treating soldiers with psychological wounds such as PTSD.

Andrew Carroll, the editor of "Operation Homecoming," reviews "Final Salute: a Story of Unfinished Lives" by Jim Sheeler. Sheeler evolved the book out of his Pulitzer-winning coverage of the families of fallen soldiers for the Rocky Mountain News. Carroll writes approvingly of Sheeler's book, which has been a long time coming.

All of these moments that Sheeler has so meticulously gathered act as a powerful counterpoint to the impersonal statistics and verbal camouflage of military euphemisms that sanitize the true horror of war and dehumanize those who serve. Sheeler reminds us that every one of them is distinct, imperfect and real.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today and Wall Street Journal
No Sunday editions.

Daily Column
Famed Baghdad restaurant rejuvenated as city stirs back to life
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/28/2008 00:36 AM ET
It's a ridiculously thin day today on Iraq news, with no one filing a roundup at all. Only the Wall Street Journal files anything that could be considered "news."

Gina Chon of the Journal writes that Iraq's anticorruption agency continues to stumble despite measures to revive it. Staff losses -- including its director, who fled to the U.S. -- demoralization and government meddling in its investigation have all conspired to make the agency a troubled one.

Saad al-Izzi of the Washington Post pens a love note to Qadori, a fixture of the Baghdad restaurant scene, which has finally reopening after a 2005 suicide bombing there. For the workers, its reopening is a symbol of Baghdad's rebirth.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times and USA Today
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
30 killed and 80 wounded in latest pair of attacks; U.S., Iraq may miss deadline
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/27/2008 01:32 AM ET
Two more attacks on Americans and their allies in Iraq are pushing the death toll higher. Both the Washington Post and The New York Times run their usual roundups making the point that Iraq is still a damn dangerous place.

Over there
Alissa J. Rubin of the Times reports that two bombs in Anbar province and Mosul blew up yesterday, killing more than 30 Iraqis and wounding 80. Three American soldiers and two interpreters were killed in the Anbar attack, which is soon to be handed over to Iraqi control. Thursday's attacks were the latest in a string this week aimed at killing pro-American leaders, with most of the attacks occurring in Sunni or mixed neighborhoods. These attacks raise doubts that al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni insurgent groups are on the run, as many have assumed. They also raise the possibility that the Awakening movement has been more heavily infiltrated than previously thought.

Ernesto Londoño and Josh White have the story for the Post, but lead with the American casualties rather than the implications. Thirteen Americans, including two civilians, have been killed in Iraq since Monday, they write. At least 29 Americans have been killed in June, more than the 19 in May. That's still below the number last summer; more than 100 soldiers were killed in June 2007.

The Wall Street Journal's Gina Chon reports that the U.S. and Iraq might not meet the July 31 deadline for completing their security agreement, but instead might reach an interim agreement. The two have agreed on political, economic, education and cultural relations, but the military relations are still a sticking point. The two big points of contention are whether U.S. troops can arrest Iraqis and whether U.S. troops are immune from prosecution under Iraqi law. The last one is particularly sticky. One of the problems sounds like the process. Representatives of each faction are meeting with American negotiators individually to make their points. But the Iraqis need consensus to reach an agreement, so with no one really trusting one another, that makes reaching a Status of Forces Agreement difficult. If they can't reach an agreement by the end of July, the two sides may agree to muddle on as they've been doing on a temporary measure.

Washington doings
Paul Kane reports that the Senate passed, 92-6, a war funding bill that gives President George W. Bush carte blanche to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of his term in exchange for domestic spending. Part of that spending is an expended GI Bill. That and other domestic shopping lists brought the bill's total to almost $150 billion more than Bush originally sought.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Brian Stelter reports that CBS and a military court have escalated a fight over unbroadcast portions of a report CBS did on the Haditha incident of November 2004.

Washington Post
Ann Hornaday reviews 'War, Inc.', the new John Cusack satire about the Iraq war and security contractors and finds it wanting. Lefties looking for cheap shots and red meat will find it enjoyable. The rest of us, maybe not so much.

On the theatre side, Peter Marks reviews David Hare's "Stuff Happens," a "sprawling and painstaking (and partly speculative) account of the White House's global gamesmanship in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq." Marks calls it "splendid."

Christian Science Monitor and USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Protection rackets reached up to slain archbishop; Americans kill 8 civilians
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/26/2008 01:29 AM ET
It was a bloody day in Iraq yesterday, with diverging stories on civilian deaths and American soldiers dying from roadside bombs. The New York Times has the must-read of the day with a look at how Iraqi Christians found themselves unwilling financiers for the Iraqi insurgency. Also, CBS pulls its correspondent from Baghdad, possibly after she disses American news coverage of the war on The Daily Show.

Over there
Andrew E. Kramer breaks the story that Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, the leader of the Chaldean Christians in Mosul, who was kidnapped and killed in February, had been paying protection money for years to keep insurgents from attacking his congregation. But when security got better, he stopped paying, and then he may have paid with his life. American military officials and Iraqi Christians say such protection payments grew into a source of financing for insurgents, and "thus became a secret, shameful and extraordinary complication in the lives of Iraq's Christians and their leaders." Insurgents cloaked their extortion in religiosity, calling it the jizya, or special tax for Jews and Christians living under Muslim rulers -- a tradition stretching back to Muhammad. It's a tough story to read, because Iraqi Christians knew the money they paid -- up to hundreds of dollars a month for every male member of a family -- would go to bombs to kill others. But Christians were a tiny minority, always vulnerable so what could they do? Archbishop did he best to redeem himself though. In January, he gave a speech denouncing the payments and said they should no longer be made. When he was kidnapped in February, he managed to call his church from the trunk of the car and implore them not to pay a ransom that he said would finance more terrorism. He probably died from lack of diabetes medicine before he could be freed. This story is very definitely the must-read of the day.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Riyadh Muhammad of the Times report that eight civilians were killed by American soldiers on Wednesday in two disputed attacks. The American military says it only fired when it was fired upon and that no civilians were hurt. The Iraqi government said the victims were civilians. In one attack on the airport road, American troops killed "three criminals" who had fired on their convoy. The Americans returned fire, and the vehicle ran off the road and caught on fire. Officials at Yarmouk Hospital identified the three charred bodies as employees at the bank at the airport, including the director and two women who worked there. Hours earlier, American choppers fired missiles into a home in Tikrit, killing a family of five, local officials said. This one sounds like a tragic accident. A man in the house heard what he though were thieves, so he went out and fired a rifle at them. But they were U.S. soldiers instead, and they fired back, wounding him. They then called in an air strike on the house. The U.S. said "an al Qaeda terrorist" had fired at them. Elsewhere, a roadside bomb in Nineveh province killed three U.S. soldiers and their interpreter, and another was killed in Baghdad.

The Post's Ernesto Londoño leads with the deaths of the four soldiers instead of the civilian deaths. He buries the stories of the attack on airport road and takes the military's account at face value. In Karbala, a bomb in a minibus killed at least two people Wednesday night.

Military matters
Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today, in a story that doesn't even mention MRAPs, reports that the Pentagon faces a $100 billion repair bill for its worn out equipment. Two wars have taken a toll on vehicles and weapons, and paying for it will probably mean plans to boost the size of the military won't happen. This bind came about because there was no planning or budgeting for two long, drawn out wars.

Media Wars
I guess this will teach Lara Logan not to go on comedy shows any more. Brian Stelter of the Times reports that Logan, CBS's chief foreign correspondent will no longer be based overseas, the network said yesterday. She will now be based in Washington and get a new title: chief foreign affairs correspondent. She'll get more airtime on "CBS Evening News" and "60 Minutes," but the Baghdad bureau -- if it can even be called that now -- will no longer have a full-time correspondent. CBS is the first network to do that. Logan appeared on the "Daily Show" last week and rightly bemoaned the lack of war coverage on the networks. She said -- jokingly -- that she would "blow her brains out" if she had to watch American news coverage. Stelter writes that her comments caught some at CBS by surprise, although he doesn't provide any reporting on that. Sean McManus, president of CBS News said her new assignment had been in the works for weeks, but that he declined to describe her new job as a promotion. Instead, she's going to be more like a State Department reporter. Do you have any idea how boring it is for a TV journalist used to covering wars to cover the State Department? Yeah. Definitely not a promotion.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Nicholas D. Kristof, a regular Times columnist calls for more support for Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria, saying they need education and relief if they're not to be radicalized.

Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Bombing at district council meeting kills four Americans; Iraqis struggle in US
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/25/2008 01:28 AM ET
It was a deadly day for Americans in Sadr City, as a brazen morning attack on a district council killed four of them, along with six Iraqis. Both The New York Times and the Washington Post have good roundups on the bombing.

Over there
The Times's Alissa J. Rubin and Mudhafer al-Husaini report on the blast in Sadr City that killed four Americans, an Italian interpreter and six Iraqis. The blast happened at a district council meeting, and the Americans unwittingly were human shields for the council members, who all survived. Two of the Americans were soldiers and two were civilians working for the State and Defense departments. It was the second time in two days that Americans had died in meeting with local Iraqi leaders. The military blames rogue "Special Groups" for the attacks.

Ernesto Londoño of the Post has the story and injects a bit of drama into it, leading with the suggestion that a power struggle within in the council may have been a part of the bombing. Londoño makes the point that with the greater security, American forces and advisors have "waded deeply into Iraqi politics in an effort to build moderate and responsive government bodies." Much of Londoño's story centers on Steven L. Farley, the State Department official. The Post talks to Farley's son, who says his father was very enthusiastic that they were about to remove a pro-Moqtada al-Sadr council head and replace him with a less confrontational guy. Londo√±o also writes of a car bomb that went off in Mosul, wounding 90 people.

The Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher has a story on the attack, noting that it was "brazen" and indicates the difficulties the U.S. will face in marginalizing Sadr's movement. It also, he writes, raises serious doubts about the capabilities -- and loyalties -- of the Iraqi military, as the blast occurred in a location that was ostensibly sealed against such attacks.

Home front
Dana Hedgpeth of the Post reports that two of the principle defendants in the largest bribery case out of the war in Iraq pleaded guilty yesterday.

Pamela Constable writes a story for the Post on the hard times Iraqi professionals are facing here in the United States as refugees. Not to be callous, but it's very similar to most of the hard-luck refugee stories you're going to read. That doesn't take away from the fact that the U.S. needs to step up and accept more refugees more quickly, pronto.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman writes that Iraqis may finally be liberating themselves and taking ownership of their country.

USA Today and Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Reports differ on gunman's identity; GAO report slams White House's Iraq plan
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/24/2008 01:44 AM ET
All the papers get in on the action today, with strong offerings all around. The Washington Post and The New York Times both have their news from Baghdad and Washington, but the Wall Street Journal presents some good Iran analysis while the Christian Science Monitor and USA Today get enterprising.

Over there
Ernesto Londoño of the Post reports that two U.S. soldiers were killed and three wounded when a council member opened fire on them after a meeting in a small town south of Baghdad. An Iraqi interpreter was also wounded. The council member, Raed Hmood Ajil, was killed. Sunni tribal leader said Hmood opened fire without provocation. Also, the U.S. military announced that a Canadian man working as an interpreter would be sentenced to five months after pleading guilty to stabbing a colleague in February. Alaa Mohammad Ali was the first civilian prosecuted since the 2006 amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice that allows courts-martial of civilian contractors. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki expressed concern over Diyala province following the suicide bomb attack there that killed 15 people.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. of the Times reports that it was the bodyguard of a council member who opened fire, not the council member himself. The Iraqi interior minister also said six soldiers were wounded, not three. Details are obviously fuzzy. Also, two pro-American fighters were killed by a roadside bomb that exploded near Buhriz, south of Baqoubah. Two civilians were wounded in Khalis and another Awakening Council member was seriously wounded when he was shot about 20 miles east of Baqoubah.

Gina Chon and Zaineb Naji report that Moqtada al-Sadr and his followers are looking to the fall provincial elections as a means of political retribution against Maliki for his campaigns against the Mahdi Army. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no news in this story. Readers looking for a payoff of something new will need to keep looking.

Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor reports one of his patented slice of life features, showing the soccer-loving Iraqis at play. In Amara, where the government recently "cracked down" on a non-resisting Sadr movement, men and boys jostled for views of televisions to watch their team in the Asian 2010 World Cup qualifying match. Even Iraqi soldiers took a break and followed the action on the pitch. Tickers on the screen urged Iraqis not to indulge in celebratory fire because of the ongoing military operations. Alas, Qatar won, 1-0.

Charles Levinson for USA Today reports that as Maliki took a victory lap in Amara (maybe he watched the game?) he said Diyala would be next on the crackdown list.

Washington doings
The Journal's Yochi J. Dreazen reports that a new Pentagon report (available at IraqSlogger.com) points the finger squarely at Iran for still supporting Shi'ite militias in Iraq and names it the "greatest long-term threat to Iraqi security." The rest of the security situation in Iraq got a pretty upbeat assessment. Maliki also gets praise. Interestingly, the Journal downplayed the Government Accountability Office that slams post-surge planning.

Not so the Times or Post. James Glanz of the Times writes about the GAO report, which says several critical measures of progress in Iraq used by the White House are either incorrect or far more mixed than the administration has acknowledged. Overall, the American plan for a stable Iraq lacks a strategic framework that meshes with the Administration's goals. It's falling out of touch with realities on the ground and contains serious flaws in its operational guidelines. Only 10 percent of the Iraqi Army can operate independently in counterinsurgency, and even then, they need American support. Also, the GAO was unable to substantiate American claims that Iraqi had spent and committed more than 60 percent of its reconstruction budget in 2007. It was more like 28 percent, the report says. Wow, who staffed the GAO with Defeatocrats?

The Post's Karen DeYoung has the story on the GAO report, too. The Defense, Treasury and State departments all disputed the GAO report.

Glanz also has a story in today's Times about a group of Senate Democrats who are urging Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to block a series of no-bid oil contracts Iraq has decided to award to ExxonMobil, Shell, Total and BP. If they don't get their way, the senators – led by Chuck Schumer of New York – would cut off funding for unspecified Iraq programs not directly in support of U.S. troops. Their opposition to the deals is that Iraq still has no law regulating its oil industry. The State Department reacted with contempt.

A spokesman for the State Department, Karl Duckworth, said he could not confirm that the department had received the letter, but said that such messages could take some time to work their way through the system. "But we treat all correspondence with Congress as important, and if and when we receive it, we will respond directly to the senator," Mr. Duckworth said.
I'm sure he'll be waiting by the phone.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Bob Herbert, regular columnist for the Times, bemoans the psychological trauma too many Iraq veterans are suffering – all while the home front exists in happy ignorance of the war.

David Brooks, also a regular columnist, lauds President George W. Bush's "surge" strategy and says Bush is right sometimes and liberals and anti-war types will get their comeuppance.

Daily Column
Latest of 21 female bombers this year; IED attacks, casualties down 90 percent
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/23/2008 01:18 AM ET
Both the Washington Post and The New York Times lead the news today with word of the latest female suicide bomber in Diyala province, while USA Today reports that attacks and casualties from roadside bombs are down dramatically.

Over there
Ernesto Londoño of the Post reports on a dreadful attack by a female suicide bomber that killed at least 15 people, including several Iraqi cops, at a government building in Diyala province. The U.S. military said more than 45 were wounded. It was the second such attack this year in Baqoubah involving a female bomber. Women have carried out up to 21 attacks this year, the military says.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. of the Times has the story as well, and notes it was the most devastating of four attacks in Diyala on Sunday. A mortar volley also struck in Khalis, killing seven and wounding 12. Oppel puts the violence in context. Even though security has improved all over the country, bombs are still not uncommon. More than a dozen people were killed east of Fallujah last month. Last week, more tan 60 people were killed in the Huriya market. Four people died west of Kirkuk when a roadside bomb struck their car. Three Iraqi soldiers were killed by roadside bomb near Muqdadiya in Diyala on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor plays a bit of catch-up on the peaceful subduing of Amara. (It's not his fault. His paper doesn't publish on weekends.) Dagher attempts to figure out Moqtada al-Sadr's chess moves in this match. "He's playing the survival game," says Mustafa al-Ani of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, a nonprofit think tank. "He understands there is no sympathy for the undisciplined members of his group." Dagher deserves credit for getting into Amara without American or Iraqi escorts and getting some of the Sadrists true feelings out of them.

USA Today's Tom Vanden Brook reports what everyone already seems to know: roadside bombs are down in Iraq. They're down almost 90 percent compared to last year, he reports. This being a Vanden Brook story, it wouldn't be complete without mentioning MRAPs, those hulking armored vehicles that Tom works into every story he writes, it seems. And this is no exception. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff credited the vehicles for keeping casualties lower. Iraqi assistance and improved surveillance also helps out. The bombers are getting craftier, though. Now they're just trying to knock the wheels off MRAPs so they can attack it while its helpless.

The Times's Steven McElroy reports that almost 2,500 ancient artifacts that had been looted from archaeological sites and Baghdad's national museum since 2003 have been seized in Jordan and returned to Iraq.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Brian Stelter examines why it's getting harder than ever for war correspondents on the networks to get their stories on air. According to data compiled by a television consultant who tracks these things, halfway through 2008, the three evening newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 for all of 2007. CBS has devoted the fewest. (Why? They have Lara Logan.) NBC has the most. (Why? They're stuck with Richard Engel.) CBS doesn't even have a full-time bureau in Baghdad anymore. Reporters for all three big networks said (anonymously) that they worry that after the November elections, their employers would pull out of Iraq.

William Kristol is not persuaded by MoveOn.org's new ad, expressing opposition to Sen. John McCain's candidacy because of his war stance. This is news?

Washington Post
The Post editorial board approves of a recent Supreme Court decision limiting the rights of two Americans in American custody in Iraq have to avoid being transferred to Iraq custody.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Resettled Iraqis face economic challenges; A trio of war books hits the shelves
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/22/2008 01:43 AM ET
Today’s' coverage is dominated by non-news. Not much seems to be getting the attention of the reporters in Baghdad, but the editorialists, essayists and op-edders sure seem to have fired up the word processor. The one real bit of war news comes from The New York Times's look at a new air unit for the Army.

Military matters
Starting back at the birth of the independent Air Force after World War II, Thom Shanker of the Times writes that the Army is now so frustrated with the modern Air Force that it's starting its own air unit, just like the old Army Air Corps. In Afghanistan, the Army complains that the Air Force is sending too many bombing missions awry, killing innocent civilians. In Iraq, Army officers gripe that the Air Force has filled only half of their requests for sophisticated surveillance drones. And so, the Army is setting up its own surveillance unit, "Task Force Odin." Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has shown a "keen interest" in the Army initiative, much to the annoyance of the Air Force, which has been on the defensive with the last two SecDefs. Odin uses off-the-shelf aircraft, including a Beech C-12 fitted with sophisticated recon gear and the Army's own small fleet of surveillance craft. It coordinates with Apache attack helicopters and infantry units in armored vehicles. Odin is available to brigade units and below. It's a move away from joint operations and toward self-sufficiency.

Home front
The Times's Neil MacFarquhar has a feature on Murtaja Kamal Aldeen, an Iraqi refugee who has been settled in San Jose, and who is one of 4,742 Iraqi refugees who have managed to escape Iraq. Twelve thousand slots for Iraqis have been set aside for 2008, but the U.S. government has been slow to fill them. It's a tough story of the financial pressures these new arrivals face, thanks to the miserly attitude of the U.S. resettlement program.

Essays, op-eds and reviews
Again, the Times dominates the opinion pages today. Kicking off the coverage is an editorial expressing caution over last week's news that Western oil companies are poised to reenter Iraq under sweetheart no-bid deals. The Times makes the good point that Arab suspicion that the U.S. went to war to get Iraq's oil will be rekindled.

Jason Campbell, Michael O'Hanlon and Amy Unikewicz have one of their regular op-charts on the state of Iraq. Things are still bad, but they're getting better.

The Times's Frank Rich complains that no one is paying attention to the Iraq war anymore, now that things are going better. (I feel his frustration.) But, being Frank Rich, he then goes off on how Sen. Barack Obama is actually more consistent on Iraq than critics realize.

The Washington Post's Kimberly Johnson reviews three new books from reporters from Iraq: "I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story," by Michael Hastings; "Breathing the Fire: Fighting to Report -- and Survive -- the War in Iraq," by Kimberly Dozier; and "War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq," by Richard Engel.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Lally Weymouth has a sit-down with King Abdullah of Jordan, in which he talks about Iraq's future. He's relatively optimistic, he says.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today and Wall Street Journal
No Sunday editions.

Daily Column
No Fresh News, but Two Thoughtful Reads Ponder the Future of Today's Iraq
By GREG HOADLEY 06/21/2008 01:45 AM ET

Those looking for timely updates on the situation in Iraq will find slim pickings in today's papers, as both the Times and the Post forgo their usual daily roundup of Iraqi violence. However, the Times takes a moment to pan back and consider the big political picture in Iraq, and the Post files a lengthy report on Basra, three months after the crackdown. The two pieces read well together, each in its own way pondering the future of Iraq's political and security situation in light of the developments of the last months.

Readers interested in veteran's affairs may also appreciate the Post's profile of a former PGA-tour golfer who has provided specialized golf training to wounded Iraq and Afghanistan vets.

What now? In the Times, Stephen Farrell and Richard Oppel Jr. present a considered discussion of Iraqi affairs after the security gains of the last years. After the reported security gains associated with the "Surge," the "Awakening" strategy of employing former insurgents to fight on the side of the US, and the recent crackdowns in Basra, Baghdad, Mosul, and Amara, after the budgetary fillip provided by higher world petroleum prices, after the swelling of the ranks of Iraqi forces, Iraqi officials seem to be riding high at the moment. However, as the NYT reporters write, these ostensible successes are laden with pitfalls and contradictions. From skepticism among Iraqis wary of the intentions of a government allied with Iran and the United States, to rising expectations for improved services and infrastructure, to insecurity over the future of American policy in Iraq, to a nagging sense that the recent security gains against Sunni and Shi'a militants could have been purchased or negotiated – and therefore reversible, to enduring hostilities among opposition groups, the future of the Maliki government, and more broadly the post-2003 Iraqi political system, is far from clear. Worth a full read.

For its part, the Post ponders the future of Iraq through the local lens of its second city. Sudarsan Raghavan surveys Basra three months after the Iraqi crackdown. We hear from Col. Bilal al-Dayni, an Iraqi military officer and one of 30,000 Iraqi security personnel now stationed in the port town. Dayni, and other Iraqi military officials express optimism over the ways in which the security forces seem to have taken control of Basra from the militant forces that operated there before. But how enduring are the Iraqi state's gains in the southern city, and how much can "the lessons of Basra" be applied to the rest of Iraq? Iraqi forces appear to be enjoying a honeymoon there, with many residents expressing support for the policies that seem to have kept the militia groups at bay, but are the armed groups really defeated, or have they simply melted away temporarily? And will partisan suspicions of the security forces allow the Basra model to be applied to other cities? Raghavan's report is also well worth a full read.

Former White House Spokesman Scott McClellan, fresh from the recent release of his controversial memoir, which has set off a bombshell over its allegations regarding the Bush administration's behavior in the leadup to the Iraq war, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and other topics, appeared before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, Dan Eggen writes for the Post. In his testimony, the former Bush aide said that the White House "'sold the nation on the premise that Iraq was a grave and gathering danger' by using intelligence reports that were 'overstated' and 'overpackaged,'" Eggen writes, adding that "at the same time, McClellan emphasized that he did not believe that Bush or his aides purposely misled the country about Iraq." McClellan's testimony also indicated that he was particularly dissatisfied with the Bush administration's handling of the Valerie Plame Wilson matter. Ultimately, Eggen indicates that McClellan's testimony did not add much to the picture beyond what is already available in his book.

Post editors take the Air Force to task, implying in a staff editorial that the USAF is out of step with the needs of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jim Estes, a former PGA Tour golfer, conducts a free golf clinic for wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at the Olney Golf Park in Maryland, a 30-minute ride away from Walter Reed Hospital, as well as individualized instruction for any wounded veteran who asks. In a lengthy appreciation, Leonard Shapiro writes in the Post that many veterans – often dealing with disabilities or prostheses -- have found not only an improvement in their golf game, but also "cite the benefits to their collective psyches in learning, then practicing and finally getting out to play the game on a real course." One vet says, "Golf got me out of the house, which is a good thing . . . It really did help me build some self-confidence. It helps you learn that maybe you can live a normal life, do the same things everyone else can do, and believe me, that's extremely important in any recovery." Estes also founded the Salute Military Golf Association, helps provide free customized clubs to the soldiers, and contributes to their golf expenses.

WALL STREET JOURNAL

No Iraq-related story.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, USA TODAY

No Saturday edition.

Daily Column
House Passes a Year of War Funding, New GI Bill; Basra's Oil Infrastructure
By GREG HOADLEY 06/20/2008 01:40 AM ET
Conflict and gore is what usually grabs Iraq-related headlines, but two stories today are noteworthy for having unfolded relatively quietly: The House passed a spending bill that would fund the American military presence in Iraq for the next year, without most of the intense partisanship and grandstanding that marked earlier funding battles over the war, and Iraqi forces pushed into yet another Sadrist stronghold, but met little resistance in the southern city of Amara, in contrast to the heavy fighting that marked the Iraqi crackdowns in Basra and Sadr City.

The Post and USAT do some catching up the day after the NYT scooped with a report that Western oil giants are close to signing contracts with Iraq, while coverage of the spending legislation in the House also focuses on a domestic package that would provide a generous new GI Bill for returning veterans.

Alissa Rubin and Suadad Salhy lead their piece in the Times with the formal launch of Iraq's security plan in Amara, noting that followers of the Sadrist trend have not come out bearing arms in opposition, as was the case in recent operations in Basra and Sadr City. Some prominent Sadrists were arrested, the NYT writers report, without naming the detainees. Local Sadrists are looking into whether the arrests were conducted with warrants, and have alleged that in two cases Iraqi forces seized family members of wanted men that could not be located. The reception in Amara, a stronghold of the Sadr movement, seems linked to the fear that the Maliki government is looking to neutralize the Sadrists in the upcoming provincial elections, Rubin and Salhy write. Meanwhile, in an unidentified part of Diyala Province, "Sunni extremists distributed leaflets warning Shiite families not to return to houses they had abandoned during sectarian fighting in the last few years," the reporters write, although in other unidentified parts of the province "villagers were managing to return to their homes." Pro-US militia near Buhruz are suffering daily attacks, they write, ending their piece with a quote from Sheik Alwan Jameel Khader: “We ask the government for a real security plan because our village is besieged from every side . . . there is a severe shortage of food and drinking water, we lost everything and Al Qaeda is creeping toward us.”

Ernesto Londoño and Aahad Ali of the Post file a similar story on the Amara operations, writing that Iraqi forces met "virtually no resistance" as they executed their sweeps. Post reporters also note the complaints voiced by local Sadrists: "Adnan al-Silawi, director of the Sadr office in Amarah, said Iraqi troops had detained several of the movement's leaders without cause and that a Sadr office employee who was detained two days before the operation began was released Thursday with a broken arm." About 1,200 Iraqi troops are in Maysan Province for the crackdown, and "U.S. forces deployed some units to Amarah in support of the operation," the Post writers note.

War funding and a new GI Bill

By a vote of 268 to 155, the House approved $162 billion to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars "well into 2009," Paul Kane writes in the Post. The measure was part of a supplemental spending bill that was split into two parts, one including war spending and the other, which also passed, focused on domestic outlays. The latter bill contains $95.5 billion of domestic spending, including an expanded GI Bill that would increase the amount of educational tuition available to returning veterans. Democrats claim that late White House reversals on the domestic bill, including veterans education benefits, represent "possibly their biggest victory over the politically diminished president," Kane writes. The war spending supplemental enjoyed GOP support throughout. See here for a breakdown of the spending packages.

Sarah Lueck reports the House spending vote for the Journal, explaining that the domestic bill, which passed 416-12 includes "$62.8 billion over 11 years to guarantee a four-year college education to those who have served at least three years in the military," among other items. $10 billion of that is related to a demand by the president, to which the Dems acceded, that military beneficiaries be able to transfer their GI Bill benefits to their spouses and children, a provision which Pres. Bush claimed was necessary for troop retention.

Carl Hulse takes the spending story for the Times, noting the rather quiet debate over this war funding package as compared to past bills that Democrats used in their effort to shape war policy. Hulse describes the new GI Bill as follows: "those who serve at least three years on active duty will qualify for educational assistance equivalent to tuition and fees at a leading public university in their state along with housing assistance, money for books, school supplies and tutorial assistance." The Times reporter also notes that the White House initially opposed the veterans education component of the bill, before changing positions. The war funding, which extends into summer 2009, well after a new president will have taken office, signals that both parties are "eager to dispose of the politically charged issue before the November elections." Both measures must be passed by the Senate, where debate is expected to begin next week.

Oil contacts

In the wake of yesterday's Times scoop on impending oil contracts for Western companies, Charles Levinson of USA Today takes a different tack, filing a front-pager from the oil-rich Basra Province. The first half of the lengthy piece contains observations and predictions with which most Iraq observers will be familiar, but Levinson livens it up in the second half of the article where he provides some snapshots of the on-the-ground state of Iraq's petroleum infrastructure after the recent fighting in Basra.

By contrast the Post simply catches up with yesterday's Times, as Ernesto Londoño and Simone Baribeau take on on the story of anticipated contracts for Western oil concerns to develop production in Iraq, without really advancing the story.

Surprisingly absent from the coverage of this important story is some investigation of domestic and international opposition to the impending contracts. Throughout the coverage over the last two days, Iraqi voices related to that country's oil sector are noticeably muted in comparison to those of international observers and Western government and corporate officials. While it is true that Iraq's oil sector has been at the center of every imaginable conspiracy theory concerning the war, many Iraqis in the opposition and some from within the oil sector itself, are nonetheless concerned that the current government, dependent on Western forces for its survival, will negotiate a less-than-favorable deal with Western concerns.

In other coverage:

WASHINGTON POST

Two figures linked to US Iraq policy were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday, William Branigin writes in the Post. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, "an architect of the Iraq War," and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Judge Laurence Silberman, who co-chaired the 2004 Iraq Intelligence Commission, were both granted the nation's highest civilian honor by President Bush. "Opponents of the war have criticized past Medals of Freedom for officials who played key roles in the run-up to the war," Branigin notes.

In other trivia, Al Kamen notes that the LA Times caught up with the Iraqi informant known as "Curveball" in Germany, where he is reportedly working at a local Burger King.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

From Istanbul, CSM's Scott Peterson writes that "military analysts are warning of severe consequences if the US begins a shooting war with Iran," giving a brief discussion of some of the options in Iran's quiver, including the potential targeting of US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf, strikes against US and its allies' interests elsewhere through its impressive intelligence apparatus and network of proxies, or other forms of asymmetrical warfare such as "swarming" attacks in which a fleet of small speedboats overwhelms large battleships. Iran's potential reaction "is probably more unpredictable than the Al Qaeda threat," one intel analyst claims.

Daily Column
Executives insist war is still not about the oil; U.S. blames Shi'ites for bomb
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/19/2008 01:51 AM ET
It's a good menu of stories today, with the must-read coming from The New York Times, which has a piece on the future of Iraq's oil industry. Others follow up with some smart analysis on America's presence and Iran's missteps.

Over there
Andrew E. Kramer of The New York Times reports that four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations that would return them to Iraq, 36 years after they lost their oil concessions to Saddam Hussein's nationalization program. Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP, along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies are seeking no-bid contracts to develop Iraq's largest fields, according to Iraq's oil ministry. The deal is expected to be announced on June 30. No-bids are unusual in the industry, and the deals would run for one to two years, giving the Western oil companies an important advantage when it's time to bid on future contracts. Kramer touches on the suspicions these deals will raise. Many believe the U.S. went to war for Iraq's oil, and now it looks like some U.S. companies will get a head start. It doesn't help that American advisors are still ensconced at the Iraqi Oil Ministry, although Kramer said it's unclear what role the U.S. played in awarding the contract. Strangely, two American oil executives requested anonymity to spin Kramer. They said their goal was to help Iraq rebuild its oil industry. Why do you need anonymity to say that?

The Post's Ernesto Londoño reports the U.S. military sources are now blaming a Shi'ite "special group" for Tuesday's bombing of a Shi'ite market that killed at least 65 people. That's weird, because the bombing had all the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda in Iraq operation. A U.S. military spokesman said a leader of a splinter Mahdi Army cell planned the bombing to fuel animosity toward Sunnis. The thinking is that if the Shi'ites are stirred up against the Sunnis, they will demand the Mahdi Army to come back and reverse its decline following major offenses earlier this year. Also, U.S. officials are now prepared to talk with Iraqi officials about isolating the People's Mujaheddin of Iran (MEK), an anti-Iranian group on the State Department's terrorist watch list.

Washington doings
Paul Kane of the Post reports that the House and the Bush administration have reached an agreement on emergency war funding. The bill will include $162 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a 13-month extension of unemployment and veterans' benefits. It will also include other domestic spending cuts and no tax increases. The best part is that the new GI Bill proposed by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., will be included, meaning returning vets will get higher-education benefits more inline with what vets returning from WWII got.

Carl Hulse has the story for the Times while Sarah Lueck has it for the Wall Street Journal.

Over at the Christian Science Monitor, Gordon Lubold reports that the Pentagon is preparing for a C-in-C handoff in time of war, the first such transition since Vietnam. Defense officials are worried that the "nobody home" complex will set in, placing the country at risk. Presidential candidates are being urged to present a list of critical appointees within a month of being elected -- by Dec. 1 -- and for all national security personnel to stay on until their replacements can be sworn in. Here's an interesting portion of the story, however:
It will also be incumbent upon the new administration, regardless of political stripe, to approach the Pentagon carefully, says one retired senior military official who was on active duty when President Clinton won the White House as well as when President George Bush won it eight years later.

There were stark differences in the way the two administrations took over, he says. "The team that came in basically trusted the institutional loyalty of those of us who were in the continuous jobs and so they felt that we were telling them the truth and that we weren't spinning things and giving them bad analysis," says the retired official. By contrast, Secretary Rumsfeld "didn't take advantage" of institutional knowledge from the start.

There was much talk of "Clinton generals," he says, betraying a political mindset toward the military that was ultimately detrimental to defense policy. "Some administration's civilians don't understand institutional loyalty, they only understand personal loyalty."

Here's to hoping Obama and McCain will be wiser. There's already a campaign to keep Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates on, regardless of who wins.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
A Times editorial slams KBR for bullying the Pentagon into replacing Charles Smith, a civilian auditor who denied payments to KBR in Iraq when they couldn't account for more than $1 billion in war billings.

Jim Rutenberg dissects an anti-McCain ad and finds it emotionally provocative and within the boundaries of acceptable distortion.

Washington Post
David Ignatius writes that the surge has brought enough improvements that it's time to start thinking about a new relationship between America and Iraq. The Pentagon should start thinking about bringing the majority of troops home while leaving Special Operations teams to hunt down al Qaeda in Iraq and to train the Iraqi armed forces. One of Gen. David H. Petraeus's advisors, Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, a retired Australian army officer, says the formula should be "Overt De-escalation, covert disruption." The future presence in Iraq may look increasingly like a covert operation.

Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a very smart piece on Iran's mistake in Iraq. Tehran was surprised by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's assault on the Mahdi Army, indicating that the Iraqi premier is not going to be Iran's poodle.

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
U.S., Iraq tinkering with pact wording to avoid needing Congressional approval
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/18/2008 01:48 AM ET
Dozens of people were killed in a massive market bombing, the worst in three months and a frightening echo of the bad old days of Iraq. Both the Washington Post and The New York Times swarm the story, with USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor taking a more enterprising tack.

Over there
Ernesto Londoño and Dalya Hassan of the Post report the grim news of the attack in the market yesterday. Dozens of people -- at least 51 by some counts, including the Times's, below -- were killed when a car loaded with explosives blew up in Hurriya's mainly Shi'ite souk. Residents and survivors cursed both al Qaeda in Iraq and the Iraqi security forces. Several U.S. soldiers visited the market about 15 minutes before the explosion, although no U.S. forces were hurt in the attack. Some residents blame the crackdown on the Mahdi Army for giving Sunni insurgents an opportunity to get into areas previously off-limits to them. Also, a roadside bombing killed the police chief in Kut, and in Mosul a television journalist was assassinated.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Ali Hamid of the Times have the story of the bombing, along with reports of immediate retribution from angry Shi'ites -- a sign of the still-simmering sectarian tensions. It was the deadliest bombing in more than three months. Oppel and Hamid find residents who are calling for the return of the Mahdi Army to keep al Qaeda in Iraq out instead of the American-founded "Neighborhood Guars." The Times also has word from the American military than a "special group" -- a splinter Mahdi Army cell -- had been targeting Americans and had claimed responsibility, but that no coalition forces were injured, calling into question the claim. It's a confusing segment of the story.

USA Today's Charles Levinson reports that not fighting in Amara is the preferred M.O. for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as he tries to crack down on Shi'ite militias. "The government doesn't want a big battle and a lot of bloodshed, so they tell the enemy beforehand," says Gen. Hussein al-Awadi. "If we can do this without fighting, the people will support us more." What this allows is militia leaders and fighters to slip away. Why this is spun as a good thing is unclear, since letting Sunni insurgents slip away when the Americans assaulted a town was universally seen as a bad thing. (Except by the insurgents, presumably.)

Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor reports that new hope has arisen for Iraqi interpreters, with President George W. Bush's signing of a bill that extends a visa program to the American allies. The hook of the story is Sarah and Chris, two Iraqi 'terps who met, fell in love and will be married in America once their visas come through. Most interesting is their despair regarding Iraq and its politicians. "Trust me, you do not know what the truth is. The politicians may say a lot of good things on TV but it's not true," says Sarah. The Iraqi Army must be baby-sat, Chris says, and says if the Americans leave, it will be a "humanitarian, social and political catastrophe." Interestingly, the couple has arguments with U.S. soldiers who speak disparagingly of Bush and question the mission. Chris says he reminds soldiers of the "mass graves and horrors" of Saddam Hussein.

Washington doings
The Post's Karen DeYoung reports that Iraqi and U.S. officials have tinkered with the wording of a proposed commitment to defend Iraq against aggression in an effort to avoid submitting the pact to the Senate for treaty approval, as mandated by the Constitution. The new wording would pledge U.S. forces to "help Iraqi security forces to defend themselves," rather than promise to defend Iraq, said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "It's the other way around," he said, "the meaning is the same, almost." These kind of linguistic shenanigans aimed at avoiding Constitutional requirements might be acceptable when you're talking about regulating interstate trade on, say, cigarettes, but when it comes to committing the United States to shedding its youths' blood for another country... well, it's sickening. I sincerely doubt the Framers would approve of such this blatant skirting of the spirit of Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. Thankfully, some Democrats say the proposed changes are "a distinction without a difference." Zebari also spoke with Sen. Barack Obama and said he was reassured by the Democratic presumptive nominee.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman has a tough column to summarize. But, in short, it's that Iraq will remain a big issue for the next president despite the more optimistic turn of events over the past year. Read the whole thing.

Washington Post
The Post editorial board takes another whack of Obama's "badly outdated" -- their words -- plan for Iraq. (The Post has always been one of the most consistently hawkish editorial pages in the so-called "liberal" media.)

Wall Street Journal
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Foreign companies rushing into Iraq; FM says U.S., Iraq close to security deal
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/17/2008 01:42 AM ET
No news out of Iraq today, but The New York Times has a big scoop on its front page about contractors and Pentagon loyalty. The rest of the coverage is mainly op-eds.

Washington doings
James Risen of the Times has a humdinger of a scoop, reporting that Charles M. Smith, the Army official who managed the KBR contract in Iraq, was fired when he refused to approve $1 billion in questionable charges to the contractor. Smith oversaw KBR's contract -- the largest in Iraq -- for the first two years of the war. He says he was forced out after he warned KBR that the Army would impose penalties if it failed to improve its operations in Iraq. "They had a gigantic amount of costs they couldn't justify," he said. "Ultimately, the money that was going to KBR was money being taken away from the troops, and I wasn't going to do that." After he was replaced, his successors hired outside contractors to consider KBR's claims and then approved most of the payments he had blocked. Nice. The Army denies he was forced out/fired/whatever, but admits that paying KBR was more important than accountability. "You have to understand the circumstances at the time," said Jeffrey P. Parsons, executive director of the Army Contracting Command. "We could not let operational support suffer because of some other things." KBR says it's done everything by the book and why are you bugging us, anyway? Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Smith's story "confirms the committee's worst fears. KBR has repeatedly gouged the taxpayer, and the Bush administration has looked the other way every time."

Yochi H. Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal reports that Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari is optimistic that an agreement between the U.S. and Iraq can be reached by the July 31 deadline. He credits new "flexibility" by the White House and concessions the U.S. has made to assuage Iraqi sensibilities. As previously reported, the U.S. has agreed to hang contractors out to dry -- er, not ask for immunity, I mean. And they'll also create a joint U.S.-Iraqi operations center so the Iraqis can have "input" on military operations. (I.e., stand around and watch.) Remaining sticking points include the number of long-term bases (not permanent ones! No sir!) and whether the U.S. can arrest Iraqis at will. As I suspected in a previous column, all of last week's trash talk on the part of the Iraqis was a standard bazaar tactic, of walking away in a huff in order to get the rug merchant to run after you, lowering his price with every step.

USA Today's Jim Michaels reports European and Asian firms are rushing into Iraq now that the security situation is improving, leaving American firms in the dust. Foreign companies have committed to deals worth $500 million so far this year, and the Pentagon official in charge of U.S. efforts to help Iraq build its economy expects at least $1 billion by the end of the year. Romanian, Lebanese and Chinese firms have already moved in, as well as Turkish and Russian companies. Iraqis, while grateful for the foreign investment, wonder why the U.S. isn't stepping up. "My question is, 'Where are you guys in terms of investment, in terms of economic engagement?' " said Naufel al-Hassan, Iraq's commercial counselor in Washington. "Iraqis need your support. Why let someone else do that?" Interestingly, American firms won the bulk of the $20 billion worth of contracts in the first years of the war, but now opportunities require more local understanding. That favors companies that have pre-war experience working with local actors, something U.S. firms don't have. (Well, except for Halliburton.) U.S. firms are also unlikely to invest because of the controversy at home.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor
The U.S. has no real strategy in Iraq anymore, argue Robert Dujarric and Andy Zelleke. Dujarric is director of the Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies at Temple University Japan in Tokyo and Zelleke is lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and co-director of its Center for Public Leadership. In this op-ed, they argue that none of the foreseeable endgames for Iraq advances American interests in the region and Sen. John McCain's call for victory, stability or winning are meaningless without political objectives.

New York Times
Bob Herbert has a heart-warming column on the value of best friends. Joshua Hubbell sits by the bed every day of Luis Rosa-Valentin, who was "blown up" in Iraq and is now deaf and a triple-amputee. Josh just keeps Luis company and urges him to be strong. "This is a fine way to spend my time," Josh said. "It's just nice to be able to hang out with him, after him being so close to being gone forever." Here's to hoping we all have a friend like that.

USA Today
DeWayne Wickham, a regular columnist for America's newspaper, writes that Iraqis don't have history on their side if they want to defy the United States. Cuba still leases Guantánamo Bay to the U.S., which it has done since it was occupied in 1903. Colombia lost a significant portion of its territory when it wouldn't give the U.S. the right to dig a ditch connecting the Caribbean and the Pacific. Hence, Panama. The Iraqis would be better off telling the Yanks to go home, Wickham writes.

Wall Street Journal
Bret Stephens, regular columnist for the Journal's op-ed page, finds four American-installed leaders in Iraq who back McCain. Imagine that. He then takes these four guys' views and extrapolates them to include all Iraqis. And while he mentions a Pew poll that shows the overwhelming majority in the world supports Sen. Barack Obama, he notes that the poll skips Iraq. And he adds that he did no polling of his own. But speaking to four guys allows him to state: "Iraq, all but alone among the nations, will be praying for a McCain victory on the first Tuesday in November." This column is so silly it's barely worth mentioning, especially because there are dozens of polls that have been taken over the years that show Iraqis overwhelmingly despise the American presence and most of them want them out. Two can play at this game. According to a Facebook poll I found using a simple Google search, 62% of Iraqis prefer Obama as president. Now, obviously, my "research" is about as scientific at Stephens. Which is to say, not at all. But then, I'm not desperately trying to preach to the choir.

Washington Post
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Mahdi Army melts away rather than fight; Possible fragging episode prosecuted
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/16/2008 01:41 AM ET
It's The New York Times's day to dominate the coverage this Monday, with a tough front-pager on a possible fragging and comprehensive coverage from the war itself.

Over there
Andrew E. Kramer and Alissa J. Rubin of The New York Times report that Iraqi forces are massing on the outskirts of Amara, a Sadrist stronghold. Ominously, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has offered amnesty and a weapons buy-back program to the Mahdi Army militiamen inside -- a tactic that usually presages a full-scale assault on a city. Traffic was thin in the city, with few venturing out of their homes. A few residents said militiamen had already fled the city. Also, a small clarification on the Washington Post's piece yesterday reporting that Moqtada al-Sadr would have his movement sit out the fall elections. Now, it appears Sadrist politicians will run, but as independents, not as a slate of candidates. "We will participate in the next elections, but there is no Sadrist list," said Luaa Smaisem, a spokesman. "We will participate as individuals. Also, we will support a lot of independent nominations from another list." This is all part of an attempt to get around an imminent ban on political movements affiliated with armed militias -- a law aimed squarely at al-Sadr.

USA Today's Charles Levinson also has a story on the push on Amara. What's missing in all this coverage is an overall view of al-Sadr's latest strategy. It will come soon enough, I suspect.

Those talks between the Americans and the Iraqis that were at an impasse? Well, the two parties had talks this weekend, report Alissa J. Rubin and Suadad al-Salhy of the Times. But people close to the talks said they would move slowly, taking weeks or even months. While the Americans would like the agreement hammered out by the end of the July, Iraqi negotiators say the talks are still in the primary stage. The latest draft has significant concessions to the Iraqis, but it doesn't go far enough. Civilian contractors will now be held accountable under Iraqi law, and any Iraqis captured in military operations will be turned over to the Iraqis. But that doesn't answer the question of what happens to the 21,000 detainees currently held by the Americans or what happens to Camps Cropper and Bucca. The Iraqis agreed to the Americans controlling their airspace, but the sticking point seems to be how involved the Iraqis will be in military operations by U.S. forces.

Paul von Zielbauer of the Times has a front-pager on what could only the second fragging incident in the war. Capt. Phillip Esposito and Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez shipped out to Iraq together from the same New York National Guard unit, but Esposito came home in a coffin while Martinez came home in handcuffs. Prosecutors say after five months of acrimony in Iraq, Martinez detonated a Claymore mine in the window of Esposito's quarters, killing him and 1st Lt. Lou Allen. Martinez is expected to face court-martial and if convicted, could face the death penalty. Such cases of "fragging" are extremely rare nowadays. In Vietnam, there were more than 300 attacks that killed 75 commissioned and NCOs. In Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been possibly two. (An excellent Q&A plays sidebar to the main story.) The widows of the two officers are angry with the Guard for allowing Martinez -- who had a troubled past and always struggled to fit in the military culture -- to ship out and for not taking his "venting" seriously.

Washington doings
Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reports that the resettlement of Iraqis who worked for the U.S. is going slowly. A list compiled by Kirk W. Johnson, a former USAID worker in Anbar province, has nearly 1,000 names of desperate Iraqis on it, but after 16 months of work, only 31 names on the list, and 61 of their family members, have arrived in the U.S.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Will sit them out, his aides say; Baghdad mass troops in south against cleric
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/15/2008 01:36 AM ET
Sunday is a thin day, but one story stands out: the Washington Post's coverage of what's going on with Moqtada al-Sadr, who seems to be reverting to his bad old ways. Maybe. Or maybe not. It's always a mystery with this guy.

In what could have been a front-pager, Amit R. Paley and Saad Sarhan of the Post write that not only has al-Sadr turned his militia back on with the formation of a reorganized paramilitary group, but the movement said yesterday that it wouldn't take part in provincial elections this fall. Neither Paley nor Sarhan seem to really know what al-Sadr's up to, saying the moves "suggest" that the young cleric is "trying to bolster his position as the chief opponent of both the American troops in the country and the Iraqi government." (In fairness to the two reporters, no one seems to know what al-Sadr is up to except, presumably, al-Sadr.) The government, in turn, is now deploying thousands of troops across the country's south in response to the new al-Sadr group. These "special companies" could start new attacks against American forces next week. Al-Sadr's critics say his moves are designed to cover up weakness. He won't contest the elections because his people would lose, and he formed a new, smaller group to protect the larger Mahdi Army.

Andrew E. Kramer of The New York Times reports on the Iraqi troop push, writing that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has sent his forces into Amara, a Sadr stronghold. Kramer notes that al-Sadr's decision to reorganize the Mahdi Army into political and military wings mirrors the arrangements of Lebanon's Hezbollah and Gaza's Hamas. Kramer also notes that al-Sadr may be creating separate bodies because of new laws that present political parties from having armed wings. There's a lot of detail on the deployment, but there's nothing on al-Sadr's decision to sit out the elections. In Diyala, a female suicide bomber blew herself up in a village market, wounding at least 25 people.

Meanwhile in Paris, Steven Lee Meyers of the Times writes that President George W. Bush is still optimistic that the security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq will be reached this year. This is despite noises from Maliki that the talks are at an impasse.

Finally, the Post editorial board talks up what it calls a desire for the U.S.-Iraqi agreement on the part of Iraq's Shi'ite government. Blithely ignoring or dismissing reports of the impasse or permanent bases, the editorial says Democrats need to get on board with the talks.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today and Wall Street Journal
No Sunday editions.

Daily Column
Maliki, others nix security agreement on sovereignty grounds, say talks stopped
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/14/2008 00:57 AM ET
Iraq saying no is the big news today, and the Washington Post swamps the others in its coverage.

The Post's Amit R. Paley and Karen DeYoung report that things aren't looking great in Iraq right now, despite victory laps taken by conservative editorial pages. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki publicly rejected terms of the ongoing security talks while Moqtada al-Sadr called for a new militia offensive against U.S. troops. For Maliki, the talks have reached "a dead end" because the U.S. was asking for too much, he said. It's doubtful now the talks will be concluded by Dec. 31, when the U.N. mandate allowing the U.S. forces to remain in Iraq expires. The then makes the argument that this is all provincial election politicking, as the dominant Shi'ite parties running the government respond to their constituents' anger at the continued U.S. presence. Because of that, al-Sadr is trying to one-up Maliki by calling for a renewed offensive, hoping that will show his followers he's more anti-American than Maliki and they'll vote the Sadrists into office. That's why the young cleric ordered the end of the cease-fire. But it's not going to be like it was in April and August of 2004. A spokesman for al-Sadr said the order was "essentially a full-scale reorganization of the Mahdi Army, transforming it from a militia into a permanent peaceful organization with a small armed wing of several hundred or so members." The cease-fire for the non-fighters would remain in force, and they fighters would operate in total secrecy. Paley and DeYoung finally have some details on what ground the U.S. is willing to give on its demands. Now it has agreed to high-level coordination of military and arrest operations, fine-tuning the extent of U.S. control of the airspace and borders, and proposing contractors will only get immunity taken for actions during official U.S. operations. Maliki also wants a firm U.S. commitment from the U.S. to protect it against aggression. That's going to require a vote in the Senate, as that raises it to a full-scale treaty.

Alissa J. Rubin of The New York Times has the story of the Iraqi intransigence also, but it's nowhere nearly as in depth as the Post's. She does get some good quotes from American officials -- including Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad and Sen. John McCain -- who say there's nothing to worry about, move along. In all honesty, they're probably right. Maliki has just stormed out of the bazaar in a bid for the seller to come down on his price. It usually works, especially when the seller needs the buyer. Rubin has nothing on the move by al-Sadr.

Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal also has the story.

The Times's editorial board approves of the push-back from the Iraqis.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Philip Rucker reports that some soccer clubs in the prosperous Fairfax County are partnering with U.S. diplomats to help build youth soccer leagues in Iraq. It's a very sweet story.

Christian Science Monitor and USA Today
No weekend editions.

Daily Column
Two U.S. citizens held in Iraq will stay there; Baghdad seeks cover from claims
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/13/2008 01:54 AM ET
The big news today comes out of the U.S. Supreme Court. And I'm not talking about the Guantánamo ruling, although that is, obviously, very important. The one that affects Iraq news specifically involves those two poor bastards who now will have to face Iraqi justice.

Legal minefields
Carrie Johnson of the Washington Post writes that the Supremes ruled unanimously that two U.S. citizens accused of terrorism-related crimes in Iraq can't use the American courts to challenge their transfer to foreign custody. The justices agreed that Iraq has a sovereign right to prosecute Shawqi Omar and Mohammad Munaf, who were captured by American military forces. Their families and civil rights groups worry that the two men will be tortured and executed by the Iraqis, but the Court ruled that "even if its criminal process does not come with all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution," it's still the Iraqis' right to prosecute.

Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times's Linda Greenhouse each have the story as well, but Greenhouse's is tacked on to the end of a much longer piece on the Guantánamo ruling. Richey's story has by far the most detail on the cases of Munaf and Omar.

Neil MacFarquhar of the Times reports that Iraq will ask the United Nations Security Council to explore ways to protect its government from financial claims from victims of Saddam Hussein's regime. While the U.N. mandate that allows for Iraq's occupation is in effect, Iraq is immune. But that expires at the end of this year, which means Baghdad is scrambling to stave off the expected "avalanche" of claims. Iraq wants to get this resolved by the end of July so that it doesn't get tangled with the security agreement being hammered out with the United States. If that doesn't happen, Iraq may request an extension of the mandate. One solution may be to extend the mandate, but only for the financial reasons.

Over there
Meanwhile, back in Iraq, Alissa J. Rubin of the Times reports that the Fallujah offices of the Iraqi Islamic Party were blown up Thursday morning. In the south, a powerful bomb was found on the road to a Shi'ite shrine. (But which shrine? The story doesn't say.) Both incidents point out the tensions that will likely increase in the lead up to provincial elections this fall. Both Sunnis and Shi'ites are locked in their own internecine conflicts for control of their respective leaderships. In Baghdad, the American military said an EFP had blown up in Kadhimiyah, killing six Iraqi civilians and wounding seven. The target was a passing American convoy. Two American soldiers were wounded, although not seriously. An American soldier was killed in Baghdad by an IED and in Anbar province, a marine died from a non-combat-related injury.

Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is enjoying "a rare boost of political and popular support" thanks to the ebbing of the violence. But Iraqis are still upset over the lack of basic services like garbage pickup and water delivery.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Wall Street Journal
The Journal's editorial praise heaps praise on Arab countries like the United Arab Emirates who are planning to send envoys to Baghdad, finally. Saudi Arabia, the big kahuna of the Arab world, is still dragging its feet on setting up an embassy.

Washington Post
Charles Krauthammer says, essentially, "bring it!" and urges the presidential election to be about the war, which he think means a President McCain. This is essentially a column slamming Sen. Barack Obama as politically naïve. He writes, “We know Obama hasn't been to Iraq in more than two years, but does he not read the papers?” With all due respect, Krauthammer has likely never been to Iraq, and only reads the papers. For a columnist who constantly lashed “the press” as unreliable and liberal defeatists when the war was going much worse, now it’s the source of all knowledge? That’s a bit much.

USA Today
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Awakening-style program hits Sadr City streets; McCain dismisses troop returns
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/12/2008 01:49 AM ET
The big news isn't that big, but it is important. The Washington Post reports that a neighborhood guard program has been set up in Sadr City. Meanwhile, Democrats pounce on a callous remark by Sen. John McCain and the Wall Street Journal runs another outrageous op-ed that only lawyers will love.

Over there
Amit R. Paley of the Post reports the U.S. is implementing its "neighborhood watch" program in Sadr City, with the first U.S. armed guards hitting the streets on Wednesday. Like their awakening counterparts, these Sadr City guys get paid $300 a month and tote an AK-47. The Americans are official enthusiastic about the program. The Iraqi Army? Not so much. "Those who have contributed to the spilling of Iraqi blood, we will never accept them," said Lt. Col. Yehiye Rasul Abdullah, commander of the Iraqi army battalion in Jamila, after coming to check on the guards. Interestingly, the Americans aren't calling this program "Sons of Iraq," as they do with the Sunni insurgents they've bought off. The Shi'ites really are a "Neighborhood Guard," because the civil affairs officer in charger of the program wisely decided not to call it something so affiliated with Sunnis. The guards themselves, however, stick with "Sons of Iraq." "Why would I be embarrassed by this name?" said Qassim, a former mobile phone card merchant who's now running the program. "Sunnis or Shi'ites, we are all the sons of Iraq."

Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor reports from Suleimaniyah on the muckraking Kurdish journalists up there who are pushing for reforms. They face intimidation, arrest and sometimes torture at the hands of the Kurdistan Regional Government for publishing articles considered insulting to officials and politicians. But bless these Kurdish journalists, they're not backing off. Last December some of the journalists organized a protest against a law that would have muzzled the media. President Massoud Barzani abandoned the law.

Presidential politics
Meanwhile, back on the campaign trail, Kate Zernike of The New York Times reports that advisors to Sen. Barack Obama seized on a comment from Sen. John McCain to accuse him of being insensitive to the sacrifices made by American troops. On the NBC "Today Show," McCain dismissed talk of a timetable for when troops could come home as "not too important." Democrats pounced. "It is unbelievably out of touch with the needs and concerns of Americans, particularly of the families of the troops that are over there," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., an Obama ally. "To them it is the most important thing in the world." This is sure to get under McCain's skin and stoke as famous temper, as did a previous jab by the Obama campaign that McCain didn't care about veterans. And when McCain gets mad, he gets ugly and unlikable. This is precisely the point of these attacks.

The Post's Jonathan Weisman has the story as well. But he goes far deeper into the issues, penning a wrap up of the Iraq debate that will dominate the fall campaign: how long will the U.S. stay? Will there be permanent bases? What's the role of the troops? Should any agreement be put to Congress. You get the idea. It's a good article if you've not been keeping up with the debate in the States.

USA Today's David Jackson has the story, too.

Washington doings
Traveling with President George W. Bush in Europe, the Post's Dan Eggen reports that the president is confident that the U.S. and Iraq will agree on a security agreement. Well, of course he's confident. You don't expect the Decider to express self-doubt, do you?

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Wall Street Journal
David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, Washington attorneys, served in the Justice Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. And now they show up on the Journal's op-ed page to make a hyper-technical argument that all wars are wars of choice. Why, the Colonies didn't have to go to war in the 18th century. They could have accepted Britain's boot on their throats. Likewise, the Union didn't have to fight in the Civil War. It could have accepted the dissolution of the country and surrendered. Sigh. You can see where this is going. And likewise, the U.S. could have chosen not to invade Iraq, but then it would never have stopped all those Iraqi ICBMs piloted by terrorists from blowing up our entire blessed way of life. Oh, wait, that was never, ever going to happen? Wow, I guess the U.S. made the wrong choice then. They are obviously being a bit too literal regarding the term, "war of choice."

Daily Column
Some Iraqis in Jordan profit; Head of Saddam's tribe killed; Maliki stronger?
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/11/2008 00:54 AM ET
Talks between Iraq and the United States are the big news today, with the Washington Post getting a big overview in on its front page.

Over there
The Post's Amit R. Paley and Karen DeYoung have the lead story today on the continuing leaks on how the negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq are going, focusing on the fact that the talks have become an acrimonious public debate. Top Iraqi officials want a radical reduction in the U.S. role, where American forces are confined to bases unless asked for help. The U.S., however, is -- allegedly -- asking for 58 bases, control of the air space up to 30,000 feet, immunity for American troops and contractors and a carte blanche to conduct military operations. Yeah, I can see how the Iraqis wouldn't like that. "The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq," said Sami al-Askari, a Shi'ite politician who is close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.'" This story covers a lot of ground that's been overturned in the past week, but it provides a good summary of the state of play on the talks. The Iraqis complaining the most, however, don't seem to be involved in the talks while the negotiators say things are going better. Dial-a-quote Iraqi parliamentarian Mahmoud Othman says the Americans have backed down on some demands. Private contractors no longer get immunity, detainees would be turned over to the Iraqis, U.S. troops would operate only with the agreement of the Iraqi government and Washington would promise not to use Iraq as a base for attacking other countries. Another lead negotiator says the Americans are being more flexible. So what's going on? Are the angry Iraqis leaking the real negotiations details or trying to put pressure on their countrymen not to give ground?

Andrew E. Kramer of The New York Times reports that the leader of Saddam Hussein's tribe, Sheikh Ali al-Nida, was killed by a bomb attached to his car after he spoke publicly about reconciling with the government in Baghdad. There are few other details.

Nicholas Seely of the Christian Science Monitor writes that not all Iraqi refugees in Jordan are struggling. Some are actually doing quite well as they take advantage of Jordan's security, infrastructure and open investment climate to make a new life and a small fortune. Some are small shops and some are larger enterprises building on long-standing ties to Jordan.

Charles Levinson of USA Today writes that Maliki is being seen as stronger than ever after the Basra campaign, willing to take on Shi'ite militias and soothing disaffected Sunnis. There are a few Sunnis quoted as approving of the prime minister, but Levinson engages in some pretty dear wishful thinking on the part of Basra. He writes that after a near-death experience with a mortar shell, Maliki ordered 20,000 more troops into the fight, which -- along with U.S. and British assistance -- turned the tide. Um, the Iranians brokered the peace and it left the Mahdi Army still in control of large swaths of Basra immediately after the battle. At best the Iraqi forces fought the Mahdi Army to a draw; they didn't defeat them. Had the Iranians not stopped the fighting, Maliki would be a political corpse right now. USA Today has been taking a decidedly more upbeat tone of late, but this is a bit much.

Washington doings
The Times's Eric Scmitt reports that Col. Levonda Joey Selph pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy in a fraud case that involved Selph steering $12 million in military contracts for warehouses in Iraq to an unidentified contractor. Based on previous court papers, the contractor was probably Lee Dynamics International.

Gregg Zoroya of USA Today reports that the Pentagon wants to make it harder for combat commanders to send medically unfit troops to war zones. The proposal from CENTCOM would add 16 medical conditions that would bar troops from deploying. Since 2003, the U.S. has sent about 43,000 "non-deployable" troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

USA Today
William Kistner writes that with Father's Day coming up this weekend, let's pay some attention to the dads who stay at home while their wives go to war. Those marriages have the most stress on them and have the highest divorce rates in the military. Why? Possibly because the traditional support system is geared toward wives staying on base and men have a hard time entering that social network.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraqi coverage today.

Daily Column
US says more detainees "hardened" jihadis; Body building grows popular in Iraq
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/10/2008 01:53 AM ET
Wow, so remember how I've been complaining about the lack of news on Iraq? Talk about greasing a squeaky wheel. Today's offering of news is large and varied, with every paper getting in on the action. Dig in; it's filling today.

Over there

Nazila Fathi and Richard A. Oppel Jr. of The New York Times report that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said U.S. troops are the main reason Iraq is still in turmoil. And that, he says, is Iran's real reason for opposing a long-term security agreement between Iraq and the U.S. Khamenei just has the Iraqis' best interests at heart! Very sweet of him. Actually, as we all know, Iran is just nervous about a dug in American military presence next door -- which some analysts thought was the real point of the Iraq war all along. It wasn't about oil or al Qaeda, but about turning Iraq into a kind of West Germany in the new Cold War shaping up in the region. Also, on Monday, three people were killed and we wounded by a car bomb in central Baghdad. Gunmen also killed three people during a robbery at two gold shops. Three unidentified bodies were found in the capital. In Mosul, gunmen killed two sheikhs from Tal Afar.

Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reports the U.S. is sending up to 30 detainees a day to the main detention centers in Iraq, but that they're more likely to be "hardened" jihadis held for longer periods of time than the prisoners taken at the beginning of the surge last year. "Division commanders have gotten much better at determining that the guy's a real, legitimate ... imperative security risk," said Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone Jr., the former head of the Iraq detention program. Of course, that's the Americans saying they're getting better at catching bad guys. There is no evidence presented in this story -- other than Stone's assertion -- that the U.S. has finally figured out how to tell a real jihadi from someone who is just trying to support a family or even someone wrongly picked up.

Ernesto Londoño and Saad al-Izzi of the Post report that bodybuilding, long an obsession in Iraq, has become a booming industry. Why? Because the increased security allows young men to go to gyms (and take supplements and steroids illegal in the U.S.), which means they bulk up and get hired as ... security guards. This is an interesting story, but does it really warrant front-page play?

Ben Sisario has a short piece in the Times on the recovery of a cache of stolen artifacts from the National Museum of Iraq that were returned to the Antiquities Ministry on Monday. Eleven cylinder seals made from agate and alabaster dated from between 3,000 and 2,000 B.C. were found in Philadelphia last month and turned over to the Iraqi embassy in Washington. The museum says out of 15,000 items stolen, about 6,000 have been returned.

Military matters
The Times's Thom Shanker pens an analysis on the selection of the two new Air Force leaders, writing that it shows Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is trying to shift the Air Force away from a Cold War mentality and toward the war on terror and counter-insurgency.

Peter Eisler of USA Today writes that lawmakers are concerned about the Pentagon's plan to sell 4,000 sets of high-tech night-vision goggles to Iraq. They're worried the goggles might be stolen or smuggled to insurgents or Iran. Given the slap-dash handling of weapons in 2004 and 2005, that sounds like a reasonable concern. The Pentagon says there's nothing to worry about.

Home front
The Christian Science Monitor's Jill Carroll reports on a controversial tactic to heal younger vets of combat stress: using older vets from the Vietnam war who have themselves recovered from PTSD. Why is it controversial? Carroll never says, and given that both Canada and the UK have been adopted similar programs, it seems more like common sense than controversial.

The Post's Steve Vogel has a good feature on what happens when the wounded troops arrive at Andrews Air Force Base. It's the first stop for troops returning home -- often suffering grievous injuries.

Washington doings
Howard LaFranchi of the Monitor reports that the proposed security pact is drawing fire from both the Iraqi Parliament and the U.S. Congress. Both branches of government say the White House and the prime minister's office are too tight-lipped about details of the negotiations. Lawmakers from both countries want more transparency. Yeah, good luck getting that. The nugget in this is that it's the long-term basing rights the U.S. is pushing for that seems to be causing the most trouble. But there will be no permanent bases. No, sir. No, indeed.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Wall Street Journal
Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, architects of the surge, take (premature?) victory lap on the op-ed page of the Journal. (Of course.) It's about what you'd expect from these two.

Washington Post
Media reporter Howard Kurtz has a big story on Richard Engel, of NBC, who says he was coming under tremendous pressure to report good news stories in 2007. Pressure from news executives, that is. And now he's under fire from the White House for editing an interview with President George W. Bush. He was also invited into the Oval Office to dispense advice to the president on Iraq. (Should that really be journalists' job? Advising presidents on matters of war?) "I didn't say anything I wouldn't have said on the air," Engel responds. "He was asking, and I was telling him. I couldn't wait to get it off my chest." Really? Engel was willing to say -- on air -- that Iraq should be divided into three states and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "doesn't have the juice" to fix Iraq? Please. Why didn't he say it then? That sounds like empty boasting from Engel, mixed with giddiness over being summoned by the president.

Daily Column
Maliki hopes to reassure Tehran over American presence; Bush looks to history
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/09/2008 01:48 AM ET
It's a meatier day, but there are still only two Iraq-datelined stories from the Washington Post and The New York Times. The rest of the coverage comes from the Post in the form of op-eds and Washington news.

Over there
Andrew R. Kramer of the Times reports on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's trip to Tehran, where he assured the Iranians that a long-term American presence in Iraq was no big deal. "We will not allow Iraq to become a platform for harming the security of Iran and its neighbors," he said according to IRNA, the state-run news agency. Even as Maliki met with Iranian officials -- Iranian president Ahmad Ahmadinejad said "Iraq must reach a certain level of stability so that its enemies are not able to impose their influence" -- American officials announced they had captured the leader of an Iranian-backed assassination squad who had smuggled fighters in and out of Iran for training. Also, on Sunday, Turkey bombed a mountainous region in Iraqi Kurdistan where members of the PKK are based. A roadside bomb killed an American soldier in eastern Baghdad and a suicide bomber in a van killed another in Kirkuk. The van attack also wounded 18 U.S. soldiers. A mortar attack on the Green Zone killed three civilians and wounded seven, while three roadside bombs killed four policemen and recruits and wounded 33 policemen and bystanders. In northern Iraq, gunmen opened fire on a police patrol in Mosul, killing three policemen. Southeast of Baghdad, gunmen killed five shepherds.

The Post's Thomas Erdbrink and Amit R. Paley report that during Maliki's meetings, Iranian officials urged closer defense cooperation between Iraq and Iran. Iran's defense minister emphasized what he called "the great strategic potential" of the two oil giants. Iran is strongly opposed to the U.S.-Iraq security agreement. This is a better story than the Times's, as it gets more into Iran's intentions in Iraq and the region.

Washington doings
Dan Eggen of the Post has some fun with President George W. Bush, poking fun at the president's penchant for rhetorical time traveling.

He's in Poland in 1939 as Nazi tanks advance on Warsaw, then flying with his Navy-pilot father to battle imperial Japan. He's alongside Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, William McKinley on his deathbed and Franklin D. Roosevelt on D-Day. He lingers with Harry S. Truman, another U.S. president deeply unpopular in his time.

President Bush leaps forward as well, envisioning a distant future in which Iraq is a tranquil democracy, Palestinians live peaceably alongside Israelis and terrorism is a tactic of the past.

He's drawing on selected events of the past to argue that his policy in Iraq will be vindicated by history. Unfortunately, as Eggen points out, historians have already rendered a verdict. "In an informal survey of scholars this spring, just two out of 109 historians said Bush would be judged a success; a majority deemed him the "worst president ever."

The Post's Walter Pincus trawls through last week's Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Bush administration's misuse of pre-war intelligence on Iraq. In it, he finds that "less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the Executive Branch" were not reviewed. There were also no efforts to obtain White House records or interview Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney. Investigators never went after the White House Iraq Group, set up in August 2002 by then-Chief of Staff Andrew Card. this was the group in charge of marketing the war to the public.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, says the idea that Bush lied is too simple and that the Intelligence Committee report bears out most of the White House's statements on Iraq.

Iraq needs new rules for its upcoming provincial elections if it's to avoid the debacle of the party-slate system that has hobbled its national politics since its 2005 elections, write Scott Carpenter and Michael Rubin. Carpenter is the Keston Family Fellow at the Washington Institute while Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. By choosing a party-slate system, politicians owed their rise to party leaders instead of voters, and were encouraged to take illiberal, sectarian stances. The two scholars call for an open-list system or a hybrid system as practiced in Germany.

Daily Column
Jaafari expelled from Dawa Party; Mullen calls for listening to war-tested GIs
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/08/2008 01:53 AM ET
It is again a light day, with just a single Iraq-datelined story. But with the presidential race in the state that it's in -- and in the absence of some horrific bombing -- Iraq will likely mostly be an inside-page story until November.

Over there
The New York Times's Andrew E. Kramer reports that former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was expelled from the governing Dawa party after he created a political movement that opened talks with rivals of current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. After Jaafari fell out with Maliki, he formed the National Reform Movement. Kramer writes that the shakeup in Shi'ite politics comes at a delicate time, what with the rivalries between Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters and Maliki's. With Maliki negotiating an unpopular security arrangement, al-Sadr's people will likely try to recruit Jaafari and his followers to their side. Indeed, while a senior Jaafari aide declined to say whether his expelling was related to leadership issues or differences over the security agreement, supporters of al-Sadr said they had opened talks with the National Reform Movement. Elsewhere, two car bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing at least six people.

David Ignatius of the Washington Post has a great little mini-profile of Brig. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Ignatius calls Soleimani the tip of Iran's spear in Iraq and the region as a whole, a man adept at ratcheting up pressure in Iraq to advance Iran's interests at the expense of the United States'. The most intriguing nugget is that after a particularly heavy day of shelling of the Green Zone by Iranian-backed militias using big 240mm Iranian-made rockets, Gen. David H. Petraeus sent a verbal message to Soleimani: "Stop shooting at the Green Zone." Conveyed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the message was received and the shelling tapered off, but not before Iran had made its point. Ignatius -- a shrewd international observer with good sources -- says Soleimani is watching and waiting, giving ground when necessary, but prepared to strike back as strongly as possible.

Home front
The Post's Ann Scott Tyson reports that Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told graduating officers of the Army War College to heed the combat-tested junior officers they will soon command. Accepting the wisdom of the war-tested is, he said, crucial to keeping the captains and NCOs in the military as they grow weary from multiple deployments.

Politics, politics, politics...
Perry Bacon Jr. of the Post reports that while the economy is what matters most to voters, according to polls, Iraq will be the defining issue for Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama. It provides the richest material for the candidates to draw distinctions between themselves. Polls show that voters favor Obama's positions on the economy, health care and other domestic issues, but they view McCain as stronger in fighting terrorism. And in a poll last month, 71 percent said McCain is better experienced to be president. McCain has a 41-point advantage on knowledge of foreign affairs. On the other hand, 60 percent agree that Obama's position on the war -- it was a mistake -- but they are evenly divided on who would handle the war better once in office.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, writes for the Times's op-ed page that Sen. Hillary Clinton was undone by her stance on Iraq.

Washington Post
Tom Ricks reports on testimony given by retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales Jr., a former commandant of the Army War College, to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Scales says that for the first time since the Civil War, the "the number of ground soldiers available is determining American policy rather than policy determining how many troops we need." That means the U.S. can't retreat in Iraq but the patience of the public to go forward is just about over. It's a no-win situation.

Former press secretary Ari Fleischer calls the whaambulance on the Post's op-ed page to say that the Washington press corps was plenty tough on him post-9/11. Helen Thomas asked him questions about Iraq! This is his way of discrediting Scott McClellan, who called the press "complicit enablers" of the White House's march to war. So Fleischer looks simultaneously whiney and revisionist to everyone who actually paid attention to the "debate" going on at the time.

Finally, Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and an all around smart guy on Shi'ism, reviews Patrick Cockburn's book, "Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq." Nasr calls Cockburn's book an "authoritative biography" on al-Sadr.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today and Wall Street Journal
No Sunday edition.

Daily Column
Almost no coverage today; Theatre, television reviews and editorials on offer
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/07/2008 01:40 AM ET
The war's over, everybody go home! At least that's the impression one would get from today's coverage. Why? There isn't any. No, really. Iraq is mentioned tangentially, at best, in a couple of stories from the Washington Post -- one them a theatre review -- while The New York Times limits its coverage to a critique of an ad campaign and a television review.

The Post kicks things off with an editorial saying Sen. Barack Obama's Middle East policy -- with the exception of Iraq -- is no different from the Bush administration. The editorial board finds this, oddly, comforting. Where it comes to Iraq, they think he's banking too much on his early opposition to the war and that conditions on the ground have changed. So he needs to go to Iraq so he can get himself an education on the fighting.

Speaking of politics, Julie Bosman of the Times critiques Sen. John McCain's new ad, the first major push of the general election. It shows images of McCain's male relatives at war as well as his time as a P.O.W. in Vietnam and attempts to soften his image as a warmonger, thanks to his support for the Iraq war. OK. So it's not so much a critique as a description of the ad.

Gina Bellafante of the Times reviews the second season of "Army Wives," a Lifetime series about, well, Army wives. As Bellafante remarks, it sounds like "Desperate Housewives" with humvees, but it's the highest-rated show in Lifetime's history. And from the review, it sounds like it handles the domestic side of war well.

Finally, Nelson Pressley of the Post reviews "In the Heart of America," a revival of an anti-Gulf War play written back in the mid-1990s by Naomi Wallace. The new production doesn't really update the content, but the context within which the play exists -- yet another Iraq war -- gives it added bite.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor and USA Today
No weekend editions.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
White House knowingly misrepresented intelligence to sell the war to America
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/06/2008 01:40 AM ET
The big news on Iraq comes out of Washington today, with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report that says President George W. Bush and other high-level White House officials knowingly misrepresented ("Lied") the intelligence on Iraq.

Intelligence matters
Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane of The New York Times have the story on the Senate report that concluded that President George W. Bush and other White House officials deliberately hyped the dangers from Iraq in order to sell the war to the American public. The report is a confirmation of what almost everyone already knew and is the end of five years of partisan squabbling and investigation into the use, abuse and faulty assessments of intelligence leading up to the invasion in March 2003. The report accuses Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and others of repeatedly overstating the Iraqi threat. All Republicans but two on the committee objected to the committee's findings. The White House, with a straight face, said the report was a "selective view" of the statements and evidence. Possibly the better report was a separate one released on Wednesday that detailed a series of clandestine meetings in Rome and Paris between Pentagon officials and Iranian dissidents between 2001 and 2003. The topic? Covert actions to destabilize the government in Tehran.

Josh Warrick and Walter Pincus of the Washington Post have the story on the report. Sen. Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., called the report "a waste of time."

The Times has an editorial on the report, saying it's taken five years to finally come to a reckoning and call it "as good a set of answers as we're likely to get."

Over all, the report makes it clear that top officials, especially Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, knew they were not giving a full and honest account of their justifications for going to war.

USA Today's editorial page joins the pile on, condemning the misuse of intelligence.

Over there
The Post's Amit R. Paley reports that Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 commander of U.S. military forces in Iraq, is confident the gains of the surge can be maintained with fewer troops after the last "surge" troops go home at the end of July. Also on Thursday, the United Arab Emirates' foreign minister, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, arrived in Baghdad to announce the emirates would open an embassy in Baghdad in the next few days.

Washington doings
The Post's Karen DeYoung reports that with the negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq over a security agreement bogging down, Baghdad may ask the U.N. for an extension of the U.N. mandate allowing U.S. troops to remain in the country.

David Stout of the Times reports that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker dismissed stories in The Independent that the U.S. is seeking up to 50 permanent military bases in Iraq.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Wall Street Journal The Journal has an editorial asking if the emerging victory in Iraq will be abandoned come November.

Christian Science Monitor
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Local councils stepping up; Airborne surveillance finally increasing
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/05/2008 01:46 AM ET
Incompetent militants, who unfortunately killed between 15 and 18 civilians from their mistake, shattered Baghdad’s relative peace and quiet. Both the Washington Post and The New York Times have that story. Other papers report on local councils, Obama's shortcomings and new books on the Iraq war.

Over there
Andrew E. Kramer of Times reports that the relative calm of Baghdad was shattered when insurgents accidentally blew themselves up (and more than a dozen civilians) as they were preparing to attack a U.S. base in the capital. It's unclear what happened, but a truck fitted with Katyushas and launchers blew up in the Shaab neighborhood bordering Sadr City. The explosions collapsed about a dozen homes, killing about 18 civilians and wounding 29. Separately, a car bomb in Karada blew up near an ice-cream shop, killing four Iraqis and wounding 10 others. And three American soldiers were shot and killed in Hawija north of Baghdad.

The Post's Amit R. Paley has the story of the exploding rockets, noting that at least 18 civilians were killed according to American sources. A U.S. military spokesmen said the men attempting to carry out the attack were members of "special groups criminals," or rogue elements of the Mahdi Army.

Andrea Stone of USA Today writes another in a series of more or less upbeat articles on Iraq, this time looking at how Iraqi neighborhood councils are handling local disputes and complaints. The Americans have made clear they're stepping back from fixing everything and the Iraqis are filling the gap. At least, that's the gist of this story.

Military matters
Jerry Markon of the Post has a story on the unexplained death of Spec. Christopher D. McCarthy, who died at the FOB in Ramadi. He was found in his room without a pulse, and his death was not combat related. There was no immediate sign of foul play, the military says.

Thom Shanker of the Times reports the U.S. military is now able to keep up to 25 unmanned drones in the air at one time, up from 11 that was the limit early last year. Air Force officials also say they can guarantee that many of the hunter-killer aircraft can stay aloft around the clock. As American forces draw down in Iraq, Predators and Reapers will be more necessary.

The Times has an unbylined report on the acquittal of Marine First Lt. Andrew A. Grayson, who was on trial for allegedly covering up the killing of 24 Iraqi men, women and children at Haditha in November 2005. He had been accused of telling a sergeant to delete photos of the dead from a camera and laptop. After more than five hours of deliberations, a jury of seven officers delivered a not guilty verdict.

Washington doings
Siobhan Gorman, of the Wall Street Journal is the only one to report on the last report from the Senate Intelligence Committee to be released today. It's the final document on the Bush administration's use of intelligence ahead of the Iraq invasion, and it's sure to play a role in the current presidential campaign. It deals with the public statements from the administration and an assessment of the activities of Douglas Feith and the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Janet Maslin reviews a heart-breaking book by Jim Sheeler of the Rocky Mountain News. The book, "Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives," grew out of his Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the treatment of the remains of the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a powerful, understated book, Maslin writes, and sheds light on one of the most underreported stories in the war.

Wall Street Journal
Pete Hegseth, chairman of Vets for Freedom, formerly with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq, writes for the Journal's op-ed page that Sen. Barack Obama's failure to Iraq to see the changed conditions should be a legitimate issue in the presidential race. (A valid point.) Obama has declined to go (so far) because he criticized the often stage-managed nature of the trips. (Which is also a valid point.) What isn't being said is that if Obama does to go to Iraq and comes back with his views reinforced, critics like Hegseth won't back off; they'll probably say he doesn't have the military experience to really judge it appropriately or that he saw only what he wanted to see. (An ironic charge.) And if he does change his mind about Iraq, then he'll be seen as a flip-flopper, so it's a no-win situation for him. Oh, and advice to the Journal: When you say a contributor returned to Iraq "as an embedded reporter," you might want to mention for whom. A quick Google search shows that he "reported" for the National Review, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal, among others, none of which is particularly known as a bastion of anti-war sentiment.

Christian Science Monitor
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
After years of dithering, Iraqis can finally apply for asylum in Green Zone
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/04/2008 01:43 AM ET
The Washington Post and The New York Times are mostly preoccupied with this guy called "Obama" getting some big prize or something. What-EVER. That means it's left to the others to look in on the war.

Over there
Amit R. Paley and Walter Pincus of the Post take a break from campaign trail reporting and reveal that the U.S. has opened its first permanent office in Baghdad for Iraqi refugees looking to flee to the States. About frickin' time. The office opened May 10 and has already processed 80 embassy employees for departure, with the first two arriving in the U.S. this week.

An unbylined USA Today reports has the latest in the back-and-forth on the U.S.-Iraq security pact negotiations. Lawmakers allied with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said "almost all points are under dispute." Hm. That doesn't sound good. A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said the negotiations were "active" with details "in flux." In other words, FUBAR'ed

Military matters
USA Today's Tom Vanden Brook reports on a messed up video surveillance system for the Marines Corps in Iraq. The idea was to place automatic cameras in areas that can't be surveilled from the air, but the equipment is bulky and it takes forever to set them up, exposing the marines to too many risks. This being a Vanden Brook story, he can't avoid mentioning MRAPs, but thankfully it's limited to just a couple of brief asides. The weakness of this story is the blink-and-you'll-miss-it note of the cost: $15 million. But that's just the cost for the equipment. What's truly missing is the cost of developing and deploying a system that doesn't work.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor
Gordon Lubold pens an upbeat assessment of the mood in Iraq and America as the surge winds down at the end of July, with more people optimistic about the security gains than ever before.

Wall Street Journal
Fouad Ajami pens an openly racist, anti-Arab piece for the Journal's op-ed page, called "Why We Went to Iraq." It's a disturbing column. As he puts it, the reason the U.S. went to war in Iraq was that, "Kabul and the war against the Taliban had not sufficed, for those were Arabs who struck America on 9/11." (Emphasis added.) "A war of deterrence had to be waged against Arab radicalism." Yes, 9/11 was planned and carried out by Arabs -- who were based in Afghanistan and had been since the 1980s. And while he softens the inevitable knock that Arabs only understand a strongman, he says it nonetheless: "We don't need to overwork the stereotype that Arabs understand and respond to the logic of force, but this is a region sensitive to the wind, and to the will of outside powers." So yeah, Arabs only understand force. That's why we went to Iraq. It's the same, tired, racially-charged arguments that have been knocked down so often in the past.

Daily Column
Rudd to withdraw combat troops; Maliki to visit Iran, press issue of rebel aid
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/03/2008 01:48 AM ET
The news feels a bit thin today, but both the Washington Post and The New York Times have Baghdad-datelined stories. The big news though is the decision by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to follow through on a campaign pledge and pull out Canberra's remaining combat troops. Coalition of the willing indeed.

Over there
Andrew E. Kramer of the Times reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will visit Iran next week and speak to its leaders about Iran's alleged support for insurgents in Iraq. This is the second visit for Maliki to Tehran in a year. Elsewhere in Iraq, a suicide car bomber blew himself up near a police station in Mosul, killing nine people, including five police officers. Forty-six people were wounded. The U.S. says it killed two suspected insurgents and captured 31 others in operations in central and northern Iraq on Sunday and Monday. A roadside bomb killed an Iraqi cop and wounded six others in Baghdad. In Diyalah, a bomb went off in a government office, wounding three people.

The Post's Ernesto Londoño reports that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd defended his decision to pull Australian diggers out of the combat mission in Iraq and slammed his predecessor, John Howard. Only about 500 troops remain in south Iraq, and they're on their way home. A few hundred will stay in Iraq serving in non-combat roles, while others will be stationed around the Gulf region. Howard sent elite Special Air Service troops, airplanes and warships as part of the pre-invasion buildup in 2003, and SAS troops were part of the first wave of the invasion. It's said the very first firefight with Iraqi troops involved Australian SAS soldiers. Since then, Australia has not suffered a single hostile-fire fatality under Australian command, although one Australian died when a British transport ship was shot down.

Nick Squires of the Christian Science Monitor writes that Rudd is fulfilling a campaign promise and that's why Australia is leaving Iraq. Plus, all of the reasons for going in have turned out to be false, Rudd notes. His comments are quite harsh.

Home front
The Post's Ann Scott Tyson writes that a firing range at Fort Benning, Ga., makes soldiers' recovery from PTSD difficult. Soldiers say their complaints to medical personnel at Fort Benning's Martin Army Community Hospital have gone unresolved. The commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion said he's received no complaints.

Politics, politics, politics...
Michael Cooper of the Times reports that Sen. John McCain is sharpening his rhetoric against Sen. Barack Obama in the presidential race, especially when it comes to Iraq and Iran. This is news?

IN OTHER COVERAGE

NYT
Austin Bogues writes that the parents of Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis of the U.S. Army accepted the Medal of Honor for their son, who was killed when he jumped on a grenade to save his buddies.

Wall Street Journal Gotta love the Journal's op-ed page. Where else will you find so many mouth-frothing war-mongers? Bret Stephens takes his turn at bat, writing there is too a military solution to terrorism and insurgency. The solution is to crush them! Given that Stephens is going against Gen. David H. Petraeus and a large number of generals, colonels, majors, captains and even lieutenants who are, you know, currently fighting a war against an insurgency -- and who almost to a man say politics and economic development, not big guns, is the key component to defeating it -- it's hard to take Stephens seriously.

USA Today
No original Iraq reporting today.

Daily Column
Sadr City wall counterproductive; Call for contracts reveals multi-year plans
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/02/2008 01:39 AM ET
It's a bit of a light day today, and no more McClellan, thank you very much. (It's now become a media story rather than an Iraq story.) But The New York Times has a hefty enterprise piece on U.S. prisons in Iraq while USA Today looks at how the best intentions in Sadr City often backfire.

Over there
Alissa J. Rubin of the Times reports that even as the U.S. has improved its detention system in Iraq, it's still an arbitrary and capricious system that imprisons people on the flimsiest of evidence (or none at all.) Still, it's a lot better than the Iraqi system, former detainees say. “The Americans are better than Ministry of Interior prisons," said Mahmoud Abu Dumour, a former detainee from Fallujah. "They will torture you. Maybe you will die. With the Americans, if you enter Abu Ghraib, they will only wage psychological war on you." Good to know. The "psychological war" is actually part of the plan, and Rubin describes the theory of Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, who runs detainee operations countrywide. He sees the detainee operations as another part of the counter-insurgency campaign being waged in Iraq, with the goal to separate the hard-core jihadis from the civilian population. Perhaps the best part of the article -- which has a welcome thoroughness -- was the blow-by-blow of a review board looking at an individual's case. Definitely the must-read of the day.

The Times's Andrew E. Kramer reports that May 2008 was the least deadly of the entire war, with only 19 American deaths. That's the lowest monthly level since the invasion in 2003. But even as casualties and attacks fall, for both Americans and Iraqis, there was a setback in the negotiations over the state of American forces for 2009, after the U.N. mandate expires. The Iraqi government vowed to reject any deal that violated Iraqi sovereignty. Shi'ite politicians, including those allied with Moqtada al-Sadr oppose a strong U.S. military presence while the Kurds (of course) and some Sunnis favor one, seeing GIs as a bulwark against Shi'ite hegemony. Meanwhile, Australian diggers ended their combat mission in Iraq and began heading home over the next several weeks. Left behind will be two surveillance planes, a ship to patrol oil platforms in the Gulf and troops to protect the embassy.

Charles Levinson of USA Today reports that walled in merchants in Sadr City are going broke instead of flourishing as the U.S. wall-builders had hoped. Imagine that! The Americans had built a three-mile wall around the "good" part of Sadr City, but now merchants complain no customers can get into the prison/enclave. So, the "bad" side enjoys business. Smart. Mr. Bush, tear down this wall.

Washington doings
Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reports that new contract proposals show that the Americans plan to stay in Iraq for a long time. He reports the contracts call for mentors to officials in Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries to a U.S.-marshal-type system to protect Iraqi courts. Also included are calls for more than 100 linguists with secret clearance and contractors to deliver food to Iraqi detainees in a new, U.S.-run prison. These are all, as Pincus notes, multi-year commitments.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Christian Science Monitor
Monica Duffy Toft, a professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, writes that the U.S. must leave Iraq to prevent a wider civil war. It reads like it was written in late 2006 and just now published.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
From Mosul to Basra, tenuous peace holding; Washington Post declares victory
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 06/01/2008 01:34 AM ET
Both the Washington Post and The New York Times turn out a spate of Baghdad-datelined stories, which is a good change from the slow coverage out of Iraq over the recent weeks. The Times has good enterprise on Baghdad's few remaining Jews while the Post looks at the other two major cities of Iraq: Basra and Mosul.

Over there
Stephen Farrell of the Times reports on the few remaining Jews in Baghdad for the paper's front page. In short, their future is bleak, given their numbers have been reduced to either seven or eight in all of Iraq, which is not enough even for the most basic of Jewish rituals. Their stubbornness in staying put, however, remains.

The Times's Andrew E. Kramer reports from Mosul, and says that the tenuous peace that has taken hold in Baghdad and Basra appears to also be stretching north to Mosul, putting all three major Iraqi cities under Army control. Weekly attack numbers are down and the Iraqi Army is increasingly taking a lead role. One of the key reasons for the calm? The Iraqi military and various flavors of militants have decided not to fight. As in Sadr City, militants were allowed to slip out of Mosul after negotiations. This obviously means any gains might be temporary.

Meanwhile, down in Basra, Sudarsan Raghavan reports for the Post that this city is coming back to life after being in the grip of Shi'ite militias. He leads with a scene that has a heavily muscled young man with a Western hairstyle holding the hand of his girlfriend, who is unveiled. This would all be forbidden under the rule of the Shi'ite militias, and even -- to a degree -- under normal Iraqi society, which is pretty conservative. But Basra was always a wilder and more cosmopolitan place than Baghdad, so residents are glad to get back to their swinging ways. But the root causes of the four-year Islamist rule -- warring militias -- are still there, making the peace possibly temporary. (Hey, just like Mosul. Notice a pattern?)

And Ernesto Londoño of the Post rounds out the Iraq tour by taking a look at Sadr City. There, the U.S. mission has moved from war fighting to rebuilding. Restoring order there is the biggest priority for the U.S. military in Baghdad, said Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad. But the Shi'ite enclave remains volatile and its people are subject to the whims of Moqtada al-Sadr.

Jonathan Finer and Jennifer Rikoski report from Damascus that many Iraqis are stuck in Syria with no way to go home. Finer, a former Post correspondent in Iraq, is now at Yale Law School, while Rikoski is a lawyer at Ropes & Gray LLP, representing asylum-seekers and refugees pro bono. Some refugees are former interpreters who will be killed if they go back to Iraq. But they're running out of money and they have no way to pay rent. It's a hard-hitting cry of rage about the treatment Iraqi refugees have suffered because of the inaction of the Americans on this issue. It also blows away the idea that Iraqis are returning home because of improved conditions. Most return home because they can't afford Syria or Jordan anymore, regardless of the dangers they face in Iraq.

Military matters
The Post's Tom Ricks reports that attacks on military convoys have dropped to 1 in 100, down from 1 in 5 in January 2007.

The DoD's inspector general needs more staff and money to monitor the spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, reports Walter Pincus of the Post. The office is seeking $25 million more than the Bush administration has requested for next year's budget. This while the Pentagon's budget went from more than $400 billion in fiscal 2001 to more than $600 billion in fiscal 2007. The inspector general is asking for a 25 percent increase in staff from 1,500 to 1,900 in 2013.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Jeeze, enough with the McClellan story, already. Frank Rich now takes a whack at it, noting that it resonates so deeply with the country (or at least the country's major media) because Americans don't like being lied to. And the press sure doesn't like being lied to by a press secretary who then comes clean. Rich spins a long column out of the fact that the Iraq war is an millstone around the GOP's collective neck, and McClellan's book likely won't help Sen. John McCain. Except the election is still five months off and Americans have short memories.

Washington Post
Jonathan Yardley reviews McClellan's book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."

The Post editorial board has a "we're winning!" editorial today.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today and Wall Street Journal
No Sunday editions.

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