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Daily Column
Badgering Basra; No Buddy Movie for Bush and Brown; Iran criticizes arms sales
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/31/2007 01:54 AM ET
Everyone has some Iraq news today, but it's an uneven selection. The Washington Post fronts another Walter Reed story that probably didn't need to be fronted, and The New York Times reports on badgers in Basra. Stories not on the front page but should be include a report from Oxfam that Iraqis are facing a humanitarian crisis that is the fastest growing in the world. Oh, and the Brown-Bush summit gets the post-game treatment.

Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq
A third of Iraqis need emergency medical care, reports Megan Greenwell for the Post. A consortium of relief organizations released a report Monday saying Iraqis' living conditions have declined markedly since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, with 70 percent of the people lacking adequate water supplies, and more than 4 million people displaced. "Basic indicators of humanitarian need in Iraq show that the slide into poverty and deprivation since the coalition forces entered the country in 2003 has been dramatic, and a deep trauma for the Iraqi people," the report stated. And once again, the CPA comes in for the most criticism. It "did not adequately take into account emergency needs that would arise from deteriorating security over time." This is in direct contradiction of statements from the United States and its allies, who have often touted the improvements to Iraqis' lives, including, two weeks ago, the claim that the U.S. and the Iraqi government had "all but stopped" sectarian displacement. Greenwell continues her roundup with grim news of returning violence on Monday. A car bomb killed six people in Bab al-Shorji; 15 bodies were found in Baghdad; three U.S. troops were killed in Anbar; and the parliament started its month-long August recess.

Damien Cave handles the Oxfam report for the Times, noting that "it provides one of the most comprehensive pictures to date of the human crisis within Iraq and what it describes as a slow-motion response from Iraq’s government, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union." In addition to the 70 percent of the country that lacks adequate water supplies -- up from 50 percent in 2003 -- 90 percent of the country's hospitals lack basic medical and surgical supplies. And 43 percent of Iraqis are living in "absolute poverty," which is less than $1 a day. The report calls for more money and better policy from the Iraqi government. Medical and other aid supplies, which are kept in seven Baghdad warehouses, should be distributed to the provinces and locally administered. (The central government is too inefficient, the report says.) And because aid agencies wont accept money from countries involved in the war -- cutting out the potentially biggest donor -- the report called on non-involved nations to step up aid giving.

Enterprise Stories
Steve Vogel tackles the Post's latest story on Water Reed, the strange clash of cultures generated by placing combat veterans at the hospital in order to ease the transition of wounded troops coming back from Iraq. But some of the combat vets are having trouble adjusting to Walter Reed's civilian atmosphere, Vogel writes, with tough emails that wouldn't raise an eyebrow at Fort Hood being met with complaints from worried mothers. That said, the new approach puts more "boots on the ground" at the hospital so patients get more individual care than before, and having a kind of "battle buddy" makes them feel like they're a soldier. "That's one good thing the Army did, bringing in combat vets," said Staff Sgt. John Guna, 38. "You can say, 'Where'd you get blown up at?' And they'll tell you and you can say, 'Oh, I got hit there myself.' " The story could be a little clearer on what life is like for the outpatient soldiers and the Warrior Transition Brigade. Walter Reed has formations every morning? For wounded vets? It may be obvious to military types, but for civilians reading the story, some of the details will be surprising and a little incomprehensible. And what's the point of the Warrior Transition Brigade? To keep the outpatient vets in a battle-ready mentality so they can return to Iraq or to ease their transition to civilian life after discharge? Again, unclear.

The Times' Stephen Farrell wins for the most bizarre conspiracy theory to come along in a while. The rumor mill in Basra has it the British Army, in a fit of spite, has released a number of strange and dangerous critters into the local area. The alleged beasts include cattle-eating badgers, snake eggs and rabies-infected bomb-sniffing dogs. As Farrell notes dryly: "All three stories have been manufactured by Iraq’s tireless rumor mill, the only machine in the country seemingly capable of functioning day and night without need of electricity or generators." The Iranians have also accused Western intelligence agencies of using, well, "spy squirrels" for lack of a better term. The badger story has at least a basis in fact. It was native to the southern marshlands, but disappeared when Saddam Hussein began destroying the habitat there. Now that the wetlands are returning, so is the badger, freaking young people out. (Old timers are familiar with it.) However, no one can remember the old badgers attacking cattle and children, as the stories attest. The British, with a straight face, deny any badger-related mischief on their part. "Of course we categorically deny that we have released badgers into Basra," said Maj. Mike Shearer, a military spokesman.

Brown-Bush Summit
The Post and the Times focus on the personal relationship between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Gordon Brown that didn't develop much at Camp David. "The two leaders showed none of the warmth and coziness that Mr. Bush had shared with Mr. Brown’s predecessor," reports Jim Rutenberg of the Times. "Brown, a low-key Scotsman who succeeded Tony Blair as prime minister last month, appeared less effusive than Bush -- perhaps mindful of the political perils at home of seeming too close to the American president," echoed the Post's Michael Abramowitz. Both stories do touch on the common goal of the two leaders, however -- combating terrorism -- but note that Brown pointedly never used the phrase "war on terror" and even called Afghanistan "the front line against terrorism" instead of Iraq, as Bush is wont to do. The Times piece noted that Brown affirmed Britain's commitment to Iraq, pleasing his American hosts.

The Post's Dana Milbank gets all breathless over the lack of obvious chemistry between the two men, writing one of his trademark observational pieces. He leads with a story told by Brown's political advisor that a White House aide confused the new PM with a former rugby star. The White House denies this, saying the aide knew there are two Gordon Browns. It's Milbank's details that make this piece, such as the revelation that Bush and former PM Tony Blair bonded 77 months ago over the newly discovered fact that they both used Colgate toothpaste. This is the glue of international diplomacy? Common dental care?

David Jackson writes a just-the-facts-ma'am piece for USA Today, eschewing most of the non-buddy movie aspects of the summit and instead concentrating on the post-summit press conference.

Political/Diplomatic Developments
Farrell also reports for the Times that Iraq's parliament kicked off its summer vacation yesterday despite calls from Washington to stay in session and save the Republican party's political fortunes -- er, solve Iraq's problems, rather. Parliamentarians, in a rare show of unity, said they would take off until Sept. 4, and they had already cut their scheduled two-month break in half and extended their workweek from three days to a grueling six. This puts a dead stop on the progress that wasn't being made on passing a revenue sharing bill for Iraq's oil wealth and reconciling with Ba'ath party members. These two big pieces of legislation haven't even been sent to debate yet, so a lawmaker from the Shi'ite-led coalition said there was no reason to stay in session because there was nothing to vote on. "All the work on the laws is up to the political blocs, and that means all the negotiations and debates take place in closed rooms, not in the Parliament," said Shatha al-Mussawi.

The Times' Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper write that the U.S. has admitted that the plan to provide billions of dollars in advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel is to contain Iran. Helping America's friends in the Middle East is paramount the White House says, and the weapons will include "only defensive systems." Why the U.S. felt the need to shout this is a mystery, since it's pretty obvious. Did the Iranians not get the message the first time when the package? Congress certainly didn't. The White House faced hostile questions from lawmakers during closed briefings as to why the U.S. thinks new weapons would deter Iran. Ah. There's the reason for trumpeting the Iran threat on these sales. Isn't it possible the U.S. is playing up the Persian peril to lawmakers to put public pressure on them? Public pressure to allow weapons sales that will keep defense contractors (who donate to the Republican party a lot) happy? Nah. The sales are also designed to reward Egypt and Saudi Arabia for supporting the Shi'ite-led government in Iraq, although it looks like America's Arab friends are driving a hard bargain. Egypt's package includes the advanced AIM-9X missile, used on jet fighters for aerial combat. In the past, Israel has successfully lobbied not to sell such missiles to Arab states out of fear that the balance of power might shift.

Robin Wright writes for the Post that Iran is upset over the combined $20 billion package to Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf countries and $43 billion to Israel and Egypt over 10 years. America "is creating fear and concerns in the countries of the region and trying to harm the good relations between these countries," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini. The U.S., not surprisingly, blew off Iran's concerns and countercharged that it was Iran that was meddling. "There isn't a doubt that Iran constitutes the single most important single-country strategic challenge to the United States and to the kind of the Middle East that we want to see," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice en route to Egypt with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Rice denied there was any quid pro quo in the package, saying "We are working with these states to fight back extremism." Back in Washington, undersecretary of state for political affairs R. Nicholas Burns didn't get the memo, however, saying, "We would want our friends in the region to be supportive not only of what the United States is doing in Iraq, but of the Iraqi government itself." In a bit of scoop, Wright writes that the $20 billion is just the U.S. starting offer; it could go up.


Christian Science Monitor
Gordon Lubold picks up on Saturday's story about how the Iraqis are refusing to take control of most reconstruction projects. It's a nice roundup, but doesn't really add anything new. IraqSlogger has a story here.

USA Today
Jim Michaels reports that Coalition forces have found more insurgent weapons caches in the first half of 2007 than the entirety of 2006, reflecting the new strategy of getting the troops out into the neighborhoods where they receive tips from civilians.

Wall Street Journal
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of the Middle East Quarterly, weighs in on the Journals' op-ed page, saying the Bush administration has squandered American prestige and upset our allies -- but not because of the Iraq war. It's because the administration has "sacrificed long-term credibility for short-term calm." Uh, what? Where is the calm? Rubin's piece is an excellent exercise in misdirection and the dangerous idealism that got the U.S. into the mess it's in. For example, he blames the low standing in the U.S. in Turkey for the failure to go after the PKK. Au contraire! The Turks were so opposed the Iraq war and the use of Turkish territory that Ankara didn't allow the 4th Infantry Division through. Like many people around the world, they're not pissed at the U.S. because the country hasn't taken down a few Kurds; they're upset because it went into Iraq pell-mell.

Washington Post
Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan is set to become the first Army officer to face court-martial over the Abu Ghraib alleged torture case next month, even though he doesn't appear in any of the notorious pictures and more than half a dozen interrogators said he had nothing to do with the questioning that went on at the prison, reports Josh White. He said he was being made a scapegoat because as a reserve officer, he is "expendable." Since January 2004, he has suffered stress-related brain lesions, a divorce and is in counseling for PTSD. A staff sergeant who conducted about 100 interrogations at Abu Ghraib said Jordan was not involved in the authorization chain of command and his name doesn't appear on any of the dozens of signed interrogations requests the Post acquired. The Army is "sacrificing him on the altar of public opinion while slowly letting everyone else fade out of view," said Staff Sgt. Mark Day.

Chief of Iraqi Central Bank Says Sector Advances Despite Security Hurdles
07/30/2007 4:15 PM ET
Iraq's banking and finance sector has made clear advancements, despite the hurdles the security situation erects, according to the chief of the Iraqi Central Bank, Dr. Sinan Al-Shabibi.

Asharq Al-Awsat talked to Shabibi about the national budget, inflation, and Iraq's efforts to reduce the national debt in the interview excerpted below.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Iraqi Government has allocated for this year a budget of 41 billion dollars. In addition to this budget, there are 21 billion dollars of currency reserves. After more than six months, it seems that the government expenditure is invisible, as the public services sector still suffers from huge paralysis, especially in the fields of electricity and water. How do you explain the large volume of the budget, and the lack of expenditure on public services?

(Al-Shabibi) This question has many aspects. Certainly the budget is ambitious, and when the government ratified this huge budget it intended to implement well the expenditure of this budget. Also I consider that the Finance Ministry is very careful in monitoring the implementation of the expenditure on the projects in coordination with the Planning Ministry. It seems clear that there are stumbling blocks facing the implementation because of the security situation, which contributes to the hindering of conveying the intermediary goods at the right time for the implementation of the public services projects. Sometimes there are other reasons stemming from the estimates of prices, which are always liable to change. It seems that many times the implementation does not take place in the way we were hoping for as a result of outside factors, which we call in the language of economics "outside shocks." As a result of our discussions with the government, we consider that there is commitment to the implementation of a major part of the budget expenditure, despite the security conditions and the outside factors that stem from turning the Iraqi economy into an open economy.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is the rate of inflation now in Iraq?

(Al-Shabibi) The rate of inflation now in Iraq is around 41 percent as a whole. We in the Central Bank are interested in the basic inflation, which is not linked to the temporary crises, such as the fuel crisis, the transportation crisis, and other temporary ones, because such crises change because of external circumstances. On the other hand, the basic inflation is linked to the prices of foodstuffs, furniture, and basic goods. The rate of the basic inflation now is about 19 percent, and we hope to bring it down to 8percent.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the rate of exchange, and the value of the domestic currency, the Iraqi dinar? Has its value leaped forward?

(Al-Shabibi) In fact there is no leap forward in the value of the domestic currency. We are keen to monitor any changes in the value of the currency. In the Central Bank was are keen to make any changes bearable, and not to have strong fluctuations as it used to happen during the previous era when the value of the currency used to change from 1,500 dinars to the dollar to 3,000 dinars to the dollar within a few days. In fact we have been keen to have stability in the rate of exchange, and according to all the international financial institutions we have succeeded in achieving this. The domestic currency has not witnessed any major fluctuations in the exchange rate since 2003. We are committed to this policy, and now we have good reserves to prevent the occurrence of such fluctuations.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Iraqi Government has been trying, and is still trying to cancel the foreign debts that Iraq owes. What have you reached in this pursuit?

(Al-Shabibi) We have reached good agreements with a number of countries to cancel or reduce the debts. The fact, as you know, is that Iraqis one of the major indebted countries in the world. The volume of the Iraqi debts was some 120 billion dollars, in addition to the accrued interest, because Iraq could not pay back anything. We have dealt with this problem by going to the Paris Club, and we were granted a reduction of 80 percent of these debts. Now the criterion of canceling 80 percent is applied to the debts that Iraq owes; this is what has been agreed by the Paris Club member-governments. We hope that the same criterion will be applied to the other countries which are not members of the Paris Club. What we are doing now is negotiating with these countries in order to reduce the debts by 80 percent; the agreement with the Paris Club is the basis we follow in negotiating with the other countries. This applies even to the private companies; approximately 70 billion dollars have been cancelled from the debts owed by Iraq. The rest of these debts are debts to the Arab countries, specifically the Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia has agreed to reduce the debts owed to it be 80 percent. The other countries are showing amicable stances, and we hope to reach agreement with each of them through bilateral dialogue and negotiation. If we reach agreements with the other Arab countries, we will be able to cancel 100 billion dollars of the debts.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Has there been any development in the banking sector during the past three years?

(Al-Shabibi) We can say that the banking sector now is proceeding well. The private sector constitutes the majority of the banking sector despite its few and small deposits. There are principal banks, such as the Al-Rashid Bank and the Al-Rafidayn Bank that need development and restructuring, despite the fact that they are leading banks. Now, we are working to develop and restructure them financially and administratively in order to make them open up to the world, to follow the competition laws, and to operate according to the market methods. This issue is definitely linked to the security and political situation. Please do not forget that many of the government banks, despite the fact that they are leading banks, are burdened with many commitments in which the previous regime involved them. These banks also need to get rid of these commitments in order to develop their operations and perform their duties in a good way. For instance, the Al-Rafidayn Bank suffers from crises because of its many debts; it is capable of entering the world markets, but first it has to get rid of its previous commitments and of the debts that stem from them. I believe that the financial and banking sector, with the help of the international institutions, is one of the sectors that indeed has achieved real development despite the circumstances in which Iraq lives.

Daily Column
Myriad of Motives for Contractors; What is "Enduring"?; Brown-Bush Meeting
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/30/2007 01:54 AM ET
Today's coverage is primarily one of an aching need to bask in one of the few good news stories to come out of Iraq in years: the victory of the Iraqi national team, 1-0, over Saudi Arabia in the Asia Cup. Man, these guys really deserved a win and the jubilation of the Iraqis seeps out of the papers' coverage. In other must-reads, the Washington Post continues its series on contractors in Iraq while The New York Times scores an enterprise piece on how justice is done in Baghdad.

A myriad of motives drive men to volunteer as contractors in Iraq, and it's not all just about the money, writes Steve Fainaru, as he continues his series on contractors in Iraq for the Post with another front-pager on the four abducted American employees of Crescent Security Group. Fainaru was lucky to have spoken with the four men before their Nov. 16, 2006 snatch on the road from Kuwait to Tallil Air Base, and the men's comments are poignant and revealing. "It's kind of like being part of history," said Jonathan Cote, 24, one of the abducted men. "People are gonna be like, 'Oh, man, remember the war? Where were you?' I was here. I was here." Today's story is much less about how Crescent screwed up its security procedures, which was yesterday's read, and more about the motivations and dreams of the men involved. Yesterday's story lacked a larger perspective as to whether Crescent was a typical private security firm operation in Iraq or an outlier. Today's piece also lacks a larger context, but that's to the better since getting into the nitty-gritty of the men's lives in Kuwait and on the dusty roads of Iraq is key on this one. Each of the men interviewed saw the job with Crescent as a search for meaning in their lives, for excitement, camaraderie. For finding the discipline of the military life each of them had left behind and largely still missed. To describe these men as simple mercenaries doesn't do them justice.

Michael R. Gordon takes a look at what could be called "Justice Behind Bars" for the Times because that's how the new legal Green Zone works: from behind barricaded walls that make it a prison for its inmates and the judges and their families. The Rule of Law Complex in Rasafa in Baghdad provides heavily fortified housing for witnesses, judges, their families as well as a jail for some of Iraq's most dangerous suspects. And while the court has tried its first high-profile defendant, it's true use will depend on the ability to expand the program and dispense justice fairly between Shi'ites and Sunnis. Already, that's looking a little tenuous. One Iraqi investigator at the complex was himself investigated by the Interior Ministry when he expressed his intention to marry a Sunni woman. But there are hopeful signs. Four defendants were acquitted of murder and rape on the grounds that their confessions had been tortured out of them. But the impartiality will be tested when a Shi'ite national policeman comes to trial on charges of assaulting and torturing dozens of Sunni captives for a Shi'ite militia.

Walter Pincus gets no respect. He routinely breaks important stories for the Post on the inside workings of the national security bureaucracy and he gets stuffed inside on page A13. Case in point: His examination of the budgets for the non-permanent, "enduring" (whatever that means) construction of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week, the House passed a bill barring permanent bases in Iraq, but his budget sifting raises a lot of questions. The DoD got $1.7 billion for military construction in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007, but the Congressional Research Service can offer no details on how the money is being spent. The Army has asked for $738.8 million for fiscal 2008 for 33 "critical construction projects" in Iraq and Afghanistan, including airfield, roads, fuel handling and storage units. Other reports show $2 billion approved for Iraq and Afghanistan military construction for FY2004-2006, but no details. And most, er, concretely, Balad Air Base and its accompanying Camp Anaconda, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, is almost 16 square miles in size and sounded by another 12 miles of security perimeter. Two runways run over 11,000 feet in length, and one was reinforced recently for five to seven years more hard use. More than $200 million was spent on Balad and Anaconda two years ago. But much has gone on since. So Pincus raises the obvious question: How much is all this costing U.S. taxpayers and what is and what isn't "permanent" or "enduring"?

Megan Greenwell gets her game face on and writes movingly for the Post about the joy the Iraqis felt when Younis Mahmoud headed the ball into Saudi Arabia's goal to score the winning goal for the "Lions of Mesopotamia" in the Asia Cup final. Iraqis were unified in joy, pride and wonder that their team -- the underdogs for the entire tournament and beset by emotional and logistical setbacks -- was able to dominate the field against the winningest team in Asia Cup history. Festivities were remarkably -- and mercifully -- violence free, thanks to a security crackdown by Iraqi security forces that prevented a repeat of the deadly car bombs that killed 50 people after the Iraqis beat the South Koreans in the semi-finals. Even in Kurdistan, Kurds and Arabs mixed and celebrated, and Kurds waved small Iraqi flags and cheered "Glorious Baghdad." (That is, until Kurdish police confiscated them because of a law banning the display of any flag except the Kurdish one. White hankies were quickly produced as stand ins.)

The Times' Stephen Farrell and Peter Gelling offer perhaps the most telling leade in the coverage: "The bare statistics will record that in the 71st minute of a soccer tournament 5,000 miles from Iraq, a Kurd from Mosul kicked a ball onto the head of a Sunni from Kirkuk, who ricocheted it into the goal to secure a 1-0 victory for Iraq over Saudi Arabia on Sunday in the final of the 2007 Asian Cup." The duo report on the festivities and the lack of car bombs, but note that four people were killed and scores wounded by the celebratory gunfire -- "happy fire" as it's grimly called. Iraqi security forces also shot dead a suicide car bomber as he headed for a crowd, preventing a massacre. Most Iraqis interviewed seemed to view the soccer team much more favorably than Iraq's politicians. "I wish they would come and take over the Parliament, for they are the ones who really represent us," said Murtada Sabbar, who was waving a handgun in celebration. But the Times coverage notes some cracks in the facade of Iraqi unity already: Shi'ites chanted "Ali is with you!" during the match. Others saw it as a victory for Arab nationalism, what with two Arab countries as the finalists.

Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor weighs in with his report from Baghdad on the Iraqi soccer win. The desire for politicians to learn lessons in unity from the footballers seems universal, but it's unclear how likely that outcome will be. "Iraqis have proven they are one in their emotions, feelings and spontaneous reactions," said Thamer al-Ameri, an independent politician. "But the problem is with ideology and beliefs."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page takes the Iraqi win to praise the Lions as having a country to fight for.

Pretty perfunctory coverage of the Brown-Bush first-date, and it looks like British Prime Minister Gordon Brown isn't going to play even a little hard to get. Iraq was, of course, high on the agenda. Jim Rutenberg and Sarah Lyall of the Times note the White House is emphasizing the PM's statements that he wants to continue to work closely with the United States, even as the British public continues to be dismayed by the war in Iraq. U.S. officials say the two leaders are already having regular video chats.

USA Today's David Jackson writes that Brown's visit comes in the wake of comments from Brown aides suggesting a "cooling of U.S.-British relations." Mark Malloch Brown, the Foreign Office minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, said the two men would no longer be "joined at the hip," an accusation often leveled at former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Wall Street Journal and USA Today come to the Middle East-U.S. military deal story late. (They don't have Sunday editions.) Jay Solomon for the Journal writes that the goal of the $20 billion deal is to "contain and deter" Iran, according to a senior U.S. defense official involved in the program. Analysts however think the Sunni Arab states will take the money and weapons offered, but do little to actually support the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as Washington wants in exchange for the military aid, because they see him as an Iranian stooge.

Barbara Slavin of USA Today writes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will travel to Saudi Arabia this week to push King Abdullah to support the Iraqi government. The weapons deal is to sweeten the pot, although the U.S. is still frustrated with the Saudis. "Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries are not doing all they can to help us in Iraq," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.


New York Times
Michael E. O'Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack contribute an op-ed to the Times saying that despite their skepticism, the military and the surge strategy is making surprising and effective gains in Iraq. Their piece is a startling departure from what most news reports have been saying about the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces and troop morale.

Washington Post
Renae Merle reports that defense contractors continue to rake in the cash because of a boom in military spending by the U.S. government. Although the large, gee-whiz high-tech programs seem to be fading, the size of the contracts will maintain the companies' cash flow for years to come.

Shankar Vedantam, apparently the Post's in-house psychiatrist, looks at President George W. Bush's serene confidence and finds a man engaging in counterfactual thinking, which is the technical term for "denying reality." Vedantam notes that Bush has "run an alternate view of history -- one that imagines Saddam Hussein still in power -- and has come to the conclusion that deposing the Iraqi leader was better." He notes that counterfactual thinking is dangerous because while it may seem reasonable, it can become a way to confirm what we already feel. Well, actually, in the case of the president, the danger seems to be that he'll be spectacularly wrong and get the country into a foreign quagmire.

Daily Column
British drawdown worrying; A new Cold War; Iraq is proud underdog in Asia Cup
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/29/2007 01:53 AM ET
Picking the stories that dominate the Iraq coverage in the Washington Post and The New York Times today was difficult in the Sunday avalanche, but one must-read is the Post's ongoing look at contractors in Iraq. The Times also gets a must-read in on the status of Iraqi training and how it's going. The Post has its usual Sunday op-ed section jam-packed with Iraq commentary and the Times' Book Review section has a couple of notable entries.

Steve Fainaru leads the Post's front page with a hard look at the now-defunct Crescent Security Group, a private firm that hired alcoholics for medics, drivers over the Internet and forged ID cards for Iraqis that they didn't screen, but who were sometimes allowed onto U.S. military bases anyway. Based in Kuwait City, Crescent was formed in 2003 as part of the security company gold rush that happened in the wake of the U.S. invasion. (Today, according to the Private Security Company Association of Iraq, a trade group based in the Green Zone, there are 177 active foreign and Iraqi security companies in Iraq while the Pentagon says there are about 20,000 security contractors, although some estimates are higher.) Fainaru uses the Nov. 16 ambush of a 37-truck convoy to illustrate the cost-cutting and rule-bending of Crescent, shortcuts that resulted in four Americans and an Austrian being taken captive and who have not been heard from since January. Crescent received millions of dollars from the U.S. military to protect convoys that went into risky areas before finally losing the deal because military investigators found alcohol and banned weapons, including rocket launchers and .50-caliber machine guns, in their quarters at Tallil Air Base. As Fainaru reports: "I've worked for a billion companies, and this is the worst I've ever worked for," said Brad Ford, a former Crescent guard who now works in Afghanistan for another security firm. "I couldn't believe how they were getting away with all the stuff they were getting away with." What's missing from Fainaru's excellent piece is the larger story: How common was Crescent's methods in Iraq? Was it the norm or an outlier? That's not really clear.

Stephen Farrell writes the Times' front-page offering: a look at the drawdown of the British forces in southern Iraq and what their experience presages for the Americans and the Iraqi troops that will take over. The bottom line: It doesn't look good. Educated and secular middle-class Iraqis fear that the Iraqi army and police -- especially the police -- are deeply infiltrated by Shi'ite militias and Islamist parties backed by Iran, and they will go on a murderous killing spree when the Brits go. "If they withdraw, we will live in a jungle, like the early days," said Mustapha Wali, 49, a teacher. "The parties control the government, and the aim of officials is to fill their pockets with money, millions of dollars inside their pockets and nothing to the city." Americans are watching the British plans carefully, but the situations in Baghdad and the south are markedly different. One British official said the problem down south is gangsterism not sectarian violence. "And a foreign military is not the right tool for closing down a mafia," he said.

Stephen Farrell, really picking up the pace, writes briefly for the Times that the new American general in charge of training Iraqi troops is finding it difficult to find good Iraqi leaders free of sectarian loyalties. Loyalty to the state rather than their sect is "much harder" to teach than how to fight, said Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik. Also, Iraqi police more than doubled the death toll from Thursday's truck bombing in Karrada, to almost 60 up from 25. Insurgents dressed as women attacked an Iraqi Army checkpoint near Kirkuk, killing three soldiers and wounding one. Kirkuk's governor announced a three-hour curfew before the Asia Cup final match between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, while security all over the country has been stepped up.

The Post's Megan Greenwell leads her roundup with the stepped up soccer security, saying the Iraqi security forces -- with an assist from the Americans -- will set up roadblocks and "dramatically increase their presence" in Baghdad when Iraq takes to the pitch. The plan details will be announced before the match kicks off at 4:35 p.m. Baghdad time. Greenwell notes that Iraq's run in the Asia Cup has united Iraqis normally divided by religion and ethnicity and led to them cramming stores and coffee shops to watch the matches. When Iraq won against South Korea, thousands of jubilant Iraqis took to the streets in celebration -- only to have insurgents blow up car bombs in their midst. The new security measures are designed to prevent that. Iraqi police also plan to prevent people from firing weapons into the air in celebration. (Yeah, good luck with that.) Greenwell notes that a Saturday car bomb killed four and wounded 12 in eastern Baghdad and has the increased death toll from last week's Karrada bombing.

Peter Gelling for the Times takes the sports angle on the Iraqi appearance in the Asia Cup final, noting that Saudi Arabia, which has appeared in five of the last six finals, is a three-time champion while Iraq has never been to the finals and the last semi-final appearance was 31 years ago. His color is sharp: The Iraqis were delayed for three hours in Kuala Lumpur and had to travel coach. The Saudis strolled onto their private jet "accompanied by media representatives, interpreters, doctors and coaches." The Iraq team's Brazilian coach has received death threats. And, most egregiously, when they arrived in Kuala Lumpur for their semi-final match against South Korea, they found their hotel rooms occupied by the Iranian team, which had already been eliminated. The Iraqis, apparently the Rodney Dangerfield of the soccer world, had to wait in the lobby, robbing them of practice time and sleep. And let's not forget the war. Every team member of the "Lions of the Two Rivers" has lost a family member, with the goalie losing his brother-in-law four days before the start of the tournament. A religiously and ethnically mixed team, debates on the team bus get raucous. But the team seems to bear it well. "I am a Shiite; he is a Sunni; and we are best of friends," said defender Haider Abdul Amir, referring to Mahdi Karim, a midfielder who smiled broadly. He added: "We play for Iraq. We are all family on this bus." Go Lions!

The Post's Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman continue their weekly look at four members of Congress conflicted on the war. The moderates seem to be on the upswing with a possible compromise being hammered out while the liberal democrat of the group, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., is getting nervous over softer withdrawal plans from Democratic stalwarts like Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania.

The rest of today's coverage is a mishmash of op-eds, commentary and analysis from several sections of the newspapers.

Frank Rich of the Times should get top billing for today's op-ed, detailing President George W. Bush's efforts to promote Gen. David H. Petraeus to something more than the commander in Iraq. Rich devotes much of his column to taking Petraeus down from the pedestal upon which he's been installed, criticizing him for a false victory in pacifying Mosul, shortcutting the training of Iraqi troops and being clueless about the embezzlement of $1.2 billion in arms procurement money while he was in charge of the Security Transition Command. And he blasts the general for making statements that allow Bush to promote what many call a Pollyannaish view of the war. He even, rather over-the-toppish, calls this reliance on Petraeus as the arbiter of all things Iraq a "de facto military coup." But it's not until the last paragraph that Rich, perhaps despite himself, gets to the meat of the matter. Petraeus is not being lionized by the administration because he's so good; he's being pushed forward because things in Iraq and elsewhere are so bad. As Rich writes: "Should those threats (about a resurgent al Qaeda in Pakistan) become a reality while America continues to be bogged down in Iraq, this much is certain: It will all be the fault of President Petraeus."

The Times' Week in Review has Bill Marsh look at the problems of a troop withdrawal, identifying five questions that must be answered: 1.) How fast can the troops leave? 2.) Can departing soldiers be shielded from attacks? 3.) What to take? What to leave? What to destroy? 4.) How long to repair and ship vital equipment? And finally, 5.) Who stays behind?

David Ignatius, a regular Post op-ed columnist, picks up the torch and says that withdrawal is inevitable because of political constraints -- America has never won a war lasting longer than four years except for the Revolutionary War -- so how the U.S. pulls back is important. As a die-hard Beltway guy, his prescription is for less partisanship and lowered volume in the political arena because that just emboldens Moqtada al-Sadr, Sunni leaders and the Iranians.

All this talk of bipartisanship is troubling for Post op-ed contributor Peter W. Rodman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who served most recently as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. He questions the wisdom of bipartisan plans to provide political cover for Republicans and Bush specifically in order to bring the troops home. If disengagement goes badly, he says, history will record only Bush's name, not the Congressional critics nipping at his heels. Thus, the president probably wants the Democrats to have more ownership of a withdrawal plan, so they face the judgment of the ages, as they do over Vietnam, he writes. "The moment that Congress enacts a law constricting the president's freedom of action in Iraq, it buys a considerable share of responsibility for the war's outcome," he writes. Perhaps, he muses, the Democrats need political cover.

And the Post's Robin Wright notes that a new Cold War has settled over the very hot Middle East. With the removal of the Taliban and, especially, Saddam Hussein, Iran's former buffers and constraints on its power were removed. "With no buffer either east or west, Tehran's influence has naturally grown -- more because of the mistakes of the Americans than any brilliant strategy of the Iranians," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA and National Security Council official who is now at the Brookings Institution. Unlike during the Cold War, the modern conflict between Tehran and Washington doesn't have agreed-upon dividing lines -- mainly because much of the region's population, while not crazy about Iran, is virulently anti-Israel and strongly anti-American. For instance: Washington wants Sunni governments to prop up the Palestinian Authority to counter Hamas. But Sunni governments want to prop up the PA to reconcile with Hamas. Washington wants to geld Hezbollah so that it's not a threat to Israel; a large segment of the Lebanese public -- and not just Shi'ites -- sees it as a legitimate force in the country. But there is one similarity: It's going to take a long time to win this new Cold War.


New York Times
Samantha Power leads the Sunday Book Review section by taking a long look at the several books that deal with winning the war on terror. Perhaps the most jarring book in her list is that from Tala Asad, author of "On Suicide Bombing." Asad argues that the distinction between "evil terrorists" and "us" lies largely in the heads of Westerners. He hopes to "disturb the reader sufficiently" by showing the hypocrisy of rules that allow mass violence against civilians by state actors but calls it "terrorism" when done by non-state actors. She writes that by the end of the book he is disgusted. "It seems to me that there is no moral difference between the horror inflicted by state armies (especially if those armies belong to powerful states that are unaccountable to international law) and the horror inflicted by insurgents."

Jonathan Mahler rounds out the book reviews with his look at "Monstering: Inside America’s Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War" by Tara McKelvey. Her reporting is thorough, but she pumps it with unnecessary hype.

Is Iraq heading for a soft partition with Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., as the next secretary of state to shepherd it? Helene Cooper reports that the partition part is at least getting favorable hearings from people in the United Nations and even some in the White House. "The truth is, we could end up close to the Biden-Gelb proposal," said a senior administration official, referring to the plan that Biden and Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, presented more than a year ago. But Biden, who is running for president, says that despite his low numbers, he is not running for secretary of state. But as Cooper muses at the end of the article: "Coming up with a proposal on American foreign policy? Going up to the United Nations to try to sell it? Trying to get America’s allies on board? If this president thing doesn’t work out, that wouldn’t be bad experience for someone who did want to become secretary of state."

Clark Hoyt, the Times' public editor, runs a series of reader letters in reaction to the Times' clarification on using al Qaeda in Mesopotamia vs. al Qaeda.

An unsigned editorial takes both Washington and Riyadh to task for burying their heads in the sand regarding Saudi Arabia's role in 9/11 and funding Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

Jeff Holtz reports from Norwalk, Conn., about the grumbling by some WWII and Vietnam-era vets over the multiple honors bestowed on Army Spec. Wilfredo Perez Jr., who was killed July 26, 2003 in a grenade attack in Baqoubah. None of the more than 200 veterans from Norwalk who have died since WWII have had so many honors bestowed upon them, said David Cole, 75, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served in World War II and is a member of the Norwalk Veterans Memorial Committee.

Janet Elder notes that polling on Iraq sometimes gives odd results. Support for the initial invasion went up in a July poll when no other Iraq-related questions moved. With the exception of the upward-trending question, they all showed a deep pessimism about the war and Bush. "What was driving the change still wasn’t all that clear, but at least the paper had confidence in the results and was able to report the findings."

Washington Post
Tom Rick's inbox is always interesting. This week's installment looks at information warfare specialists wondering how best to influence overseas opinion using foreign bloggers.

Wall Street Journal
No Sunday edition.

Christian Science Monitor
No Sunday edition.

USA Today
No Sunday edition.

Daily Column
Ice Wars; Iraqis Not Taking Over Reconstruction Projects; Battle in Karbala
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/28/2007 01:53 AM ET
"Scattershot" might be the word to describe the coverage today. There's lots of good stuff, but without a major event the papers tend to go their own ways. Imaginative and good enterprise today, though, with The New York Times looking at the ice industry and the Washington Post running a front-pager on the efforts of the U.S. to recruit Sunnis as local protection forces.

Ann Scott Tyson leads the Post's front page with news that the U.S. military is expanding its efforts to "fund armed Sunni residents as local protection forces." The fighters are being paid by U.S. emergency funds, reward payments and "other monies," indicating the scramble to find money anywhere to pay these guys who are more than just the co-opting of Sunni tribesmen or former insurgents; they're kind of a heavily-armed neighborhood watch. The rush gives the project a feeling of desperation, especially given that it's a departure from the official policy of building formal armies. Gen. David H. Petraeus calls the recruitment of the Sunni fighters one of the most significant developments "of the last four months or so" and he thinks it could lead to reconciliation among Iraq's squabbling religious and ethnic factions. (How that will happen isn't really explained, however.) But it's alarming the Shi'ite-led government, and there's a real risk the government won't incorporate these guys into the armed forces down the road and will instead use the rosters as target lists. One Sunni leader told Col. Ricky D. Gibbs, a commander in Baghdad, that he had 250 names ready to serve and take out members of the Jaysh al-Mahdi or al Qaeda. Gibbs gave him the green light but told him to follow the rules and no vengeance killings. "But the bad guys," he said. "I don't care. Go get them."

One question not really answered by Tyson's important story is if this initiative is in response to the boot-dragging by the Iraqi government in providing its share of troops for the security of Baghdad. Sure sounds like it.

But aside from that, this plan sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. The U.S. says it will train the local groups in proper rules of engagement and to capture people, not kill them, but the training of the Iraqi police hasn't gone so well, what with the allegations of brutality, torture and death squads. There are also no written orders from the Iraqi ministries of Defense or Interior, so the Iraqi Army and Police are going to have to determine which Sunnis are "Friendly" and which are al Qaeda. As Lt. Col. George A. Glaze, commander of 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, who oversees the Sadiyah neighborhood where the 250 Sunnis volunteered, said: "I see the firefight on the street corner" between Iraqi police and local forces, "and I have to pick a side?" As one officer fears, the U.S. is creating "little Iraqi Blackwaters" to guard neighborhoods, and who will never be on the payroll of the Iraqi government and might even be actively targeted by the cops.

The Times' James Glanz reports the extraordinary news that the Iraqi government is refusing to take possession of thousands of American-funded reconstruction projects. This means the U.S. is forced to turn them over to local Iraqis, who usually don't have the proper training to run them or the tools and equipment to maintain them. The bottleneck seems to be Finance Minister Bayan Jabr, who has been a center of controversy. Once he came to office transfers ceased. (Connected with the Badr Organization, he was also in charge of the Interior Ministry during its initial infiltration by militias and rampaging death squads.) Up to $5.8 billion in American taxpayer money is involved, but that's just a portion of the $21 billion spent on projects that will be completed by the end of the year. Most of the projects, because they're not being maintained by the Iraqi government, are crumbling and a complete waste of money.

Stephen Farrell of the Times thinks outside the icebox with a fascinating piece on the politics of ice in Baghdad. Thanks to a lack of electricity, ice and ice factories are some of the few sources of cooling relief during the Baghdad summer, but even they aren't immune from the security situation. In Jaysh al-Mahdi areas, the militia has put a cap of 4000 dinars on ice blocks, earning favor with the poor but angering the suppliers and merchants. In some Sunni areas, takfiris -- hard-core Islamists -- have forbidden ice entirely, saying the Prophet Muhammad didn't have ice so neither shall modern Iraqis. To make the ice, chemicals, water and drivers have to pass through myriad checkpoints and invisible sectarian barriers, so ice shacks are springing up everywhere, regardless of the quality of the water. One neighborhood has several making ice from sewage-tainted water, giving the ice an unhealthy yellow sheen. The use of ice for a major coolant is galling to many Iraqis who, under Saddam, prided their country as one of the most advanced in the region with access to electronics and refrigeration. But now, they're reverting to 19th century technology.

Stephen Farrell also writes the Times' roundup, focusing on a fierce battle in Karbala between American Special Forces, Iraqi troops and Mahdi militiamen. Fighting was so tough that the U.S. called in helicopter air strikes. The Americans say they captured a "rogue" member of the Mahdi Army and killed 17 militants. Iraqi hospital officials say they killed nine civilians and wounded 26 others. The U.S. military denies any civilians were killed. Mahdi Army fighters also clashed with Iraqi security forces at the Al Hussein General Hospital when they came to claim wounded comrades and to keep them from being arrested by the Americans. Farther north, in the Diyala Province, "allied troops" said they captured four members of an arms-smuggling cell. Iraqi police found seven bodies in Baghdad on Friday, a drop in the body count. American troops also found a baby girl found in a garbage bin, her mother and uncle killed by insurgents. She was evacuated to a military hospital for treatment and two of her siblings were found and placed with another uncle.

The Post's roundup is handled by Megan Greenwell and Saad al-Izzi, who lead with news that an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a little put out with the Sunni bloc's conditions for staying in the government. Ali al-Dabbagh, in a four-page statement, dismissed each of the 11 demands of the Iraqi Accordance Front and accused the Front of working for its own political gains rather than for the Iraqi people. Well, duh. Still, the blunt dismissal of the demands indicates the Sunni bloc is unlikely to get much of what it wants, putting the Shi'ites and the Sunnis in the government in a standoff. Should the Sunnis pull out, or even if the status quo continues, little will be accomplished before Parliament's August recess. This will be seen as a major setback when the Americans turn in their homework to Congress on Sept. 15. There are some signs that the rules of the bazaar are at play here. "They are upset, and we understand that, but we will be patient until they respond in a reasonable way," said Saleem Abdullah, a parliament member from the Front who said Dabbagh's statement was an "immediate reaction" that had not been thought out. Greenwell also mentions the battle in Karbala briefly and notes that a U.S. soldier was killed Thursday when a roadside bomb blew up next to his vehicle in Diyala Province.


New York Times
The saga of the "Baghdad Diarist" continues. Patricia Cohen writes that the unmasking of the epistolist as Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a member of Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team of the First Infantry Division, has done little to quiet critics from the right side of the blogosphere, with Michael Goldfarb, the online editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, remaining skeptical. Beauchamp's revelation "is indicative of nothing," he said. "None of the questions we put to The New Republic has been answered to our satisfaction."

On the eve of the first visit by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to Washington, a high-level parliamentary committee published a report criticizing (or "criticising," as they say 'cross the pond) the Bush administration's rendition practices, report Raymond Bonner and Jane Perlez. In typically understated British fashion, the report said rendition caused "some ethical dilemmas" for the British. "We have a better recognition that their standards, their approaches, are different, and therefore we still have to work with them, but we work with them in a rather different fashion," an official of one of the security services told the committee in March. Somewhat surprisingly, the report said the British pulled out of some covert operations with the CIA, including a big one in 2005, because it was unable to get assurances that the operation wouldn't result in rendition and inhumane treatment.

Washington Post
Alec Klein reports that two British firms are finalists for the largest security contract in Iraq. Aegis Defence Services and ArmorGroup International are top contenders for a contract worth up to $475 million to provide intelligence to the U.S. Army and security for the Army Corps of Engineers. Aegis was the initial awardee in 2004. Control Risks of Britain, Erinys Iraq and Blackwater are all, apparently, out of the running, disappointing conspiracy theorists the world over. But if Aegis gets the contract, international enfant terrible Tim Spicer, CEO of Aegis, will provide plenty of fodder for Web pages. He's been at the center of several controversies involving private military companies.

David Finkel had a front-pager yesterday that didn't make US Media's deadline, which is a shame because it's a great read on how rules can get thrown out the window in favor of humanity, even in wartime. An Iraqi interpreter for the Americans in Baghdad was in the area of the car bomb that exploded in Karada Thursday, killing at least 25 people and wounding at least 110. One of his daughters was injured in the blast, with a deep shard of glass embedded in her skull. But the rules allow Iraqis to get care from American medical facilities only if American bombs injure them. But the interpreter, Izzy, had a daughter born in New York, making her an American. She was eligible. The problem was the flaky cell phone network in Iraq kept cutting out, preventing the executive officer of 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division from determining which daughter was injured. Stories like this deserve front-page play and we don't get enough of them from Iraq anymore.

Wall Street Journal
Peter Wehner, deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House's Office of Strategic Initiatives, writes an op-ed for the Journal saying the war is going well and that Gen. Petraeus David Petraeus needs more time than September. (Even though the White House was OK with September as the evaluation time at the beginning of the surge.)

Christian Science Monitor
No weekend edition.

USA Today
No weekend edition.

Daily Column
Abused workers at embassy; Gates reassures Clinton; Frustration with the Saudis
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/27/2007 01:51 AM ET
Coverage is all over the map today, with no one theme dominating, and all the papers go with some enterprise reporting. But politics, both of the Washington and the Baghdad kind, do seem to pop up quite a bit.

But today's must-read is a scoop by The New York Times on the growing American frustration with the Saudis over Iraq. Helene Cooper writes that during a January meeting between Saudi security officials and former Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, the Saudis presented documents that purported to show that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could not be trusted. Khalilzad said the documents must be forgeries, and now White House officials are increasingly voicing anger toward the Saudis' role in Iraq. They accuse the Saudis of not only calling Maliki an Iranian agent, but also providing money to Sunni groups and providing half of all foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month. That the Bush White House -- which has famously close ties to the Saudi royal family -- is getting fed up with the Saudis is significant. As Cooper writes:

Officials in Washington have long resisted blaming Saudi Arabia for the chaos and sectarian strife in Iraq, choosing instead to pin blame on Iran and Syria. Even now, military officials rarely talk publicly about the role of Saudi fighters among the insurgents in Iraq.

Kudos to Cooper for recognizing why the Bushies agreed to talk to her: to send a message to the Saudis prior to a joint trip there by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Saudi Arabia has made no secret, however, of its support for groups inimical to the Maliki government, and even warned Vice President Dick Cheney that the kingdom would provide financial backing to Iraq's Sunnis in the event of a war with Shi'ites if the U.S. pulled out. This is all being driven by the Saudis' fear of an Iran on the march, with Iraq as its next foothold to gaining control of the head of the Gulf.

The New York Times and the Washington Post both look at yesterday's car bomb that killed 25 people.

The Times' Stephen Farrell seems to take grim pleasure in contrasting the days' mayhem to the happy-talk from the U.S. military. A car bomb that killed 25 and wounded dozens in Karada came, he notes, just hours after Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the second-ranked American commander in Iraq, said there had been significant progress in the security situation in Baghdad and Diyala province. He also blamed Iran for the increased accuracy of the attacks on the Green Zone and said American casualties had declined recently after a peak in May. Farrell follows the general's statement with the news of five more American deaths in Diyala and Baghdad. In Kirkuk, a car bomb exploded near a restaurant, killing at least six and wounding 25. A suicide bomber struck in Mosul, killing seven people, mostly policemen. And in an apparent warning against happiness, bombers attacked Mosul's main soccer stadium. No one was hurt, but a room used by journalists and officials was damaged.

Megan Greenwell, of the Post, also leads her roundup with the Karada bombing, but she gets a little more specific. She said at least 25 were killed and 110 injured. She also adds some history: Long considered a safe place in Baghdad, more than 50 have been killed in seven car bombs this month. There was no significant violence in the neighborhood in June. She also paints a nice little picture of the neighborhood. Odierno makes an appearance, saying the same things he does in Farrell's story, but Greenwell also has a roadside bomb killing five police officers between Hilla and Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad.

USA Today's Thomas Franks devotes an entire story to Odierno's comments on the decline of deaths among U.S. troops. The general said the decline is what the military expected as it took control of areas formerly held by insurgents. July is tracking to return to the pre-April levels of fatalities, of about 70-80 troops every month. One of the reasons for the decline is that more Iraqis are informing on militant activity.

William Branigin writes for the Post on the revelations yesterday by two civilian contractors that foreign workers were lured to Iraq to work on the new U.S. embassy and routinely abused. The company under investigation, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., is being looked at by the Justice Department for allegedly bringing foreign workers to Iraq under false pretenses and then confiscating their passports so they can't leave. The two contractors testified that working conditions were "deplorable" and without basic needs, such as shoes and gloves. They were paid as little as $240 a month. First Kuwaiti has denied the allegations, but declined to send anyone to testify or provide officials to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor has a good, meaty story on the political crisis seizing the Iraqi government, calling it the worst since the fall of Saddam Hussein. It doesn't really break any news, but does provide a much-needed overview of the disorder, division and distrust that mark the Iraqi government. As Dagher writes: "They are making us regret we ever voted for them ... they should learn something about unity from our soccer team," said an anonymous caller on a state television program on Wednesday after Iraq's victory over South Korea in the Asian Cup semifinals.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Republicans and Democrats -- and Democrats and Democrats -- were locked in their own caged death match.

President George W. Bush is accusing Democrats of fiscal irresponsibility by "dragging their feet" on the Defense appropriation bill, which has been bogged down in the Iraq debate, reports Michael Fletcher for the Post. There's a lot of bluster from Bush in this piece and the Democrats don't get a chance to respond until the very end. And Fletcher doesn't provide one key bit of context. The reason the Defense bill has been bogged down is because Republicans threatened a filibuster on it if it contained any language on Iraq they didn't like. Would have been nice to have that in there.

Katharine Q. Seelye and Michael Falcone for Times go on a tear about he dust-up between Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill. It's not very Iraq focused, but the paid do get to the good stuff in the second half of the story. Here they get into the thickets of Clinton's current spat with the Defense Department, specifically Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman. He said, following her queries about plans for troop withdrawals, that talk of such plans "emboldened the enemy." Now, Gates is trying to play peacemaker between the two. Why should he bother? Because Gates' surrogate pissed off a powerful member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has control of the Pentagon's budget. Oops.

The Post's Thomas Ricks and Karen DeYoung devote an entire story to the Gates-Clinton kerfuffle, expanding on it a bit. Gates is personally engaged in contingency planning for a troop drawdown, he told the senator, and "I would pleased to work with you and the Senate Armed Services Committee to establish a process to keep you apprised of the conceptual thinking, factors, considerations, questions and objectives associated with drawdown planning." A Clinton spokesman said it would take nearly two years to withdraw the 20 U.S. brigades in Iraq, and the planning needs to be done now before the order is given. Senior military officials in Baghdad merely said it was "premature" to be looking past the surge, which is expected to end in April when no more fresh troops are available.


New York Times
Hassan M. Fattah goes to Amman, Jordan, to attend a meeting between delegates and diplomats as they seek to hammer out a solution to the massive Iraqi refugee crisis swamping mainly Jordan and Syria. But the meeting apparently mostly just highlighted the differences between the host countries -- who mostly want more aid to deal with the Iraqis -- and Iraq and donor states -- who want to a long-term solution. An Iraqi delegate said meeting wasn't successful, only an "exhibition of the problems we face." About 750,000 Iraqis now live in Jordan and 1.5 million live in Syria, growing poorer and more desperate by the day.

A.O. Scott reviews "No End in Sight," the new documentary from Charles Ferguson. (Full disclosure: I'm apparently in the film and former IraqSlogger contributor Nir Rosen did some filming for it.)

USA Today
Gregg Zoroya writes on the questions surrounding the awarding of a posthumous Silver Star for Jonathon Millican, 20, who died in January in Karbala, Iraq. Initial accounts had him throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades, but now some are saying he was shot and fell, dead, on it. What are missing from this story is when the attack occurred and what the circumstances are. It sounds like the attack on an Army position in Karbala in which several American soldiers were killed and captured, but it's not spelled out and it's unclear.

An un-bylined piece looks at U.S. grants to Iraqi small businessmen who need cash to get their enterprises going.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today

Daily Column
Vets' health care overhaul; Sunni bloc threatens walkout; House nixes Iraq bases
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/26/2007 01:53 AM ET
The presidential panel's report recommending an overhaul on the care of wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan is the big news of the day, followed closely some welcome bit of joy in Iraq: the victory of the country's soccer team in the Asia Cup. There's also a fair bit of goings-on in Washington and a couple of decent enterprise stories from The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor.

Steve Vogel of the Washington Post gets front-page treatment for his story on the commission's report. The panel, led by former Sen. Robert J. Dole, R-Kan., and former Health and Human Services secretary Donna E. Shalala, issued six broad recommendations for the military health care and veterans' assistance systems. Some of the suggestions include creating "recovery coordinators" who would guide seriously injured service members through care, rehabilitation and disability; granting the Department of Veterans Affairs sole responsibility for determining payments to wounded vets; and aggressive steps to prevent and treat PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. President Bush has apparently reacted favorably to the panel's recommendations. The panel, the Post points out, was created in March after the paper ran stories on the problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Jim Rutenberg and David S. Cloud have the story for the Times, adding the costs of the plan: $500 million for fully implementing the proposals, and $1 billion annually years from now, "as the current crop of fresh veterans and active military members ages and new personnel is in place." The Times notes that Democrats in Congress -- which approved a 3.5 percent pay raise for military personnel yesterday -- have noted that previous panels such as, say, the Iraq Study Group, have not been so enthusiastically embraced.

Tom Vanden Brook and David Jackson have the story for USA Today.

Life in Iraq
Joy in Iraq is unusual and irresistible, and the paper's roundup reflects the reporters' appetite for some good news out of Iraq. Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Qais Mizher lead the Times' roundup with the semifinal win by the "Lions of Mesopotamia" over the South Korean team, 4-3, at the Asia Cup tournament. The win caused thousands of Iraqis to pour into the streets in "more rapture than celebration," they write. Unfortunately, two suicide car bombers took advantage of the revelry and blew themselves up in Monsour in the middle of cheering crowds, killing at least 50 and wounding 135 more. Police in Baghdad also arrested several men who had used the cover of celebratory gunfire to kill people in grudge murders. Still, the win provided a rare moment of national unity. Even in Kurdistan, they waved the Iraqi national flag rather than the Kurdish banner. Just hours before the match, however, the main Sunni Arab bloc said it would permanently leave the cabinet in a week unless the Maliki government agreed to various demands.

Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor provides great color from the scene, and he relegates the suicide bombers in Monsour to a single paragraph.

Only Megan Greenwell of the Post was a killjoy, leading with the news of the Sunni bloc's threatened walkout. A permanent Sunni Arab boycott would be a huge blow to the Iraqi government and the American project in Iraq, crippling the government as it prepares benchmark legislation to satisfy Iraq critics in Congress. Her coverage of the soccer jubilation is actually a bit grim, forgoing most of the usual dancing-crowd stuff and instead focusing on the car bombs and the jeering and obscenities of young men at a passing American convoy.

Enterprise Reporting
The Times and the Monitor have a couple of decent enterprise stories today, focusing on Bechtel and an interview with the Iraqi ambassador to the United States.

James Glanz of the Times reports that Bechtel met fewer its original objectives on fewer than half of the projects it was granted as part of a $1.8 billion reconstruction contract. Most of the rest were cancelled, reduced or never completed as designed. Ah, but it's not Bechtel's fault, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. It's a failure of overseers at the United States Agency for International Development and of the system in general. “It’s actually quite positive, looking at it from a Bechtel perspective, in a lot of cases,” said Bill Shoaf, program director for the company’s Iraq infrastructure program. Well, sure, a lot of things great if you only concentrate on what went right. What's perplexing -- and unanswered in this story -- is why the Inspector General's audit seemed to go out of its way to absolve and even praise Bechtel.

The Monitor's Howard LaFranchi scores an interview with Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie, who complains -- "in a moment of diplomatic pushback" -- that the U.S. is too slow in equipping Iraq's armed forces. Requests for high-caliber guns and armored personnel carriers have gone unanswered, the ambassador says. LaFranchi notes that the Pentagon has debated for years on the wisdom of equipping Iraqis with more powerful weapons, worrying that with the infiltration among the Iraqis, U.S. weapons might get turned on American troops. There is also the worry that the U.S. would be pouring gasoline on the fires of civil war. To compensate, Iraq has been turning to China, buying high-powered rifles.

Washington News
The Post's Robin Wright reports on yet another September report on Iraq -- from one of the White House's own agencies. And it's likely to be a doozy. The Government Accountability Office has done the most work tracking the "missteps, miscalculations, misspent funds and shortfalls of both the United States and Iraq since the 2003 invasion." And now its internal affairs team has a September report card on Iraq due, too. (This is on top of the 91 other reports on Iraq it has already issued over the past four years.) The GAO report will give a blunt thumbs up or thumbs down on how the Iraqis are doing on the 18 Congressionally mandated benchmarks, rather than the White Houses "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" progress it published in the July interim report. It sounds like this report will be much harsher on the Iraqis than the Bush administration was, and since it's due two weeks before the Sept. 15 report is, it will likely define the debate. Not good for the White House.

Both the Post and the Times have the 399-24 vote in the House to ban permanent bases in Iraq and bar the use of federal funds to control Iraqi oil. Jonathan Weisman of the Post says Republicans decried the bill as political theatre. Carl Hulse of the Times notes the bill comes at the same time the Rep. John MP. Murtha, D-Pa., said he would try to introduce a bill that would mandate the beginning of troop withdrawals as early as the fall, but without an ending deadline.

The Wall Street Journal's David Rogers has a separate story on the Murtha bill, noting his lack of an ending deadline is an attempt to attract more Republicans to his bill.

In other coverage

New York Times
J. Michael Kennedy reports that the Army's third largest base, Fort Lewis, Wash., would reverse course and hold funerals every week on Wednesday for fallen service members, instead of the proposed monthly service, which drew wide-spread outrage from base families.

Wall Street Journal
An unsigned editorial argues that Gitmo should be kept open and Iraqis should be kept there.

Daily Column
Linking AQI to al Qaeda; Bush, Malaki share video link, but accomplish little
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/25/2007 01:56 AM ET
The relative dearth of Iraq news in the papers ended today with a set of stories mainly centering on yesterday's Iran-U.S. talks in Baghdad. President George W. Bush gave a speech tightly linking (again) Al Qaeda in Iraq to Al Qaeda of 9/11 and both the Washington Post and The New York Times have a couple of enterprise stories on contractors and the relationship between Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, respectively.

War of Words
By all accounts, yesterday's talks between U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi didn't go so well.

Megan Greenwell of the Post reports that the Americans accused Iran of helping Shi'ite militias attack Iraqi and American troops, giving Crocker a lot of room to run with what the ambassador called "a difficult discussion." Supporting terror groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and holding Americans in Iran were further bones of contention. "I would not describe this as a shouting match throughout, but again we were real clear on where our problems with their behavior were," he said. Crocker suggested the talks would not move forward unless the Iranians stopped supporting militias and extremist groups. Oddly, no quotes or response from the Iranian side. What gives? Greenwell adds the day's roundup to the bottom, noting that a car bomb south of Baghdad killed at least 26 and injured more than 70; two Iraqi police officers were killed by gunmen and two civilians died when Katyusha rockets landed on their homes in Saydiya. Police also found 24 bodies around the city, bearing signs of torture. The Times' Stephen Farrell also leads his roundup with the Iran-U.S. talks, echoing the general bleak assessment. Focusing less on the fireworks revealed in Greenwell's story, Farrell gives the Iranians a chance to speak. They insist they are helping Iraq deal with its security problems and complained about the detention of Iranians by American forces. One small sign of progress: the two sides discussed the formation of a security subcommittee to talk about support for handling militias, al Qaeda and border security. Farrell also has the bomb in Hilla that killed at least 26, but adds news of residents protesting against the American cordon around Husseiniya.

Neil King Jr. of the Wall Street Journal says the U.S. warned the Iranians that any of their Al Quds force found in Iraq "are not going to be safe." Finding common ground on Iraq is being bedeviled by differences over many other issues: Iran's nuclear program, accusations of regime-change plans, support for Hezbollah and Hamas.

Thomas Frank and Barbara Slavin have the story for USA Today.

Sam Dagher for the Christian Science Monitor looks at the growing political and economic ties between Iraq and Iran, which are growing even in the face of American accusations of Iranian "meddling." Analysts say Iran can run the table. Significant sign of Iranian influence: Tehran gave Malaki his own Air Force 1, an Airbus 300 jetliner, to use for government business. Dagher's story is important because it lays out the context of the alienation between the U.S. military and diplomatic corps and the Iraqi government, which is increasingly turning to Iran as the U.S. looks for ways to extricate itself. The links, mainly among the Shi'ites of Iraq, including the government, are not only strengthened by the common religious bond but also, Dagher writes, by the American strategy of arming and supporting former Sunni fighters, who consider Shi'ites bitter foes. He touches on this at the end, but it's really the key point of the story and should have been expanded on.

You say Al Qaeda, I say Al Qaeda in Iraq...
President Bush went to Charleston Air Force Base yesterday in the first stop in his new marketing campaign to bolster support for the war in Iraq by ... wait for it ... trying to draw tight connections between Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization responsible for 9/11 and the Iraqi-dominated al Qaeda in Iraq, which arose after the U.S. invasion.

"The facts are that Al Qaeda terrorists killed Americans on 9/11, they're fighting us in Iraq and across the world and they are plotting to kill Americans here at home again," Bush told the troops at the base, according to Jim Rutenberg and Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times. "Those who justify withdrawing our troops from Iraq by denying the threat of Al Qaeda in Iraq and its ties to Osama bin Laden ignore the clear consequences of such a retreat." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., scoffed at Bush's claim and said he overstating those ties to perpetuate the American presence in Iraq. The Times provides a quick primer on Al Qaeda in Iraq, pointing out that it post-dates the American invasion and is a "homegrown" Sunni Arab network with a few foreign fighters and murky ties to Osama bin Laden's movement.

Michael A. Fletcher for the Post chimes in, reporting that Bush said "top lieutenants" of Osama bin Laden lead the Iraqi group, which is a new claim. Bush, somewhat bizarrely, said, "Some will tell you al Qaeda in Iraq isn't really al Qaeda -- and not really a threat to America. Well, that's like watching a man walk into a bank with a mask and a gun, and saying he's probably just there to cash a check. We are fighting bin Laden's al Qaeda in Iraq." The Post notes that U.S. intelligence officials say AQI is an "affiliate" of al Qaeda, but has not taken orders from bin Laden. Democrats have said the report shows that al Qaeda is not running the war, "but is instead benefiting from it." USA Today's David Jackson focuses on the president's sales job, noting this speech was part of that effort. As he writes: "White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush will talk 'a fair amount' about Iraq in the weeks ahead, 'because it's important the American people get a fuller and deeper appreciation of what's going on.' "

A1 Enterprise
Jim Rutenberg and Alissa J. Rubin of the Times report on Bush's personal relationship with Malaki, which, like many modern romances, is conducted mainly over video teleconferences. Every two weeks, the two leaders meet to chat about "leadership and democracy, troop deployments and their own domestic challenges." And they talk about God. It's a personal diplomacy that Bush really likes, but that can lead to trouble. The president seems to have misread Russian President Vladimir Putin because the guy carries a cross around his neck and the Times's duo says that may be the case with Malaki, too. "Mr. Maliki may agree with Mr. Bush on the steps that need to be taken in Iraq to achieve stability, such as bringing more ex-Baathists back into government. But if he is perceived as going too far in accommodating former Baathists loyal to Saddam Hussein, he could splinter his already divided Shiite base of support." And critics of Malaki say he's just telling Bush what he wants to hear.

The Post's Ann Scott Tyson finds a new angle in the media's new-found fascination with civilians in Iraq: Army civilians who live and work and fight alongside the military but, if they are injured, have no access to military hospitals and face stumbling bureaucracies "unprepared to help a government civilian wounded in combat." These government civilians -- about 7,500 have worked in Iraq and Afghanistan -- are employees of the Defense Department. Seven have died and 118 been injured in combat in the war zones.


New York Times
Fort Lewis, Wash., is weighing how best to balance the honor due a soldier and the demands of several memorial services a month, outraging many area residents, reports William Yardley.

Washington Post
Amy Orndorff reports on the dreams of an Iraqi Assyrian Christian who became a Marine and U.S. a citizen.

Conference Discusses "Zero Tolerance" of Forced Labor
By DAVID PHINNEY 07/24/2007 12:04 PM ET
MANILA, PHILIPPINES: Filipinos applying for work in Iraq crowd outside a Manila recruitment agency.
MANILA, PHILIPPINES: Filipinos applying for work in Iraq crowd outside a Manila recruitment agency.

Sam McCahon proposed a simple solution to convince US-funded contractors working in Iraq to return passports to their migrant workers. Reaching in his pocket, the candid government contract lawyer pulled out a clip of folded US dollars and held it up.

“This works,” he said, speaking at a conference on labor trafficking in Washington, DC, sponsored last week by the International Peace Operations Association, a trade group of private contractors specializing in military support services.

McCahon pointed out that when businesses in the Middle East realize that they will lose out on lucrative US contracts, they get the message--employees have rights when working for American taxpayers, no matter what their nationality or salaries are.

“There are so many companies out there and this is a competitive world,” McCahon explained to the audience of three dozen contractors, Pentagon officials and human rights experts. “If the companies don’t want to comply, they can go somewhere else.”

Returning passports to workers became a big issue for Iraq contractors last spring after a Defense Department order demanded that employers stop the widespread and “illegal” practice of holding travel and identity documents to prevent low-wage employees from leaving jobs.

Aimed at preventing the trafficking of migrant workers and forced labor in Iraq, the April 2006 contracting order also found that employers had been engaging in a number of unacceptable employment policies--including deceptive bait-and-switch hiring practices, excessive recruiting fees, and the circumvention of Iraqi immigration procedures.

The order additionally noted that workers lived in substandard living conditions, which other military inspections found to include crowded housing, poor food, inadequate health services and poor sanitation. All of these findings amounted to conditions that could indicate incidents of forced labor under US contracts in Iraq.

Tens of thousands of laborers from South Asia, Africa and elsewhere, known as “third country nationals,” work at US military camps in construction, camp maintenance, and food preparation. Subcontractors working for US companies in Iraq were among the most frequent offenders, especially the multibillion-dollar logistics contract held by Halliburton/KBR to build, maintain and service some 70 military camps in Iraq.

McCahon, vice president and general counsel with Agility Defense and Government Services since September 2005, said in an interview that he implemented strict new policies to comply with the 2006 contracting directive. One demands that all employees of Agility and its subcontractors maintain custody of their identity papers.

“There’s been a lot of worker exploitation,” said McCahon, who has worked with contractors in Iraq since the 2003 coalition liberation and subsequent occupation. “Workers can lose a lot of self-esteem if their documents are taken away and many subcontractors do that to make them feel powerless.”

A second, and perhaps more important policy, is to ensure that recruiters in host countries only be paid by the hiring company and not charge recruitment fees to workers – a practice that can cause heavy debt to the employee. McCahon estimates that 90 percent or more of the migrant workers in Iraq at one time were paying “illegal recruitment fees.

“That creates indentured servitude,” he said. “We cancelled all recruiting fees and trebled the damages,” he said. “Our subs now pay all the recruitment fees and the recruiters can’t accept payments from the workers.”

To help spread the word of “zero tolerance” on worker abuse; Agility now places anti-trafficking posters in all of its work areas in English, Hindu, and Arabic with a hotline for anonymous callers to report complaints. The posters warn against “the use of force, fraud or coercion” regarding labor. Additionally, the company holds monthly meetings with randomly selected employees to review working conditions. “We want to know if the employees are happy.”

Speaking at the July 16 IPOA conference, the commanding officer for the Defense Contract Management Agency in Iraq said he was surprised when he heard about the conditions that some workers faced under contractors in Iraq. He said he had never heard about the passport issue until the April 2006 order.

“My first though was disbelief,” said Army Col. Jake Hansen who supervised the inspections of KBR’s logistics contract. “None of us saw this coming. We were all surprised.”

Hansen said that during his inspections, he never witnessed some poor working conditions for the migrant laborers. “I wasn’t appalled by what I saw.... They were better conditions than they had back home.”

He also stressed that the low-wage labor force has provided some of the highest-quality food and camp services the military has ever had. “That’s important for retention.”

Hansen also noted that KBR has implemented strict anti-trafficking measures, which include monthly meetings with workers and training seminars.

Still, all may not be well in Iraq, according to anecdotal reports from American civilian sources that work at military camps with the low-wage labor force and who complain of poor medical care, crowded living quarters and questionable food.

Check Slogger tomorrow for accounts of recent labor abuses of TCNs working for US-funded contractors.

David Phinney is a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC. He can be contacted at

Daily Column
Non-combat deaths down; Support for war rising slightly; Iraqi visas delayed
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/24/2007 01:56 AM ET
The New York Times both dominates the coverage in number of stories and in a piece on the timeline for U.S. forces in Iraq, while the Washington Post contents itself with a roundup and a poll story. USA Today also weighs in with a front-pager on non-combat deaths.

Michael Gordon reports for the Times that despite the debate raging in Washington, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have prepared a detailed plan for a "significant American role" until 2009 at least. The plan calls for restoring security in Baghdad and other local areas "by the summer of 2008." Something called "sustainable security" will be established by summer of 2009, according to the plan, all with a goal for providing breathing space for political accommodation between the various factions within Iraq. Gordon writes, "When critics at home are defining patience in terms of weeks, the strategy may run into the expectations of many lawmakers for an early end to the American mission here." You think?

Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Qais Mizher lead the Times' roundup with news of two car bombs that exploded in the usually safe neighborhood of Karrada, killing 12 and wounding 38. The duo also report that American forces imposed a vehicle ban and tightened a cordon around Hussainiya, a large Shiite district, restrictions which residents say don't allow them access to food. Two Iraqi guards working for the Oil Ministry were killed in a drive-by shooting, and Iraqi police found 24 corpses around Baghdad. A suicide bomber impersonating a female blew himself up at a Ramadi checkpoint, killing one policeman and wounding three. Four servicemen were killed in central Iraq and Anbar, bringing July's death toll to 57.

The Post's Megan Greenwell also has the twin car bombs in Karrada, but also reports on three other bombings throughout the city. The day's death toll was 17. She also throws in some context, noting that more than 25 people have been killed in Karrada in the last two weeks because of car bombs, despite the U.S. military's beefed up presence and the usual security of the neighborhood. Greenwell also reports that Rear Adm. Mark I. Fox, the surge's chief spokesman, said violence was down overall even as the bombs were going off. "There's a feeling of momentum, of initiative here," he said. "There's definitely a feeling from a security point of view that all of these efforts are beginning to gain traction." Greenwell writes that mass-casualty bombings are down, but smaller-scale bombs such as yesterday's continue. She also reports that 17 bodies -- "considered a key indicator of sectarian violence" -- were found around Baghdad. Since it is such a key indicator, it would have been nice to know if 17 bodies is high or low and just what they indicate. In other violence, gunmen ambushed a convoy near the Iranian border, killing five people and kidnapping three. A roadside bomb in southern Diyala province kill five Iraqi soldiers and, rather vaguely, "at least 11 other people died in smaller incidents." Also, Iran and the U.S. will have their second date Tuesday to talk about security situation in Iraq.

USA Today runs a front-pager by Thomas Frank looking at the drop in non-combat deaths, which have fallen for three years -- largely because there are fewer vehicle accidents and troops rarely venture outside bases except for specific missions. The paper's analysis shows that 105 U.S. troops have died in non-combat incidents, including suicide and illness, in the year that ended June 30 -- 11 percent of American casualties in that period. By contrast, in the first year of the war, 193 troops died in non-combat incidents, about half of the fatalities at the time. Combat deaths are spiking, however (which strikes us as the real news), with 939 combat deaths in the year ending June 30. (In the first year of the war, 387 troops died in combat.) In the first Gulf War in 1991, more U.S. troops died outside of combat than in it, 235 to 147.

Both the Times and the Post decide it's time to take the public's temperature and run dueling polls. Both samplings find the American people in a reflective and more positive mood on the war -- but not by much.

Megan Thee, for the Times, report that 42 percent of Americans said that going back into Iraq was the right thing to do, but two-thirds said it was now time to reduce forces there. In May, only 35 percent of Americans said invading Iraq was the right thing to do, so the White House has had some success in rallying the home front. However, two-thirds say the war is going badly. (Earlier in July, 45 percent said the war was going "very badly" while now only 35 percent say so. Just last week, 23 percent said the war was going "somewhat well," while 29 percent now say that.) President George W. Bush and Congress, however, are still in the doghouse with the public, with no change in the disapproval of the president's handling or the war and six in 10 Americans dissing Congress. (Democrats are only marginally less disliked on the issue of Iraq, with 65 percent disapproving of the Republicans' moves and 59 percent disliking the Democrats'. Cold comfort.) Thee throws up her hands a bit at the strange moods of the public. "Although both polls show a similar rise in overall support for the invasion, there was no change in measures like Mr. Bush's handling of the war or how well the increase in troops is working, making it difficult to discern what the public may be reacting to." Oh, fickle America.

The Post's Jon Cohen and Dan Balz report that their paper's poll finds that most Americans see Bush as "intransigent" on Iraq and prefer the Democrats to make decisions about any withdrawal. Their story focuses on approval of Bush and Congress, rather than support for the war, as the Times' does, but interestingly the president is increasingly being seen as inflexible even by members of his own party. Just after the 2006 elections, 55 percent of Republicans thought he was willing to change course. Now, 55 percent believe he is not. He also has an all-time low approval rating of 33 percent, with 65 percent disapproving. He also has the highest percentage of people "strongly" disapproving, at 52 percent, more than three times the 16 percent who "strongly" approve. Congress is disliked by 60 percent of the people, but they still like it more than they do Bush when it comes to Iraq: 55 percent say they trust Congressional Democrats on the war. (Bush gets 32 percent.) "And by 2 to 1, Americans said Congress, rather than the president, should make the final decision about when to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq," the two write. Almost 30 percent of Republicans hold this view, too. Like the Times, the reporters exhibit some confusion in trying to divine America's mood.


New York Times
Helene Cooper reports on the admission by U.S. officials that while they're trying to get visas for Iraqis working for the embassy in Baghdad there have been delays in getting them issued. "The tie-up is Homeland Security and vetting," said James Zogby, head of the Arab-American Institute. "They're arguing that working for the U.S. is one thing, trusting them over here is another."

Adam Nossiter personalizes the confusion many feel in America over ending the war, with a look at voters in the First District in Minnesota, where new Democratic Congressman Tim Walz has taken an anti-war stance in the House, but has accomplished little.

Wall Street Journal
Sarmad Ali reports on the troubles Iraqi expatriates are having with their old passports. Baghdad has started issued new electronically-enhanced passports, rendering pre-existing Iraqi passports useless, stranding millions of Iraqis with either Saddam-era passports or the easily-forged, handwritten ones issues shortly after the American invasion.

Christian Science Monitor
No coverage today

Daily Column
Hopes Dim for Oil Law before Sept.; General: Training Has Slowed
By GREG HOADLEY 07/23/2007 01:58 AM ET
It’s lighter lifting in the Iraq-related reporting today, but still a few important developments bear noting.

The US and Iran have agreed to their second date in 27 years, the Iraq foreign minister announced, even as the US said it had detained two smugglers with alleged links to the Islamic Republic’s al-Quds Force.

The USAT confirms with the top training official in the US military that the US has focused less on training Iraqi forces in favor of military and security operations.

Both big dailies cover the now very-dim chances of Iraqi MPs passing an oil law before the next "benchmarks" report is due to Congress, and bombing attack on a group of anti-Qa'ida leaders gathered in Taji.

Those following the MRAPs saga will want to check out today's story in USAT.

Alissa Rubin leads her Times report with “a double blow” to national reconciliation in Iraq, the first an acknowledgement on the part of MPs that the oil law will most likely not be passed before the next report on the “benchmarks” progress report that Iraq war funding legislation has required the Bush administration to submit to Congress in September. The other blow was a bombing attack against a group of tribal leaders, called Awakening Council, who had assembled “north of Baghdad” to coordinate efforts against al-Qa'ida. Rubin writes that “there is a growing sense among a number of Iraqi leaders that all of the measures that constitute reconciliation should be handled as a package so that tradeoffs can be made among the political groups.” 16 bodies were recovered in Baghdad on Sunday, and five bodies were found in northern Babil province. A translator working with the Americans was shot dead in Kut, where a local policeman was also killed.

Sudarsan Raghavan reports in the Post that the bombing against the assembled tribal leaders occurred in Taji. Death tolls still vary. The US told Reuters that no sheikhs died in the attack, five were counted among the eight injured. Raghavan leads, however, with Iraqi FM Hoshyar Zebari’s announcement that US-Iran talks have been scheduled for Tuesday, which the US Baghdad embassy confirmed on the same day that US forces said they detained two weapons smugglers with links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard al-Quds Force. The Post sources Abbas al-Bayati, a top-level MP with the governing United Iraqi Alliance for its report that the oil law will likely not be passed before September’s report. Bayati also said that, if PM Maliki made a formal request, MPs might reconsider their rejection of the PM’s earlier suggestion that the Parliament shorten or forgo its upcoming August recess.

Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, the highest-level US training officer told the USAT that the US had indeed shifted resources out of training Iraqi forces and into other operations in Iraq, Jim Michaels reports. Pittard also told the paper that higher levels of US deployment to Iraq would need to remain in place through the spring. At that point a gradual reduction could begin, Pittard said, but he estimated that the US would need to continue its presence in Iraq for two more years.

Tom Vanden Brook reports in USAT that the Marines defended a 2005 decision to send armored Humvees instead of MRAPs, in spite of an urgent request to send the latter, saying that the officer didn’t mean MRAPs per se, just an urgent need for vehicles with mine-resistant capability. The officer, at the time a brigadier general, who made the 2005 request, Maj. Gen Dennis Hejlik, wrote a memo last week to say that “we were not seeking a specific vehicle design . . . frankly, the term Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle meant nothing to me at the time, other than additional force protection for our forces." However, Vanden Brook, who has followed the story closely for USAT, gives a look to Hejlik’s 2005 request, which at least mentioned characteristics, such as the V-shaped hull featured by “proper” MRAPs, and not found on armored Humvees, which have flat underbellies. The Marines also maintain that in 2005 underbelly blasts were not as common as they are in Iraq now. A Marine commander gave the first figures for underbelly blasts on Friday: “From January to September 2005, there were about 10 such attacks. After September, there were 10 per month for the rest of the year. There were 16 attacks in January 2006, and 120 for all of 2006,” Vanden Brook writes.

In other coverage:


Joshua Partlow probes the meaning of "luck" with his profile of a US soldier who had two very close brushes with death in the space of a month. Pvt. Kodey Briggs, 18, who joined the military at 17 after dropping out of high school in the ninth grade, survived two direct hits to his Humvee, one on June 14, and the other on July 9, his first day back after 24 days of physical therapy for injuries sustained in the June attack. Briggs’s comerades wonder, is he lucky or unlucky?

Walter Pincus picks apart a recent executive order (called "Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq") noting that while the order is said to target militants and militias it includes language that could be very broadly interpreted. “The text of the order, if interpreted broadly, could cast a far bigger net to include not just those who commit violent acts or pose the risk of doing so in Iraq, but also third parties -- such as U.S. citizens in this country -- who knowingly or unknowingly aid or encourage such people,” Pincus writes. The language has already attracted the concern of Bruce Fein, Reagan-era Justice Department official and Bush critic.


No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Sistani Aide Murdered; US Airstrike Controversy; Donations for the Accused
By GREG HOADLEY 07/22/2007 01:58 AM ET
The scoop of the day button goes to the Post with its front page story reporting that the top US diplomat in Iraq has proposed that all Iraqis working with the Americans be granted immigrant visas to the States.

The Times and Post resume their rounding up of the day’s events in Iraq, which they both skipped yesterday, leading with a controversial US airstrike said to have killed civilians and the murder of a top Sistani aide in Najaf, respectively.

For longer Sunday reads, check out the Times piece on the online movement to gather legal defense resources for GIs accused of criminal acts in Iraq, and the Post’s profiles of archetypical legislators as they debate the war.

A senior aide to top cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was murdered on Friday, Megan Greenwell and Saad Sarhan write in the Post. Abdullah Falaq, who advised al-Sistani on matters of Islamic law, was stabbed in his office in Najaf. Police suspect inside involvement, perhaps involving a guard, as security around the religious offices in Najaf is tight. Four suspects have been taken into custody. Other Sistani aides said they took the attack as a threat to the top cleric and considered moving him out of Najaf. Meanwhile, a US missile and bomb strike stirred controversy as police said that 18 civilians had been killed in addition to the six suspected militants who had reportedly been firing on US forces. US military did not report any civilian casualties, although Iraqi television showed wounded women and children who reporters said had been wounded in the attack. The announced that one of its soldiers had died in Diyala province. Prime Minister Maliki requested that the Parliament skip or shorten its planned month-long recess. Several MPs from across the political spectrum shot back, saying that taking less than a one-month hiatus would be against the provisions set forth in the constitution for parliamentary sessions.

Richard Oppel and Qais Mizher lead their NYT roundup of the day’s events with the allegations of civilian deaths surrouncing the US bomb attack outside of Baghdad in Husseiniya. They also note that “scores” of Iraqis were killed or wounded by celebratory gunfire as Iraqi footballers defeated Vietnam 2-0 to advance to the semifinals of the Asia Cup, including at least 12 reported fatalities. Tariq Aziz, the former Ba'thist official, was transferred to hospital for medical care after falling unconscious in his prison cell. The chief of the tribunal said he had been returned to his cell after treatment. A US raid on Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad apparently took the son of the Sunni religious endowments into custody, along with 17 others. Violence took 13 lives in Mosul and 17 bodies were discovered in Baghdad’s streets.

Spencer Hsu writes up the day’s most interesting scoop with news of a cable by US Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s suggesting to HQ that all Iraqis working with the US in Iraq be granted immigration visas to the US. "Our (Iraqi staff members) work under extremely difficult conditions, and are targets for violence including murder and kidnapping," Crocker wrote Undersecretary of State Henrietta H. Fore. "Unless they know that there is some hope of an (immigrant visa) in the future, many will continue to seek asylum, leaving our Mission lacking in one of our most valuable assets," Crocker wrote. The article fans out into a larger discussion of US refugee and resettlement policy for Iraqis. Worth a full read.

Top US officials, including President Bush, have scaled back their diplomatic efforts in other areas of the world in order to focus on Iraq and other issues in the Middle East, Peter Baker reports in the Post. Some analysts welcome the move, calling it long overdue, while others worry about the erosion of US diplomatic efforts in other regions and the repercussions of “snubbing” non-Middle Eastern countries. High-level visits have been scrubbed in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and officials in those regions have expressed fears of being marginalized in US policy. Others say this is the least-worst option. "An almost-exclusive concentration on Iraq is almost overdue," said Rand’s James Dobbins, a former Bush envoy.

On a related note, a senior Bush administration official told the Post that the Bush adminstartion will push for “political accommodation” in Iraq’s central government, Michael Abramowitz writes, even while top officials acknowledge in private that Iraq will not fulfill all the “benchmarks” in the approaching September 15 report required to be submitted to Congress. Outside experts expressed skepticism, saying that the administration has not recognized Iraqi political realities. Administration officials appear convinced that they will have a “free hand” for the next two months with the debate stalemated in Congress. The administration will push on the military and diplomatic fronts as well, the official said, and also touting the efforts to reach a top-level political understanding between the president, prime minister, and two vice presidents. “Bush has taken to including the two vice presidents -- Adel Abdul Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi -- as well as (President) Talabani in some of his regular video conferences with (PM) Maliki,” Abramowitz wries, citing Amb. Ryan Crocker’s recent teleconference with senators.

The Times profiles recent efforts by “Conservative Christians and military veterans” organizing around websites designed to provide support for US soldiers under prosecution on charges of criminal activity in Iraq. Average donations are small, ranging from $25 to $50, but the cash has added up to over $600,000, organizers say. Paul von Zielbauer, who has covered the recent series of hearings and trials at Camp Pendleton for the Times has the story. “The insurgency has found a new weapon, besides the bomb, and that’s to accuse these young men of wrongdoing, because we throw the book at them,” said Maralee Jones, 45, of Utah, adding, “You just can’t put people under a microscope when the lines of combat are so blurred.” However, the movement seems to draw the line over defending soldiers who plead guilty to premeditated violent crimes, von Zielbauer points out. The movement taps into a general frustration with US leadership and with the news media, von Zielbauer writes, who are seen as being more sympathetic to the concerns of the Iraqi victims than the accused soldiers. Worth a full read, regardless of where you come down on the heavily charged political issues lying underneath the movement’s activities.

In the Post, Shailagh Murray and Elizabeth Williamson profile four archetypical lawmakers from across the political spectrum on the Iraq war, zeroing in on the Senate’s all-night debate last week that ended in a withdrawal of the Democratic measure. No big shockers but a nice set of snapshots. On the extremes, the sample includes the loyal Republican, Sen. Johnny Isakson, and the antiwar liberal, Rep. Jan Schakowsky. Perhaps more interesting, at least for the tea-leaf readers, are the two swing votes between them: the anguished moderate, Sen. Olympia Snowe, and the conservative Democrat, Dan Boren.

In other coverage:


The Post prints no less than three op-eds looking at issues of diplomacy and the Iraq war.

David Ignatius writes in his column that the Bush administration is seeking to establish a standing conference of Iraq’s neighbors to deal with regional implications of the Iraq war. The idea is a part of a joint diploamatic push by Secs. Rice and Gates, “who seem to have formed a partnership on Middle East strategy.”

Pres. Bush’s recent call for an international conference on Israel-Palestine is not quite on the money, Jim Hoagland writes in his column, preferring a top-level powwow on the big Iraq questions. “The staged withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq's zones of sectarian conflict and their replacement with other security forces would be a major topic for the conference to resolve. The point would be to get Iraq's Arab neighbors and Iran, which wage a proxy war through the Sunni and Shiite communities in Iraq, to accept responsibility for reaching and maintaining a durable truce between those communities,” Hoagland writes, adding that other questions such as the Kurdish issue would also be on the docket. Though the idea sounds “utopian” Hogaland writes, but it seems like better spent effort than the conference actually being organized: “The driving force behind Bush's Middle East conference seems in fact to be the desire to isolate and break Hamas politically. That is high-risk and time-consuming. Seeking new international openings – and openness -- on Iraq is the more pressing challenge for Bush's limited time and possibilities.”

James Dobbins, former US envoy for Afghanistan and now of the Rand Corp., compares his interaction with Iranian officials at the 2001 UN conference in Bonn, when he was authorized by then-Sec. Colin Powell to discuss freely with his Iranian counterparts, so long as the topic related to Afghanistan. The meetings took place in good faith and away from the attention of the media, Dobbins recounts. Although the situations are not analogous, Dobbins writes, and relations have deteriorated since 2001, “Washington and Tehran still have largely coincident objectives in Iraq.” Dobbins advocates open regular dialogue, suggesting that a regular dialogue of interested parties on Iraq could provide the right forum.

Richard Lieby profiles Charles Ferguson, the MIT PhD, former tech trade policy wonk and Silicon Valley millionaire – turned documentary filmmaker. Ferguson’s first project, “No End in Sight” is a documentary about the Iraq war that took him to Baghdad in early 2006. The film opens in DC and New York Friday before wider release.

Tom Ricks Inbox reprints a letter from a professor at George Washington University who says that when it comes to the Iraq war, American college students come in two varieties, the “hyper engaged,” on both pro- and antiwar sides of the Iraq debate, and the “disengaged and distant,” who seem to be the majority. The average college freshman, the prof points out, “was 12 years old on September 11th and just shy of 14 when we invaded Iraq. They have grown up watching this war, but yet they tune it out.”


No Sunday edition.

Daily Column
Marketing for Hearts and Minds, Contractors Convicted; Struggle over September
By GREG HOADLEY 07/21/2007 01:58 AM ET
Neither big daily files an Iraq update today, and most important Iraq-related readings focus on the stateside debates, raging on as September draws nearer.

The Bush administration spun back at yesterday’s story that its Iraq commanders are seeking more "surge" time, but not without subtly trying to ratchet down expectations for September's "benchmarks" report.

Be sure to check out the Post’s front-pager on a Rand report urging the Pentagon to look to Madison Avenue for victory in Iraq, and the NYT’s profile of the beginnings of GOP campaign strategy in a time of unpopular war. Also take a look at the short piece in the Times about a federal case involving a KBR subcontractor's scheme to overcharge the Pentagon for cargo hauling.

This whole insurgency thing could just be one big misunderstanding, according to a new Rand study commissioned by the US Joint Forces Command. Karen DeYoung writes in the Post that the study’s author, Todd Helmus, clinical psychologist, advocates a “marketing approach” to the Pentagon Iraq strategy. Having associated with the “show of force” brand, the US may have squandered popular goodwill that would come in handy as it takes on Iraqi resistance groups. It is a bad sales pitch, for example, to kick down civilians’ doors and shoot innocents at checkpoints. The US should take a page from Madison Avenue in the struggle for hearts and minds, the study maintains, and should learn to respond to its Iraqi market in culturally appropriate terms.

Of course, cultural-sensitivity-as-counterinsurgency only goes so far. At some level, the conflict between the US and its adversaries in Iraq goes beyond cultural misunderstandings and has more to do with competing political projects for the future of the country.

The Bush administration pushed back yesterday day after its number two military commander in Iraq said that he would like nearly two more months beyond the September report to Congress on Iraq’s “benchmarks” performance. Thom Shanker and David Cloud report in the Times that the White House and the officer who made the request for more time both clarified their positions with a focus on September: “There is no intention to push our reporting requirement beyond September,” said a statement issued by Lt. Gen. Odierno, who said yesterday that he would like more time before to make an evaluation of US Iraq strategy. “Nothing I said yesterday should be interpreted to suggest otherwise. My reference to November was simply suggesting that as we go forward beyond September, we will gain more understanding of trends.” Tony Snow, White House spokesperson focused on the September report, “We’re not trying to sort of change the ball game,” Mr. Snow said. “We understand what the reporting requirements are. But I think as we’ve also demonstrated, there have been significant results,” he said, “and it is worth people taking a measure of what’s going on.” At the same time, however, the contest continues over what exactly the September 15 report to Congress will mean, “While administration officials and military commanders describe the Sept. 15 report as an update on trends in Iraq, many senior members of Congress -- including some top Republicans — view the date as the deadline for deciding on the future course of the war,” Times reporters write. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials have announced that the Republic of Georgia will send one brigade to Iraq, which may deploy as early as next month. Details are under discussion. The State Department also said that three new provincial reconstruction teams will begin work in the Baghdad area in September.

The feds have uncovered a "sweeping network of kickbacks, bribes and fraud" including at least eight KBR emloyees and subcontractors, James Glanz writes in the Times. The plot revolved around "a scheme to inflate charges for flying freight into Iraq in support of the war according to court papers unsealed yesterday." Andre Smoot, an executive for a KBR subcontractor, Eagle Global Logistics, pleaded guilty yesterday to bribing KBR employees to get a fatter contract and lying about it to investigators. Smoot is the second Eagle exec to plead guilty in the case. Eagle moved cargo between Dubai and Baghdad for KBR, which was under contract to the Pentagon. "The scheme by the Eagle executives began in November 2003 when a plane operated by a rival carrier, DHL, was struck by a missile and landed in Baghdad with its left wing in flames. The Eagle executives used that incident to charge a fraudulent “war-risk surcharge” of 50 cents for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of freight on its own flights," Glanz writes, citing court papers. "Between November 2003 and July 2004, Eagle made 379 flights as part of the subcontract, charging some $13.3 million — an amount that included $1.1 million in overcharges," he continues. It's not clear if KBR knew of the scheme, but court papers charge that kickbacks to KBR employees amounted to $34,000 in in-kind goodies including “meals, drinks, golf outings, tickets to rodeo events, baseball and football games and other entertainment items.”

Team Iraq, now at the quarterfinals of the Asia Cup, is one of the few symbols of national unity, Alissa Rubin writes for the Times. "For Iraqis the success of the soccer team — a 22-member squad with Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds — evokes the old days, a time before sectarianism began to tear the country apart," Rubin writes. Another difference -- Team Iraq no longer fears the heavy hand of Saddam's son Uday, who used to run the Iraqi soccer federation.

Denmark has secretly flown out around 200 Iraqi nationals, including interpreters it has employed and their families to prevent them from facing retribution attacks as the European country prepares to withdraw its ground forces, Stephen Farrell reports in the Times. The 470 Danish ground forces are preparing to withdraw from the British military base in Basra where they have been headquartered, and will be replaced by a helicopter unit of 55 troops. British forces announced that three UK airmen were killed by mortar or rocket fire on its base at Basra airport, bringing the UK death toll to 162.

Cpl. Trent Thomas, convicted earlier in the week for kidnapping and conspiracy to murder an Iraqi will not do hard time, Paul von Zielbauer reports for the Times. Thomas will be demoted to private and given a bad-conduct discharge. "Military prosecutors had asked the jury to impose a 15-year prison sentence and a dishonorable discharge, the harshest form of expulsion for enlisted men," von Zielbauer writes, noting that "Military law experts said Corporal Thomas’s sentence was an unusually lenient punishment." The same jury that handed Thomas his sentence at Camp Pendelton also convicted him earlier in the week; all nine members had served in Iraq.

As campaign season draws nearer, "the winds of discontent are stirring" among GOP lawmakers, Jeff Zeleny writes in the Times, and the debate over the party's Iraq position is gradually becoming more public. With Rep. Ron Paul out-earning Sen. McCain thanks to his blunt opposition to the war, the Republican field is "turned upside down." Zeleney closes with an interview with GOP Sen. Hagel, Bush policy critic who is considering a presidential bid. Hagel suggests that he might be able to raise enough funds, and reports that he is pleasantly surprised by the grassroots reaction to his positions. However, the mood of the GOP voters will be tough to predict for some time, and Hagel acknowleges that he has also received negative attention within the party for his stances, including a primary challenge in his home state of Nebraska. “Next month, when we get a little break, I’ve got to sort it out. I’ve got to make a decision, and I will,” Hagel told the Times.

President Bush and Sen. Maj. Leader Reid traded barbs yesterday over Iraq policy, with the president calling for Congress pass funding for the war and urging Congress to "to give our troops time to carry out our new strategy in Iraq." Bush read his statement from the Rose Garden after meeting supportive veterans and military families, William Branquin writes in the Post. Reid lashed back, accusing the president of "hypocrisy." The larger picture, Branquin points out, is that the struggle over renewing the Iraq war funding that expires in September is already underway.

Clinton-Pentagon flap

The row between Sen. Hillary Clinton and the Pentagon undersecretary for policy, Eric Edelman, drew the intervention of Secretary Gates, Ann Kornblut reports in the Post. Gates issued a statement saying, "I have long been a staunch advocate of Congressional oversight, first at the CIA and now at the Defense Department . . . I have said on several occasions in recent months that I believe that Congressional debate on Iraq has been constructive and appropriate. I had not seen Senator Clinton's reply to Ambassador Edelman's letter until today. I am looking into the issues she raised and will respond to them early next week." The senator in May sent a letter to Edelman inquiring about contingency planning involving US withdrawal from Iraq, to which Edelman responded with a letter saying the senator's request aided "enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies." Clinton released the letter, calling it an unacceptable political attack, and "capitalized on the contretemps all day" Friday, Kornblut writes, noting that she sent a letter back to Gates seeking exit strategy explanations, and announced she will co-sponsor with Sen. Kerry a bill to require a troop withdrawal plan.

Kate Phillips has the story for the Times.

Opinion pages

The Times puts three Iraq-related pieces on its opinion pages today, including two staff editorials. One, entitled "The Great Denier" lashes out at the Bush administration for alledly attempting to constrain public debate over Iraq. "Pretty much everyone in the world wants answers except the president," the eds write, adding, "but instead of seizing the opening, Mr. Bush and his team continue to spout disinformation and vacuous slogans about victory and, of course, more character assassination," referring to the Edelman letter to Clinton as a most recent example.

Rather than deep divisions in Congress, Post editors see an "emerging consensus" over Iraq policy, with a bipartisan majority favoring "a shift in the U.S. mission that would involve substantially reducing the number of American forces over the next year or so and rededicating those remaining to training the Iraqi army, protecting Iraq's borders and fighting al-Qaeda." The president and his top staff also favor this Baker-Hamiltonian strategy, they write. The man blocking the emergence of this consensus, they argue, is Sen. Reid, whom they accuse of "cynical politicking and willful blindness to the stakes." Although they write that, "There are serious issues still to resolve, such as whether a drawdown should begin this fall or next year, how closely it should be tied to Iraqi progress, how fast it can proceed and how the remaining forces should be deployed," the Post eds argue that it is Democratic strategy "to use Iraq as a polarizing campaign issue and a club against moderate Republicans" that is holding up consensus on a change of course.

The delay in debate over the Pentagon appropriations bill, pulled off the table by Sen. Reid in the controversy over Iraq policy, offers an "unexpected chance to reflect on the frightening disconnect between the exotic and unlikely threats the Pentagon spends so much of its investment money preparing for and the 21st century wars America has actually been fighting," Times editors write in a second editorial arguing that the Pentagon spending is targeted towards cold-war type threats and good old-fashioned pork. "Protecting the profit margins of major defense contractors still seems to count for more in the eyes of many legislators than protecting America’s most vulnerable troops," they write, saying the Pentagon bill "still channels unneeded billions to gold-plated marvels like the Air Force’s F/A-22 stealth fighter and the Navy’s new DDG-1000 destroyer and Virginia class attack submarines, while scandalously shortchanging the needs of Army and Marine ground forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan."

On Wednesday, Robert Gates choked back tears while telling the story of Maj. Douglas Zembiec, killed in Iraq in May after volunteering for a second tour in the country. Gates's display of emotion was "shocking and yet somehow profoundly validating and cathartic," writes Judith Warner in a Times guest op-ed. Gates's display was "something new: an acknowledgment, however unbidden, of the complex range of negative emotions — sadness and frustration and, yes, I think, guilt — that’s now weighing upon the nation’s soul after four disastrous years in Iraq," she writes, contrasting the secretary's demeanor with that of his predecessor as well as with that of the president and vice president. For Warner, the secretary's tears represent some kind of emotional crack in the Bush adminstration's Iraq position. But she ends with a twist: What would have happened if Sec. Rice, a woman, had showed such emotion. "Would she have been belittled, punished politically, dismissed as too irrational and emotional — too girly — to deal with the ugly realities of war? We’ll never know, because she — like all powerful women in politics — will never let us find out."

New Guardian Interview Reveals Group Leaders Vying for Post-Occupation Iraq
07/20/2007 11:39 AM ET
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - JULY 12: A former Sunni insurgent now working with U.S. forces stands at an American firebase July 12, 2007 in the Amariyah neighborhood Baghdad, Iraq.
Chris Hondros/Getty
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - JULY 12: A former Sunni insurgent now working with U.S. forces stands at an American firebase July 12, 2007 in the Amariyah neighborhood Baghdad, Iraq.

Legitimate political parties that arise from conflict situations often establish their base of support as powerfully effective purveyors of violence, transitioning into civil society only when the state-run instruments of power allow them a feasible means to achieve political goals.

A number of the most powerful insurgent groups in Iraq may be reaching that critical turning point, as a new piece in the UK Guardian reveals that discussions are underway to unite Iraqi Hamas, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Ansar al-Sunna (offshoot), Jaish al-Islami, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Jama' and Jaish al-Rashideen under the new heading of the "Political Office for the Iraqi Resistance."

The perception has spread through the groups that the US will withdraw its forces within the next year, so preparations are underway for a post-occupation role in Iraqi society.

Seumas Milne spoke to leaders of Iraqi Hamas, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, and Ansar al-Sunna in a revealing interview that draws into question the narrative that former insurgent groups are choosing to side with the US to help in the fight against al Qaeda.

The Guardian piece makes clear that these men have an abiding hatred for "al Qaeda," particularly for their attacks against civilian targets and the way that has allowed all resistance to the occupation to be portrayed as terrorism. But their hate of al Qaeda does not engender support of the US. "Remember that the Americans brought al-Qaida to Iraq," one points out.

"Resistance isn't just about killing Americans without any aims or goals," said the spokesman of Ansar al-Sunna. "Our people have come to hate al-Qaida, which gives the impression to the outside world that the resistance in Iraq are terrorists. Suicide bombing is not the best way to fight because it kills innocent civilians. We are against indiscriminate killing - fighting should be concentrated only on the enemy. They believe that all Shia are kuffar - and most of the Sunnis as well." They estimate that al-Qaida now carries out between a fifth and a third of all attacks in Iraq.

"Most of al-Qaida's members are Iraqis but its leaders are mostly foreigners," he said, "The Americans magnify their role, even though they are responsible for a minority of resistance operations."

Another thing the leaders said the Americans exaggerate is the existence of Iranian or Syrian assistance to their groups, though they say Iran once offered to help.

"We are the only resistance movement in modern history that has received no help or support from any other country," Omary declares. "The reason is that we are fighting America." The 1920 Revolution Brigades spokesman is an articulate and sophisticated operator, who - if he survives the counterinsurgency and sectarian onslaught - clearly has the potential to become an influential voice in a future Iraq. "Our position is that there are two kinds of people in Iraq: not Sunni and Shia, Kurdish and Arab, Muslim and Christian, but those who are with the occupation and those who are against it." Anyone who takes part in the institutions set up by the occupation, such as the government and parliament, army or police, are regarded as collaborators. "Our organisation began its operations in the first days after the invasion and wherever you find the occupation, you will find us: from Mosul, Baghdad and Samarra to Basra, Hillah and Kirkuk," continues Omary. "Our group has also carried out attacks on British forces in Basra." They are not a Sunni sectarian organisation, he insists: "The military leader of the Brigades is a Kurd. Iraq is for all Iraqis and we only distinguish between those who cooperate with the occupation and those who do not. If my brother cooperates with the occupation, I will kill him - but the innocent must not be touched."

What makes Iraqis join the resistance? "Many people come to the resistance because of their Islamic background, some because of what has happened to their relatives at the hands of the occupation armies," says Zubeidy. "American forces have committed very big crimes against the Iraqi people. All Iraqis hate the foreign forces and won't forget what they have done. Generally, British forces have acted as a helper to the US and the British government shares the blame for everything that happened to Iraq. But their actions are seen as having been less cruel than the Americans."

Daily Column
Tawafuq Returns to the Parliament; Generals Seek to Delay September's Debate
By GREG HOADLEY 07/20/2007 01:57 AM ET

Today’s Iraq-datelined news is mostly dominated by two big stories: The return of the main Sunni Arab bloc to the Parliament, and murder charges against two GIs for the killing of an Iraqi last month in Kirkuk.

However, the Post scores the day’s best read with Tom Ricks's front-pager, filling in some details about American “handshake agreements” with ex-enemies in Iraq, focusing especially on the use of Iraqi prisoners as bargaining chips.

In the policy debate, as Congress lays its Iraq debate to rest until September, top US military commanders revved up their plea for more time, with the US No. 2 in Iraq looking for an extra 45 days.

The deal that allowed MPs with the Consensus (Tawafuq) Front, the largest Sunni Arab bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, to end their boycott of the assembly paves the way for Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani to leave his post with most of his salary intact, Richard Oppel Jr. and Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi report for the Times. According to MPs, legislators will pass a law permitting resigned MPs to draw a pension of 80% of their salary -- which can number in the low five figures per month. According to a Tawafuq MP, Mashhadani is expected to step down soon and to be replaced by another Sunni Arab member, about which Tawafuq MPs should be conferring in the next couple weeks. Tawafuq’s cabinet ministers will continue their boycott of the government to protest attempts to arrest the minister of culture, Asad al-Hashemi. Two US soldiers were charged with murder, for the killing of an Iraqi man in Kirkuk on June 23. Sgt. First Class Trey A. Corrales, of San Antonio, and Specialist Christopher P. Shore, of Winder, Ga, will face the charges. Lt. Col. Michael Browder, the battalion commander of the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry has been relieved of command, for “a lack of confidence in his ability to command effectively.” Browder is not suspected of any criminal involvement in the killing, the military said. 17 bodies were recovered in the capital, and eight Iraqi policemen, an officer and his guards, were found dead in Hilla after being kidnapped the day before. Four US soldiers and an Iraqi translator were announced killed, and Iraqi security forces in Diyala said that three men captured in Ba'quba were involved in the kidnapping and execution of 14 Iraqi policemen earlier in the year.

About that Mashhadani deal, Megan Greenwell tells a slightly different story in the Post, writing that a Tawafuq spokesman denied any arrangement to ease Mashhadani out, a remark that doesn’t square with the Times’s sourcing a Tawafuq MP that the speaker will move along in a matter of weeks. This would not be the first time two officials in the Tawafuq Front were out of step.

Thomas Ricks’s must-read front-pager in the Post confirms in interviews with US military officials that US forces are striking “handshake agreements” with former insurgent and militia fighters, usually involving release of Iraqi prisoners to sweeten the deal. “Though no formal arrangement exists for granting amnesty to insurgents, the current deals amount to a kind of don't-ask-don't-tell pardon system,” usually in exchange for information to be used against other US enemies such as al-Qa'ida related groups, Ricks writes. Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno gave the most public remarks on the topic so far, saying that such deals have been struck in Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, the cities of Taji, Iskandiriya, as well as Arab Jubour and Iraq’s southern areas. The deals, always unsigned, according to Odierno, tend to follow three steps, “First, the leaders of the groups agree to stop attacking U.S. and Iraqi forces. Then they pledge to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. Finally, U.S. and Iraqi officials try to get them to become part of Iraqi security forces, usually the police,” Ricks writes. Another US official said that the number of detainees released to tribal leaders is “very small” compared to the nearly 22,000 Iraqis in US custody. The policy is not uncontroversial, with some officials saying that the prisoners make effective “bargaining chips” for US forces, while others say that a “catch and release” policy is likely to cause grumbling among US troops.

September Song

Congressional leaders and top US commanders in Iraq seem to have divergent ideas about the moment of decision for Iraq policy, Karen DeYoung writes in the Post. Gen. David Petraeus, US Amb. Ryan Crocker and Lt. Gen Odierno all appeared in separate videoconferences yesterday, but delivered “identical” messages echoing the Bush administration line: Progress is being made, but more time is needed. Odierno pointed to November, saying he needed another 45 days after the September “benchmarks” report due to Congress “to do a good assessment.” Some Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee were not amused. DeYoung also notes tensions between the office of Sen. Clinton and the Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy, Eric Edelman, over a written exchange in which Edelman chastised the senator for inquiring about US contingency planning for withdrawal.

Thom Shanker and David Cloud write up the videoconferences for the Times, noting that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was not necessarily the most friendly audience to Amb. Crocker’s message of progress and “more time” during his video testimony.

Barbara Slavin has the story for USAT.

In the Journal, Greg Jaffe and Yochi Dreazen pan back for a big picture, flushing out the story that runs through the Times, Post and USAT articles: as Congress moves towards troop cuts, US generals are moving towards extending the “surge.” They save the most interesting bits of the story for last, looking at a few as-yet vague proposals by think tanks for post-surge policy, noting that Centcom chief, Adm. William Fallon, has ordered his planners to study a wide range of options for Iraq deployment. “We have some really big decisions ahead of us,” Fallon said. Worth a full read.

In other coverage:


From over the northern border, Ellen Knickmeyer provides some context to the recent Turkish escalation over the Kurdish question on both sides of the Turkey-Iraq frontier.

No Iraq news roundup would be complete without at least noting that Valerie Plame’s lawsuit against Bush administration officials has been dismissed. Carol Leonnig reports.

In his column, Charles Krauthammer celebrates recent US policies in Iraq, especially the arming of militias to ally with the US against al-Qa'ida. Most remarkable is Krauthammer’s pleasure at the growing political rift between the Maliki government and US forces over the policy of creating separate Sunni tribal militias. “That will be Iraq's problem after we leave,” he writes. Nice. Of course, if the situation in Iraq is more complicated than simply fighting al-Qa'ida and pro-Iranian militias, Krauthammer’s two bogeymen, then his argument that the US knows exactly what it is doing, and to heck with the Iraqi government, may not cut the mustard.

In his column, Michael Gerson points the finger at Syrian and Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs, arguing tha the US should cop a more aggressive posture against the two countries' involvement in Iraq. While his recommendations for confronting Iran are inconclusive (he echoes the Pentagon’s fear that “the Iranians could complicate our lives in Iraq and the region more than we complicate theirs”), Gerson advocates an aggressive approach to Syria, including armed action on the Syrian side of the border.


The Pentagon will have enough information to make at least one decision in September, Tom Vanden Brook writes. By then, the military expects to know just how many MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) it will need for Iraq, according to testimony by John Young, the Pentagon point man on the MRAP project, to the House Armed Services Committee.


While the Bush administration continues to advance an upbeat message on Iraq, “What I don’t understand is why we’re supposed to consider Mr. Bush’s continuing confidence a good thing,” Paul Krugman writes in his column. Krugman refers to those who “understand the folly of his actions, but refuse to do anything to stop him,” as “enablers,” singling out Sen. Lugar, who voted with the GOP after the recent all-night Senate debate. More interestingly, Krugman slaps the "enabler" label on Gen. Petraeus, of whom Krugman writes: “I don’t know why the op-ed article that General Petraeus published in The Washington Post on Sept. 26, 2004, hasn’t gotten more attention. After all, it puts to rest any notion that the general stands above politics: I don’t think it’s standard practice for serving military officers to publish opinion pieces that are strikingly helpful to an incumbent, six weeks before a national election.”


Speaking of Sen. Lugar, Kimberly Strassel meditates in her column on the fence-sitting GOP Senators, the likes of Lugar, Domeneci, Voinivich, Sununu, and Coleman, who have been vocally critical of the “surge” but can’t bring themselves to vote with the Democrats. While these Republicans are acutely aware of 2008, they have refrained from totally breaking with Bush “because for every home-state independent unhappy with Iraq, there is a home-state conservative who agrees with the president that a precipitous withdrawal is a grave mistake.” (Perhaps, but will these voters be enough to carry the 2008 general election?) Strassel argues that the GOP fence-sitters are angling to get the Bush administration to throw them a bone in the fall: “Come September, they hope Gen. David Petraeus will deliver a cautiously optimistic report to Congress, making the case the situation has improved. Mr. Bush could then propose his own pre-emptive troop drawdown. Not the immediate pullout demanded by Democrats, of course, but a slower withdrawal, over the next 18 months. In this way, they can take credit for moving Mr. Bush into winding down the war. They'd not only please war critics, but provide themselves cover with the base, since they'd simply be backing Mr. Bush's own plan.” It’s not lost on Strassel that this strategy by GOP lawmakers pushes the president “into a corner,” but then again, he’s not the one seeking reelection.


No Iraq coverage today.

But Thinks a Significant Level of American Support Will Continue to Be Required
07/19/2007 2:27 PM ET
Islamabad, PAKISTAN: US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte addresses a press conference in Islamabad, 16 June 2007.
Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty
Islamabad, PAKISTAN: US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte addresses a press conference in Islamabad, 16 June 2007.

US Deputy Secretary of State and former ambassador to Iraq John D. Negroponte sat down with Asharq al-Aswat for a lengthy conversation on the Middle East Peace process, Iraqi political progress, and other regional issues.

Below is a selection of key quotes from the interview.

On the prospect of a continuing US presence:

After our invasion of Iraq, its institutions had been devastated. There was no army and the government basically evaporated as well, therefore, it takes time to help a country rebuild those institutions, so (in February/March 2005) I thought at that point that five years from 2005 was a reasonable period of time. That would be another three years from now. I think that sounds reasonable. I am not saying (that it will take) another three years at the current level of US involvement. I would hope sooner rather than later that we would have more of a support role rather than a lead role; and that we could be in a position to reduce our military presence but I think a significant level of effort will continue to be required from ourselves and other friends of Iraq.

On the September report to Congress:

I think that “deadline” may be too strong a word. September was indicated as date when General Patraeus would offer his assessment. I think we have to wait to see what happens and what the report says. We can then assess what the next step might be.

On the Iranian influence over Iraqi political leaders:

I think the Iraqi government is a nationalist government, and that notwithstanding the fact that a number of these political leaders were in exile in neighbouring countries including Iran, this does not mean that they are somehow politically beholden to any of the neighbours, and I think certainly the past has demonstrated that the Iraqis are a very proud people who want to conduct the affairs of their own country and they do not wish to serve the interest of any other state.

On Iranian meddling:

We have concerns that they are supporting some of the extremist Shiite groups, we think that is a mistaken policy on their part and we would like to ask them and engage them in being helpful to the duly constituted government of that country.

Daily Column
NIE Debate; Spotlight on the Sadrists; al-Baghdadi Unmasked?
By GREG HOADLEY 07/19/2007 01:57 AM ET
The papers are chock-a-block with Iraq reading today, with several important developments in Iraq and stateside grabbing headlines, debate continuing over the National Intelligence Estimate, and a couple of enterprise reports for good measure.

The US has announced it has captured the top-ranking Iraqi wizard behind the “Islamic State of Iraq” curtain, and that the erstwhile public enemy number one in Iraq was a fictional character.

On the Hill, the Senate’s all-nighter ended in anticlimax, as predicted before the pajama party began.

Meanwhile, the Times pans back on the reemergence of Muqtada al-Sadr on the Iraqi political scene, and various opinion pages carry forward the NIE debate.

Alissa Rubin rounds up the day’s violence for the Times, noting at least twelve fatalities in Iraq on Wednesday. Mortar rounds and deadly IEDs exploding in the Amin area of Eastern Baghdad. 15 bodies were recovered in the capital, and the US military announced that three soldiers died on Tuesday. The political party led by Adnan al-Dulaimi (i.e. the Conference of the People of Iraq, one of the three predominantly Sunni Arab parties inside the Tawafuq Front) released a press statement warning that Sunni Arabs were under threat from the Mahdi Army in the western Baghdad district of Washash. According to the statement, the Shi'a militia has “forced 200 Sunni Arab families to flee the neighborhood over the past 18 months and that 100 people had been killed and 50 kidnapped,” Rubin writes.

Rubin hits for two with a profile of the re-emergence of Muqtada al-Sadr on the Iraqi scene, on the occasion of the Sadr bloc ending its parliamentary boycott. The piece raises some important points, although they will not be unfamiliar to close watchers of the heir to the most powerful popular movement in Iraq. Rubin describes an increasing political distance between the Sadr current and the governing Shi'a parties, and a quiet confidence on the part of the Sadrist leadership, building on its popular base while the Maliki government sputters. “Mr. Sadr’s offices are accessible storefronts that dispense a little bit of everything: food, money, clothes, medicine and information. From just one office in Baghdad and one in Najaf in 2003, the Sadr operation has ballooned. It now has full-service offices in most provinces and nine in Baghdad, as well as several additional storefront centers. In some neighborhoods, the militiamen come around once a month to charge a nominal fee — about 5,000 Iraqi dinars, or $4 — for protection. In others, they control the fuel supply, and in some, where sectarian killings have gone on, they control the real estate market for empty houses.” Any discussion of the Mahdi Army, especially the “darker side” of the militia, as Rubin calls the militia’s involvement in sectarian killings, is incomplete without at least noting the question: Just how much control does Muqtada al-Sadr wield over those calling themselves members of the Mahdi Army?

The Iraq Study Group (ISG) recommendations are getting another look on the Hill, Howard LaFranchi writes in the Monitor, referring both to the Salazar-Alexander legislation that would make the ISG official US policy, and to a general sense that the ISG is one of the few bipartisan options for a consensus-based Iraq policy. Former Sen. Hamilton, co-chair of the study commission, asserts that the report’s recommendations are not out of date, though one analyst consulted by the commission says it would need updating to take account of changes since its 79 recommendations were released late last year. LaFranchi also notes speculation over the readiness of former Sec. Jim Baker, longtime Bush family ally, to take up the ISG if the White House opposes it.

Manufacturing Abu Omar

The mysterious Abu Omar al-Baghdadi -- the so-called “emir” of the so-called “Islamic State of Iraq” -- apparently avoided capture so elusively through a very clever ruse: He didn’t exist. As Michael Gordon writes in the Times, US forces, announcing the arrest of Khalid al-Mashhadani, have also claimed that al-Baghdadi was a persona created by al-Qa'ida’s leader in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, in order to “establish an Iraqi pedigree” for the al-Qa'ida franchise in Iraq. “They say we have killed him,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst, referring to earlier statements by Iraqi government officials of al-Baghdadi’s demise. “Then we heard him after his death, and now they are saying he never existed.”

As Gordon points out, the larger question is the role that the international al-Qa'ida network, likely based in Pakistan, plays in Iraqi insurgent affairs, a question that resonates in US domestic politics and the administration’s case for the Iraq war. The timing of the announcement of Mashhadani’s capture during the debate over the new NIE -- two weeks after the Mosul operation that led to his arrest, US forces say -- is noteworthy, though the administration denies that the two are related. "Keep in mind that it takes some time to identify precisely who an individual is, and that there are times when you don't want others to know that someone is in custody," one U.S. intelligence official told the Washington Post, Megan Greenwell and Karen DeYoung write. Mashhadani’s interrogation has opened “insights” into the workings of al-Qa'ida operations in Iraq, US military and intel officials have said. The US intel official confirmed with the Post that Mashhadani is 41 years old and is from Baghdad. (Earlier speculation held that one Khalid al-Mashhadani who may stand behind the Abu Omar al-Baghdadi persona was from Diyala Province.)

According to US forces, the al-Baghdadi myth was perpetuated with online audio recordings of an Iraqi actor named Abu Abdullah al-Naima, Thomas Frank writes in USAT.

Sam Dagher and Dan Murphy provide a lengthy report in the Monitor on the Mashhadani capture, and focus more on the broader implications of the new US line on Iraq and al-Qa'ida. Also interestingly, they get a comment from Iraqi Brig. Gen. Abd al Karim Khalaf, who says that Iraqi security forces had no role in the Mashhadani capture.

Senate debates

After a rare all-night debate, Senate Dems withdrew their challenge to the president’s Iraq policy after it became clear that they could not overcome a GOP parliamentary tactic forcing a 60-vote majority to end debate, Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane write in the Post. Four GOP members defected in the 52-47 vote, indicating that “a slim Senate majority supports bringing home most combat forces by May 1, 2008” (or at least are willing to vote for it knowing it will fail). Rather than press on with debate, the Democrats decided to postpone altogether the introduction of the Pentagon policy bill, which may freeze Iraq debate until September, when the next “benchmarks” progress report is due, and the war funding debate will pick up again. Still “sidelined” are two other bipartisan bills, one sponsored by Sens. Collins and Nelson to narrow US forces’ Iraq mandate, and another sponsored by Sens. Salazar and Alexander, among others, to compel the administration to adopt the Iraq Study Group recommendations as the basis of official policy. Antiwar groups expressed pleasure with Reid’s Senate tack, saying it forced the GOP to stare down the political consequences of sticking by the Bush administration on Iraq.

Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny have the story for the Times.

In spite of the predictable result, there was method to the Dems' madness, Gail Russell Chaddock writes in the Monitor: “Never mind that the amendment went down to certain defeat. Or that the legislative marathon changed only a single vote in the Senate. Washington's political theater is part of a deliberate political strategy aimed at living rooms across America. By presenting the choice over the future of the Iraq war in the starkest possible terms, Democrats hope to convince Americans of the need to change course and ratchet up the political pressure on Republican lawmakers supporting President Bush.”

Did someone say “political theater”? Dana Milbank, the Post’s resident critic of DC politicos’ showy shenanigans, was not amused, writing that the overnight affair was “more slumber than party.”

Times eds stand firm, however, lashing out at GOP procedural tactics: “The filibuster threat on Iraq also is part of a broader Republican tactic of demanding supermajorities on a raft of major issues in the hopes of paralyzing the Senate and then painting the Democrats as a do-nothing, marginal majority.”

Kathy Kiely writes up the Senate debate for USAT.


The NYT gets hip to the MRAPs story that has been USAT turf for so long, with David Cloud’s piece reporting that the Pentagon seeks $1.2 billion in appropriations to purchase 4,000 mine-resistant vehicles, outfitted to fare better against IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By the numbers: "The Bush administration originally sought $2.6 billion for fiscal 2007 to buy additional MRAPs but Congress increased the total by $1.2 billion. The Pentagon’s request this week, which shifts money from other Defense Department accounts, together with an additional $400 million the Pentagon now plans to spend on its own, would raise the total yet again, to around $5.4 billion, making the MRAP the Pentagon’s third largest acquisition program. The additional money will enable the Pentagon to increase the number of MRAPs due for delivery by the end of the year to 3,900 from 2,400, according to John J. Young Jr., director of Defense Research and Engineering at the Pentagon. About 3,500 are scheduled to be delivered to Iraq by then, he said. By next March, a total of 6,415 are due to be built, he said” Only 200 MRAPs are in operation in Iraq at present. The vehicles cost $1,000,000 each, with production scheduled to hit 1,300 per month by December.

Tom Vanden Brook and Peter Eisler have the story for USAT.

NIE debate

Opinion pages are full of debate over the recently released National Intelligence Estimate, with few surprises.

USAT eds try to avoid the temptation to let the whole debate slip into a spitting match over George W. Bush. Without pulling punches over the “misbegotten Iraq war” or the administration’s track record, they also dismiss the more conspiratorial theories about the NIE’s release as “dubious at best," adding, “It's hard to imagine that the administration could be pleased with such a poor report card from its own intelligence agencies.”

Journal editors find harmony between the NIE and their own positions, arguing that the report vindicates the Bush administration (and the WSJ) in their Iraq and “War on Terror” policies, closing with a challenge to “some of our Presidential hopefuls,” calling out Sens. Obama and Clinton by name, to react to the report’s conclusions.

Tony Snow, White House press secretary, contributes an op-ed to USAT rehearsing the administration’s positions.

In other coverage:


A Marine told investigators that he was aware that he shot women and children in Haditha in November 2005, Sonia Geis reports in the Post, according to the testimony of investigators. In May 2006, Lance Cpl. Steven Tatum explained to NCIS agents that he fired on targets inside a house in Haditha after a squad mate was killed in a nearby IED blast. "He was very remorseful about it and very emotional about it, to the point that he cried at this portion of the interview," said naval investigator Matthew Marshall in testimony at Camp Pendelton on Wednesday. Tatum is charge with multiple murder counts stemming from the Haditha incident. “Under cross-examination by Tatum's attorneys, Marshall acknowledged that Tatum never reviewed or signed written reports that included those statements. Marshall also said he did not tell Tatum that he was a suspect in a homicide investigation. And Marshall said that in a written report of his first interview on March 19, the only change Tatum requested was to add the word "unknowingly" to the sentence ‘I learned that I had engaged women and children during the clearing" of one of the houses’,” Geis writes.


Lanny Davis and Michael Medved contribute a lengthy op-ed arguing that the US has a moral imperative to aid Iraqis who have worked with the United States in Iraq. The two men, from opposite sides of the US political divide over the Iraq war, argue that this issue should “unite” Americans, who should seek to avoid a repeat of “the haunting images of the Vietnam War,” where Vietnamese who collaborated with the US faced harsh retribution. And how about the other four million Iraqi refugees?

Daily Column
Senate slumber party; More on Iraqi village massacre; Contractor surge underway
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/18/2007 01:54 AM ET
A resurgent al Qaeda and a Senate slumber party dominate the news today, with reports that al Qaeda is resurgent earning front-page play in the big guys' papers. A smattering of other coverage and a number of op-eds fill out the coverage today.

President Bush's strategy against al Qaeda in Pakistan "has failed," aides acknowledged, according to Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger of The New York Times. The NIE released yesterday said al Qaeda has grown stronger in the tribal areas of Pakistan and the U.S. is losing ground in the war on terror on a number of fronts. This report lands smack-dab in the middle of the Senate debate over U.S. strategy in Iraq, with Bush aides saying it proves Iraq is the central front in the war on terror (uh, how, exactly?) while war opponents say it proves the U.S. has been distracted by Iraq from the real war on terror -- in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. (That makes more sense.) A White House spokeswoman said Iraq was the central front because Osama bin Laden regarded it as such, too, thereby affirming the always-winning strategy of letting the enemy define the battlefield.

Scott Shane writes the Times' analysis on the NIE report, and concludes that after almost six years of warfare in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere, the battlefield looks much like it did in August 2001: Al Qaeda leaders bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are sitting in their mountain redoubts, like Fu-Manchu, plotting attacks against the West. As Daniel L. Byman, a former intelligence officer and the director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, said, the NIE's headline might as well have been the same as the one on Aug. 6, 2001: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus of the Washington Post cover much of the same ground as the Times -- not surprising considering they're all working from the same document -- but they provide a bit more backstory, noting that an April 2006 NIE "described a downward trend in al-Qaeda capabilities" since the 2001-2002 invasion of Afghanistan. Both NIE reports, however, said the Iraq war was a primary recruitment video for al Qaeda and senior intelligence officials said they expected al Qaeda to continue trying to "leverage" Al Qaeda in Iraq. (The primary strength of al Qaeda comes from the feckless response of Pakistan to the lawlessness of the Northwest Territories.) Most alarmingly, perhaps, are the warnings from Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, who said, "They're working as hard as they can in positioning trained operatives here in the United States. ... They have recruitment programs to bring recruits into ... Pakistan, particularly those that speak the right language, that have the right skills, that have the right base that they could come to the United States, fit into the population ... and carry out acts." Perhaps most interesting, however, is why this NIE is so gloomy after six years of relatively upbeat assessments (along with lots of public happy-talk from the Bush administration.) The reason? The intelligence community, which in the past tended to build on previous NIEs, has decided that earlier assessments were no longer "sacred text."

The Post drafts Michael Abramowitz as its analyst round-up dude, and he damns the White House with, well, no praise, actually, saying Team Bush "retreated to familiar ground" to highlight the parts of the report that favors the president's Iraq policy. Indeed, Bush met with reporters in the Oval office yesterday and concentrated on "a single paragraph," talking about al Qaeda's attempts to "leverage" al Qaeda in Iraq. Other analysts simply blamed the U.S. presence in Iraq for creating more terrorist by giving Osama bin Laden evidence that the U.S. wants to occupy Muslim lands.

Richard Willing of USA Today reports on how the NIE report fuels the debate on Iraq. " 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq' is a Bush-fulfilling prophecy (that) has helped al-Qaeda energize extremists around the world," said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Presidential Race. Which is why the U.S. must remove troops from Iraq.

Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane of the Post tackle the all-night shenanigans in the Senate. The whole thing smacks of theatrics, with cots being conspicuously set up and votes scheduled for times when major networks are starting their morning broadcasts. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says the plan is to focus attention on the GOP's "obstructionism" -- the GOP is threatening a filibuster on any Iraq legislation, which requires a 60-vote majority to end -- it's unclear what, exactly, the Democrats hope to accomplish by this. They'll keep everyone up all night, spend time in the well of the Senate talking and then when the vote comes, the amendment in question -- which would start a troop pullout within 120 days -- will fail by four or five votes. Most likely result: a bunch of sleepy senators. Also likely is that the stunt will harden GOP resolve among the true believers and perhaps even among the waverers, like Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, who don't like the theatrics. The Democrats will bolster their standing with the anti-war wing of the party, but don't look for much to happen before September. Speaking of that, the Post's pair talk to Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq's ambassador to Washington, who says even that is too soon.

Indeed, the Times' Carl Hulse reports that the handful of Republican senators who have broken with Bush over Iraq have refused to endorse the withdrawal amendment that's coming up for a vote. "You wonder if they are more interested in politics than dealing with the substance of this," said Voinovich, who has called for a rethinking of Iraq strategy. The Democrats have a slim majority in favor of the withdrawal bill, and have complained bitterly that the Republicans won't allow a simple majority vote. The slumber party is designed to increase pressure to do so. Jeff Zeleny and David M. Herszenhorn write up the scene, writing of pizza and cots, with the sergeant-at-arms standing by to hustle up any absent senators for votes.

USA Today's Kathy Kiely writes a brief roundup of the Senate developments but adds little to the others' coverage.

Meanwhile, back in Iraq, Alissa J. Rubin for the Times writes of 39 dead in Iraq on Tuesday and the emerging details of a massacre of Shi'ite civilians in Diyala province on Monday that killed 29 people. The attack on Dulayiya came in the late afternoon as villagers had gathered to watch a soccer match between Iraq and Oman in the Asian Games. Gunmen wearing Iraqi military uniforms and driving civilian pickup trucks surrounded several houses and shot into the houses or dragged the people out. The gunmen killed mostly young men and later mutilated 10 of the bodies. A witness from the village blamed Sunni Arab insurgents for the attack, the third such mass killing in Diyala province. Other violence included a car bomb in the Zayouna neighborhood of Baghdad that killed 20 and wounded 20, a car bomb near the Iranian embassy that killed four and the finding of 24 bodies in Baghdad on Tuesday. Following yesterday's devastation in Kirkuk, Kurdish officials in the north suggested sending 6,000 pesh merga to the outskirts of Kirkuk to provide security and protect oil and power lines. Additional Kurdish troops so near the disputed city could lead to complications. Rubin also reports that Moqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc ended its boycott.

The Post's Megan Greenwell reports a more gripping account of the Dulayiya massacre, getting more first-hand reports but with a number of differences with the Times' report. A witness described about 125 men in "official looking vehicles" and the shooting that happened not in the afternoon, but in the darkness of the early morning. She notes that the attack occurred just a few hours before Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs, arrived in Iraq where he said he is optimistic about efforts to stem the country's violence. She also mentions previous reports from American and Iraqi officials who claimed violence was going down in Diyala province thanks to Operation Arrowhead Ripper. Greenwell also notes al-Sadr's coming back to parliament following a government promise to rebuild the shrine. (Hm. Wasn't that same promise made last year when it was first blown up? Yes, it was.) The cabinet boycott -- over the failure to set a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal -- continues. She wraps up with the day's mayhem much as reported in the Times. She gets more eyewitness accounts, however.


Christian Science Monitor
Brad Knickerbocker gets in on the surge of contractor stories, writing yet another overview of the phenomenon of private citizens working in a war zone and doing duties traditionally done by militaries. Knickerbocker notes that the numbers could be as high as 180,000, as first reported in the Los Angeles Times, but fails to note the majority of those workers are Iraqis. Then he makes the odd comparison that in World War II and the Korean war, contractors only made up 3 to 5 percent of the force deployed. Korea wasn't an occupation and Seoul was a functioning state with its own military; while World War II was an existential conflict that conscripted much of the nation's young men. What is also missing in all these stories is some historical context. Not that long ago, only a couple of centuries back, an army was surrounded by a cloud of camp followers -- cooks, tanners, cobblers, whores and various other tradesmen who took care of the men in uniform -- all for a price, of course. An army doing all the work of conquering a country while at the same time handling all the occupation duties and its own logistical capabilities is a relatively new thing.

New York Times
Thomas Friedman is outraged that the Iraqi parliament is taking August off because it's too hot, while American troops are out on the street dying so the Iraqi parliament can have a holiday. In his op-ed, he calls for a diplomatic surge of America's best deal-makers to go to Iraq and not leave until they hammer out a deal or realize that it's hopeless, at which point the U.S. steps aside to let the Iraqis fight it out. "We owe Iraqis our best military — and diplomatic effort — to avoid the disaster of walking away," he writes. "But if they won't take advantage of that, we owe our soldiers a ticket home."

Maureen Dowd pens a biting op-ed (as usual), pointing out that "everything President Bush has been spouting the last six years about Al Qaeda being on the run, disrupted and weakened was just guff."

USA Today
USA Today continues its yeoman's work on MRAPs, as Tom Vanden Brook and Kathy Kiely report on the request to Congress by Defense Secretary Robert Gates for $1.3 billion to speed up production of the mine-resistant vehicles. Democrats are supportive of the measure.

Thomas Frank writes a separate story from Baghdad on the return of the Sadrists to parliament, and uses it to describe the usual scene inside the deputies' chamber. Dozens of legislators refuse to come out of fear of attack, while the atmosphere is toxic between Sunnis and everyone else. "The situation here does not encourage you to stay," Shiite lawmaker Mohammed al-Hemedawi said. He was talking about parliament, not Iraq, if you were confused. Washington Post
Robin Wright pens a curtain-opener on the second round of U.S.-Iran talks over Iraq, saying the U.S. would demand that Iran end its support for Shi'ite militias and stop providing EFPs. Talk preparations come while the Bush administration is preparing a third Security Council resolution against Iran.

In the continuing sage of the alleged Haditha massacre, Sonya Geis reports that a squad-mate to one of the accused Marines knew there were women and children in a room and shot them anyway. "I told him, there's women and kids in that room," Lance Cpl. Humberto M. Mendoza said of Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum. Tatum's response was, "Well, shoot them," Mendoza said. Another squad member testified Tuesday under immunity that Tatum signed a pack belonging to a slain marine with his name and 24 hatch marks -- the number of civilians killed in Haditha -- next to the words, "This one's for you." Howard Meyerson, a regular op-ed contributor, calls GOP moderates in the Senate "spineless" for not supporting a pullback measure sponsored by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I. The bill is the one currently up for debate in the Senate and would require a withdrawal start date 120 days from enacting the law. "Instead, they have drafted legislation that would require the administration to draw up plans for a pullback -- but not to implement them. Indeed, they act continually as if George Bush and Dick Cheney are amenable to argument and open to facts."

Finally, Josh White looks at a new program from the Army about PTSD and brain traumas, using a "chain-teaching" method that would reach all U.S. soldiers -- including the more than 150,000 stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan -- within 90 days. The goal is to remove the stigma attached to the ailments so that soldiers will get help. Most PTSD and brain traumas among soldiers go untreated because of the military culture. "There is a huge culture issue here, and it is this: that those leaders or soldiers who seek help could be perceived as being weak," said Lt. Gen. James L. Campbell, director of the Army staff. "And the whole thrust behind this program is that if you are in fact someone who needs help, that your desire to get that help is not perceived as a weakness but rather as a strength, as a personal courage to do it."

Debate Over US Policy on Iraq Dominates Coverage Among US Media Outlets
07/17/2007 09:08 AM ET

A key excerpt from the Project for Excellence in Journalism's latest weekly News Coverage Index:
Early last week, as the nation awaited a progress report on Iraq, much of the media portrayed President Bush as a besieged leader clinging to an endangered strategy. ABC anchor Charles Gibson—noting that one official described the White House in “panic mode”—began his July 9 newscast by describing mounting challenges to Bush’s war policy.

“A growing number of Republicans now say they want a new strategy for the war,” Gibson reported. “In other words, the number of problems for the President is rising while his support is falling.”

By the end of a dramatic week—which among other things included a mixed progress report card on Iraq–and another key GOP Senate defection—the President may have bought himself a few more months. (In September, General David Petraeus will deliver a more formal assessment of the war that could be politically decisive.)

“Bush quiets GOP revolt over Iraq” declared the July 13 headline in the Los Angeles Times. “By reporting some headway in his buildup, he seems to persuade lawmakers to wait for a September evaluation.”

If last week’s frantic political skirmishing failed to resolve the deadlock over Iraq policy, it did force the issue back onto the media front burner—after a considerable hiatus.

The Iraq policy debate was easily the biggest story of the week, filling 20% of the newshole, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index from July 8-13. It was also the top story in every media sector: newspapers 15%; online 17%; network 29%; cable 22%; and radio 20%.

And that marked a major media comeback. Although the war policy debate had been the top story in the first three months of 2007 (comprising 12% of the newshole), coverage slowed dramatically after May 24 Congressional votes to fund the war without imposing withdrawal timetables. That vote was seen as a major political win for the President and seemed to quiet the debate. It also dampened media interest in the political battle over the war. (In the period from May 27 through July 6, Iraq policy debate dropped to the seventh-biggest story, at 3%, finishing just ahead of the saga of the traveling TB victim.)

Here is the full PEJ report.
Daily Column
Wargaming the endgame; Pentagon contracting conflicts; Senate shenanigans
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/17/2007 01:58 AM ET
The New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today all have front-page must-reads today, looking at contractors, exit strategies and military contracts, respectively. Washington news is light today, as the Senate gears up for its second week of debate on Iraq.

Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks of the Post have a front-pager on the three likely outcomes of a U.S. drawdown in Iraq: ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from majority Shi'ite areas to Anbar province; a civil war in southern Iraq between Shi'ite factions; and the solidification of Kurdistan and the invitation to host U.S. troops. "In short," they write, "Iraq would effectively become three separate nations." These outcomes are not desirable, but neither are they the Cassandra-like warnings of President George W. Bush, who warns of both al Qaeda and Iranian takeovers of Iraq. In fact, war games point to regional instability rather than a takeover of Iraq by either of America's two nemeses. And this regional instability would not make an al Qaeda takeover likely -- it might make it less so as Sunni governments such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who have no love for al Qaeda, intervene. The same instability could also lead to Iran being bogged down in the expected intra-Shi'ite struggle in the south. In short, no one can really agree what will happen but all agree the future for Iraq and the United States is grim. How grim is the real question.

USA Today continues its new role as America's Muckraking Newspaper, with a front-page package by Matt Kelley, who looks at the contracts approved by the Pentagon for Iraq. Kelley reveals that the Pentagon fast tracks the approval of disputed contracts. "Through last October, almost two-thirds of costs challenged by Pentagon auditors as inflated, erroneous or otherwise improper -- more than $1 billion -- were eventually approved by project managers," Kelley writes. "That compares with 44% for all defense contracts in 2005." The thinking inside the Pentagon seems to be that because the contractors are operating in a war zone, they should be given some leeway. Auditors can question contracts and even temporarily block payment, but contract managers have the final decisions, which can't be challenged by auditors. One of the more egregious example is the largest contract in Iraq: KBR Inc.'s annual contract to provide support services to U.S. troops. Auditors found that the corporation proposed spending $110 million on housing, food, water and laundry for bases that had been shut down. "KBR got a contract extension for $3.7 billion, but it agreed to drop the proposed $110 million spending on closed bases and an additional $50 million of duplicate charges and math errors." KBR has been paid more than $20.1 billion through last October, and the Defense Contract Audit Agency has challenged more than 10 percent of that -- nearly $2.2 billion. The Army, paying $804 million, has resolved nearly $1.3 billion. That means KBR tried to overcharge by almost $500 million.

The Times has a front-page story by John M. Broder again delving into the troubles facing contractors when they come home from Iraq. In the case of Shaheen Khan, a former nursery school teacher, she joined up with KBR to do laundry for U.S. troops there, hoping to triple her $16,000 salary. But a car wreck there left her paralyzed from the chest down, and now she lives in a dreary nursing home in Houston. Broder lays out the problem like this:

This is the face of battle in a new war and a new century -- a 46-year-old Pakistani-American woman, part of a rented army of 130,000 civilians supporting 160,000 United States soldiers and marines. Taking the place of enlisted troops in every American army before this one, these contract employees cook meals, wash clothes, deliver fuel and guard bases. And they die and suffer alongside their brothers and sisters in uniform. About 1,000 contractors have been killed in Iraq since the war began; nearly 13,000 have been injured.

These are the forgotten contractors, not the private security fighters who make thousands of dollars a month. Workers like Shaheen make salaries that are far more modest and they make up the bulk of the contractors in Iraq. After she was hurt -- she will never walk again -- KBR dismissed her and turned her case over to the American International Group insurance company. While the company paid her medical and nursing home costs, she gets just $208.88 a week in disability costs, but which was eventually increased to $586 until she is able to go back to work.

Carl Hulse writes for the Times that the Democratic leadership is going to hold the Senate in session all night Tuesday night to highlight Republican threats to filibuster plans to pull troops from Iraq. "This week we'll make Republicans answer for their refusal to allow an up or down vote on the most important issue facing our country today," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "We're going to work today. We're going to work tomorrow and work tomorrow night. We're going to continue working on this until we get a vote on this amendment." Republicans responded that the Democrats were engaging in "bad theater" on the issue and said a 60-vote majority -- needed to break a filibuster -- is standard on contentious votes on the war so far this year. (Did the Republicans feel that way when Democrats threatened to filibuster contentious votes on conservative judges last year when the GOP had the majority? No. They threatened to do away with the filibuster as a parliamentary tactic.) Democrats easily have a majority for their troop withdrawal proposal, including some Republican defectors, but they don't have the votes to cut off debate. This latest tactic by Reid is to show voters where the obstruction lies, Democrats say. "If this were a majority vote, the vote of the Senate would reflect the majority feeling of the American people," said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat. "We would start bringing our troops home."

The Post's Shailagh Murray also reports on the Senate shenanigans, adding that Reid plans to apply the 60-vote threshold to all GOP-sponsored amendments, threatening to spill the debate over into next week. "It's 'turnabout is fair play,' " he said. Murray's story gives a much-needed rundown on the amendments in play and who's supporting them. Point of contention though: What the Republicans are threatening is a filibuster -- which the Times at least mentions in its story. The Post, however, refuses to call the GOP tactics a filibuster threat -- an omission that has plagued most papers on this issue.

Jill Lawrence of USA Today, takes this week's actions in the Senate to report on the Democratic presidential candidates' plans. Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware, Hillary Clinton of New York and Illinois' Barak Obama all support the Levin-Reed plan, which would require Bush to begin reducing troops within four months and reassign the remaining troops to counter-terrorism, border patrol and training of Iraqi forces. Lawrence, to her credit, lays out the Republican plan, calling the delaying tactics a filibuster.

Megan Greenwell leads the Post's roundup with the horrific bombings in Kirkuk, which killed more than 80 people, making it the deadliest bomb there since the war began. The attacks are increasing tension between ethnic Turkmen, Kurds and Arabs there, which have been already strained by the requirements for a referendum -- constitutionally set for October -- on the status of Kirkuk. It's also raising fears that insurgents pushed out of Baghdad and Diyala province are relocating to other, less secure places. A few hours after the first two bombs, another car bomb killed an Iraqi police officer and wounded six others in the southern part of the city. The attacks come on the heels of the announcement of a new major offensive south of Baghdad, called Marne Avalanche, which would build on Marne Torch to disrupt the flow of weapons into Baghdad and prevent southern Baghdad from becoming a haven for insurgents moving up from other parts of the country. At least 15 people were killed in Baghdad on Monday in small-scale violence. Two U.S. soldiers have died over the last two days -- one in a bomb blast in Mosul and another of "non-combat" causes. Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki "clarified" -- read: "contradicted" -- his statement over the weekend that Iraqi security forces could take over from U.S. forces "any time," undermining the White House rationale for staying in Iraq. On Monday, Malaki said they were on their way to gaining control, but that he hopes they can take over by the end of the year.

The Times' roundup, by Richard a. Oppel Jr. and Ali Adeeb, also leads with the Kirkuk attacks, adding that hours after the bombs there, gunmen in Iraqi military uniforms stormed a village in Diyala province and killed 29 men, women and children. There was little information other than the base facts on the massacre in Adwala, but the use of Iraqi military trucks and the uniforms indicate that insurgents either stole an entire platoon's worth of equipment, or they were members of the security forces. A local official said the Kirkuk attack, which killed 85 and wounded 185, used 9,000 pounds of explosives and gouged a crater several yards deep -- a similar attack to that against the village of Amerli, which killed more than 150 people. Elsewhere, Oppel and Adeeb have the deaths of the two U.S. soldiers, and add that 25 unidentified bodies were found around the city. An IED killed five Iraqi soldiers, while mortars killed two people in Baghdad and a car bomb killed one. Gunmen also killed three policemen south of Fallujah.


Christian Science Monitor
Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor looks at the "Legitimate Resistance Force" the U.S. has allied with in Diyala province. It's a collection of "ex-insurgents, police dropouts with checkered backgrounds, and former Al Qaeda-linked fighters" who have decided to fight the loose grouping of jihadists the Americans call al Qaeda in Iraq. But such alliances are temporary and treacherous, with the risks high of creating new militias that will need to be battled down the road. But the U.S. is apparently willing to take those risks in order to show gains against the enemy by September.

New York Times
David Brooks fawns over President Bush as a great man of history in his latest column. Bush claims to be able to read the character of world leaders and thus, "the tablet that really matters." Of course believes in the Great Man theory of history -- most national leaders do.

USA Today
America's newspaper has a longish editorial based on its massive package yesterday on the Pentagon's bumbling on the deployment of MRAP vehicles for U.S. troops in Iraq. While summarizing much of the story, the editorial goes on to state: "It has become routine to criticize the Bush administration for bad planning, denial and a lack of imagination in failing to anticipate the difficulty of the Iraq mission. That certainly applies here. When President Bush told troops' families in December 2004 that 'we're doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones,' it simply wasn't true."

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Washington Post
The picture on the top of her column, Anne Applebaum looks like a nice lady with a sunny disposition. Her column today though is deeply pessimistic. And while it's tough for people who want easy solutions to Iraq, it's a necessary tonic to the number of plans -- so many! -- floating around. More soldiers, fewer troops, new mission, no mission? They have the seeds of disaster or even catastrophe in them. And the U.S. would have moral responsibility at the very least. Applebaum shows the ghost of H.L. Mencken is still around. As he once famously quipped: "There is always an easy solution to every human problem -- neat, plausible, and wrong."

Christian Davenport goes for the heart with a tribute to Staff Sgt. Darryl D. Booker, of the Virginia Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment. He died in Iraq on Jan. 20 when his helicopter crashed, killing all 12 soldiers on board. But the ceremony Davenport recounts is one of military formality and remembrances by his widow, mother and friends.

Daily Column
Working with former foes; JAM the real enemy; top general says stay the course
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/16/2007 01:54 AM ET
Good enterprise day today, with two must-reads. One is from the Washington Post on fighting the Mahdi Army in western Baghdad and the other from USA Today, which continues its dogged reporting on the should-be scandal of the lack of armored vehicles in Iraq. And The New York Times looks at the distrust among Iraqis as former insurgents patrol alongside U.S. troops.

USA Today scores the first big package of the week and it's a doozy, with a look at what should be a major scandal: the refusal to provide properly armored vehicles, the lack of which has cost perhaps hundreds of troops' lives in Iraq. Peter Eisler, Blake Morrison and Tom Vanden Brook report that the Pentagon balked at appeals from field commanders for better armored vehicles known as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs). Their leade is worth quoting in depth:

Pfc. Aaron Kincaid, 25, had been joking with buddies just before their Humvee rolled over the bomb. His wife, Rachel, later learned that the blast blew Kincaid, a father of two from outside Atlanta, through the Humvee's metal roof.

Army investigators who reviewed the Sept. 23 attack near Riyadh, Iraq, wrote in their report that only providence could have saved Kincaid from dying that day: "There was no way short of not going on that route at that time (that) this tragedy could have been diverted."

A USA TODAY investigation of the Pentagon's efforts to protect troops in Iraq suggests otherwise.

Years before the war began, Pentagon officials knew of the effectiveness of another type of vehicle that better shielded troops from bombs like those that have killed Kincaid and 1,500 other soldiers and Marines. But military officials repeatedly balked at appeals -- from commanders on the battlefield and from the Pentagon's own staff -- to provide the lifesaving Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, for patrols and combat missions, USA TODAY found.

The calls for the vehicles went out as early as December 2003, 14 months before the issue became known because of inquiries from senators. Air Force Gen. Richard Meyers (Ret.) was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff then and doesn't recall MRAPs being on the Pentagon's agenda. Roadside bombs are the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Iraq. The vehicle, which sits three feet off the ground and has a V-shaped hull, which deflects the force of the blast away from the underbelly of the vehicle, is not new technology. It was developed in the 1970s, and a few were even purchased for Iraq and sent along with EOD teams.

But worse, USA Today reports, is that "Even as the Pentagon balked at buying MRAPs for U.S. troops, USA TODAY found that the military pushed to buy them for a different fighting force: the Iraqi army." According to emails obtained by USA Today, the Pentagon sought out MRAPs for Iraqi troops with far more zeal than they did for its own. "By all accounts, these are some of the best (armored vehicles) in the world," wrote Lt. Col. Clay Brown, researching procurement for the Iraqis in December 2004. "If I were fitting out the Iraqi Army, this is where I'd look (wish we had some!)" Indeed. It was only two months ago that the Pentagon made MRAP acquisition a top priority for Marines in Anbar and the rest of the military, despite long-standing urgent requests for them from field commanders. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was apparently influenced by reports that in about 300 roadside bombings last year involving MRAPs, there were no fatalities.

The trio's story illuminates so many blind spots in the military's response to this issue: The Pentagon didn't feel the urgency because the war wasn't supposed to last this long (May 1, 2003, "Mission Accomplished"); former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was in love with the idea of faster, lighter and more agile forces, which the MRAP is not; and an emphasis on preventing IEDs from exploding rather than on surviving the blast, which put MRAPs low on the list of possible solutions. USA Today says a steady stream of memos and emails on the issue usually crawled up the command chain and "withered." It's been said that in some cases, it is worse to make a mistake than to commit a crime. In this case, given how many have died, it seems like the mistake made is positively criminal. Major props to USA Today for this important story.

The Times' Richard A. Oppel Jr. hoofs it over to Nasr Wa Salam between Baghdad and Fallujah to look at the tension between former Sunni insurgents who have been brought over to the Americans' side and the Iraqi security forces, mainly Shi'ites, who are under orders to shut these guys down. The Americans troops, lucky bastards, have to navigate between the two groups. Oppel interviews Abu Azzam, who says he commands 2,300 men who were formerly members of groups such as the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade and the Mujahedeen Army, which fought U.S. forces. "Now his men patrol alongside the Americans, who want to turn them into a security force that can bring peace to this stretch between Baghdad and Falluja," he writes. But in Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti and his brigade of Iraqi Army soldiers are under strict orders not to support groups like Abu Azzam's and even to arrest them. Whether the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi government can tolerate Sunni security groups like Abu Azzam's is a crucial test for Iraq's hoped-for reconciliation. Lt. Col. Kurt Pinkerton says al-Hiti's men, who are mainly Shi'ite, are intent on not letting the Volunteers, as Abu Azzam's men are called, control the area assigned to them. Recently, 80 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles charged toward Nasr Wa Salam, but were blocked by an American platoon, Oppel writes. It took Apache gunships circling overhead and the leveling of M-16s at the Iraqis for the Shi'ites to back down. Pinkerton said such experiences have flipped his perceptions. "I could stand among 1,800 Sunnis in Abu Ghraib," he said, "and feel more comfortable than standing in a formation of Iraqi soldiers." Still, the Americans don't trust them. At a recent awards ceremony, Pinkerton asked 40 soldiers how many trusted the Volunteers. None raised his hand.

Finally, Joshua Partlow of the Post digs into the challenges facing U.S. troops fighting the Mahdi Army, undermining the charge that al Qaeda is the main enemy in Iraq. In one neighborhood of western Baghdad the Mahdi Army, who have cleansed the area of most of its Sunnis and restricted access to city services such as water and power for the rest. American commanders say the militia has engaged in a campaign of extortion and intimidation, and often attack U.S. troops with EFPs, making West Rashid a tough area for the G.I.s. Violence has risen and fallen over the months, but a recent downturn in violence is not always a good sign, according to Capt. Jay Wink, the intel officer for the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Battalion. "Now that the Sunnis are all gone, murders have dropped off," he said. "One way to put it is they ran out of people to kill." The commanders blame "special groups" or "secret cells" of "Iranian-backed militiamen" for the violence. Maybe they're acting independently of Moqtada al-Sadr, the nominal leader of the Mahdi Army, because they've splintered into loosely affiliated groups over which Sadr has little control, they say. Or maybe they're acting against him. Who knows? But it would have been nice for Partlow or an Iraqi staffer of the Post to dig a little deeper into this area, because answering those questions have real impact on American policy. As it is, the only sourcing in the story is U.S. military.

The Post's Walter Pincus reports that Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is calling for a vote on the reauthorization of the Iraq war, because "it no longer covers what U.S. forces are doing or will do in the future." This is a interesting development because it puts Warner and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in the same camp. She has been calling for a new authorization for the war as part of her presidential campaign. But whereas Clinton wants the authorization as a cudgel, Warner says he wants a new authorization so "our forces fighting and the world can see this clear support between the Congress and the president's mission." He wants the vote by Oct. 16, the 5-year anniversary of the original vote authorizing President George W. Bush to "protect the United States from Saddam Hussein and enforce United Nations resolutions involving Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." However, Warner and his colleague Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who have co-authored the bill calling for the reauthorization, want a change in strategy now rather than September, so how this bill shows support for the president's policies is a little unclear. The White House has said it will oppose the bill.

Gail Russell Chaddock of the Christian Science Monitor reports that this summer anti-war activists will seek to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress into moving away from the White House's position on Iraq. Six out of seven GOP senators who voted against Bush's position on Iraq are up for re-election next year, and the various groups -- which include -- are looking to peel even more from the Bush orbit. The Iraq Summer campaign, as it's called, is modeled after the 1964 Freedom Summer civil rights campaign. "It claims 100 organizers in 15 states and 40 congressional districts, plus a $9 million budget." Organizers say 60 members of Congress have been targeted. Their influence shouldn't be overstated, however. They're making small ad buys and many voters aren't seeing them, says Jennifer Duffy, of the Cook Political Report. "They're creating a lot of noise, but I don't know that they can take that victory lap yet," she is quoted as saying.

Brian Knowlton reports for the Times that National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley is urging Congressional leaders to drop efforts to limit the American mission in Iraq, at least until September. Hadley spoke from ABC's "This Week," gently dissing the Lugar-Warner plan. "They've done a useful service in indicating the kinds of things that we should be thinking about," Mr. Hadley said on ABC's "This Week," "but the time to begin that process is September." Obvious follow-up question: Um, why wait until September? And why does the administration think it's OK to demand change in eight weeks when no change in the underlying dynamics is expected. More and more, it seems like the administration knows it will have to make some changes, but it just wants to make everyone wait until September because that's what Bush said, and that's what Bush wants.

Megan Greenwell and Sudarsan Raghavan lead the Post's roundup with the killing of at least 25 Iraqis in Baghdad on Sunday, with 10 killed in a car-bomb attack in a busy market area. The pair follows that with a comment from Rear Adm. Mark I. Fox -- and he is...? -- who said Shi'ite militiamen are still infiltrating the Iraqi police, but the number is "decreasing every day." He was responding to a question about the street battle between Iraqi police and U.S. troops that left six police officers dead and a police lieutenant arrested for being a high-level officer in a Shi'ite militia. (Which one?) "Fox called the incident 'clear, unambiguous evidence that there are steps that are being taken' to eliminate the infiltration of the police force," the two write. Uh huh. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has fired 14,000 employees because of questions about their loyalty, but how did they come to hire 14,000 disloyal members in the first place? Elsewhere, a shortfall of Iraqi troops southeast of Baghdad has led the U.S. commander there to recruit local volunteers to protect their own homes, but the commander said the U.S. was not creating new militias. "They are local Iraqi provincial volunteers helping in security. We are not arming anybody," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch. "We vet these individuals." Kind of like the vetting at the Interior Ministry that allowed 14,000 militiamen to infiltrate the place? Outside of Baghdad, roadside bombs and ambushes killed at least two Iraqi police officers in Mosul and Tal Afar. Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Iraqi Accord Front, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, was almost attacked in his convoy by a roadside bomb, but no one was hurt. A bomb killed a U.S. soldier Saturday. The American military arrested 23 alleged insurgents over the weekend, including several they think are connected to al Qaeda in Iraq. In a raid earlier this week, the military announced that it had killed 29 suspected al Qaeda in Iraq members and captured another 23.

Alissa J. Rubin leads her roundup for the Times with the news that 24 Iranians who had been detained for entering Iraq illegally have escaped. Four have been recaptured, but the rest remain on the lam. After a brief bit of background on the porous border and pilgrims, Rubin dismisses the fugitives and moves on to violence. In Kut, 70 miles southeast of Baghdad, the wife of the provincial council leader was killed, along with her 8-year-old son, by gunmen who broke into the house at 6 p.m. Twenty-two bodies were found in Baghdad, the bodies of two women were found in another location and in the Sunni neighborhood of Adel, a gunman killed a civilian. Rubin says the car bomb in the market area killed at least five and wounded 15, while the AP puts the number at 10 killed and 25 wounded. A roadside bomb killed an American soldier Saturday. Near the end, Rubin gets into her real love: Iraqi politics. The Shi'ite government is negotiating with the Sunni bloc and Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc to come back into the government. There are also negotiations underway to "finesse" the resignation of Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the allegedly abrasive Sunni speaker of the parliament. (He's not really liked by anyone, but he refuses to resign.) Interestingly, the state-run al-Iraqiya television station covered the story of insurgents in the Amiriya neighborhood for the first time, reporting that they have turned against al Qaeda in Iraq and will fight to drive the jihadis out.


New York Times
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, in charge of a major part of the effort to secure Baghdad, spoke out forcefully that the surge should be allowed to continue, reports John F. Burns. "It's going to take us through the summer and fall to deny the enemy his sanctuaries" south of Baghdad, Lynch said, according to Burns. "And then it's going to take us through the first of the year and into the spring" to consolidate the gains. The general said a pullback would expose Iraqi civilians to reprisals from insurgents who would flow back into the vacuum left by a drawdown on troops. "When we go out there, the first question they ask is, 'Are you staying?' " he said. "And the second question is, 'How can we help?' " He added, "What we hear is, 'We've had enough of people attacking our villages, attacking our homes, and attacking our children.' " He acknowledged, though, that holding onto recent gains would require about a third more Iraqi troops. Lynch flips the running argument against the Iraqi army as too incompetent or riven by sectarian differences, instead arguing that there aren't enough of them. This gets back to the oldest question about Iraq: How many troops is it going to take? We've got 160,000 American troops and a few hundred thousand more Iraqi troops -- at least on paper -- and it's still not enough?

USA Today
Hey, remember when Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki said yesterday that Iraqi security forces could take over from U.S. forces "any time," throwing the whole idea that American troops needed to stay in order to protect the country and complete the mission into disarray? Funny story, that. Turns out, Iraqi and American officials are backpedaling fiercely on that one, reports Thomas Frank. Iraqi Army Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta said some Iraqi units can operate independently but others still need support. Hadley, Bush's National Security Advisor, said Malaki was suggesting Iraqi security forces "need to take responsibility" -- not that they're ready to take over. Really? Here's what Malaki said, according to the AP: Iraqi forces can "take the responsibility completely" of security "if the international forces withdraw at any time they want." American officials say the Iraqi security forces are either a) too few, b) beset by "loyalty issues," a euphemism for being infiltrated by militias or c) both. The White House report card issued last week gave Iraqi security forces an "unsatisfactory" grade, and Iraq's foreign minister says Iraq could disintegrate if the Americans leave. Sounds like Malaki's mouth is writing checks his army can't cash.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Malaki: We can take over; Military families losing faith; Advice for President
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/15/2007 01:58 AM ET
Washington politics again dominate Sunday's news, but the flurry of news that we got last week is diminishing. Are the reporters getting tired? Thankfully, the Washington Post has a must-read on President George W. Bush's relationship with Gen. David Petraeus, and why that could cause trouble for the general down the line. And The New York Times provides some spin control on Bush's "gentleman's 'C'" he gave Iraq last week, and throws in a couple of stories from the home front.

Thomas E. Ricks of the Post has the must-read piece of the day -- especially if you're the top general in Iraq. He picks up on how often Bush mentions Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the American forces in Iraq, and muses that Bush is pushing some of the Iraq political burden onto the general, possibly setting him up as the fall-guy should the surge strategy fail. "Bush has mentioned Petraeus at least 150 times this year in his speeches, interviews and news conferences," Ricks writes, "often setting him up in opposition to members of Congress." He mentions U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker far less frequently. At his latest news conference, Bush mentioned Petraeus 12 times and Crocker only twice. Marine Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson (Ret.) told Ricks the president is sending the message that Iraqi is "purely a military problem." That's convenient, since that's the only part of the U.S.'s plan in Iraq that's showing any progress, according to the White House's own report (spin notwithstanding.) The political process on the part of the Iraqis, which is key to holding the country together and which is more important than the military aspect, has shown no progress. Linking Petraeus and the surge strategy, which was Bush's idea, not the general's, will allow Bush to turn on Petraeus if Iraq falls apart -- as the administration has done with many former generals whenever it changes course, said Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official. Paul Wolfowitz publicly humiliated Gen. Eric Shinseki, who said Iraq would need more troops. Gen. George Casey, Petraeus predecessor, was blamed for not doing enough to secure the Iraqi people. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "was effectively fired last month." Ricks has great historical context on this issue, noting that while commander of the 101st Airborne Division during 2003, Petraeus often clashed with L. Paul Bremer over decisions that later turned out to be mistakes.

The Times' Jim Rutenberg picks apart last week's White House report on Iraq, and determines that, shockingly, the report "included several grim assessments of the Iraqi government that contrasted with the more upbeat public statements of President Bush, his top aides and public White House briefing materials in the past few weeks." In recent statements, both White House Spokesman Tony Snow and Bush said the Iraqis were making "progress" on the crucial oil law. But the report listed that benchmark as "unsatisfactory." The picture is much the same regarding the reconciliation with members of the Ba'ath Party. The rule seems to be upbeat statements in the past, gloomy report card. A spokesman for the National Security Council, which oversaw the report's drafting, said the report was "a snapshot in time" and that developments appeared different from one moment to the next. Why have reports at all, then? If events in Iraq exhibit a quark-like uncertainty principle, there is no way to predict the future or learn from the past. Darn! The main point of this article, capped by the NSC's public throwing up of hands in the face of the inscrutableness of Iraq, deserved tougher treatment from Rutenberg. It would have been nice to see a more aggressive line of questioning: Why were upbeat statements made when the report said the opposite? Why can't the administration extrapolate?

David M. Herszenhorn writes for the Times on a proposal floating around the Senate to adopt the 79 policy recommendations from the Iraq Study Group as official U.S. policy. The story's a fine primer on the bill, drafted by Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., but it doesn't really give a sense of its chances for passage or who, exactly is for it. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., likes it for its "fresh start" while Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., doesn't, saying the bill has no teeth in it. Why is he so opposed? Are the domestic politics involved? The bill will come to a vote next week after all other proposals have been voted on, offering a last chance before the summer recess to pass something. After that, the next window is September.

The Post continues its series on four Congress members it profiled last week, recapping the week's news. (The members of Congress profiled are Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., and Rep Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.) There's nothing greatly revelatory in this, if you've been following the news, but it's a nice way to put faces on the debate in Iraq wracking the Senate and House. Snowe, in a long-anticipated move, broke with the White House, Boren and Isakson both are waiting until September and Schakowsky, party of the House Democratic whip team exulted in the turning of the tide in Congress on the war. "It's just over," she thought to herself. "And the question is: How soon can we do it?"

Ian Urbina of the Times turns his eyes to the nation's military families, where support for the war is showing signs of collapse. Polls among military families show support for the war down, and an increase in pessimism toward the outcome. More families are talking to their representatives and senators, asking them to help end the war. Recruiting efforts are suffering, mainly due to resistance from families. Longer and repeated deployments are eroding the support among the spouses. Even a few military wives on bases -- usually the least likely to speak out in opposition to their husband's efforts -- have joined an anti-war group that represents military families. "I backed this war from the beginning," said Beth Pyritz, 27, who recently joined the group. "But I don't think I can look my kids in the eyes anymore, if my husband comes home in a wooden box, and tell them he died for a good reason." Urbina notes, however, that this is still a minority phenomenon. Many military families still support Bush, and dissent among the families was more widespread during the Vietnam War (the draft didn't help). But the dissent is real, and more soldiers are voting with their feet. In the 2006 fiscal year, 3,196 soldiers deserted, compared to 2,543 in FY2005 and 2,357 in FY2004. Since the beginning of the current fiscal year, which began in October, 871 soldiers have deserted.

Speaking of deserting, Michelle York of the Times writes of an Army medic who went AWOL after kind of losing it in Iraq and exhibiting serious PTSD symptoms. Spec. Eugene Cherry's was a high-profile case and was about to go to court-martial when last week the Army dropped the charges and gave him a general discharge. It's significant because guys who've been AWOL for as long as he has been -- he's been on the lam since fall 2005 -- usually get lengthy prison terms. The Army is realizing the toll Iraq is taking on its soldiers.

Megan Greenwell leads the Post's roundup of news from Baghdad with a press conference from Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, who said that Iraq was ready to take over security "any time" the Americans want to leave. However, he added, it would be nice if the Americans provided more weapons and training, saying that's what the Iraqi forces need. (Which will take time, totally negating his claim that they can take over "any time.") Greenwell rightly recognizes the prime minister's remarks worthless and quickly moves on to what matters to the Iraqi people: the continuing deterioration in the security situation. Eleven people died in three car bombings across Baghdad. There was more sectarian warfare, as 23 bodies were found in various neighborhoods, included four women. The victims had been tortured and shot in the head. Gunmen in Jebala killed eight Shi'ites, about four miles south of Baghdad. A U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded when an EFP exploded near their convoy in eastern Baghdad. A landmine killed another soldier, but Greenwell doesn't know where. The military announced it had captured a "senior leader" of al Qaeda in Iraq, but apparently didn't name him. The alleged bad guy operated a network of cells in and around Mosul, the military said. And at least six insurgents were killed in a U.S. airstrike in Diyala province, Greenwell reports. She mentions that the military said, "the airstrike was necessary to protect women and children the gunmen were using as shields." Hm. Airstrikes seem a highly imprecise way to deal with what amounts to a hostage situation.

Richard a. Oppel Jr. gives a little more information on Malaki's apparent malarkey for the Times' roundup, grounding the prime minister's statements in the context of the progress report handed in by the White House last week. Oppel seems to be implying that Malaki is feeling a bit defensive after the report noted the Iraqi security forces had failed to make much progress in ending favoritism in their ranks. "Such favoritism toward Shiites, the report found, even included evidence of Malaki advisers in the Office of the Commander in Chief distributing 'target lists,' primarily of Sunnis who were to be arrested, directly to lower-level commanders." Oppel also notes that the U.S. military said Friday that training efforts had slowed because of the surge and the number of battalions that can operate without American support had fallen to six last month, compared to 10 in March. How many battalions are there, anyway? In the news around Baghdad, Oppel mentions the two American military deaths and adds the killing of a 30-year-old Iraqi interpreter for Reuters. It's the third Reuters employee killed this week. Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said that Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali," would be hanged in Halabja, the site of his most notorious mass killing, assuming he failed in his appeal. The Times has 21 bodies found in Baghdad, instead of the Post's 23, and mentions the three bombings. Oppel sheds a little more light on the airstrike in Diyala. Apparently after the guerillas released the women and children, the Americans continued to take fire and then called in the airstrike. That makes more sense, thanks Richard. Another airstrike killed five suspected insurgents in Diwaniya, according to the military.


New York Times
Maureen Dowd chimes in with some advice for Bush and Cheney: confess your sins, al a Zheng Xiaoyu, a top regulator who helped create China’s Food and Drug Administration, and come clean. (She disapproves of Zheng's execution, thank goodness.) She helpfully pens a list of confessions for Bush, laying out every failure and lack of judgment over the last six years. It's a sobering read.

Washington Post
Thomas E. Ricks opens his inbox again to the public with a chilling poem from an anonymous service member claiming to be writing from Walter Reed. It describes a toxic stew of PTSD, conflicting drugs and a soldier unable to find peace:

I can't sleep.
I know its eleven in the morning.
But I can't stop shaking, and
Sleep is the only way to make it stop.
My body is rejecting itself.

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, sticks his fingers in his ears and sings "la-la-la-la-la!" ... and then pens an op-ed that goes against the conventional wisdom: Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Bush presidency will be seen as a success.

Daily Column
Two more GOP senators bolt; Iran is the 'real enemy'; Gaps in Iraqi training
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/14/2007 01:50 AM ET
Today's coverage is dominated by loss. The Washington Post fronts a story on a small town in Iowa's loss of two of its young men and The New York Times mourns the loss of one of its own in Baghdad. Politically, and less poignantly, President George W. Bush faces the loss of two more staunch supporters in the Senate.

The Post's Peter Slevin looks at Tipton, Iowa, a small town of 3,000 that has lost two of its best and brightest in the Iraq war. It's a poignant story of two young men who came home dead. The attitudes in the town -- a community of rock-ribbed Republicanism -- are shifting against Bush and the war. "The war and the way he's handled it. We've lost too many boys," said Bob Peck, 71, a former Marine from his perch at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2537. "We've been there long enough, and it's not doing anything. It doesn't look like it will." The midwest and the south have long been the most loyal to Bush, but as the war grinds on, and small towns like Tipton bear the burden, his support is eroding even here. The nation's heartland is losing its heart for the war.

In Baghdad, the Times lost one its own yesterday. Khalid W. Hassan, a large, "pranksterish" 23-year-old reporter and translator, was gunned down as he was trying to get to work at The New York Times bureau, John Burns reports on the paper's front page. Hassan is the second Times' staffer to be killed in Iraq. The other was Fakher Haider in Basra, who local officials say was killed by Shi'ite militiamen angry about his work for the Times. The Committee to Protect Journalists says 110 reporters have been killed in Iraq since March 2003, a toll that includes 88 Iraqis, including Hassan. Hassan was a Sunni and a Palestinian, whose family fled to Iraq in 1948. Residents of Adhamiya, a Sunni stronghold where he was buried, shouted slogans against Shi'ite "infidels" and the American "occupiers." Friends and relatives believe he was killed by Mahdi Army militiamen who discovered he was Sunni. But 12 hours after his death, one of Hassan's relatives received a text message warning him to "return to God" of be killed like Hassan. It was signed by the Brigade of the Mujahdeen, an unknown organization but, based on the name, probably a Sunni group. IraqSlogger joins in offering condolences to the Times and Hassan's family.

Joshua Partlow of the Post scores an interview with a guy claiming to be the "general coordinator" between al Qaeda in Iraq and the Omar Brigade, a group set up by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2005 as a counterweight to the Badr Brigade, which was established and supported by Iran in the 1980s. ("Omar" is a quintessential Sunni name.) Abu Sarhan, 37, says Iraq's Sunnis are locked in an "entrenched" civil war against Iranian-backed Shi'ites, and American tactics of putting small outposts of soldiers in violent neighborhoods only inflames the insurgency. "If U.S. forces release Sunni detainees, remove the concrete blast barriers that now cordon off several neighborhoods and improve services in areas neglected by the Shiite-led government," the attacks would be reduced "95 percent within days," Partlow quotes Abu Sarhan as saying. Hm. Doesn't sound like the al Qaeda we know and hate, who are usually pretty fired up about the "Zionist-Crusader War." In fact, this guy sounds more like a nationalist than a jihadi. "I personally don't have a hatred of the American people, and I respect American civilization," said Abu Sarhan. "They have participated in the progress of all the nations of the world. They invented computers. Such people should be respected." Does al Masri, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq know about this guy's attitude? At least he still hates Shi'ites: "People who are crying over someone who died 1,400 years ago" -- the Shi'ites, who venerate Imam Ali, who was killed in the 7th century -- "these should be eliminated, to clear the society of them, because they are simply trash." Such bigotry aside, Partlow's story is a valuable one, however, and deserves better play than being stuffed on A13. His interview shows the dissension and divisions within the insurgency and that al Qaeda in Iraq is a small -- if important -- part of the militancy, not "public enemy number one" as Petraeus and the president have stressed. Abu Sarhan paints a picture that closely maps with that of intelligence analysts on Iraq: AQI is one of "hundreds" of groups, some aligned and some in conflict, ranging in size from small cells to battalion-sized groupings. There needs to be more reporting on the structure of the insurgency like this, please.

Both the Times and the Post report on the new legislation that has come from the offices of Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and John Warner of Virginia, two of the most respected voices on military and foreign affairs in the Senate.

The Times' Jeff Zeleny gives a fairly to-the-point rundown of the anticipated legislation: By Oct. 16, Bush would have to present to Congress contingency plans to narrow the mission in Iraq, which would include protecting the borders, training Iraqi forces, protecting American military personnel and going after terrorists. The plan should start by Dec. 31. It would also require Bush to seek a new authorization for the war and update the National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq by Sept. 4. This succinct and necessary summation of Lugar's and Warner's proposal comes after the politicking Washington journalists love. However, in this case, the context was even more necessary. The Lugar-Warner proposal attempts to blend a flurry of proposals floating around the Senate -- "There are, it seems, nearly as many Iraq proposals circulating on Capitol Hill as there are senators who question the war," Zeleny drolly writes -- and attract, finally, a working consensus around a bill. Right now, there are too many proposals, splitting the opposition to war and preventing a 60-vote majority from forming. The status quo only benefits Bush, who doesn't want meddling Senators getting in his foreign policy club house.

Shailagh Murray and Robin Wright pen a sprawling front-pager for the Post, saying the "Republican revolt" is gathering speed with the Lugar-Warner bill. The Post notes that the senators' plan falls short of Democratic demands "to set a firm timetable for withdrawal" but indicates that more ground is crumbling under the president's feet. While the bill may not pass, "it could shape the debate as Congress wrestles with its position on the war" in the run-up to the September report. However, the duo report that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is unwilling to bend on legislation that doesn't include a firm timeline for troop withdrawal.

Interestingly, the Post notes that this Congressional action comes while Team Bush is attempting to rally support among Sunni governments in the Middle East to come to Iraq's aid "if only to maintain a buffer zone against Iran." Whoa! That's new. They also get points for the understatement of the week: Secretaries of State and Defense Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates "will point out that a Shiite-dominated Iraqi government could become a buffer because Iraqis do not like a foreign presence."

The duo also said the U.S. military is also trying to show that it's making progress on troop redeployment, revealing its "intent" to reduces forces in northern Iraq by half beginning as early as January. But here's the question: Are they talking about Iraqi Kurdistan or do they also include Nineveh province? Because if it's just Kurdistan, cutting the number of troops in half isn't hard -- or meaningful. There's like, what? A dozen there? A little more specificity on the numbers, please. The White House failed to persuade the Iraqi parliament to stick around and finish its work, presidential aides acknowledged, and White House spokesman Tony Snow offers this weak spin: "You know, it's 130 degrees in Baghdad in August." Aww! Maybe the troops can take August off, too, then? At least the parliamentarians get to sit in air conditioning. Sheesh.

David S. Cloud and Thom Shanker report for the Times that the surge strategy has resulted in a slow-down in training Iraqi forces, a mission considered vital to the plan to turn over security to Iraqis and bring American troops home. Training efforts have slowed, according to American commanders, because preparing the Iraqis to operate on their own is now secondary to "protecting Iraqis and the heavy use of American combat power." This news must be tough to swallow for Gen. David Petraeus, who was once in charge of training Iraqi security forces and has now inherited the president's surge strategy. While noting that provincial reconstruction teams are also falling short, the reporting duo write: "Iraqi units are gaining tactical experience and improving through their contribution to the new security effort, officials said, but they remain plagued by logistical problems, troop shortfalls, and sectarian interference from senior Iraqi politicians." These are the main reasons the number of Iraqi battalions rated as capable of operating independently fell from 10 in March to six this month.

The Times' Stephen Farrell tops his roundup with news that also should get better play: U.S. forces fought Iraqi police in a predawn battle involving fighter jets. While conducting a raid against a police position, American troops came under "heavy and accurate fire" from another, nearby checkpoint as well as from surrounding rooftops and a church. (Hm. Maybe it's a good thing the training is slowing down.) The Americans killed six Iraqi police and were able to capture a police lieutenant they said was "a high ranking" member of a cell linked to the Iranian al Quds Force, the foreign operations unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. But the obvious question is this: These are the guys the U.S. is calling its allies in Iraq? On the political front, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said there were "positive developments" in the efforts to form a moderate coalition "committed to the political process and democracy." He apparently gave no specifics. In Diyala province, seven men were killed when gunmen attacked a house in the village of Harbitila. A roadside bomb killed a senior officer in the Iraqi Army and three of his guards near Muqdidiya. In Wasit province, police found three unidentified bodies in the Tigris. In eastern Baghdad, insurgents using RPGs and machine guns killed five guards manning towers around the Interior Ministry compound. In addition to the death of Times staffer Khalid Hassan, about half a dozen bodies were found in Saydia, including those of an 11-year-old girl and two women. A car bomb also exploded in the neighborhood, killing two civilians and Iraqi police found 21 bodies in Baghdad. Finally, a mortar attack on the Green Zone killed a senior Iraqi military officer.

The predawn raid also leads Megan Greenwell's roundup for the Post. Defense Secretary Gates said Friday that everyone knows the Iraqi police have "uneven training" and that when the police fired on American forces after they arrested the lieutenant, they became legitimate targets. "The fact of the matter is that there are elements of the Iraqi police and elements of the Iraqi army that are infiltrated," added Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman. The Post reports on Hassan's killing, and reports that police found 26 bodies in Baghdad, not 21. Another eight bodies, including three women, were found near Suwayrah, 20 miles southeast of Baghdad. Three civilians were killed in a mortar attack and two died in a roadside bomb attack in Sadr City. Greenwell says two Iraqi police officers were killed by the Green Zone mortar attack yesterday, instead of the senior army officer, as reported by the Times.


Christian Science Monitor
No Saturday edition.

USA Today
No Saturday edition.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Bush sees Iraq as half-full; Iraqi Army loses ground; House votes to bug out
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/13/2007 01:54 AM ET
Today's front pages were dominated by the tussle between President George W. Bush, the declared decider, and Congress, the would-be inhibiter. Bush's presser yesterday is an obvious A1 pick, but enterprise bubbled up, with USA Today popping in with a story about U.S. efforts to track insurgents with technology and a bit of a scoop by the Washington Post about the slipping of the Iraqi military's war readiness.

Buried in yesterday's White House report, the Iraqi military readiness has actually gotten worse since Bush's surge strategy was launched in January, reports Karen DeYoung for the Washington Post.

Combat losses, a dearth of officers and senior enlisted personnel, and an Iraqi army that has expanded faster than the equipment available for it have resulted in a "slight reduction" in the number of units designated at Level 1 status, or "capable of independent operations," the report said.

The Pentagon declined to provide any details on what "slight reduction" means, saying all information about the number, size or designation of Iraqi Army units was classified. Convenient, that. DeYoung goes on to detail the confusing statements from American commanders regarding the Iraqi military: This many in the lead, this many in the field. In short, one is left with the impression that no one has any real idea of the true state of the Iraqi military.

USA Today scores some front-page enterprise by Thomas Frank, who reports that the U.S. is building a huge database on thousands of Iraqi men, holding biometric data such as fingerprints and eyescans in an effort to track suspected militants. They're using handheld scanners in the field, and sometimes going door-to-door. Surprisingly, the Pentagon is the one raising the spectre of privacy concerns, Frank writes. Iraqis have put up little resistance. A second story by Frank, inside the paper, strangely goes over much of the same ground, but offers a bit more color and quotes.

Everyone fronts Bush's defiance of Congress and defense of yesterday's report. The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jeff Zeleny write that Bush "struck an aggressive new tone," told lawmakers they had "no business trying to manage the war" and said leaving Iraq would lead to mass death. (Excerpts of Bush's opening statement available.) He invoked al Qaeda repeatedly as the reason for staying, trying to summon up some of that ol' 9/11 mojo he used to have about, oh, 60 percentage points of approval ago. (The Times' Michael R. Gordon and Jim Rutenberg, following up on the memo from the Times ombudsman last weekend, write that Bush is distorting Iraq's al Qaeda links.) Bush seems most peeved by the idea that Congress would infringe on his warmaking powers as commander-in-chief. "I don't think Congress ought to be running the war," Bush said. "I think they ought to be funding the troops." Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, "bristled" at that and said Bush should welcome the Senate's input because "it does reflect the point of view of the people who elected us to office." The House called Bush's bluff later in the day and voted 223-201 to start withdrawing troops within 120 days of enactment of the bill, with most of them home by April 1, 2008. Perhaps in a preview of who will be blamed if Iraq does not look "substantially different in just eight weeks," as Bush is asking for the two write, the president blamed early mistakes on Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasion in 2003. "My primary question to General Franks was: 'Do you have what it takes to succeed, and do you have what it takes to succeed after you succeed in removing Saddam Hussein?' And his answer was, 'Yeah.'" We hope you're paying attention, Gen. Petraeus.

Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weisman of the Post give a good rundown on what was considered "satisfactory" in the report and what was not:

The report judged that progress was "satisfactory" in eight of 18 benchmarks, including a review of the Iraqi constitution; legislation to divide Iraq into semi-autonomous regions; the protection of minority rights; and government, military and civil support for the new strategy. But it noted mixed progress on new electoral laws, militia disarmament and the reduction in militia control of local areas.

Areas receiving unsatisfactory grades included reform of Iraq's de-Baathification laws; enactment of a new law governing oil revenue; the ability of Iraqi security forces to operate independently from U.S. forces; and a range of benchmarks measuring sectarian bias in the government.

The two also do a good job showing the political context of yesterday's 223-201 House vote to begin withdrawing troops in 120 days with most of them out by April 1, 2008 (a bill assured of a veto.) Democrats have "solidified their party's unity, winning over conservative Democrats while pulling aboard a few straggling liberals who had sought an even firmer response." The vote was almost a straight party line vote, with only four Republicans coming on board and 10 Democrats opposing it. Two of the Republicans hadn't voted for withdrawal before and hail from Missouri and Tennessee, hardly bastions of anti-war peacnikery. Moderate Republicans, who are ditching Bush in the Senate, stood by him in the House.

The Monitor's Howard LaFranchi joins the fray and questions what impact the White House's report on progress in Iraq will have on the Congressional debate, noting that several Republicans have already seized on the "half-full glass" part to argue for staying the course. The problem, as LaFranchi notes, is that the report emphasizes military progress while "everyone from military commanders to analysts agree that political progress is now the crucial determining factor." The next, "real" report due in September now must show political progress, and the Iraqis have done very little to move forward on that front and plan to take a month off in August.

Yochi J. Dreazen and David Rogers of the Wall Street Journal report on the standoff, observing that Bush is likely to prevail in the current debate because there just aren't enough Republicans in the Senate willing to break ranks right now. Instead, both sides are "jockeying for position now in advance of what will be a more significant debate over the future of the U.S. mission in Iraq" come September when Congress will vote on the 2008 military budget. The battle now is an opening skirmish and ground-snatching exercise for bigger battles in the fall. The White House is trying to hold the line until then when it can likely foist the blame for a change in strategy on someone else.

David Jackson for USA Today focuses on Bush's efforts to reframe the debate from one about troop levels to one about victory and defeat. "The real debate over Iraq is between those who think the fight is lost or not worth the cost, and those that believe the fight can be won," Bush said. Kathy Kiely and Ken Dilanian dig into the House measure calling for the start of withdrawal in 120 days. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., acknowledged the Democrats don't have the votes to override a veto, but wanted the House "on record" as opposing the president's plan. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, accused Democrats of pulling a "stunt" that "makes our troops pawns in a partisan political battle."

The Times and the Post come up with dueling analyses of what's next for the president. David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker write for the Times that Bush's strategy for his Iraq strategy now consists of buying time "for a surge that is living on borrowed time." He's likely to get it, too, they write. Two weeks ago, it looked like Republicans were about to desert him en masse, but now, Republicans are saying privately and publicly that they'll wait until the Sept. 15 report from Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. The White House is even preparing for that, drawing up "post-surge" plans, according to presidential aides. The two say Bush is "clearly headed" in the direction of changing strategy to a narrower mission that would "focus the Americans on training Iraqi forces, assuring Iraq’s territorial integrity, deterring Iran from seeking to extend its influence in Iraq and preventing Iraq from becoming, as a result of a botched American occupation and all that followed, a terrorist haven." He just doesn't want to be forced to do it by Congress. And don't forget next year's presidential race: Secretaries of State and Defense Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates have tried to inch Bush toward the new strategy to "try to defuse the issue before the presidential election." From this piece, Bush's stubbornness and reluctance to admit mistakes is coming through loud and clear.

Peter Baker for the Post likewise writes that as battered and bruised as Bush appears, he "still holds the commanding position in his showdown with Congress over Iraq." Without the votes to override a veto in either house, the next two months will see much sturm und drang, but no change in direction. It's a recipe for gridlock. Kind of like in Baghdad. (See below)

Joshua Partlow and David Finkel lead the Post's roundup with news that U.S. forces clashed with Mahdi Army fighters in eastern Baghdad. The two report that it was an intense, six-hour operation, involving 240 troops, 65 humvees, several Bradley Fighting Vehicles and two Apache attack helicopters. Eleven Iraqis were killed and an unknown number injured, including two children hit by shrapnel. Two of the civilians killed were Iraqis working for Reuters. Also, an American soldier was killed in fighting east of Baghdad, and gunmen near Tikrit attacked a police checkpoint, killing four policemen and wounding four others. Sixteen unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad.

Alissa J. Rubin also tops the Times' roundup with news of the clashes, but says at least 16 people were killed, including the two Reuters journalists. Interestingly, Rubin says the journalists drove to the area to cover the fighting, while Partlow and Finkel make no mention of that. From their reporting, the U.S. military is suspicious of their being in the area. Rubin quotes Ahmad Sahib, a photographer for Agence France-Press, who said, "It looked like the American helicopters were firing against any gathering in the area, because when I got out of my car and started taking pictures, people gathered and an American helicopter fired a few rounds." The Americans say 11 people were killed: nine insurgents and two civilians (the journalists, presumably.) The statement said the Americans were reacting to an attack on the patrol and called in reinforcements. Rubin doesn't explain her count of 16 dead with the military's of 11.

Also, Rubin corrects her roundup yesterday because of a serious math error from the Iraqi Interior Ministry. The robbery of the Dar Es Salaam bank did not net $282 million as originally reported by the Times (and IraqSlogger.) It was 282 million Iraqi dinars -- equal to about $225,000 -- and $366,000 American dollars. The police said on Wednesday it was $282 million.

Violence continued in Saydiya, where 17 of the 28 bodies found in Baghdad were picked up. A suicide bomber attacked a wedding in Tal Afar in the north, killing four and wounding six. The groom was an Iraqi policeman. A car bomb targeted a police patrol in Mosul, killing one and wounding eight. Rubin has the attack on the police checkpoint in Samarra, not Tikrit, as the Post does. In Diwaniya, an American chopper fired on six men the military said were planting a roadside bomb, killing five of them. Rubin also has the killing of the American soldier.

Partlow and Sudarsan Raghavan file a separate political roundup for the Post, noting the political deadlock in Baghdad is retarding any progress. Iraqi politicians say U.S. officials have set unrealistic goals for them to meet in a short amount of time, indicating a greater pessimism than does the president. Hoshi Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, said the benchmarks were America's idea and that establishing such progress markers made it easier for opponents to derail the program and cause America to lose faith in Iraq. For instance, the idea of reconciling with Ba'athists is anathema to most Shi'ites. Sunnis say it's a necessary step to bring back civil servants into the government. Reconciling with the Ba'athists is a key benchmark set by Congress.

In other coverage

Leslie Sabbagh writes that Petraeus warned of "greatly increased sectarian violence" if the U.S. pulls out too soon. It's a fairly run-of-the mill story, with stats showing a drop in attacks against civilians and an increase against U.S. troops. Pretty much what you'd expect, but there is some sloppy language in here. Sabbagh writes of a "quick withdrawal," but few people in Washington are talking about anything hasty. They're talking about the start of a withdrawal sooner rather than later -- one that might take six months, a year, whatever -- not a pell-mell rush to the border. Sabbagh does it again, writing, "The prospect of any hasty removal of US troops has (Petraeus) concerned." But the general actually said, "If we pull out there will be greatly increased sectarian violence, humanitarian concerns...." Petraeus makes no mention of the speed of the pullout; he questions the wisdom of a pullout altogether. The military command and the Bush White House seem to be envisioning a long-term presence in Iraq that will last years, but reporters are thinking of an evacuation, Saigon style. Those are two very different ideas and reporters need to let the readers know when Petraeus, Bush, et al. are trying to reframe the debate as a choice between a hasty, unplanned retreat and an indefinite presence instead of what's actually being talked about in D.C.: either an indefinite presence or an orderly withdrawal with proper force-protection over a period of time, but which begins sooner rather than never.

New York Times
As mentioned above, Michael R. Gordon and Jim Rutenberg write in a front-page sidebar that Bush is distorting the links between al Qaeda in Iraq and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization. "The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th," said Bush at his press conference yesterday. The two do a good job of letting analysts explain the complexity of the relationship between the two groups, but it's a bit of an ironic story for Michael Gordon to have his name on. Until recently, he commonly repeated U.S. military assertions that "al Qaeda" was the enemy in Iraq, and he often referred to any insurgent as "al Qeada." It got so bad the Times' ombudsman had to chide the paper's foreign editor, Susan Chira, who admitted the paper had gotten "sloppy" in the use of its terms. Since then, a memo has gone out to reporters and the distinctions between U.S. military claims, al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda are being noted.

David Brooks, regular op-ed columnist, says the country is now in "the endgame deadlock" on Iraq, with everyone arguing bitterly over how to get out of Iraq and when, with nothing getting done about it. "This phase — and with it, the war — could go on for a while."

USA Today
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley takes time out to write a contributed op-ed to -- surprise! -- defend the Bush surge strategy. Hadley makes the not unreasonable point that security has to precede political progress, and all the troops are now in place (ignoring the fact that most of the troops have been in place for months.) "America must be willing to stand with this young democracy and help provide the stability it needs to move forward." What he doesn't mention is how the U.S. plans to dramatically increase security by September so the Iraqi government can ... I dunno, reconcile or something. There are just eight weeks to go until Gen. Petraeus has to turn in his homework and the Iraqi parliament is taking a month-long holiday in August. If we have to wait until September to judge the merits of the surge, it's pretty obvious there's going to be some incremental security improvements in patches of Iraq and no political progress. What then?

Wall Street Journal
Michael O'Hanlon and Jason Campbell of the Brookings Institute write a reasonable and thoughtful critique of the types of benchmarks used to measure progress in Iraq. There is no talk Defeatocrats, Manichean choices between "victory or failure" or how the surge is working, dammit! (Who let these guys on the Journal's op-ed page? Weird.) They don't try to come to any conclusion -- indeed, they say we are "probably condemned to an inconclusive debate come September" -- but they look at the types of benchmarks that might be more useful than the 18 set by Congress.

Oh, wait. Here's the "the surge is working, dammit!" op-ed. Omar Fadhil, of, brings his patented blend of Iraqi feel-good optimism and American can-do-it-iveness to say that, well, the surge is working. Dammit. Sarcasm aside, he makes the interesting observation that al Qaeda in Iraq (Not "al Qaeda," Mr. Fadhil) and Moqtada al-Sadr are both engaged in violent struggles with elements of their former bases of support.

Washington Post
Charles Krauthammer, regular op-ed columnist, upbraids Senate Republicans for "deserting Petraeus" just as the surge is showing signs of progress, he writes. Krauthammer wants to deny "al Qaeda" (Again with the imprecision!) the "Sunni sea in which it swims," which is a fine goal, but ignores the dangers of the Shi'ite militias.

PTSD Expert Launches Spanish-Language Web Site for War Zone Journalists
By ANTHONY FEINSTEIN 07/12/2007 9:55 PM ET
Four months back I developed an interactive website for front-line journalists. The aim was to provide journalists with an easy-to-use and quick self-assessment program for common psychological disorders that may arise because of the dangers confronted in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The website has been warmly welcomed by the profession and on average receives over 2,000 hits per month. Of these, between 20-50 journalists per month complete the full, five-questionnaire package. Journalists from over 40 countries are making regular use of this resource.

As a result of this promising response, a Spanish version of the English website has been developed, with funding from CNN and with the support of Tony Maddox, Chris Cramer, Chris Crommett, and Enrique Durand of CNN Espanol. The site provides an assessment, in Spanish, for conditions such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and overall psychological health. Like its English counterpart, it is not meant to be a comprehensive assessment tool but rather a valid and easy-to-use screening instrument that provides journalists with immediate feedback on how they are faring emotionally.

The web address is and this provides access to both the English and Spanish versions. A password that allows journalists to complete one or more of the questionnaires can be obtained from Professor Anthony Feinstein at the University of Toronto. His email address is

The human toll
Nation Examines the Death of Innocents and the Regrets of Soldiers
07/12/2007 2:35 PM ET
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - JUNE 27: Paratroopers and translators in the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment talk to a family in the supposed house of a suspected Shia terrorist in the pre-dawn hours of June 27, 2007 in the Hurriyah neighb
Chris Hondros/Getty
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - JUNE 27: Paratroopers and translators in the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment talk to a family in the supposed house of a suspected Shia terrorist in the pre-dawn hours of June 27, 2007 in the Hurriyah neighb

Estimates of the number of Iraqi civilian casualties killed since the 2003 invasion range from the tens of thousands to nearly one million. While it's impossible to completely avoid civilian deaths in a war zone, every effort should be made to discern the good guys from the bad, since one attack on the family of a "good guy" can do much to turn him "bad." High profile incidents like Haditha garner extensive press coverage, but little has been done to track the everyday extent of collateral damage.

Now in the latest issue of The Nation, Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian have published a lengthy examination of the US military's treatment of Iraqi civilians. Based on interviews with 50 Iraq war veterans, the article illustrates some disturbing practices, the memories of which continue to disturb some of the troops, even years after they occurred.

While some veterans said civilian shootings were routinely investigated by the military, many more said such inquiries were rare. "I mean, you physically could not do an investigation every time a civilian was wounded or killed because it just happens a lot and you'd spend all your time doing that," said Marine Reserve Lieut. Jonathan Morgenstein, 35, of Arlington, Virginia. He served from August 2004 to March 2005 in Ramadi with a Marine Corps civil affairs unit supporting a combat team with the Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade. (All interviewees are identified by the rank they held during the period of service they recount here; some have since been promoted or demoted.)

Veterans said the culture of this counterinsurgency war, in which most Iraqi civilians were assumed to be hostile, made it difficult for soldiers to sympathize with their victims--at least until they returned home and had a chance to reflect.

"I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi," said Spc. Jeff Englehart, 26, of Grand Junction, Colorado. Specialist Englehart served with the Third Brigade, First Infantry Division, in Baquba, about thirty-five miles northeast of Baghdad, for a year beginning in February 2004. "You know, so what?... The soldiers honestly thought we were trying to help the people and they were mad because it was almost like a betrayal. Like here we are trying to help you, here I am, you know, thousands of miles away from home and my family, and I have to be here for a year and work every day on these missions. Well, we're trying to help you and you just turn around and try to kill us."

He said it was only "when they get home, in dealing with veteran issues and meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then."

The Iraq War is a vast and complicated enterprise. In this investigation of alleged military misconduct, The Nation focused on a few key elements of the occupation, asking veterans to explain in detail their experiences operating patrols and supply convoys, setting up checkpoints, conducting raids and arresting suspects. From these collected snapshots a common theme emerged. Fighting in densely populated urban areas has led to the indiscriminate use of force and the deaths at the hands of occupation troops of thousands of innocents.

Many of these veterans returned home deeply disturbed by the disparity between the reality of the war and the way it is portrayed by the US government and American media. The war the vets described is a dark and even depraved enterprise, one that bears a powerful resemblance to other misguided and brutal colonial wars and occupations, from the French occupation of Algeria to the American war in Vietnam and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

"I'll tell you the point where I really turned," said Spc. Michael Harmon, 24, a medic from Brooklyn. He served a thirteen-month tour beginning in April 2003 with the 167th Armor Regiment, Fourth Infantry Division, in Al-Rashidiya, a small town near Baghdad. "I go out to the scene and this little, you know, pudgy little 2-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs, and I look and she has a bullet through her leg.... An IED went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me, wasn't crying, wasn't anything, it just looked at me like--I know she couldn't speak. It might sound crazy, but she was like asking me why. You know, Why do I have a bullet in my leg?... I was just like, This is--this is it. This is ridiculous."

In early May, DoD released key findings from the latest Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT-IV) survey, which revealed a disturbing prevalence of soldiers taking a dim view of the sanctity of Iraqi civilian life. Only 47 percent of soldiers and only 38 percent of Marines agreed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect, and only 55 percent of soldiers and just 40 percent of Marines said they would report a unit member injuring or killing "an innocent noncombatant.

Gen. David Petraeus was so disturbed by the findings he immediately issued a memo reminding troops under his command of the principles governing the laws of war, and reminding the not to commit "hasty, illegal acts." Petraeus's memo also stressed the importance of convincing the Iraqi public that US forces occupy the moral high ground.

Effective counterinsurgency strategy requires support from the local population, to ensure they don't shelter, aid, or join the enemy. Drawing from the wisdom of the U.S. Army's Counterinsurgency Manual: "Killing every insurgent is normally impossible. Attempting to do so can also be counterproductive in some cases; it risks generating popular resentment, creating martyrs that motivate new recruits, and producing cycles of revenge."

One of the soldiers cited in the Nation article reported that of the thousand or so houses he had raided while serving in Iraq, he had only come face-to-face with probably four hardcore insurgents. Of the thousands of Iraqi civilians his unit roused in the middle of the night, kicking down doors, carting off family members in plastic fisticuffs, one has to wonder if the strategy ultimately created more insurgents than it caught.

Daily Column
Inside the ISG; White House's reviews mixed; al Qaeda 'principal enemy' in Iraq
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/12/2007 01:53 AM ET
The Washington Post goes deep, long and pretty much sweeps the news today with a massive A1 piece by Bob Woodward on the internal workings of the Iraq Study Group, while the USA Today gets an inside look at the January attack on Karbala that killed five G.I.s. Everyone also goes big with the White House's assessment of the progress made by the Iraqi government. (Hint: it's a half-full, half-empty kind of thing.) Also, everyone goes with the developments in the Senate. Who said summer was a slow season for news?

Bob Woodward of the Post, in a front-page must-read, does the Woodward thing and delves deep into the backroom deliberations of the Iraq Study Group, contrasting the upbeat assessments from President George W. Bush with the gloomy and disheartening one from Gen. Michael V. Hayden, Director of the CIA. Hayden went so far as to say in the private briefing in November last year that the inability of the Iraqi government to govern was "irreversible." Hayden's briefing was troubling. Staying wouldn't help; leaving would make it worse. There are no levers of power the United States can engage. Sectarian identities are more important to the Iraqis than a national one. "Given the level of uncontrolled violence," Hayden said, "the most we can do is to contain its excesses and preserve the possibility of reconciliation in the future." In all, Iraqis might just have to fight this out to exhaustion before there can be national reconciliation.

Significantly, Hayden listed al Qaeda in Iraq as the fifth of five main sources of violence, behind the insurgency, sectarian strife, criminality and general anarchy. Bush, however, regularly lists it as first, for political reasons. Also ominously, the Iraqi government and the U.S. can't agree on who the enemy is. For the U.S. it's terrorists and Iran. For Iraqis, it's Ba'athists.

Vice President Dick Cheney joined Bush in his interview with the group, a day of talks with all the principle members of the Iraq team in the White House and, via video link, in Baghdad. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in one trip to Baghdad, she told Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki national reconciliation was vital. "Pretty soon, you'll all be swinging from lampposts if you don't hang together." (That ranks up there with the flies on the eyeballs quote as one of the better lines from this war.) Bush, however, seemed to have missed the point of the interviews. "We thought with that whole group there, we were going to get briefings, we were going to get discussions," said former defense secretary William J. Perry, one of the five Democrats on the Iraq Study Group. "Instead the president held forth on his views on how important the war was, and how it was tough."

Iraq's Mid-Term Report Card
Someone needs to work on "Playing well with others." David S. Cloud and John F. Burns report on the White House assessment on Iraq for the Times, but they come close to calling shenanigans on the Bush administration: "The administration’s decision to qualify many of the political benchmarks will enable it to present a more optimistic assessment than if it had provided the pass-fail judgment sought by Congress." And kudos to the Times for pointing out the motives of the White House leakers of the report, to rebut claims made in Congress that almost no progress had been made in Iraq since the start of the surge. They also hint at the internal divisions in the Administration on Iraq. The Pentagon is a much tougher grader on Iraq -- its Simon Cowell, if you will -- than either State or the White House. (That reflects Defense Secretary Robert Gates' late arrival to the Iraq party; he's not as invested in its success as Bush and Rice, who dreamed it up.) The duo go on deep on the statistics in the report: in short, sectarian violence and vehicular bombs are down all over Iraq, which is no doubt a good thing, but insurgent and militia attacks (because of an increase in U.S. op-tempo) are up. Anbar has the most striking improvements. But politically, the Iraqi government is failing badly. Baghdad has failed to pass either an oil or revenue-sharing law, and has failed to make headway on allowing former Ba'athists back into government jobs. Laws to disarm militias are going nowhere.

In another front-pager, the Post's Karen DeYoung and Peter Baker report that the White House gives the Iraqi government "satisfactory" marks in its progress toward half the goals set by Congress, while an equal number is "not satisfactory." Eight of the 18 congressional goals have positive movement; eight do not; and the rest are mixed. This White House assessment, due Thursday, is part of the interim report on the surge's progress Congress requires before its final report, due in September. The White House's assessment, which will point to a drop in Anbar violence and amusement parks as signs of progress, comes just one day after U.S. intelligence experts overwhelmingly cast a gloomy picture on Iraq. Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence and chief of the National Intelligence Council, testified yesterday before the House Armed Services Committee that Iraqi security leadership would take "years not months" to develop and there was no chance of a takeover from U.S. forces anytime soon. He also said Osama bin Laden's Pakistan-based al Qaeda hoped to make Iraq a launching pad for its Middle East activities, and that Iran would have a hard time holding on to Iraq, disputing a threat often cited by Bush.

USA Today, however, stuffs David Jackson's story on Team Bush's report. It doesn't look like Jackson got an advanced copy of the report, relying as he does on analysts to provide dark assessments.

Attack on Karbala
Gregg Zoroya makes up for USA Today's skimpy assessment reporting with a front-pager on the January attack on Karbala that killed 5 G.I.s. Iraqi police, working alongside U.S. troops, aided the attack, he writes. Chillingly, he writes about the detailed planning and new details of the assault:

  • Iraqi police suddenly vanished from the government compound before the shooting started.
  • Attackers, evidently briefed on how U.S. forces would defend themselves, bottled up more than three dozen soldiers in a barracks and headquarters complex using a combination of smoke and fragment grenades and satchel charges to blow up Humvees.
  • Gunmen knew exactly where to find and abduct U.S. officers.
  • Iraqi vendors operating a PX and barbershop went home early.
  • A back gate was left unlocked and unguarded.
Zoroya repeats the claims made by U.S. military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, formerly of the White House, that Iran planned and directed the attack. That's OK. Everyone reported those claims, but then he uncritically states, without attribution, that "The Iranian involvement in the Karbala attack may have even included planning with the Iraqi police who had colluded with the attackers." C'mon, man: At least throw in an "alleged Iranian involvement." The report goes on to indict Iraqi policemen in the compound, including an Iraqi police commander who was talking on his mobile phone and laughing after the attack, according to American soldiers.

The Battle in Washington
The Senate is becoming the Anbar province of Washington. Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman report for the Post that opposition to the war is growing in the Senate, with a bipartisan consensus to "dramatically alter the U.S. military mission" emerging out of the ongoing debate on the war. Surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is taking a hard line on Iraq, refusing to bend on a firm timeline for troop withdrawals, despite signs that up to 10 Republicans are willing to compromise and accept slightly weaker measure that would still force Bush's hand. A proposal by Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., which would make 79 recommendations by the Iraq Study Group official U.S. policy, "won't change one thing that the president does," Reid said. His obstenance has prompted some to suspect Reid doesn't actually want legislation, preferring to keep the status quo, which is damaging to Republicans. There are four proposals on the table:

  • Salazar's, but it would give Bush wide latitude on setting withdrawal timetables;
  • One by Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, that would force an immediate end to combat operations but not mandate withdrawals;
  • One by Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and John Warner, R-Va., would blend the two;
  • and the main Democratic plan by Sens. Carl M. Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., would begin troop reductions no later than 120 days after the bill went into effect.
Votes for all of these amendments to the Defense Authorization Act are slated for next week, but so far none have a 60-vote majority necessary to pass, much less a veto-proof majority of 66 votes.

The Times' Jeff Zeleny and David M. Herszenhorn report that with all these amendments being floated, Senate Republicans can still rally their faithful. Even with seven defections, the Senate failed to approve a proposal to vote on an amendment by Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to allow troops more time home between deployments. The Times notes that this vote could be a barometer on the fate of the other amendments facing the Senate. In rallying the troops in the House, which is scheduled to vote on a March 31, 2008 withdrawal next week, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, urged members not to join the "wimps," in the Senate voting against Bush. (Several of those wimps have served in combat tours, such as Hagel, who served in Vietnam as an infantryman. Boehner joined the Navy in the 1970s, but was honorably discharged with a bad back after eight weeks of training, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.)

Kathy Kiely of USA Today also looks at the Webb-Lugar amendment, noting the 56-41 cloture vote fell short under the Senate's rules to end a filibuster. (No wonder nothing gets done in the Senate.)

David Rogers of the Wall Street Journal takes a look at the proposal by Warner and Lugar to find a middle ground in all of this. He offers few details, however, because the two senators aren't talking yet.

Howard LaFranchi of the Christian Science Monitor zigs while others zag, penning an A-1 story on Bush's fight to keep control of his Iraq strategy. Bush is taking to the stump to pushback against early opposition to the surge as more Republicans jump ship. The two lines of argument are that the 30,000 troops are beginning to get results, and members of Congress are playing politics with the war. Bush is sticking to the line that the extra troops just got there and haven't had time to do their job, even though the majority of them have been there for weeks or even months now.

Finally, Robin Wright reports for the Post that the White House is opposing a reconvening of the Iraq Study Group, despite the willingness of most members, because it doesn't want it to conflict with the mid-September assessment from Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. Some fear Bush's refusal will further isolate him from Republicans. "It's really shortsighted," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. "You can't rely just on Petraeus and Crocker. They are good people, but they're still in the thick of battle and you need the view from the outside. The fact the White House doesn't want it indicates they are afraid of what the ISG might say."

Turning to Baghdad, Alissa J. Rubin of the Times tops the daily roundup with news of the $282 million bank heist in central Baghdad (also reported here on IraqSlogger.) Mind you, that's more than a quarter of a billion dollars in a single bank heist. That will buy a lot of IEDs. But there are tons of questions: Why did the Dar Es Salaam bank have so much damn cash in American greenbacks lying around? How did the bank robbers transport so much cash. (That's 2.82 million $100 bills and they take up space and weigh a lot.) Rubin has few details on the robbery, however, and quickly turns to the mayhem around the country. Extremists forced 11 people into a house in Fallujah and blew it up, killing them. An American helicopter returned fire in Mosul after being shot at, killing two people and wounding 14, including two children. Three bodies were found in Khalis, in Diyala province; insurgents mortared an army checkpoint; a police station was attacked; and a roadside bomb killed an Iraqi soldier and wounded four others. Iraqi soldiers on the Syrian border stopped a truck carrying 200 suicide vests. The Iraqi government announced several measure to repair the village of Amirli, which was bombed earlier this week; and the Ministries of Trade, Defense and Interior will work together to bring food to areas insurgents have cut off. Hannelore Krause, a German national who was held for 155 days by insurgets, was released but her son, 20, was not. Canon Andrew White, an Anglican vicar who ran Iraq's only Anglican church, fled the country after receiving death threats.

Sudarasan Raghavan misses the bank heist, unfortunately, and instead tops the Post's roundup with a statement from military spokesman in Iraq Brig. Gen. Kevn J. Bergner that Al-Qaeda in Iraq is "the principal threat" to Iraqis. Bergner said the group was the U.S. military's main focus and stressed that al Qaeda in Iraq is supported by Osama bin Laden, echoing and amplifying White House claims that intelligence analysts dispute. "Al Qaeda senior leadership does provide direction to al Qaeda in Iraq," Bergner said. "They do establish and provide resourcing and support the network." Kudos to Raghavan for not taking the general at face value -- as many reporters seemed to do just a couple of weeks ago -- by offering analysts ideas on AQI. It's just one of several Sunni groups in Iraq, and it's not the largest. Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda provides more inspiration than direction or support. Raghavan wraps up his roundup with the news of Krause being freed, and a report of a roadside bomb in southwest Baghdad that killed one civilian and wounded three.

In other coverage

Nicholas D. Kristof writes that only 22 percent of Iraqis support the U.S. presence there, and Bush has been making reports of progress since October 2003 with little to show for it, so isn't it time to leave? How much "progress" can one country take?

Renae Merle reports that no-bid contracts for the delivery of armored vehicles to troops in Iraq may have led to needless delays that may have cost lives. The Marine Corps issued $416.7 million in contracts to Force Protection of Ladson, S.C., even though other vendors were available. The contracts continued even through the company didn't meet delivery schedules for getting the vehicles to Iraq. In one case, Force Protection failed to deliver 98 percent of 122 mine-resistant vehicles (that's 119.56 vehicles) in time, despite getting $6.7 million from the Marines to upgrade their factories. In another case, 60 percent of 233 vehicles from Force Protection were more than 30 days behind schedule. But the Marines declined to collect late fees of $6.6 million because the company had "cash flow problems" and collecting the money would have cause the company "financial difficulty." Aww! Can we put the Marines in charge of collecting credit card late fees, too?

One of the Marines accused of killing civilians in Haditha in November 2005 should have the charges dropped against him , the investigative officer in the case recommended, reports Josh White. The findings against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt are "unsupported and incredible," Lt. Col. Paul Ware recommended to the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Sharratt, 22, did not take part in the first shootings of Nov. 19, 2005, but did admit to killing a group of men in a home later that afternoon because he believed they had raised weapons against him. If the charges are dropped, Sharatt would be the second enlisted Marine cleared. Two others are charged with murder and scheduled for hearings.

Andrew Roberts, author of "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900," writes an extraordinary op-ed for the Monitor, arguing that "the English-speaking peoples" of the world must stand up to radical, totalitarian Islam because Anglophones have never been invaded or fallen under the sway of fascism or communism. "Countries in which English is the primary language are culturally, politically, and militarily different" -- read, "better" -- "from the rest of 'the West,'" he writes. "They stand for modernity, religious and sexual toleration, capitalism, diversity, women's rights, representative institutions -- in a word, the future." Yeah! Suck it, Germany, Spain and Italy! (Who have all committed troops and suffered casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere since 9/11.) Seriously, this tract must come as a surprise to the those non-English-speaking peoples of the world (poor sods), but maybe they'll be content to bask in the warm protectorate of the US-Canadian-British-ANZ imperium. His repeating of the phrase "English-speaking peoples" is grating, especially since he ignores the contributions of German soldiers in Afghanistan and the French Navy in patrolling the vital sea lanes throughout the Arabian and Indian oceans. And he trots out the old, "Al Qaeda can't be appeased because the French would have already done so" trope. Honestly, is this a joke?

A Journal editorial harangues those calling for Iraq withdrawal by relying on Crocker's interview with the Times earlier this week, when he said, "The longer I'm here, the more I'm persuaded that Iraq cannot be analyzed by these kinds of discrete benchmarks." It goes on to argue for more time and that things are much better than the American public has been led to expect. "Benchmarks" are just an excuse to cut and run, and score political points.

Daniel Henninger, a Journal columnist, writes about the Internet as propaganda tool in the hands of jihadists. He calls the Web, "dual-use technology," comparing it nuclear or biological warfare. (That's a bit much, we think.) Hanging his column on the very thorough report from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, he says that while he has no solution to combatting the sophisticated agitprop from murderous and media-savvy al Qaeda types, doing nothing is not an answer.

Daily Column
GOP senators angry with leadership; September is now; War costs increase
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/11/2007 01:53 AM ET
The big stories today revolve around the response from the White House to those uppity and disloyal GOP senators. The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal all report that Bush came to Cleveland and asked the Senate to wait until September before passing any Iraq legislation, and vowed to veto any bills that cross his desk before then. Other news includes a large and deadly attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad and a flurry of op-eds.

Tough Talk from President
David Rogers and Yochi Dreazen, for the Journal, report on Bush's speech in Cleveland in which he demanded the Senate do... well, nothing. "Congress should withhold judgment until Iraq commander Gen. David Petreaus has delivered his promised progress report in September," the duo write. The tough talk comes as Senate GOP leadership tried to force a 60-vote majority on any passage of Iraq legislation in order to get the White House's six in this slog. Senate Democrats have little hope of getting past the 60-vote mark, but they hope to get 55 or 56 votes and then set up some room for concessions in September.

The Times' Jeff Zeleny and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report that in addition to the veto threat, Bush also held out the promise of pulling back troops "in a while," (say, October 2008, maybe?) in an attempt to hold his administration together. "I'll be glad to discuss different options," Bush said in Cleveland. "I believe we can be in a different position in a while, and that would be to have enough troops there to guard the territorial integrity of that country, enough troops there to make sure that Al Qaeda doesn't gain safe haven." It's unclear how effective Bush's rhetoric and the lobbying efforts of his national security team will be. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the wavering Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, to ask her to wait until September. No dice, Snowe said. "My view is that we should send a very strong message now."

Michael Abramowitz reports for the Post from Cleveland on Bush's speech, taking apart the political underpinnings of the president's speech. "His comments appeared aimed at quieting the growing clamor among GOP allies on Capitol Hill for significant changes to the U.S. military mission in Iraq," writes Abramowitz. "White House officials fear that if left unchecked, the rebellion could result in widespread GOP defections on upcoming votes that could put even more pressure on the president to begin withdrawing troops." Bush offered little in the speech except vague promises (the "in a while" and "different options" stuff) and said al Qaeda would win in Iraq if America left because Americans are nice. (No, really.) "They know we're kindhearted, decent people who value human life, and they understand that Americans will recoil from the violence on our TV screens," Bush said. "If we recoil and leave the region with precipitous withdrawals or withdrawals not based upon conditions on the ground, it's going to get worse, not better." Kudos to the Post for fact-checking Bush, who said the same folks who attacked the U.S. are responsible for much of the violence in Iraq, once again conflating Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network (which is responsible for 9/11) and al Qaeda in Iraq (which is not).

July is the new September
Meanwhile, back in Washington, Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray report in a Post front-pager that moderates in the Senate GOP are increasingly ticked off at their own leaders, who yesterday sought to force a 60-vote threshold for passing any Iraq legislation. But the Post reports that as with most initiatives from the White House, this one had some unintended consequences: Combined with the president's demand for doing nothing, his veto threat and the filibuster threat, GOP moderates instead seemed to rally the GOP moderates and encourage a growing number to try to force Bush to change course. "I think we should continue to ratchet up the pressure -- in addition to our words -- to let the White House know we are very sincere," said Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio. Oh, snap! House leaders said they would vote this week on legislation to begin withdrawing troops within 120 days, with "complete withdrawal" by April 1, 2008, setting up the mother of all April Fool's Day tricks. The number of possible strategy changes is dizzying and the Post, thankfully gives us a run-down.

  • Snowe and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., have an amendment for forcing U.S. troops out of combat roles, restricting them to terror-fighting, border-securing and Iraqi-training.
  • Sens. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., have one that would make the Iraq Study Group's 79 recommendations U.S. policy, although it's not a favored amendment by Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., because it doesn't call for mandatory troop withdrawals.
  • Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., are looking to consolidate all the bipartisan efforts. Democrats all want tougher measures than these, specifically a time-tabled for troop drawdowns.
  • The main Democratic amendment by Sens. Carl M. Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., would begin troop reductions in 120 days after enactment and then shift the mission to counter-terrorism and the like. The process would need to be completed by April 30, 2008.
The Monitor's Gail Russell Chaddock reports that while the Senate is not yet at a critical mass for forcing a change to President Bush's Iraq policy -- that would take 60 senators -- more GOPers are straying from the faith and joining Democrats in developing amendments for the Defense Authorization Act bill being considered this week. With all the talk and debate, a consensus is forming however: "short of draconian measures," the current surge cannot be maintained past next April, regardless of what gets voted on. Democrats are looking to force some kind of withdrawal or reduction and have it binding by next spring (see above). Republican moderates are looking to balance support for the troops with the need to pressure the White House to change course. What's interesting in all this coverage is that Republican hardliners -- with the exception of those using parliamentary tactics -- are being marginalized. The action is all with the Democrats and GOP moderates who seem to be actively working together to bridge differences. Seems like Bush is a uniter after all.

Kathy Kiely of USA Today gives us a quick sample of opinion from GOP moderats and Democrats who are looking for ways to both pressure the president and resist the leverage the White House is looking to apply. In a Republican luncheon attended by Vice President Dick Cheny, one of the most impassioned speakers was, unsurprisingly, McCain. (He's notoriously hot-headed.) He argued for a redoubling of efforts and asked if Americans "still have the political courage to fight for victory." Considering he lost his chief political aides yesterday, the question looms: Does his campaign staff?

The mortar attack on the Green Zone yesterday leads both roundups, with Alissa J. Rubin and Stephen Farrell of the Times leading the charge. Rubin and Farrell say yesterday's attack, which killed three and wounded 18, was the most intense mortar barrage to date. Around 5:30 p.m. the shells began to fall, more quickly and more accurately than in the past. As many as 31 shells fell, the most in a single attack so far. A U.S. soldier, an Iraqi citizen and a foreign contractor were killed. The wounded included five American civilians, two U.S. servicemembers and three working for American contractors. Within an hour of the attack, however, the worst-hit area was mostly back to normal, the two report, with Western officials jogging along the streets, waiting at bus stops and walking to work. Elsewhere, more Shi'ite-on-Shi'ite violence in Diwaniya wounded seven people; a mortar attack in Babil province killed three people; In Fallujah, a suicide bicyclist attacked Iraqi police officers, but only killed himself; a car bomb killed an Iraqi cop in Saydia in Baghdad; and the U.S. military announced a July 9 car bomb in Dora killed three Iraqi Army soldiers and four policemen. Politically, the Sunnis are in disarray, again, with Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president denying any talk of a Sunni-led no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki. He was probably just trying not to scotch negotiations between the Tawafiq bloc and the executive council to get the Sunnis back into the government. Iraqi politicians like to work on several levels at once.

Sudarsan Raghavan, of the Post, said the attack happened at 4 p.m., but otherwise gets an embassy source to reveal that before the barrage, a rocket or mortar landed inside the Embassy compound. The attacks are becoming more frequent, the source said. "These attacks have been happening every other day and they are not being reported," the diplomat said. A U.N. report said the attacks were becoming more frequent and accurate, and that 26 people had died in the Green Zone between Feb. 19 and the end of May. Raghavan wraps up the roundup with news of the Saydia attack and a roadside bomb in western Baghdad that killed two people and wounded seven. Police also found 12 unidentified corpse across Baghdad.

In other coverage

Regular op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman says all of Iraq will resemble Basra should the U.S. adopt a middle-ground strategy in Iraq of pulling out of some areas: a political void filled by violent power-grabbing and factional in-fighting. "Our real choices in Iraq are either all in or all out," Friedman writes. (As does Stephen Biddle in the Post, see below.) Staying in means more dead Americans but at least the civil war will be contained. Getting out means slaughter on a mass scale, for which the U.S. would bear some moral responsibility. Think Darfur. "You will see U.S. troops withdrawing and Iraqi civilians and soldiers who have supported us clinging to our tanks for protection as we rumble out the door," he writes. "We need to take with us everyone who helped us and wants out, and give green cards to as many Iraqis as possible." Friedman finally comes out for a withdrawal date -- but caveats it with a last-ditch U.N. -- "not U.S.," he emphasizes -- diplomatic effort get the Iraqis to patch things up. "We need to determine — now, today — whether this is a fight that can be resolved or a riot that we need to build a wall around and wait until it exhausts itself."

Maureen Dowd is her usual acerbic yet compelling self, noting that lack of political reconciliation among Iraq's political parties has led to political reconciliation in Washington between Democrats and Republicans. (Well, some Republicans anyway.) "Watching the warring tribes in Iraq grow more violent has caused the beginning of a reconciliation among the warring tribes in Washington, as they realize they have to get the car keys away from the careening president who has crashed into the globe."

The Journal's op-ed page runs a rather predictable piece by Kimberly Kagan, calling for more time on the surge. Ms. Kagan, affiliate of Harvard's John M. Olin Institute of Strategic Studies and executive director of the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, is also the wife of Frederick Kagan, one of the architects of the surge, so she has a pretty obvious interest in seeing it be seen as a success.

Sara Seddon Kilbinger reports on the rise of Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who just recently won the Pritzker Prize.

Anne E. Kornblut checks in from the campaign trail, noting that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., perhaps noting the lead of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is now echoing her (sorta) on the Iraq war. He opposed the war in 2002 when he was running for Senate, "and I knew it wasn't the politically popular position. But I believed then and still do that being a leader means that you'd better do what's right and leave the politics aside, because there are no do-overs on an issue as important as war." Clinton has refused to apologize for her vote on the war in 2002 because she has said there are no "do-overs" in life.

Walter Pincus reports that Iraq and Afghanistan will cost "hundreds of billions of dollars" over the next decade no matter how quickly U.S. troops are reduced in those country, according to the Congressional Research Service. Even the current 180,000-strong troop level were cut by 85 percent through 2017, the cost would be $477 billion over the decade. If they're cut less -- to 60 percent, say -- by 2013 the U.S. is looking at a $600 billion tab. Another five years at level adds $300 billion: almost $1 trillion if troops are cut to 75,000. Iraq is the main culprit, with costs there spiraling. This year's $135 billion price tag is 40 percent more than 2006. The Pentagon has been stingy with details, and the White House has been delusional: it has budgeted only $50 billion for fiscal 2009 and nothing for the eight years after that despite legal provisions that require long-term estimates. Looks like some more emergency supplementals are on the horizon. Perhaps most telling of the plans to budget for an empire, the report notes that while the U.S. plans to bring troops back from Iraq, Bush intends to add 92,000 troops to the Army and Marines by 2012, a planned addition, the report says, that "appears to assume that the United States needs to be able to deploy substantial numbers of troops on a permanent basis."

Stephen Biddle, who was in Iraq in March and April and a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, pens an op-ed arguing the U.S. either needs to commit to a military strategy in Iraq or get out. The "Plan B" being debated in Congress is just going to make things worse. "The compromise leaves us with an untenable military mission," he writes. "Without a major U.S. combat effort to keep the violence down, the American training effort would face challenges even bigger than those our troops are confronting today. An ineffective training effort would leave tens of thousands of American trainers, advisers and supporting troops exposed to that violence in the meantime. The net result is likely to be continued U.S. casualties with little positive effect on Iraq's ongoing civil war." If the surge is unacceptable politically, "the better option is to cut our losses and withdraw altogether."

Daily Column
Iraq Debate Gathers Steam; US, Iraqi officials warn of premature evacuation
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/10/2007 01:41 AM ET
The upcoming debate in the Senate and dire warnings of an American pullout dominated the coverage today, with The New York Times, the Washington Post both running front-pagers on the pre-debate politics going on. The Times scores an interview with the US ambassador to Iraq, making it the must-read of the day for its range. The volume of Iraq news is ramping up and will only increase in the coming days.

Everyone writes about the dangers of hasty pullouts, but the Times' John Burns and Alissa Rubin turn to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, for their bellum interruptus story. Not surprisingly, things would be bad if the U.S. pulled out or retreated to bases outside the major cities: "You're just getting into the first reel of five reels, he said. "And as ugly as the first reel has been, the other four and a half are going to be way, way worse." Crocker seems to be arguing not only against a precipitous withdrawal, but against any withdrawal or change in strategy whatsoever. He speaks in gloomy terms, drawing on his experience in Lebanon in the early 1980s. No one imagined the extreme violence of the Lebanese Civil War, he said, "And I'm sure what will happen here exceeds my imagination." His assessment overall is that Iraq is an apocalyptic tar-baby, and if he's right that Iraq can't be measured by Congressional benchmarks, that any drawdown or redeployment would mean disaster, that the end of the world is nigh should America go wobbly, then there is no alternative but to spend years in Iraq with at least tens of thousands of U.S. troop.

Meanwhile, back in D.C., Burns and Rubin write that the White House asked Sens. John Warner-R., Va., and John Kyl, R-Ariz., to delay any vote on withdrawal until the September report on the war. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate Majority Leader, however, said he won't wait and would kick off the latest Iraq debate in the world's greatest talk-shop this week. (Of course Senate Republicans can gum up the works pretty effectively.) The White House, running off the same talking points as Crocker, said there will be no new strategy. "We're not going to have a strategy jumping out of a cake," said spokesman Tony Snow.

Should we stay...
The push is on to stall the Democrats. Sudarsan Raghavan, for the Post, picks up Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshi Zebari's warnings that if the United States gives into political pressure and withdraws troops too quickly, "Iraq's government could collapse, plunging the nation into full-blown civil war and sparking regional conflict." Fear of a hasty U.S. pullout is about the only thing that unites Iraqi leaders, Raghavan writes. Sunnis (except for militants and jihadis) fear it would leave them vulnerable to the Shi'ite majority and Iran. Shi'ites fear Iraq's Sunni neighbors would undermine the government by backing insurgents. And Kurds are worried about a Turkish invasion. Best quote: Hassan al-Suneid, a Shi'ite advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki said, if they U.S. were to withdraw, "the militias and the armed groups will attack each other, and that means a sure civil war." Yeah, unlike now.

USA Today's Thomas Frank reports from Baghdad on Zebari's announcement offers a quick roundup of falling-sky comments from across the political spectrum in Iraq. Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds, he writes, "expressed concern at growing support in Washington for the removal of some of the 155,000 U.S. troops in Iraq." He goes to Mahmoud Othman, a Kurd and noted talk-a-holic in Baghdad who's independent of the mainstream Kurdish leadership, who admits that if the Americans pull out, sectarian violence will spike, but "some day, they will be tired," he said of battling Sunnis and Shi'ites. "And they will stop this fighting."

...Or should we go?
But maybe President George W. Bush didn't get the memo about how bad things will be in Iraq. Peter Baker and Karen DeYoung of the Post land on the front page with news that President Bush, while in a stand-off with Senate Democrats over Iraq as Republicans dump him, will launch a campaign "emphasizing his intent to draw down U.S. forces next year and move toward a more limited mission if security conditions improve." Republicans such as Warner worry this is just more spin. While it's nice to be talking about how much one wants a troop withdrawal, it seems more like an attempt to provide political cover to keep wavering Senate Republicans with Team Bush rather than an actual change in policy. The goal, as Baker and DeYoung report, is not to end the war, but to keep it going. "Bush hopes the net result would be a situation stable enough that the next president -- even a Democrat with an antiwar platform -- would feel confident enough to sustain some form of U.S. mission." Missing in the duo's story, however, is the very real consideration of the presidential race in 2008. If Bush is able to defuse the Iraq issue prior to November next year -- by announcing an "intention" to draw down troops or point to some form of progress -- he might be able to bail enough water to get a Republican elected, which seems unlikely in the current anti-war political climate.

It must be fun to be a moderate Republican Senator. Everyone wants to get on your dance card! The Post's Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman report on the Democrats' efforts to peel off more Republican senators in the run-up to the Iraq debate this week, hoping to attract more support to force Bush to begin withdrawing combat troops. Reid says now is the time for Republicans to put their votes where their mouths are and vote for a real change in Iraq strategy. Just last night, another Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, said she would consider voting for binding troop-withdrawal legislation, joining Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon Smith of Oregon. But most Republicans aren't ready to go there yet. Still, there are at least seven Republican senators who are looking for some sign that Bush will change course, a massive disadvantage for the White House's allies in the Senate, where the Democrats have a 51-49 majority. One amendment that has the best chance of being folded into the Defense Authorization Act is one that would make the Iraq Study Group's 79 recommendations binding law. Some of the goals set include withdrawing most combat troops by March 31, 2008. So far, Reid has scheduled two withdrawal amendments: one to cut off funding for combat operations in spring and one to begin troop withdrawals within several months (but without a firm completion date.)

Kathy Kiely and David Jackson report on the Senate debate for USA Today, saying that Reid has lost patience. "We cannot wait until September," he said, referring to the September deadline for a progress report from Gen. David Petraeus. "We believe it's time to change course." But they emphasize that the Iraq Study Group amendment may not be enough for Reid. "We do not want this to be a fig leaf," he said. "We want real change, not some feel-good thing." If Reid is being this aggressive and not fully on board with the ISG amendment, he may be overplaying his hand, resulting in a deadlocked Senate and the status quo... Which would suit the White House just fine.

Missing the Mark
Looks like the Iraqi government isn't the only one not meeting its benchmarks. Both the Times and the Post report on the Amy falling short of its recruitment goal in June, the second straight month this has happened. Josh White of the Post and David Cloud of the Times write that the Army fell more than 1,000 active duty recruits short (the Post says 1,400) of its June goal of 8,400, probably due to the increased number of U.S. casualties in Iraq. It's particularly troubling, Cloud writes, because May and June are traditionally big recruitment months because of the large number of recent high-school graduates. (The Post's White says July, August and September are the best months.) Both the Guard and the Reserve are meeting their goals, however, as well as the Marines. The Army has embarked on a 5-year effort to increase its active-duty strength to 547,000 from the current force level of 514,000. Aside from the war, another factor holding down recruitment efforts is the failure of 7 in 10 potential recruits failing to meet Army standards. They're either overweight or failed to graduate from high school.

Public opinion
USA Today runs a front-pager by Susan Page on a recent USA Today/Gallup poll that shows anti-war sentiment rising to record levels while Bush's approval rating is sinking like a stone. More than 70 percent of Americans favor removing nearly all U.S. troops by April, 62 percent say the U.S. made a mistake in invading Iraq (the first time that number has topped 60%), and only 20 percent say the surge has made things better in Iraq. Half said it has made no difference. Still, 55 percent say Congress should wait until September to change strategy, while 40 percent say it should move now. Bush's support is at 29 percent overall, a new low. Only 68 percent of Republicans favor him, down from an average of 92 percent in his first term and 82 percent in his second. The poll of 1,014 adults has an error margin of +/-3 percentage points for the full sample, 5 points for the GOP subsample, Page writes.

In other coverage

The Monitor's Sam Dagher continues his dogged work in Diyala province with a piece on the problem of turncoats within the Iraqi Army. Some Sunni and Shi'ite officers are aiding and abetting Sunni militants and Shi'ite militias, respectively, undermining the U.S. efforts of Arrowhead Ripper. Local paramilitary groups, either Sunni or Shi'ite, use tribal and family ties to bring officers over to their side. "The military goes through a vetting process to ensure that the soldiers are not known criminals or insurgents, but there is no process after that to screen them periodically to make sure they have not turned or started supporting criminals and terrorists," said U.S. Army Maj. Dom Dionne, who is working with an Iraqi Army battalion in Khalis, about 10 miles northwest of Baqoubah. Besides, it's not his job, but that of the Iraqi government. "With our current manning, it's not feasible," he adds.

Regular op-ed columnist Bob Herbert writes about a new story coming out in The Nation this week, about American soldiers abusing Iraq's civilians in an everyday sort of way. "I guess while I was there, the general attitude was a dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi. You know, so what?" he writes, quoting Jeff Englehart, 26, an Army specialist from Grand Junction, Colo. The article, he says, emphasizes the stress G.I.s are under in Iraq, causing them to dehumanize Iraqis and, after they return home, themselves. "There is no upside to this war," Herbery writes. "It has been a plague since the beginning. But it's one thing to lose a war. It's much worse for a nation to lose its soul."

Ilan Berman, vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, writes a mostly level-headed commentary for the Journal's op-ed page, warning that unless the U.S. and Baghdad get serious about taking on Kurdish militant groups such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), northern Iraq could become the battleground between Kurdish, Turkish and U.S. forces. With Kurdish restlessness on the rise on four fronts around it, Turkey is feeling increasingly threatened by the militants and has massed 140,000 troops on the Iraqi border, according to Iraqi officials. Most alarmingly, "the U.S., meanwhile, has hinted that it would be obliged to defend and assist Iraqi forces in the event of such a conflict. Thus a Turkish raid could spark a war between a NATO member state and the U.S.-led Coalition." The solution? Berman suggests the United States create a Train and Equip Program like it did in Georgia, giving Kurdish pesh merga under the control of KRG president Massoud Barzani increasing competence to police their own. Biggest problem with this idea: Turkey will likely see this not as a means of Iraq combating terrorism within its own borders, but as a U.S. plan to arm and train Kurdish separatists. There is no guarantee the Kurdish border force wouldn't take this American training and help their PKK buddies to fight Turkey.

Eugene Robinson, op-ed columnist, writes that Bush will remain resolute to the end, and no one should be lulled into thinking the Iraq war is entering its endgame. "Democrats and war-weary Republicans on Capitol Hill are doing what their constituents want them to do -- push George Bush to face reality in Iraq and bring American troops home. I just don't see any signs that their message is getting through."

Daily Column
Political maneuvers; Village attack one of the deadliest; Still too few troops
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/09/2007 01:40 AM ET
Political maneuverings in Washington ate up much of the Iraqi newshole Monday, with both The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor expanding on last week's scoop by the Post on plans by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to fashion a post-surge strategy. The Post offers a dramatic front-pager on the perils confronting American troops in a Baghdad neighborhood where things are getting tougher as the surge grinds on. The Monitor also gets in a depressing must-read on the inability of American and Iraqi troops to defeat al Qaeda militants in Diyala because of lack of men and equipment -- still. The Times and the Post both look at the aftermath of this weekend's savage bombings in Amerli.

David Finkel, in the tradition of great narrative war reporting, writes the equivalent of "Remembering Private Ryan" for the Post, telling the story of Alpha Company and its parent unit, the 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. The mission: transport 27 soldiers to a neighboring outpost four miles away so they can attend a memorial service for a fallen member of the unit -- who died eight days earlier making the very same trip. The choices for the commanders were to ride or walk. Risk IEDs or attract snipers. Eastern Baghdad, the unit's area of operation, has become more dangerous for U.S. troops since the surge started. In March, 2nd Battalion got hit by 12 IEDs. In June, there were 80, with 13 discovered before they could explode. Nineteen soldiers had been injured and four killed. On June 28, an IED hit 2nd Platoon, killing Sgt. William W. Crow Jr., 28, and severing the arm of another soldier. It was his memorial the soldiers of Alpha Company were to attend. They ended up driving part of the way and walking most of the route, but it wasn't enough. While on foot, they found an IED, which exploded, injuring no one. While regrouping, another bomb -- a truck bomb -- went off, followed by RPG attacks. An ambush. No one was injured, and the patrol escaped, finally, to the safety of the base, but four of the soldiers had concussions. They were lucky. They made it to the memorial and could start their next mission: Getting back.

Political Maneuvers
Howard LaFranchi, writing for the Monitor, reports that quietly, the political stage is being set for a post-surge strategy that would scale back ambitions for Iraq while leaving thousands of U.S. troops there for years in order to "fight al Qaeda." How much support for such a strategy will hinge on the July 15 interim report being prepared by the White House for Congress. It will also depend on ironing out the deep divisions within the administration and the dynamics of the 2008 presidential campaign. The outlines of the plan involves fewer troops, no grandiose plans for Iraq and an emphasis on fighting al Qaeda. LaFranchi says the the signs that there's a growing consensus for this plan are there: the defection of several prominent Republicans; Gates' pressing for a post-surge strategy focusing on denying Iraq as a haven for foreign jihadis; and the admission by White House officials that they're already looking past the surge. The drive for a new strategy is that sticking with one that isn't working -- such as the surge, at least in the eyes of the public -- will propel political momentum toward a full and hasty withdrawal that could leave Iraq and the greater region in chaos.

David Sanger reports the lead story for the Times that advisors to President Bush see the last support for his war strategy collapsing with the defection of Senate Republicans, and are advising the president to announce a gradual troop withdrawal to forestall any further defections. Perhaps most worrying about this story is that it reports that White House officials are more concerned with the politics than with the policy, still. They're worried about the trip to Baghdad by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has supported the surge in the past, but is sinking in the polls as he runs for the GOP presidential nomination. He might decide to bolster his campaign by declaring the Iraqi government unwilling to do its part and he can no longer support Bush's strategy. The Times gets props for finally tightening up its use of the term "al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" and touching on its complicated relationship with Osama bin Laden's network, and Sanger makes a similar effort on the complicated maneuverings within the various camps in the Senate and the White House. The new policy and politics are still moving targets, however. As Drudge might say: impacting.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, and Senate minority leader, is in a tough spot on the Hill and with his constituents, reports Kathy Kiely for USA Today. "The majority of the public has decided the Iraq effort is not worth it," he said. "That puts a lot of pressure on Congress to act because public opinion in a democracy is not irrelevant." While many of his folks still solidly support the war -- Kentucky is a big military state and Gen. David Petraeus use to be the base commander at Ft. Campbell -- they are also uneasy to sacrifice more of their young people to a victory that looks increasingly unattainable. And McConnell is up for reelection next year.

Gates cancelled a trip to Central and South America to work on the July 15 interim report for Congress, reports Shankar Vedantam for the Post. With the defection of Republicans and the conclusion by White House officials that the Iraqi government won't meet its deadlines, Gates decided to stay home. It was to be his first trip to the region since becoming Defense Secretary.

Still not enough troops
Sam Dagher reports for the Monitor from Diyala province on the inability of the U.S. and Iraqi forces to prevail over the foreign jihadi and al Qaeda elements there because they just don't have enough troops and equipment. In one case, Dagher tells of a Sunni sheikh who called an Iraqi colonel to come to the village of Sufayet, where 10 days previously 60 militants had been chased out by Iraqi forces backed by American air cover. Now they were back and the sheikh wanted help. No can do, the colonel replied. To get to the village, "his men would have to wait for US mine-clearing vehicles and tanks to lead the way as the roads to the village have been rigged with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). His US advisers tell him that's impossible now since US forces and equipment are tied up elsewhere in the province." Even before the start of Arrowhead Ripper, Dagher reports, leaders and cells of al Qaeda in Iraq fled the capital of Baqoubah for the villages and hamlets around the province. US troops in the story say there is a sense of déjà vu in the operations: Attack, drive off the bad guys, watch 'em regroup elsewhere. But even with 10,000 American troops in the region and Diyala-based 5th Division of the Iraqi Army, there just aren't enough men and materiel. Eight of the Iraqi colonel's 12 humvees have been destroyed over the past year through roadside bombs and they've not yet been repaired of replaced. The base is mortared "all the time," but they have no way to fire back because they have no mortars of their own. Iraqi soldiers even have to share helmets and body armor. After four years of war and training of Iraqi soldiers, we're still dealing with these problems? Just how many troops is it going to take?

Adding more troubles to the mix, Jim Michaels reports for USA Today that attacks are up on supply convoys run by private companies. Since June 2006 to the end of May this year, there have been 869 attacks, compared to 281 attacks the preceding 12 months. Part of the increase comes from a growth in the number of targets: There are now 20-30 daily convoys, up from 10-15 a year ago, with much of the cargo equipment purchased for Iraqis. (So that's why there's not enough body armor for the Iraqi Army's 5th Division.)

Deadly Bombings
Stephen Farrell of the Times tops his roundup with news that with more than 152 killed, the bombing in Amerli on Sunday was the second deadliest of the Iraq war, and it could surpass the toll of 155 killed in March in Tal Afar. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, Farrell writes, but Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State in Iraq issued a warning to Iran to stop supporting Shi'ites and the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad. "Otherwise, a severe war is waiting for you." When Zarqawi was running al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, from which the ISI emerged, warnings and fulminations against Iran were few and far between. Perhaps something has changed? Also, in Haswa, about 30 miles west of Baghdad, a suicide truck bomber killed more than 20 Iraqi Army recruits and wounded 27 others. Two near-simultaneous blasts in Karrada killed at least eight and wounded 12.

Sudarsan Raghavan runs the aftermath of Amerli in a separate takeout on the front page of the Post. Villages lost entire families, and people who had had relatives killed earlier now had fresh grief. And they blame al Qaeda in Iraq. "Why can't the army and police protect us against those thugs?" demanded Khider Walli Ahmad, who lost his wife, 4-year-old son, father, mother and sister. Last year, his brother and nephew were killed during a pilgrimage to Karbala. "I am going to leave because I have come to hate Iraq and the religion that allows such killings," he said. "May God damn them all." More than 50 houses and 45 shops were destroyed by the bomb, said Maj. Khalaf Abdullah, the village's deputy police chief. "There is a funeral service in every house in the town," he said.

Raghavan also writes a to-the-point roundup, reporting that 23 Iraqi army recruits were killed in the Haswa attack. He gets the Karrada bombs, but adds that another bomb in Shorja market killed three and wounded five. More than 200 Iraqis were killed in this weekend's rampage. Two soldiers were killed over the weekend, one west of Baghdad and the other in Salahuddin province. Two Iraqi employees of the U.S. embassy were kidnapped and killed, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker announced. Most worrisome: Senior Iraqi leaders declared that, given the spate of bombings over the weekend, Iraqis have a right to take up weapons and defend themselves and that the government should supply citizens with arms, money and training. Game on. In other coverage
Stephen Farrell of the Times reports on the embassy couple that was killed. The elderly couple disappeared more than a month ago, but their deaths were only confirmed Sunday by Crocker. The husband was kidnapped by insurgents and his wife was killed, apparently as she was trying to deliver a ransom. The husband was also killed. Embassy colleagues said they were Christian and that the wife was "a sweet old lady." Also, supporters of Moqatada al-Sadr accused the Malaki government of giving a "green light" to Americans to kill Sadrists. Reports also said al-Sadr had returned to Iran, but that was immediately denied.

Speaking of Iran, Nazila Fathi writes that the five Iranians held by in Iraq by U.S. troops have complained to Iranian diplomats visiting them of poor conditions.

Robert Novak, one of the Post's op-ed columnists, reports on National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley's visit to Capitol Hill last week, to put out the fires lit by the defection of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., from Team Bush. Novak's got good sources among Republicans, so when he writes that Senate GOPers are worried the "White House still does not recognize the scope of the Iraq delimma," and that the president is hoping to run out the clock until April 2008 and then blame the depleted military, people might want to listen. And Bush continues to snub his allies in the Senate. Bush never called the respected Lugar for some presidential face-time and responded to the senator's letter calling for an international mediator in Iraq under the Security Council with a C-list bureaucrat. No wonder Team Bush was caught flat-footed when Lugar jumped ship.

Ah, the Journal's op-ed and editorial pages... They never fail to disappoint. Today, Pete Hegseth, in arguing for the surge, just lays it all out: "This week, Democrats on Capitol Hill are expected to present several different bills meant to undermine the war in Iraq." Those rascally Defeatocrats! Why would they do this? Because they "fear" that Petraeus has a winning strategy for Iraq. Four "falsehoods" are shot down -- or so he says -- and Congress should shut up and let Petraeus do his job, at least until September's report. Who is Hegseth? A first lieutenant in the Army National Guard and executive director of He served in Iraq from September 2005 to July 2006.

And finally, in an unsigned editorial, the Journal takes the retreatin' Republicans to task for not standing by their man in the White House. Pointing to success in Anbar, the editorial fails to even mention the bombings in Diyala and the fact that once again, al Qaeda got away.

Daily Column
White House 'shaving yardstick'; Senate Dems push for Exit; Brit bomber ties
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/08/2007 01:48 AM ET
The Washington Post and The New York Times offer massive Iraq coverage today, with front page stories anchoring the news. Beside yesterday's horrific carnage, the Post looks at how the Bush Administration is "shaving the yardstick" on Iraq, while the Times goes with the new press for a withdrawal by Senate Democrats. There's much to digest today.

Both papers front the Washington news. For the Post, Karen DeYoung and Thomas Ricks write that the White House is looking for "alternative" evidence of progress in Iraq as the prepare for an interim report due to Congress next week. Why? Because the Iraqi government is unlikely to meet any of the political or security goals or timelines President Bush set in January when he announced the surge. Instead, the Administration will focus on Sunni tribes in Anbar fighting al Qaeda, the June drop in Sectarian killings and a unified response by Iraqi leaders to last month's repeating bombing at the shrine in Samarra. Missions not accomplished? Holding provincial elections, passing power-sharing legislation and having Iraqis take responsibility for all provinces by November -- benchmarks that have become U.S. law. If they're not met, Bush has to propose a new strategy. But so far -- and with an acknowledgment that they won't be met -- Bush has shown no sign that a strategy change is being considered. Best nugget in the story: An administration official disputes the president's common assertion that if the U.S. pulls out, Iran or al Qaeda -- or both -- will take over Iraq. More likely are splits between Shi'ite groups, greater involvement by Sunni Arab governments and further isolation from Kurds along with increased tensions with Turkey. And if the troops retreat to bases inside Iraq and not intervene in sectarian warfare? The U.S. military could find itself in a position that "would make the Dutch at Srebrenica look like heroes," the official said.

The Times' Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny sneak into the Senate cloakroom to find Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., upset over his party's failure to end the war. But Reid senses that in just a few months, momentum has turned to the anti-war side, with high-profile Republican defections goosing it along, and a presidential campaign increasingly turning on candidates' stance on Iraq. In earlier Congressional debates, Democrats were wary of appearing as if they didn't support the troops, but they're more emboldened now, Hulse and Zeleny report. Reid says he now sees ending the war as a moral duty, and pledged to push Iraq legislation until enough Republican senators joined him or Bush relents.

Carnage in Iraq
It was a day of blood and carnage in Iraq, shocking even to those of us who aren't surprised by bad news from Iraq. Richard Oppel and Ali Adeeb of the Times report on the suicide truck bomber who hit the small village of Amerli, a clay-house village of poor Shi'ite Turkmen about 70 miles north of Baqoubah, killing 105 and wounding at least 240. The two report that it was one of the single deadliest attacks of the war. A similar blast at a nearby village earlier killed 17 people and wounded six, showing that insurgents can still kill civilians outside of Baghdad, where five new American brigades are now based. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but being suicide bombs against Shi'ites, they bear the hallmarks of al Qaeda in Iraq. Yesterday and this week was also deadly for Coalition troops. Nine soldiers and Marines died Thursday and Friday, with eight killed during combat or from roadside bombs, the two report. A single soldier died Friday from a "non-battle-related cause." Two British troops also were killed in Basra, one in a non-combat accident and one by an IED. Suicide car bombers killed four Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint in eastern Baghdad and 14 bodies were found around the city. Iranian diplomats were granted permission to visit the five Iranians who have been detained by U.S. forces since January and Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki called for Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army to confront "rogue and violent members."

Sudarsan Raghavan takes on the Post's grim front-page story on the violence, reporting that at least 144 Iraqis were killed in a spate of bombings across the country, including the one at Amerli. Raghavan writes that these attacks raise the question of whether the military offensive in Diyala has once again scattered insurgents, only to have them regroup elsewhere and attack civilian, soft targets. The Post has higher numbers on those killed in Armili, as it reports the name of the village. At least 115 were killed, but police and provincial officials expect the toll to rise. A local police commander put the death toll at 155, including 25 children and 40 women. About 250 were wounded. More than 20 shops and 50 mud houses were destroyed by the blast, collapsing on their inhabitants. In one case, an entire family of seven was killed. Another suicide car bomb attack hit Zargosh, a remote Shi'ite Turkmen and Kurdish village near the Iranian border in Diyala province, killing 23 and wounding 18. Raghavan notes that these attacks are happening around Kirkuk, which is becoming even more of a flashpoint as Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs clash over the future of the city.

The British bomb plot
Karen Sullivan and Mary Jordan take on the British bomb plot for the Post, noting that the only man charged, Bilal Abdulla, is an Iraqi doctor described by frinds and family as "furious over the Iraq war." The plot could be the first case of an Islamic extremist group attacking in Europe, using techniques from Iraq, analysts say. Sullivan and Jordan note that a few hundred people who have left Europe to fight in Iraq have returned, but only some of them have been arrested. "We have to be open to the possibility of people returning from Iraq," a British official said. While Abdulla was not a fighter in Iraq, he was allegedly angry about the war. "He supported the insurgency. He loudly cheered the deaths of British and American troops," said an acquaintance, Shiraz Maher. Abdulla also showed a roommate a beheading video, warning him that the same thing could happen to him if he were not more true to his faith, Maher said.

For the Times, Serge Kovaleski and Alan Cowell also get into Abdulla's background, and talk to one of Abdulla's friends, Hicham Kwieder, 53, chairman of the Cambridge Muslim Welfare Society. "It seemed he wasn’t happy about the situation in Iraq, and the killing and disputes between the Iraqi factions," said Kwieder. "He told me he felt the Shia domination of Iraq was wrong and was upset that his family had to leave Iraq for Jordan. He was not happy with the policies taken by the British and U.S. governments of giving more to the Shia than the Sunnis."

The Post's War Debate
For the Post, Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman take a look at the range of opinions in Congress, using four archetypal members to tell the story. Two moderates and two from the left and right sides of the aisle are all conflicted. These guys may determine how the debate ends:

  • Rep. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is the "Loyal Conservative," and he is sticking to September as the time to evaluate Iraq. He strongly supported the war, and thought it "the ultimate war between good and evil" but today, he no longer things the "get out!" contingent is totally irresponsible. While he believes there should now be an endgame, he still wants to keep any talk of reducing funding off the table.
  • Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, is the "Anguished Moderate." She is expected to join her three GOP colleagues -- Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Pete Domenici of New Mexico -- soon in calling for a change in strategy before September, but she hasn't yet found an alternative plan she can sign on to. She insists she's had it with the war, but in March she voted against setting deadlines on bringing the troops home. The Post says that for her, Patreus must show more than progress come September; he needs to show victory.
  • Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., is the "Conservative Democrat," and he says that Bush is trying to build bridges with conservative and moderate Democrats like himself. Bush has wooed him successfully so far, getting Boren to be one of only 14 Democrats to oppose the party's war spending bill that called for a timeline to withdraw troops. His, father, however is former Sen. David Boren and he's a powerful voice of skepticism for the war.
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., is the "Anti-War Liberal," opposed the war even before the Oct. 10, 2002 authorization vote, and she convinced 126 Democrats then to vote with her -- about 60 percent of the caucus. She's since founded the Out of Iraq Caucus. and is now the chief deputy whip, a loyal member of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership team. But even she is conflicted. She supported the first Iraq spending bill, vetoed by Bush, even though it contained no firm timelines. She opposed the second which had no timelines whatsoever. She still worries that not providing money is the same as not supporting the troops.

In other coverage

John Burns writes in the Week in Review section on Anbar's role as both a showcase for success -- violence is down and cooperation with Americans is up -- and for possibly false hope for the rest of Iraq. Anbar is almost entirely Sunni, which isn't the case for most of the rest of the country, and the Sunnis' fight is against the Americans and the Shi'ite government, too. Whether the success of Anbar can be exported remains to be seen.

In an unsigned editorial, the Times comes out strongly for the end of the war. "It is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit," the editorial starts. Waiting for Bush to recognize and stabilize the disaster of Iraq is no longer an option. "It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush’s plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost."

Clark Hoyt, the paper's Public Editor, takes the Times to task over the lack of stories as to why Bush and the military are emphasizing al Qaeda as virtually the sole cause of violence in Iraq.

These are stories you haven’t been reading in The Times in recent weeks as the newspaper has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about Al Qaeda’s role in Iraq -- and sometimes citing the group itself without attribution.

And in using the language of the administration, the newspaper has also failed at times to distinguish between Al Qaeda, the group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an Iraqi group that didn’t even exist until after the American invasion.

The foreign editor of the Times, Susan Chira, acknowledged "excessive shorthand" when referring to al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Hoyt writes, admitting that, "We've been sloppy." A memo with guidelines on how to distinguish between al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and al Qaeda has been circulated.

Peter Applebome picks up and expands on the USA Today story last week about the trails of children of service members serving overseas. Applebome writes about Camp Deer Run, where 59 teenage campers escape the trials of having a military parent. The program is called Operation Purple and is organized by the National Military Family Association.

Thomas Ricks opens up his inbox again for his regular feature. Today's column is about the trouble the Army is having retaining captains. It's not about the money, Ricks says a memo written by Col. J.R. Burton explains. It's that with so few of their peers signing up, and lengthening deployments and shortened home-times, these guys need time with their families more than they need $20,000 re-upping bonuses.

Byron York, National Review's White House correspondent, writes in a guest op-ed that Bush's base has deserted him over the immigration bill and failing to win the Iraq war.

Jim Hoagland, a regular op-ed columnist, looks with alarm at "the next battle in Iraq": Turkey and the Kurds. "A Turkish invasion that turns Kurdistan's relative calm into chaos and bloodshed would be the nail in the coffin for Bush's legacy in Iraq," he writes, but the Bush administration seems unable to exercise my leverage in the region anymore.

Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident who is chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies in Jerusalem, argues in the Outlook section that any decision on how to handle Iraq has to include a discussion of human rights. As a former dissident who was imprisoned for nine years in a Soviet gulag, Sharansky speaks with moral authority, but his hatred of totalitarianism -- and perhaps his membership in the Likud party? -- causes him to argue that everyone's life under Saddam was one of slavery and oppression and anyone who says Iraqis are worse today than they were under the previous regime is nuts. He's more supportive of Bush's plan the Republicans in America are, saying the surge must be given time to work and that if the U.S. pulled out too quickly, a bloodbath "that would make the current carnage pale by comparison" would ensue.

No edition today.

No edition today.

No edition today.

Daily Column
Chalabi speaks out; UN blasts donor countries over Iraqi refugess
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/07/2007 01:57 AM ET
A light dusting of Iraq coverage today, with American politics taking center stage in the Washington Post as today's must-read.

Shailagh Murray opens the Post's front-page coverage with a look at the positioning going on among the four Democratic senators running for president -- with the Senate floor as their latest jousting arena. When next week's Defense Department authorization bill his the floor, look for all four candidates -- Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York, Barack Obama of Illinois, Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut -- to push their favored plan for Iraq as amendments. Clinton's proposal is the most radical: a deauthorization of President Bush's war powers -- an ironic suggestion given her 2002 vote to authorize the war. And while the Senate has traditionally not been a great source for presidential success, this time may be different. "The war has been absolutely huge for them," according to Barry C. Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Next week's debate will let the senators show off their positions and foreign-policy flair in what will essentially be free air-time. (Although mainly on C-SPAN.) Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is struggling as a presidential candidate, has tried to stay away from the Senate, but as the highest-ranking member of of the Armed Services Committee, he'll have to be there to manage the defense bill. Whether he can manage being a presidential candidate and a senator who's on "the wrong side of public opinion on Iraq," as Murray writes, remains to be seen.

The suspected ringleader of a series of bombings and assassinations, including the 2003 killings of Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, the head of SCIRI, and Abdel Zahara Othman, head of Iraq's Governing Council, has been hanged, reports Stephen Farrell for The New York Times. Oras Muhammad Abdul-Aziz, who was hanged three days ago, according to the Iraqi Justice Ministry, was a member of al Qaeda in Iraq as well as Ansar al-Islam, a progenitor of Zarqawi's terror group. He was arrested in 2004 in Mosul by U.S. forces before being turned over to the Iraqis. The killings of al-Hakim and Othman, as well as an attack that killed 19 Italian servicemembers, were linked to Abdul-Aziz and were some of the earliest high-profile bombings in Iraq. Also, in a kind of journalistic version of Chekhov's gun, Farrell notes that 84 other people have been hanged, but it's unclear if that number means those hanged recently or since June 2004 when Iraq regained its sovereignty, since Farrell never picks that back up from the leade. Farrell also reports that on Friday, three policemen were killed in heavy fighting against Mahdi Army militiamen in Samawa, and a suicide car bomb struck a cafe near the city of Khanaqin in the Kurdish area near the Iranian border. Seventeen people were killed and four wounded. The Times tacks on an AP story about an investigation into wrongful killings by Marines in November 2004 in Fallujah. (See Washington Post below, in other coverage.)

The Post leads its roundup by Sudarsan Raghavan with criticism from the United Nations that donor countries are neglecting the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who are swamping Syria and Jordan. In April, the United States and other countries pledged help to Syria and Jordan, but donations so far have totaled only $70 million with an addition $10 million in pledges. Hundreds of millions of dollars are needed, the U.N. said. Further adding to Iraqi refugees' woes, Sweden announced that its generous open-door policy is closing; it soon will be more difficult for Iraqis to seek asylum and those denied refuge will be deported "by force." Sweden has taken in more Iraqis -- more than 18,000 -- than the United States or any other European country since 2006. The U.S., in contrast, has taken in less than 800 since 2003. Raghavan gets the fighting in Samawa, but adds that Samarra saw a roadside bomb attack that killed four cops and wounded three civilians. In Hilla, mortars struck near a U.S. base, attracting Iraqi police and army units to investigate. When they got there, a roadside bomb blew up, killing four Iraqi soldiers and injuring two. In Kirkuk, a gang of gunmen killed a soldier in a drive-by shooting, while 30 miles to the southwest, in Hawija, gunmen killed another Iraqi soldier.

In other coverage

Josh White reports for the Post on another investigation into possible wrongful killings of Iraqis by Marines of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in Anbar province. A Marine, identified as Cpl. Ryan Weemer, applied for a government job and in the interview said eight insurgents were killed by a Marine squad after being captured in Fallujah during the November 2004 assault on the city. The investigation has been underway for several months already, but no criminal charges have been filed. Kilo Company came to prominence because of investigations into an alleged massacre in Haditha in 2005.

A retired Foreign Service officer, Kiki Munshi, contributes an op-ed about her experiences in Baqoubah in 2006. Somewhat surprisingly -- from a U.S. governmental officer, anyway -- she calls what some of the insurgents are doing in Diyalah province "resistance" and says the "new" strategy of working with Sunni tribal leaders to go after foreign jihadi elements isn't new at all; it's exactly what she and the commander of the 4th Infantry Division were doing last year. But for her, the past is prologue. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki appointed a new, sectarian Shi'ite commanding general who blew away the goodwill the Americans were developing among the Sunni ex-Ba'athists in Diyalah and the patient, relationship-building 4th ID was replaced with a cavalry unit that favored guns over talking. The results were predictable: The Sunni Arabs in Diyalah, who feared Iran and Shi'ites more than they did America, turned back to insurgency and al Qaeda. The friendly mayor of Baqoubah was arrested as an insurgent. While Americans in Iraq forget last year's history quickly, the Iraqis don't, she warns.

Melik Kaylan writes a fawning piece on Ahmad Chalabi for the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page, calling him the "nearest thing Iraqis currently possess to a genuine walk-and-talk democratic politician." For many Americans, that may be hard to stomach, as the guy has been roundly criticized for peddling false WMD information to eager listeners at the Pentagon. (He once said, "As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. ... We are heroes in error.") In Chalabi's views, everything would have been hunky-dory in Baghdad if the Americans had just let the Iraqis run the show, presumably with him in charge. (Which was pretty much the plan until those meddlin' State Department kids showed up.) Furthermore, without once mentioning that Chalabi is Shi'ite himself, Kaylan says Chalabi recognizes the realities of Iraq and its ethnic makeup, admitting that Shi'ites will be dominant. Well, other than Sunni insurgents, does anyone really dispute that? Kaylan seems to have been snookered by Chalabi, who thrills Iraqis by wandering amongst the people. Admirable yes, but Chalabi has almost zero support in Iraq and perhaps the reason he's able to walk and talk relatively safely in public is because no one takes him seriously anymore.

No weekend edition

No weekend edition

Daily Column
Winning over Sunnis in Diyala; Moderate Iraqis unite; Iran's 'proxy' war with US
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/06/2007 01:55 AM ET
The papers all report on the weird symmetry of both the White House and al Qaeda facing down defections from former supporters. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., changed his tune on Iraq, while al Qaeda released a video of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the gang's No. 2 guy, calling for Muslims to unite under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq, an implicit admission that the U.S. strategy of winning over Sunni tribes to fight al Qaeda may be having an effect.

Domenici's defection lead the news in the Washington Post on Friday, with a piece by Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane. Domenici, formerly a staunch supporter of the war, called for an immediate change in U.S. strategy to end combat operations by spring next year, and publicly embraced legislation from Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., calling for reshaping U.S. Iraq policy around the 79 recommendations from the Iraq Study Group. The Post describes his change of heart as "one of the most significant GOP losses to date," and his reversal now, instead of in mid-September, signals that Republicans' patience is wearing out more quickly than the White House anticipated. It also signals that a more centrist approach to Iraq is starting to gain momentum in Congress, with moderates attempting to chart a middle path between the antiwar Democrats, who want to force withdrawal legislation on President Bush, and the White House, which is sticking to its guns. "You can't back out of the surge," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "The surge is in place, and it is going to be in place for some time."

Carl Huse of The New York Times reports that election-year politics may be on some pols' minds. Domenici and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., a respected voice on military affairs, are both facing the voters next year. Warner, significantly, is wavering. Huse digs a bit deeper into the disarray on the Democrats' side, too, noting that it's not certain that Democrats can impose policy changes even with the recent high-profile GOP defections. The Republicans are resisting any cutoff of funding, a proposal that's a must-have for some Democrats. Other Democrats resist that, but insist on a mandatory timetable, something that Domenici and the other wavering GOP senators also oppose. Huse broadens the story by talking with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who agrees with Domenici and will likely join any GOP defections.

The Wall Street Journal's article by Yochi J. Dreazen on Domenici's announcement is a good piece, and explains the story in the perhaps most straight-forward way of today's stories, but it doesn't really add more than either the Post's or the Times'.

On the other side, al Qaeda is also experiencing troubles with keeping formerly loyal allies in line. Joshua Partlow of the Washington Post leads his roundup with news of the video from Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden's consigliere, in which he spoke for almost an hour and a half about the need for Sunnis in Iraq to unite and fight against the "Zionist crusader project." Partlow mentions that "the speech is perhaps most significant for its admission that Sunni militants have grown divided" over the usefulness of the Islamic State of Iraq. The U.S. has been making inroads with Ba'athist and nationalist insurgent groups, peeling them out of al Qaeda's orbit. Former al Qaeda allies, such as the 1920 Revolution Brigade, are now helping the U.S. in places like Baqoubah during Arrowhead Ripper. Partlow mentions, however, that the scope of the disillusionment is hard to measure.

This "divide and conquer" plan gets the Michael Gordon treatment in The New York Times. His long takeout details the efforts of Capt. Ben Richards, commander of Bronco Troop, First Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, in Baqoubah. By working with local Sunnis, many former militants who fought U.S. forces, Gordon reports that Richards' unit has apprehended more than 100 al Qaeda fighters, including several low-level emirs. Resentment toward al Qaeda members ran high, Gordon reports.

"They used religion as a ploy to get in and exploit people’s passions," said one member of the Kit Carson scouts, who gave his name as Haidar. "They were Iraqis and other Arabs from Syria, Afghanistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They started kicking people out of their houses and getting ransom from rich people. They would shoot people in front of their houses to scare the others."

They even banned cigarettes, which is sure way to piss off Iraqis. Also interesting is that American commanders in the field are pressing ahead with allying with local Sunni groups despite pushback from Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki's government in Baghdad, which is still attached to centralized decision-making and a desire to put Shi'ites in charge, regardless of the sectarian makeup of the region. The story suffers from one very obvious failing, however: Gordon relies overmuch on U.S. military sources to tell him how great things are going. Could there not have been some comment from the Iraqi government?

Alissa Rubin of the Times leads her roundup with the news that Iraqi moderates are increasingly frustrated with the stagnation in the country's parliament and have formed an alliance of two Shi'ite and two Kurdish parties, with the hope of reaching out to a moderate Sunni bloc. This seems like a continuation of last week's rapprochement between the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council and Dawa Party, but Rubin runs down a list of obstacles: At least 12 cabinet members are no longer going to meetings; there has been little progress on important legislation like the oil-sharing law; and 74 parliamentarians are boycotting the 275-member body, which means it rarely manages a quorum because of chronic absenteeism from non-boycotting members. And throw in the absence of Tawafiq, the main Sunni Arab bloc, and you have a recipe for legislative illegitimacy. Rubin gets glum quotes from formerly upbeat guys, the Kurdish Barham Salih, deputy prime minister, and Adel Abdul Mahdi, vice president, who represents the Shi'ite Supreme Islamic Iraq Council. The Sunni bloc is looking to reform itself, however, she reports, with the election of Ayad al-Sammarai from the Iraqi Islamic Party (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) as its new leader. Considered more moderate, he replaces Adnan al-Dulaimi, a hardliner. In an apparent snit over his loss, al-Dulaimi has proposed expelling the Iraqi Islamic Party from Tawafiq.

Rubin then runs down the day's mayhem: A car bomb near a wedding killed at least eight people, and possibly as many as 15, with 27 wounded. Twenty-four bodies were found around Baghdad. In Diyala province, 13 people were killed in various incidents; four Christians, including a priest, were kidnapped near Kirkuk; two American soldiers were killed and two others wounded in southern Baghdad by an EFP attack on their patrol.

As noted above, Joshua Partlow leads the Post's roundup with the Zawahiri tape, but adds his roundup to the bottom. A bomb in a produce truck exploded in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Dsheer, killing at least nine people and wounding 17; he mentions the wedding attack, and notes that it happened in a photography studio and the couple were injured. No word on deaths, unlike in Rubin's story. The U.S. military says the helicopter that went down Wednesday, killing one soldier and wounding another, was not shot down. He mentions the attack on the patrol in southern Baghdad. Finally, he reports that al-Malaki told British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that he hoped Iraqi security forces would take over Basra in the next three months.

In other coverage

Karla Adam and Kevin Sullivan report from London on Bilal Abdulla, one of the central figures in the Britain-Scotland bomb plot. Abdulla is deeply religious and angry about the loss of his family property in Iraq, a relative recounts, and a picture emerges of a sullen man, pressured to go into medicine by his father. Concerning Abdulla's views on al Qaeda, "he liked what they were doing in Iraq," the relative said.

Amy Orndoff goes local with a story about two Virginian servicemembers killed in Iraq. One, Army Pfc. Steven A. David, died in Baghdad when his unit was attacked and the second, Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremy L. Tinnel, died in a boating accident on the Euphrates. The story focuses on Tinnel's wife.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., minces no words on the Journal's op-ed page today, calling Iran's actions in the Middle East "a proxy war" against the United States and its allies. It's an op-ed that could have been co-written by the PAOs in the Pentagon, frankly. Lieberman claims forensic evidence links Iran to 170 deaths of U.S. soldiers, raising the question of why isn't the U.S. military doing more about this then? Bellicose to the max.

No Iraq coverage today

No original Iraq coverage today.

Staff: National Holiday Feels Like a Day of Shame
07/05/2007 3:44 PM ET

"On a day when Americans are supposed to wave the flag with honor and respect, many Americans are disheartened and embarrassed. They are fed up with an arrogant president and an ineffective Congress and their inability to extract this nation from the ill-conceived war that has alienated U.S. allies and unnecessarily sullied the reputation of this great nation," the staff of The Olympian wrote in an editorial published Wednesday. "This year, our day of national pride feels more like a day of national shame."

On a holiday usually devoted to lauding American greatness, the local newspaper serving the communities around Ft. Lewis and McCord Air Force Base in Washington State published a damning indictment of the war and an appeal to bring soldiers home from the battlefield before one more life is lost.

“The Fourth of July is a time when Americans celebrate the values that have made us a great nation," editor and publisher John Winn Miller told E&P. "So it seemed like an appropriate time to editorialize on what has become a national disgrace."

"It is a particularly important and local issue for us because we are a military community with Ft. Lewis and McCord Air Force Base in our area. We seen too many of them killed, so many that Ft. Lewis considered stopping individual memorials. Our men and women have done their duty with honor. It is time to honor their sacrifices by ending this ill-conceived mission."

The editorial argues that, "It was a lie to say we invaded Iraq to protect the United States from terrorists just as it is a lie to say leaving will aid the terrorists. Let them wallow alone in the middle of this bitter, multi-front civil and sectarian war. It isn’t worth a single more American life."

Daily Column
U.S. presses Hezbollah; Body count up; Contractors bear war's scars too
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/05/2007 01:34 AM ET
Almost all of the papers have strong offerings today, but the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor shine with their enterprise and analysis, looking at construction delays at the Baghdad embassy and possible U.S. motives in calling out Hezbollah, respectively. The New York Times looks at contractors after they come home while USA Today runs a homefront package on the National Guard.

Glenn Kessler of the Post dishes up the front-page enterprise, detailing some of the problems delaying the construction of the new, massive U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Deadlines have been missed and contractors such as First Kuwait General Trade and Contracting Co. have performed substandard work, he writes. When the U.S. embassy in Baghdad cabled their concerns over safety issues and work on a guardhouse over the open embassy system, it earned them a "stinging response" from James L. Golden, the managing director for the State Department's Overseas Buildings Operations, which supervises construction of the new embassy. Golden said the complaints should have been kept in-house, where it would be "difficult for anyone else in the government to gauge progress," Kessler notes. He defended First Kuwait and accused the embassy and KBR of lying to cover up their own errors. He dismissed the charges in the embassy's cable as without merit. The $592 million embassy complex, which will include 21 buildings and be the largest U.S. embassy in the world, is scheduled to be completed in the fall, but delays likely will blow that plan. No one would from the embassy or State would talk to Kessler in depth, so he's basing it mainly from the 23-paragraph cable that mixes outrage and bureaucratese. The embassy is now saying things are fine (sure, after they've been caught out) and that the problem with the guard house won't spill over to the embassy as a whole. In all, the saga of the embassy guard house is Iraq's reconstruction in a nutshell: foreign companies, finger-pointing, buck-passing, incompetence and ass-covering... all resulting in cost overruns and delays and a deterioration in security.

Meanwhile, the Monitor does what it does best: provide thoughtful analysis the day after the news breaks. Scott Peterson and Nicholas Blanford dig into the U.S.'s claims earlier this week that Iran was using Hezbollah to train militias in Iraq. They attempt to answer the crucial question of why the U.S. went public with these charges now, and where and to whom might they be trying to apply pressure. The duo hint that the real target of Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner's accusations isn't Iran, but Hezbollah and its efforts to hamstring the government of Lebanon, a key U.S. ally. The arrest of a Hezbollah operative, "in intelligence terms, has a limited shelf life that has already expired, because they will alter their operational security," says Magnus Ranstorp, an expert at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm. But by name-checking Ali Musa Daqduq as a Party of God agent in Iraq, the U.S. hopes to inflict a "small piercing of (Hizbullah's) armor," which is "probably more valuable (to the US) in the political sense." The story makes clear that there's probably no direct linkage between Iran's Quds force, Hezbollah, Iraqi Shi'ite militia groups and their deadly roadside bombs. It's murky world of family and religious ties where information, more than men and materiel, is passed back and forth. And this nugget is particularly interesting:

There are many sources for enhanced roadside bombs. Some of the explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) copy previous Hizbullah ones, though notes that Saddam Hussein sent a military intelligence team to Lebanon in 1995 to learn about Hizbullah's use of the bombs. US and British forces routinely find EFP workshops in central and southern Iraq.

The most deadly EFPs might come from vestigial knowledge among former elements of Saddam's army -- which included many Shi'ites in the rank and file. But a real question remains: if the U.S. is pushing back primarily against Hezbollah, what has developed in Lebanon recently to warrant this renewed pushback?

James Risen of The New York Times reports a front-page takeout on the difficulties contractors returning from Iraq are facing. No great surprise, they're suffering many of the combat-related stress issues as returning G.I.s. The difference is that contractors don't have access to the Veterans Administration health care system and their problems are often undertreated or misdiagnosed -- or simply ignored. This is another story in the burgeoning genre of contractor-related coverage all with the same theme: there is a shadow war and a shadow army in Iraq and it's been hidden from public view. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times did a massive takeout on contractors in Iraq, which now outnumber the number of U.S. troops -- although most "contractors" are actually Iraqis hired for local jobs, not mercenaries -- which IraqSlogger covered. Risen reports that while contract workers who are wounded or disabled in a war zone are treated in military hospitals in Iraq and Germany, once they're home, they're not eligible for care in the military or V.A. system -- unless they're veterans presumably. (Many of the hired guns among the contractors are ex-military.) The insurance the contractors do have usually doesn't cover PTSD and they often have to litigate to get covered. AIG, which provides coverage for several of the big contractors in Iraq, has paid only about half of the claims dealing with PTSD, challenging the rest because the company's medical experts disagreed with the diagnosis. Like a terrorist, the Iraq war seems to make little distinction between civilians and soldiers when it comes to the traumas they experience.

Oren Dorrell pens a front-page, two-story package for USA Today on the National Guard meeting its recruitment goals despite the news from Iraq. The new recruiting program depends on National Guard troops acting as recruiters themselves and offering bonuses to members who sign up a friend or buddy. Col. Mike Jones, chief of recruiting and retention for the Army Guard said a candid approach of telling prospective enlistees they would probably be deployed "in defense of America" was working. Whatever they're doing, it seems to be working. Through May, the Guard had 351,400 troops, the most since 2001, according to the National Guard Bureau, Dorrell reports. The Guard has also for the first time topped its target of 350,000 troops for three consecutive months since 2002.

Joshua Partlow of the Post reports the grim news that while civilian deaths in Iraq may be down overall, the number of bodies found on the streets of Baghdad has risen 45 percent since January, before the surge started. June saw 453 unidentified corpses found in the capital, according to morgue data from the Health Ministry. January saw 321 corpses found, with the numbers rising sharply in the last two months after a decline from January to April. And while there has been a drop in the mass-casualty car-bombings, the increase in found bodies is a metric of the sectarian strife, Partlow writes. Gen. David Petraeus called the killing "the cancer" that never stops. "It's a cycle of violence that must be broken," he said. Petraeus gives some justification for why Al Qaeda in Iraq, a small but violent part of the overall insurgency, is considered "public enemy number one." Petraeus said the violence perpetrated by Al Qaeda in Iraq becomes the justification for the violence done by Shi'ite militias and extremists. And from there, the revenge cycle snowballs.

Alissa Rubin of the Times gets down to business quickly with her roundup, noting that assassinations, car bombs and roadside bombs claimed the lives at at least 46 Iraqis yesterday. Two Iraqi television reporters for a Sunni Arab party were killed in separate incidents. A woman, her sister and her 4-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter were attacked in a market near Saydia, a Sunni Arab neighborhood. The woman and her daughter were killed, while her son and her sister survived. The father of the family was killed a few weeks ago, so it sounds like someone was trying to finish the job. Another woman was shot and killed allegedly because she offered policemen food and water occasionally. A car bomb went off in Tikrit, killing seven people and wounding 17. Another car bomb hit a police checkpoint in Anbar, killing 15 people. The Muslim Scholars Assocition, a Sunni group, issued a fatwa saying the Iraqi oil law reported out of cabinet yesterday was haram, but Rubin says "it was difficult to determine the reason behind the ruling." Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 in al Qaeda, released an 86-minute videotape calling on all Muslims to support the Islamic insurgents in Iraq. Among all this, the U.S. embassy held a "subdued" Independence Day celebration.

In probably the least surprising news of the day, President Bush used the Independence Day holiday to defend the Iraq war while the New York Times makes a surprising comparison Iraq and the Revolutionary War.

"Our first Independence Day celebration took place in a midst of a war -- a bloody and difficult struggle that would not end for six more years before America finally secured her freedom," he said to an audience of Air National Guard members, according to Jim Rutenberg of the Times. "Like those early patriots, you're fighting a new and unprecedented war -- pledging your lives and honor to defend our freedom and way of life." Tim Craig of the Post adds that Bush didn't exactly promise much to look forward to: The Iraq war will "will require more patience, more courage and more sacrifice." This kind of speech is old hat for Bush by now, as the Times notes, and from the reporting it sounds like he rolled out the same old talking points we've heard many times before. Fighting for freedom and way of life? Check. Terrorist following us home if we leave Iraq? Gotcha. Today's armed forces fighting for the same cause as the patriots of yore? Yep. Ok, see you next year!

The Times, however, throws in a little zinger on the artificial tying of Iraq to the holiday with a contributed op-ed by Michael Rose, a retired British Army general who commanded the United Nations forces in the former Yugoslavia from 1994 to 1995. Why, yes, the Iraq war is like the Revolutionary War, he writes, but playing the role of Britain's King George III will be George W. Bush and playing the role of the insurgents will be George Washington's Continental Army. Rose argues that the British made many of the same mistakes then the U.S. is doing now: King George "attempted to fight a conventional war against insurgents, and sent far too few troops across the Atlantic to accomplish the mission." Hm. Sounds familiar. Although the British quickly took Baghdad and Tikrit -- oops, sorry, I meant New York and Philadelphia -- they failed to shift to a counterinsurgency strategy. They never managed to seal the colonies' borders. The upside is that once the British got their butts kicked out of the colonies, it freed them up to concentrate on more important things, like India and the Industrial Revolution. When Rose reveals at the end that the United States should learn the lesson that tactical defeat can be turned to an empire-building win is hardly a surprise, but he fails to note that the U.S. doesn't have a subcontinent to covet nor a commercial revolution on the horizon.

In other coverage

No Iraq coverage today

Daily Column
Pilots Pulled from Peril; Journalist's Two Wives; Death for Accused Soldier
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/04/2007 01:57 AM ET
Independence Day editions of papers are light on Iraq news, with both The New York Times and the Washington Post wrapping most of their news in catch-all stories topped by movement on Iraq's oil law. The Post fronts the story of the rescue of the two Kiowa pilots while the Times provides some closure to the story of slain journalist Steven Vincent.

Alissa Rubin, writing for the Times, delves deep into the oil law developments. The Iraqi cabinet -- with only 24 out of 37 members present -- approved one part of the oil package, known as the hydrocarbon framework law, and sent it to parliament. The legislation details the role of a "new, powerful federal oil and gas council, which will control oil and gas policy and review all contracts for oil field exploration and development." It's an important step in meeting benchmarks demanded by Congress to further fund the war, Rubin notes, and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad hailed the apparent momentum. But the Kurds are reviewing the proposed law because their Regional Government already negotiates oil deals separate from Baghdad, and they're wary of giving a federal committee too much power over their deals. Also, the lack of ministers from the Sunni Arab bloc and Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc could undermine the law. Sunni cabinet ministers say they're not opposed to the law, but they have "some comments and reservations." Of course they do; that kind of language is usually code for gumming up the works. Sunni Arab members are also boycotting parliament, so that means if the law is passed quickly, it would be done without Sunni input. For a law that's widely seen as a barometer of Iraq's ability to pull itself together as a single entity, passage without Sunni input would be a bad idea.

The Post's Joshua Partlow offers some new wrinkles on the oil law, with quotes from a very disappointed Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki that a national unity government hasn't happened yet, and won't the Sunnis please come back to parliament? Partlow also gets a little deeper into Kurds' apprehensions. A previous version of the law was approved and sent to parliament (or the Shura Council as Rubins reports) back in February, but it's since been held up. The KRG's minister of natural resources said the February draft was the only acceptable one for the Kurds and he wasn't sure what was approved yesterday. The Post also gets more aggressive posturing from Sunni cabinet members. "We greatly object to this law and I did not attend the cabinet meeting today," said Ali Baban, the minister of planning and member of the Sunni bloc. He's also angry because Shi'ite militiamen kidnapped four of his guards (see below.) Looks like the Iraqi ship of state is in for more choppy waters.

Partlow adds the day's round-up news on the bottom of the oil law story in the Post, and acquits himself well. A car bomb exploded in eastern Baghdad, killing 19 and wounding 41. U.S. forces killed at least 23 suspected insurgents south of Ramadi, according to the military, and police in Anbar said Saudis and Syrians were among the fighters killed. Grimly, Human Rights Watch reported that the Kurds are torturing their detainees in the north and denying them due process. Kurdish officials denied the charges but said they would investigate. Finally, Partlow mentions a Reuters story that more than 1,000 private contractors have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and 13,000 have been wounded.

Rubin's roundup in the Times is briefer and more Baghdad-focused but she highlights an egregious example of extrajudicial power. In the Amil neighborhood, which was once mixed, Sunnis are "fighting for survival." Interior Ministry commandos, who are mostly Shi'ite, stopped a car with four guards for the Sunni Arab planning minister, Ali Baban. Mahdi militamen wanted to take the cards and the commandos acquiesced, according to two witnesses. Sunni Arab residents, outraged, marched to the gates of a nearby U.S. base demanding the Americans intervene. Rubin gets some good detail on the car bomb in the market, which she said killed "at least 18" and wounded "dozens." She also reports that 18 bodies were found around Baghdad.

The dramatic shootdown and rescue of two Army pilots gets front-page play by the Post's Ann Scott Tyson. It's evident the two men were very lucky: they escaped the crash with only a few scratches and were able to take shelter in a canal in water up to their necks. With insurgents barely 20 yards away and firing into the canal, neither were hit despite 5-10 minutes of raking machine gun fire. A few minutes later, two Apache attack helicopters swooped in pick up the pilots, whose crash had been seen by an unmanned drone. Without room in the Apache, one of the men strapped himself to the outside of the chopper to get back to base. Now, they have four days off before they have to fly another mission and will spend at least another year in Iraq. Given the rush of bad news out of Iraq, it's natural the Pentagon would like to push this story, but does this really warrant front-page play just because the military releases a video to the media? Remember Jessica Lynch?

In other coverage

The tragic story of Steven Vincent and the two women who loved him seems to achieving closure, based on a reading of a story by Colin Moynihan. Vincent was a freelance journalist from New York killed in Basra in 2005 by Shi'ite militiamen. His translator, Nour al-Khal, was shot and beaten when they were both kidnapped. Vincent's widow, Lisa Ramaci, have been in contact ever since and al-Khal has finally been allowed to come to the United States as a political refugee. (Vincent, with Ramaci's blessing, was planning to convert to Islam and marry al-Khal in order to get her out of Iraq. His murder aborted that plan.) Now, the two women live together in Ramaci's East Village apartment and work together to help Iraqis seek aslyum and to aid the families of Iraqis killed while working for American journalists.

Josh White reports for the Post on the latest developments in the trial of former Pfc. Steven Green, who is accused of raping and killing an Iraqi teenager, killing her family and then setting their home on fire to conceal the crime. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, making it the first capital case in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He's being tried in federal court because he was discharged before the murder allegations surfaced.

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Daily Column
Militias 'pressure' teachers; Gates proposes troop drawdown in 2008
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/03/2007 01:58 AM ET
The U.S. sharply escalated the war of words with Iran yesterday, directly accusing its senior leadership of being aware of and condoning the killing of American soldiers by proxy agents of its elite Quds force. Both the Washington Post and The New York Times go big with the accusations, which also finger Lebanese Hezbollah as working with Shi'ite militias in Iraq. And the Wall Street Journal has a must-read on a possible shift in strategy that could see a significant drawdown of troops by the end of President Bush's term.

The Times has the largest takeout, with John Burns and Michael Gordon tackling the story. MNF-I Spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner held a news conference to announce the accusations. Agents of Iran, he said, helped plan a January raid in Karbala in which five U.S. soldiers were killed. The daring raid featured men dressed in American uniforms speaking with American accents driving SUVs. They gained admittance to a base where they killed one soldier and abducted four, who were later killed. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force -- along with veterans of Lebanese Hezbollah -- were responsible for the raid, Bergner said. The general said a high-ranking Hezbollah commander, Ali Musa Daqduq, was captured in Basra and eventually confessed to the plot. Hezbollah and Iran have both denied the allegations. The briefing comes 15 weeks after capturing the alleged Quds agents because Shi'ite officials in Baghdad were wary of further inflaming tensions with Iran, but that Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki and "other Shi'ites" in government were shaken by the evidence of Iranian role. Questions that need answering: What's the evidence the U.S. has other than testimony and confessions from guys who have been in military custody for weeks? What led the U.S. and Malaki to decide now to reveal the evidence, which wasn't made available to reporters? What is the U.S. trying to accomplish with these accusations? Has Iran done something new that warrants this warning from the U.S.? Would have been nice to have some of these questions at least raised if not answered. Burns and Gordon do get in a bit about the financing of the groups -- Bergner says it amounts to between $750,000 and $3 million a month, an absurdly imprecise range -- reporting that much of it has long been channeled through Moqtada al-Sadr's organization. He took pains to distance al-Sadr from these allegations, however, blaming "rogue elements" in the Mahdi Army.

Josh Partlow leads the Post's daily roundup with Bergner's accusations, but while the Times says the general played down the geopolitical implications of accusing Iran of waging a proxy war, Partlow hints that he was more willing to show his cards: "There does not seem to be any follow-through on the commitments that Iran has made to work with Iraq in addressing the destabilizing security issues here in Iraq," he said, referring to recent U.S.-Iranian talks.

Yochi J. Dreazen and Greg Jaffe of the Wall Street Journal have an important story on the efforts by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to build bipartisan support for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq by drawing down "significant numbers of troops from Iraq by the end of President Bush's term." Gates recognizes that the longer the surge lasts the less political support it has, meaning moderate Republicans and their Democratic colleagues in Congress could abandon Iraq abruptly. The goal is to head off a large-scale and hasty withdrawal from Iraq, the duo write, a development that "could have dire consequences both for the region and for U.S. stature in the world." Gates instead is floating the idea of a smaller footprint for U.S. forces, mainly confined to bases away from populated centers, and shift in their mission away from war-fighting to containing Iraq's civil war instead. The soldiers left in Iraq would battle al Qaeda, secure the borders and train the Iraqi security forces. This "smaller, longer" strategy seems to have support from Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who broke with the White House last week over Iraq, calling for a fundamental shift in strategy away from the surge, which he said "contains extreme risks for U.S. national security." It also might appeal to other lawmakers, who are prepared to pull the plug on the surge after various reports on the progress, due in September, are expected to offer only modest success, but who don't want to see Iraq fall into a failed state status.

Partlow folds the Post roundup story into one with Bergner's accusation, but he covers the bases. He reports that following a mortar attack which injured three coalition soldiers at Camp Echo, a base for Polish troops in Diwaniyah, the U.S. bombed a street there. Iraqi health officials accused the U.S. of an indiscriminate bombing run that killed 10 people and wounded 35. A third U.S. soldier, Sgt. Evan Vela of Phoenix, Idaho, was charged in the deaths of three civilians near Iskandariyah, joining two other soldiers from the same unit who have also been charged in the case. The U.S. military yesterday announced the deaths of five soldiers and one Marine, all killed in combat in Salahuddin province, western and southern Baghdad and Anbar province. Finally, in what military officials call "a deliberate ambush" (is there any other kind?) insurgents brought down a Kiowa light attack helicopter south of Baghdad. The pilots suffered only minor injuries and were rescued.

Stephen Farrell leads the Times' roundup with the news of the charges against Vela and follows with the U.S. deaths also reported by Partlow. He also adds news from Diyala province, the stage for Arrowhead Ripper, in which Iraqi police report that 16 civilians have been killed and 30 wounded in insurgent attacks in the Sherween area on Sunday night. Hours after an Iraqi military spokesman said civilian deaths were down in Baghdad while American military deaths were up, a car bomb exploded in Binouk in northern Baghdad, killing four people and wounding 25. Farrell wraps it up with the attack in Diyalah, but gives the wounded as 30.

In other coverage

The Monitor's Sam Dagher paints another picture of life in Iraq, this time focusing on final exams at universities. Iraq's formerly reputed education system is in shambles because of the violence and chaos -- so much so that militias and bribery allow students to routinely cheat on exams. Dagher's story points the finger mainly at Shi'ite militias, such as the Mahdi Army, who threaten proctors and professors and try to gain the loyalty of students by forcing instructors to allow cheating. But the principals and other school officials aren't always helpless victims. Bribery -- ranging from $300 to $2,800 a student -- is common, with officials allowing cheat sheets and separate rooms for the well-heeled cheaters. The Ministry of Education denies all this, and says it's part of a smear campaign to bring down the government.

Lt. Col. David Bolgiano drops in on the Journal's op-ed page with a piece that has a, shall we say, "cavalier" idea about killing people in Iraq. Using the Haditha case as a hook, he argues that soldiers and Marines in the heat of battle should be given the benefit of the doubt that commanders have when they're planning bombing runs. "We should also protect our warriors from the caterwauling of those such as the Washington Post reporters who 'broke' the Haditha story and from those in the military who are more concerned about maintaining an 'appearance of propriety' than in killing our determined enemies," he writes. "There need to be ... allowances for unintended and unfortunate consequences." Aside from the fact that TIME Magazine "broke" the Haditha story, there are very real question as to whether the Marines acted reasonably while in the heat of combat. Bolgiano seems to be arguing that regardless of what happened, the accused Marines should get a pass.

Ian Urbina follows up on the raising and lowering of flags at federal and state buildings when a service member dies, noting that President Bush signed into law on Friday a bill that mandates federal buildings must follow the lead of state buildings when the governor orders the flag lowered to half-staff. Under the new law, Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, a Democrat, has the same authority as governors, meaning he can tell the White House and other federal buildings in the District to lower the flag, something the White House hasn't done much. There was some question whether Bush would sign the bill or not, given the power it gives state officials over federal ones.

Renae Merle and Ann Scott Tyson pick up on yesterday's USA Today story about the approval to purchase up to 17,770 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles for the military, and add a bit of depth to the story. MRAPs, for all their protection, aren't perfect and they're hard to maneuver in narrow streets in dense urban areas, "the sort of terrain common in Baghdad, Fallujah, Baqoubah and many other Iraqi cities," they write. Another question: Will factories have enough industrial capacity to churn out the 1,000 vehicles a month requested?

America's newspaper gets all patriotic in preparation of Independence Day with an unsigned editorial on how to share the sacrifice of the war -- care packages, donating frequent flyer miles -- and a story about a wounded Marine who's now getting some fame for singing the national anthem. Leon Alligood reports on Lance Cpl. Salvador Gonzalez, a Marine who lost a leg in Iraq, but who's now winning over crowds at Chicago Cubs games with his pipes. He hopes to get a singing career in Nashville off the ground.

Daily Column
Mental Health for Marines; Waiting for Flight, Reporter Battles Fleas, Boredom
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/02/2007 01:34 AM ET
No big enterprise from the papers Monday, with catch-all roundups dominating the coverage. The main news: Iraqi civilian casualties are down and American military casualties are up. The Washington Post offers a wry look at military flying in Iraq and USA Today continues its homefront coverage with a story on new leniency toward returned Marines who may be suffering from PTSD.

Alissa Rubin of The New York Times leads her roundup with the news that Iraqi civilian deaths are down for June, although she caveats the good news by adding that the size of the decline is hard to measure because of the unreliability of death counts in Iraq. An American military spokesman said there was only a "slight decrease" for June, but there was "a potential downward trend" that the military would be closely watching. Iraqi officials estimated the deaths had dropped 36 percent, down to about 1,200. In May, civilian casualties topped 1,900. The number of bodies dropped from 726 in May to 540 in June, but that's still higher than in April and horrifically high no matter what month is measured. With more soldiers on the ground, however, American deaths have gone up. June is the third consecutive month that has seen 100+ American deaths. April had 104, May 126 and June 101, making it the deadliest quarter in the Iraq war since March 2003. Rubin rounds out the rest of her story with news of bombs in Diyalah, a truck bomb in Ramadi that killed five people and wounded seven, two car bombs in Sunni areas of Baghdad and the discovery of 14 bodies in the capital. The military announced two soldiers killed on Sunday in Baghdad. Parliament seems unlikely to get much done in the next few days because of the boycott of Sunni legislators and Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki floated a plan to hold provincial elections at the end of this year, possibly as a means of mollifying Sunni Arabs.

A truck bombing in Ramadi that damaged a bridge over the Euphrates leads Joshua Partlow's roundup for the Washington Post. The bombing is the latest in a series of bombings designed to damage Iraq's bridge network and, possibly, isolate Baghdad. The bombing injured two civilians, he writes. Another, earlier bombing in Fallujah targeted a police checkpoint and killed one police officer and injured four. Partlow wraps it up with the decline in Iraqi deaths -- which seems more important than a truck bomb, really.

Air Baqoubah: Hurry Up and Wait
The Post's Partlow offers a reporter's notebook piece on the joys of flying "Air Baqoubah" in Iraq. Anyone -- and we mean anyone -- who's moved around the U.S. military bases in Iraq knows that air travel is frustrating and unpredictable. But there's a certain camaraderie among journalists and soldiers waiting for Chinooks or Blackhawks to settle down on a gravel field and, well, "whisk away" isn't the term -- that implies speed -- but lumber off into the night after days of waiting. Partlow captures the discomfort (sandfleas, heat), boredom (46 hours, pirated DVDs) and sheer randomness (Hollywood producer) of getting from base to base. He even recounts the inevitable crazy schemes (they usually involve driving through insurgent-controlled territory) dreamed up to get the hell off the base in Baqoubah and back to Baghdad, only 37 miles away.

USA Today has a couple of good stories from their homefront coverage. Gregg Zoroya reports that the Marines have a "combat-stress program" for leathernecks who have a clean record but get into some kind of trouble -- usually drug- or alcohol-related -- because of possible PTSD, but the Corps lacks the resources to implement it. In the first four years of the war, 1,019 Marines have been dismissed with less-than-honorable discharges for misconduct during their overseas deployment, with at least 326 of them showing signs of mental health problems. The problem is that veterans with a less-than-honorable discharge usually lose benefits and are denied health care services by the Veterans Administration, so the coordinator of the program is urging any Marine who commits out-of-character misconduct to be "aggressively screened for stress disorders" and possibly shown lenience. "If a Marine who was previously a good, solid Marine -- never got in trouble -- commits misconduct after deployment and turns out they have PTSD, and because of justice they lose their benefits, that may not be justice," said Navy Capt. William Nash, coordinator of the program.

Tom Vanden Brook writes for USA Today that the Pentagon approved an Army recommendation to produce up to 17,770 armored anti-mine vehicles -- a 600 percent increase. The melliflously-named Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, which has a higher chassis and a v-shaped lower hull that deflects the blast of IEDs away from the vehicle, is to replace armored humvees in Iraq on a one-for-one basis. Joe Biden, D-Presidential Race, and Kit Bond R-Mo., have said as many as 742 American troops might be alive today if the MRAPs had been deployed in February 2005 when the Marines in Anbar filed an urgent request for the vehicles. The approved increase will boost the Pentagon's commitment to almost 23,000 vehicles.

In other coverage

Walter Pincus, national security and intelligence reporter, digs deep into an overlooked report to find that even if the Iraqi parliament ever gets around to approving the oil law -- which is supposed to manage distribution of future oil revenue and the granting of exploration rights to foreign companies -- Iraq's oil industry is in deep trouble. The devil, as always, is in the details. The law decentralizes the industry by granting regions the right to draw up contracts with foreign companies but centralizes the revenue, the Government Accounting Office report says. But only the Kurdish region is well-defined and the Shi'ite bloc is demanding its own region in the south -- where most of Iraq's oil lies. Sunnis are pushing back hard against the Shi'ite regional demand. More tricky still is the distribution of oil revenue based on population, which will require a politically sensitive -- to say the least -- census to be taken. Many Sunni Arabs, which most analysts say make up 20 percent of the population, cling to the idea they make up 40 percent, or even a majority, of Iraqis. Because Sunnis make up the bulk of the insurgency, any census reporting fewer Sunnis would be a red flag. Throw in governmental corruption and the inability of the Iraqi government to reconcile its internal differences and the passage of the oil law, far from being a magic bullet, could open up a new set of problems for Iraq.

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Daily Column
G.I.s charged with murder; The rise of Amar al-Hakim; Helping kids at home
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 07/01/2007 01:52 AM ET
The Washington Post and the New York Times dish up their usual Sunday heaping helping of Iraq news, but this time the Times eschews any big enterprise reporting while the Post kicks butt with another major takeout on private security contractors in Iraq and a profile of the future head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. The Times sticks close to home, anticipating this week's July 4 patriotism by running a couple of stories on local boys who have signed up for the war.

Steve Fainaru and Alec Klein for the Post follow up on their recent front page story with another must-read on security contractors in Iraq. This time, the duo looks at Tim Spicer's Aegis Defence Services Ltd., which is handling a large chunk of the U.S. intelligence operation in Iraq. Aegis is operating at the tail end of a three-year, $293 million U.S. Army contract awarded in 2004. The company runs several operation centers around the country that tracks the movements of contractors' and military vehicles in real-time, as well as reports of security incidents, which it then turns over to the U.S. military to do with as it will. Fainaru and Klein take a skeptical look at the operation, touching on the legal implications of outsourcing so much intel gathering, the lack of sharing with other security companies and the absence of participation by Blackwater and DynCorp. Spicer's background in various shady dealings in Africa and Papua New Guinea is dug up, and IraqSlogger's own Robert Young Pelton is quoted, calling the Aegis CEO "a mercenary." One question not really answered: While outsourcing this stuff may be dubious, is the U.S. government at least getting its $293 million worth?

Amar al-Hakim, the son of SIIC leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is taking over more of his father's duties while the elder Hakim is treated for lung cancer in Iran, report Robin Wright and John Ward Anderson for the Post. Young and charismatic, Hakim is a bit of a wildcard on the scene, with mixed reviews from diplomats, allies and rivals. His nickname is "Uday," after Saddam Hussein's brutal and psychotic son, for his flamboyance and fondness of bodyguards. Those expecting a change in direction from the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council should the elder Hakim succumb to his cancer will be disappointed, however. Amar al-Hakim is firmly committed to the SIIC vision: a super-province in the south of Iraq to achieve "political balance" with the Kurds in the north, and the exclusion of Ba'ath Party members from government jobs, both positions that don't endear him to Iraq's Sunnis.

Josh Partlow tops the Post's roundup with news that two American soldiers were charged with the premeditated murders of three Iraqis in separate incidents south of Baghdad. Both soldiers were members of the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division based at Ft. Richardson, Alaska. It's not the first time U.S. troops have faced such accusations, Partlow notes, recounting the notorious March 2006 incident where soldiers raped and killed a 14-year-old girl and killed her family in Mahmudiyah, and an April 2006 incident where seven Marines and a Navy medic were accused of killing a 52-year-old man and planting weapons and a shovel near his body to make him appear to be an insurgent. The charges against the two soldiers comes on the day when U.S. forces clashed in Sadr City with residents, killing about 26 suspected Mahdi Army militants and detaining 17. Aides to Moqtada al-Sadr and neighborhood resident deny the men killed were members of the Mahdi Army, and instead accuse the U.S. of killing innocent civilians for no reason. Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki has called for an investigation into the incident. Gen. David Petraeus visited southern Baghdad and promised to lay out Iran's involvement in funding and training "secret cells" of the Mahdi Army. "There's actually been operational ... direction provided to these militia organizations by the Iranian Quds Force," he said.

The Times covers much of the same ground in Stephen Farrell's roundup, also leading with the murder charges and raid on Sadr City. But Farrell follows up on yesterday's political developments, too. Malaki appealed to the Sunni bloc to come back into his government, saying its boycott would "complicate" matters. (I think that's the point of the boycott.) Separately, a suicide bomber killed three police recruits and wounded 34 others as they lined up outside a police station. The U.S. military also said it killed a senior Al Qaeda in Iraq member, Abu Abdel Rahaman al-Masri, in a raid east of Fallujah. American troops found a mss grave about 20 miles south of Fallujah containing between 35 and 40 bound bodies bearing gunshot wounds. Finally, both papers mention the story of a command sergeant major, the most senior enlisted man serving in a major command, who was sentenced to four months detention for possessing alcohol and pornography, having an inappropriate relationship with a female soldier and abusing a soldier.

In other coverage

Lisa Foderaro and Kevin Coyne each take a look at recent enlistees from both ends of their services: A marine from an affluent suburb who is readjusting to civilian life, and a group of five buddies who joined together and are just starting their service.

Foderaro tells the story of Michael W. Burton of Larchmont, N.Y., who joined the Marines just days before the start of the Iraq war. He grew disenchanted with the war quickly, however, and his friends and family in the upscale neighborhood were fairly dumbfounded at his joining. For the article, his mother would only say (relayed through him): "It is excruciating to a have a family member in Iraq." Now, he finds social gatherings awkward and he has feelings of paranoia. And he's haunted by the face of a suicide bomber who attacked his convoy.

Such trauma has yet to hit the band of brothers Coyne writes of. The two brothers -- Billy and Joey Phister -- a cousin and two buddies all signed up last fall after the initial enlistment of Joey, 18, who wanted to follow in his father's Special Forces footsteps. Like Burton, joining the military made the five men stand out in their communities, demonstrating the gulf between the civilian and military worlds. "Some of the things parents would say to us were just so disrespectful," he said of one occasion when he helped an Army recruiter at a college fair at his school. "'Get away from us,’ ‘Don’t even talk to my kid.'" But he was surprised -- pleasantly, it's presumed -- that when eight members of his graduating class who had enlisted were asked to stand from among the 465 outgoing seniors, the crowd stood an applauded them.

Finally, Thomas Friedman weighs in with an op-ed saying that while it's too early for the surge to be deemed a failure, there is no sign that it's a success, either. The first choice of Iraqi factions is not to live together in harmonious bliss, but instead it's to seize as much power for themselves and to hell with the other folks. That's not a workable model for democracy, he writes, and if Bush is going to salvage any chance of pointing to such an example in the heart of the Arab world, Kurdistan is the best bet. "The example set by little, progressive, modernizing, globalizing Dubai has had a big impact on other countries in the Gulf. A thriving, progressive Kurdistan could do the same."

Kids having a hard time with the deployment of a parent are getting a bit of help, Peter Slevin reports. Our Military Kids, an NGO founded to help parents at home help their kids while spouses are overseas, is distributing micro-grants to let kids get tutoring, attend extracurricular art classes and the like. The differences can be startling: Riley Dixon, 13, whose father will have been deployed 15 months when he returns from Kuwait this month, was having trouble in school, getting in fights, being an angry kid, his mother says. With a $500 grant, he got a month of tutoring and some testing and now he's on the honor roll and settled down. More than $600,000 has been distributed in all 50 states, the District and Puerto Rico in chunks no greater than $500.

David Ignatius, in an op-ed, argues the U.S. must contain the fire it has started in Iraq, even while letting some parts burn themselves out. While his firefighter analogy is colorful -- "What's unimaginable is that a firefighter confronting a dangerous blaze would simply roll up the hoses, jump in the engine and drive away, consequences be damned" -- it's incomplete. Of course the U.S. should make sure its soldiers aren't "caught in the middle of collapsing walls and blazing timbers." Of course the U.S. should "build firebreaks so the disaster doesn't spread to other rooms in the Iraqi house" and keep the sectarian flames "from jumping national boundaries." But of course he doesn't really offer any specific ways to do all of that, other than suggest moving significant forces to Iraq's borders to keep Iraq's neighbors out.

In the Post's Outlook section, Lynne Olson looks at the parallels between Bush and a famous war-time British leader... Nevile Chamberlain. Bush admires Winston Churchill, of course, but Olson makes a persuasive case that the Bush-Chamberlain comparison is stronger. (Although one can't really imagine Bush declaring peace in our time after a visit to Bin Laden.) Churchill, unlike Bush, advocated strong use of the League of Nations to protect smaller countries from Hitler and, when that didn't work, called for real partnerships with both France and the Soviet Union. Chamberlain, on the other hand, rarely consulted with his cabinet and allies. And Chamberlain, like Bush, pushed the edges of authority, "evading the checks and balances that are supposed to constrain the office of prime minister," and avoided dissenting views. Chamberlain also detested Parliament, even when controlled by his own Tory party, and he even authorized the wire-tapping of British citizens' phones without a court approval -- including Winston Churchill's.

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