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
NEW YORK TIMES
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.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
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?
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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.