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Archive: September 2008
Daily Column
Gates on past U.S. military stategies in Iraq: Odierno on future ones
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/30/2008 01:55 AM ET
Only the Washington Post and USA Today chime in on Iraq today. The continuing thread is the U.S. military, with their diminishing involvement with the Sons of Iraq, “Shock and Awe” being panned by Defense Secretary Gates, and an interview with the new top-ranking U.S. military leader in Iraq, Gen. Odierno.

From Baghdad
Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post has a feature on the Awakening groups, or Sons of Iraq(SOI), the U.S.-backed local security forces credited with defeating (or at least usurping) insurgent groups linked with al-Qaeda in much if Iraq. As the Iraqi government prepares to take control of the SOI's command and payroll, it is a turning point for the mostly-Sunni forces. It is also a turning point for their relationship with U.S. forces in Iraq, who are trying to guarantee that the Shiite-dominated government (many members of which are openly hostile to the SOI) makes good on its promise to pay, and at the very least, not arrest, many of the SOI leadership. Fear and mistrust are high across the ranks of the SOI. "They will kill us," declared one of their leaders, when speaking of the Iraqi government, "One by one."
Across Baghdad, leaders of the groups speak about the transition in similarly apocalyptic terms. Some have left Baghdad, saying they fear that the Iraqi government will conduct mass arrests after the handover. Others are obtaining passports and say they will flee to Syria.

(First Lt. Justin) John, a 24-year-old platoon leader, tried to reassure the Iraqi. "It's a new thing," John said. "It's going to take some time to get used to."

Recognizing that the government has been wary from the outset about the creation of armed, mainly Sunni groups under U.S. control, American military officials are taking several steps to prevent their sudden disintegration. American officials see the Sons of Iraq as a central factor in the reduction in violence, along with the temporary increase in U.S. forces, a year-long cease-fire imposed by a Shiite militia leader and the stepped-up assassinations of key insurgents.

John's unit -- 2nd Battalion of the 4th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division -- has set aside funds to pay Sons of Iraq guards for 90 days in case the Iraqi government does not. U.S. soldiers say they will sit in as Iraqi officials hand out salary payments during the first few months. And the Americans have demanded that the Iraqi government refrain from arresting any of the Sunni fighters, many of whom are former insurgents, unless authorities have arrest warrants issued within the past six months. That will make it harder for the Shiite government to arrest Sons of Iraq leaders for acts committed before they joined forces with the Americans.

In recent weeks, U.S. military officials began shrinking the ranks of the Sons of Iraq by offering members micro-grants that amount to early-retirement packages. This month alone John's company has handed out more than 30 grants totaling more than $60,000. "The big issue that concerns us is what happens if the government drops the ball and stops paying these guys," said Capt. Parsana Deoki, 32, of New York. "You'd have up to 400 SOI without jobs, without an income. That presents a problem. They have military training and access to weapons -- unemployed, with weapons, young men with an established chain of command. You can fill in the blanks."
USA Today’s Jim Michaels interviews General Ray Odierno, and the new top U.S. commander in Iraq says that dramatic security gains made over the past year could be jeopardized if its government doesn't improve essential services such as electricity and bring together rival political and religious factions. "They're working toward this, but if they don't do this, the citizens over time will ... potentially start to move against the government," Gen. Odierno said. "What has happened is they have rejected al-Qaeda, but if the government fails them, what would happen?"
Of Iraq in past years, he goes on to say, "In 2006, it was a failed state," Odierno said of Iraq. "In 2008, it's a fragile state. We've got to move it to a stable state."
Odierno takes command as the American public grows weary of the war and President Bush is preparing to leave office. Republican John McCain backed the White House's latest strategy, which also deployed troops in smaller outposts in neighborhoods to protect Iraqi civilians. Democrat Barack Obama has advocated withdrawing U.S. forces in Iraq over 16 months while increasing forces in Afghanistan. Odierno's first assessment about extra troop cuts could come early next year after a new president is elected, the general said. "My experience tells me that whoever the new administration is, they will listen to what we have to say," he said. "They will then conduct their own assessment. ... I feel comfortable with that."
Excerpts from the interview are included at the end of the article, sorted by the following subjects: “Looking ahead”, “Iraqis in the lead”, “Troop reductions”, “Making recommendations to a new administration”, “Iran’s role”, “Al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq”, “Fragile state”, “American public”, “Making recommendations”.

Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post covers a speech given by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in which he criticized the shock-and-awe strategy of the 2003 Iraq invasion and said the Pentagon's narrow focus on conventional combat operations proved costly when U.S. ground troops had to switch gears to try to stabilize the country. The Pentagon’s lack of flexibility and struggle to adjust to the counterinsurgency in Iraq "came at a frightful human, financial and political cost," Gates said. "For every heroic and resourceful innovation by troops and commanders on the battlefield, there was some institutional shortcoming at the Pentagon that they had to overcome."
He also warned to "Be skeptical of systems analysis, computer models, game theories," adding that officers should "look askance" at notions of future conflict that imply "adversaries can be cowed, shocked or awed into submission, instead of being tracked down, hilltop by hilltop, house by house."
Instead, Gates said, the Pentagon needs to be able to rapidly purchase and field more low-tech capabilities. "Our conventional modernization programs seek a 99 percent solution in years. Stability and counterinsurgency missions -- the wars we are in -- require 75 percent solutions in months," he said.

For example, Gates said, the Defense Department took too long to develop up-armored Humvees, mine-resistant vehicles, jammers and other gear to counter roadside bombs, as well as new intelligence technologies needed for Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Why did we have to bypass existing institutions and procedures to get the capabilities we need to protect our troops and pursue the wars we are in?" he said.

Gates said that given U.S. military dominance in air, land and sea power, the Pentagon can safely shift away from building small numbers of highly advanced ships, aircraft, and other systems and instead purchase larger quantities of simpler, cheaper equipment -- potentially for use by foreign military partners. For instance, he said that in Iraq a task force has expanded its surveillance capabilities by using turboprop aircraft coupled with advanced sensors, he said.

Gates predicted that in coming years the main threat faced by the U.S. military overseas will be a complex hybrid of conventional and unconverntional conflicts, waged by "militias, insurgent groups, other non-state actors and Third World militaries."

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Numbers of dead and wounded vary greatly.
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/29/2008 01:56 AM ET
The trend of little news from Baghdad continues. At least they still write about explosions.

From Baghdad
The Times and the Post report that five bomb attacks struck Baghdad on Sunday, three of them aimed at civilians who were out holiday shopping and strolling. Security sources said at least 27 people had been killed, and at least 84 may have been wounded. As usual, casualty numbers vary widely, and the U.S. military is the lowest. Two blasts occurred in the upscale shopping district of Karada, another in Shurta.
Sam Dagher and Mohammed al-Obaidi of the New York Times write,
The blasts in Karada occurred about 7 p.m. as many people poured onto the streets after the breaking of the daytime fast observed by most Iraqis during Ramadan, which ends Monday. Ramadan is followed by Id al-Fitr, a five-day holiday during which families customarily go out strolling, and children receive gifts and parade in new clothes. Many people were out shopping on Sunday in Karada, where vendors were selling shoes, clothes, watches and perfume. Attar Street is also home to Jabbar Abu al-Sharbat, a cafe renowned for its pomegranate and raisin juice. Baghdad was jarred by another explosion shortly before sundown in Shurta, a neighborhood on the city’s southwestern side. A bomb placed in a parked vehicle at a market there killed 12 and wounded 35, according to the Interior Ministry official. Mizher Abed Hanoush, a Shurta resident, said the attack took place near a Shiite house of worship, or husseiniya, now occupied by the Iraqi Army.
Ernesto Londoño and Qais Mizher of the Washington Post put a more personal angle on the violence.
In a second-floor apartment in a building nearby, the cries of women drowned out the rattle of a large power generator. A relative of the women, Mohammed Isam, was severely injured in the bombing, explained Oday Abdul, 25, a neighbor and family friend who was standing outside. As Abdul was speaking, a young man walked out of the building. "He died," the young man said quietly. Two of the women, weeping and wearing black abayas, walked outside to a small convenience store to purchase phone cards, then ran back upstairs. Down the street, a young man with blood dripping down his leg limped toward his father's car with the support of two friends. When he saw his father, he went to him and buried his face in his shoulder. "I lost my car," the young man said between sobs. "It doesn't matter!" his father bellowed. "You're safe."
Washington Post staff photographer Andrea Bruce continues her series Unseen Iraq, which documents the lives of people in Iraq. Today’s installment, called “Watching the Big Game Far From Home”, features her photo of several members of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, sitting around a room (one in a couch with a big dog on his lap) intently viewing sports from back home.
During a commercial, the LT, as the lieutenant is known, stands in front of the television. Knowing how unpopular he is about to become, he takes a deep breath and tells his men to gear up. They have another mission. A sigh of disappointment deflates the room. Some men, lips closed tight, hold back words of disappointment. Most don't.
Michael Cieply of the New York Times writes that Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, the wife of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, traveled to Los Angeles on Saturday in search of a film distributor, under the watchful eye of the Secret Service and the Los Angeles police.
Ms. Ahmed, left, presided over a screening of “Jani Gal,” a film directed by Jamil Rostami and based on a novel written by her father, Ibrahim Ahmed. The story turns on the Kurdish struggle against government oppression in the 1940s and ’50s.
“I was not looking to make a movie,” Ms. Ahmed told the assembled journalists and Hollywood players. “I was looking to have a cinema and watch a movie.”

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

Daily Column
Damascus car bomb explodes in neighborhood with half million Iraqis
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/28/2008 01:57 AM ET
For the second day in a row, next to nothing as far as Iraq-related coverage. We have only Sunday editions to choose from, but still...

From the Middle East
A car bomb killed 17 people on a busy street in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Saturday, in the third deadly political attack there this year. The car was packed with 440 pounds of explosives, according to Syria's state news agency, and blew up around a Shiite shrine called Sayeda Zaineb. According to Robert F. Worth of the New York Times in Cairo, half a million Iraqi refugees live in the densely populated area; most of them fled Iraq after war erupted there in 2003. Also from Cairo, Ellen Knickmeyer and Alia Ibrahim report for the Washington Post quote an Iraqi teacher who lives in the area as saying "We escaped from the car bombs in Baghdad, but they've followed us here." No connection to the Iraqi population has been proven.

Another review of Bob Woodward’s celebrated book “The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006–2008”, about the infighting within and between the White House, Pentagon, and State Dept. in the events leading up to the “surge” in Iraq, this one by the Times’ Jill Abramson. She lauds Woodward as a documenter, but sometimes pans his analysis, or lack thereof. It is really a review of the whole four book series by Woodward, of which ‘The War Within” is the last.
“The War Within” includes one last epilogue¬ — or apologia. In an effort at self-justification, Woodward points out that the seeds that grew into “State of Denial” and “The War Within” were planted and indeed had sprouted in his first two volumes. He makes a plausible case, though it would have been better¬, for him and for us, if his judgments had been woven into the original texts. Even now Woodward doesn’t divulge his own view of the war itself, beyond saying the obvious: “The outcome of the Iraq war, now in its sixth year, remains uncertain.”
But Woodward’s own judgment of the war and of Bush doesn’t really matter. In the course of four books he has given readers the conversations and documents we need to reach our own judgments. He has also, however unevenly and imperfectly, supplied enough synthesis and analysis to make that judgment genuinely informed. Sure, these books can be a slog. But they stand as the fullest story yet of the Bush presidency and of the war that is likely to be its most important legacy.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.
Daily Column
McCain and Obama spar on Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/27/2008 02:00 AM ET
Not a whole heck of a lot of Iraq coverage today, with the only news being the prominent mention of Iraq in the McCain/Obama debate.

Debating Candidates
In their first debate, Senators McCain and Obama talked a lot about the economy and foreign policy experience, but Iraq was central to points they both wanted to make. McCain ridiculed Obama for doubting the wisdom of the “surge” and Obama repeatedly told McCain “you were wrong” to rush the nation into war.

According to the Washington Post’s Michael D. Shear and Shailagh Murray, “McCain aggressively pushed back, accusing Obama of failing to understand that a new approach employed by Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq would lead to victory and mocking him as naive for his willingness to meet with some of the world's most brutal leaders.“

Laura Meckler, Elizabeth Holmes, and Amy Chozick of the Wall Street Journal report that “Both men worked to personalize the war, and each pointed to a bracelet he wears as a reminder of a young man who died in the war. Sen. McCain's bracelet came from a mother who doesn't want her son's death to have been in vain. Sen. Obama's came from a mother who asked that he prevent other mothers from suffering the same loss. Sen. Obama suggested that the war in Iraq had become a distraction to the battles in Afghanistan. ‘We took our eye off the ball,’ Sen. Obama said, suggesting the need to use the military ‘wisely’ and calling the current situation a ‘strategic mistake.’”
Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times included some barbed comments by Obama, aimed at McCain’s support of the war, and of his characterizations of developments there in the past year. “You like to pretend like the war started in 2007 — you talk about the surge. The war started in 2003,” Mr. Obama said. “At the time, when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong. You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong.”

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

Daily Column
Many fearful of more ethnic violence: Controversy over fallen Marine grows
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/26/2008 01:55 AM ET
Unlike yesterday, not too many big, breaking stories. Aside from the featured article about Iraqis being made nervous by the possibly deadly implications of a questionnaire, there is further reporting on the provincial election law and the growing furor over Sgt. Rafael Peralta being denied the Medal of Honor. Also, opinions.

From Baghdad
Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post reports on the kind of questions which might seem harmless to many who live outside Iraq, but which make Iraqis fear for their safety and their lives. According to the Iraqi government, an effort to collect information on some Baghdad residents’ house deed, children’s names, and the tribe they belong to. The last identifies a resident’s religion and ethnicity. The stated goal of Iraqi government in gathering the personal information is to determine whether or not people in possession of a house are the ones to whom it belongs. Though this information could potentially help to reverse sectarian segregation in Baghdad by kicking squatters out and letting the original owners back in, the fact that the ethnic cleansing took place in the first place makes residents justifiably suspicious.
Two weeks ago, two Iraqi soldiers knocked on the door of Abu Rabab, a 61-year-old retired government employee and a Sunni, and handed him the white form. It bore no official emblem or signature from a government ministry. The soldiers told him they needed his personal information for statistical purposes. Abu Rabab was suspicious. He didn't know the soldiers. The memories rushed back. Last year, gunmen disguised in security force uniforms kidnapped his brother and demanded a $100,000 ransom. Abu Rabab's family paid. But the kidnappers tortured and killed his brother, anyway. "They broke every bone in his body," Abu Rabab said. So he took the form and, after the soldiers left, tore it into pieces. On Friday, he sat outside his house with his neighbor Abu Sahar, 50, a merchant. In 2006, Shiite militiamen disguised as soldiers abducted and killed Abu Sahar's son, Jabbar. Abu Sahar provided a false tribal name on his form. "They will give it to the militias," said Abu Rabab, making a slicing motion across his neck with his index finger. "Two or three days later, they will come to your house and take you."
The Christian Science Monitor’sTom A. Peter has a story that was heavily covered by others yesterday, the passing of the provincial election law, which makes it possible for elections to be held early next year. A major sticking point has been the status of Kirkuk, who different groups see as their own, but it was agreed that Kirkuk would simply be passed over, allowing new elections in the majority of the country, while tabling Kirkuk‘s fate for a later date.
Originally scheduled to take place for the first time in four years this October, the provincial vote met a number of hurdles. While other drafts created small quotas for Christians and other minorities, the provision was eliminated from the approved version. The new law did, however, create a 25 percent quota for women. It must receive approval from a three-person presidential panel led by Mr. Talabani, but with broad support it's expected to be signed. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of parliament, says that he hopes the president will use this review process to force an amendment to include a minority quota. "The minorities, whether they're ethnic or religious, they need quotas," he says. "That's part of democracy. The rule of the majority means there should be protection of the minorities.... It's not a perfect law, but it's a step forward."
Gordon Lubold, also of the Monitor, writes another piece that has been covered rather heavily of late, without much new information, of the controversy over whether Sgt. Rafael Peralta is worthy of posthumously being rewarded the Medal of Honor.
Sgt. Rafael Peralta died in Iraq in 2004 after covering a grenade to save comrades. But today his family and Marine brothers wonder why a grateful nation isn't grateful enough to bestow upon him its highest military honor. The Pentagon is awarding Sergeant Peralta the Navy Cross, the second-highest award for valor, and not the Medal of Honor, the award for which he was recommended by his fellow Marines, the Navy, and the Marine Corps. But now the world of battlefield ethos is mixing with Beltway politics as the Peralta family, his Marine brethren, and even members of Congress protest the decision made last week by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to downgrade the award. "I am living proof of what Sergeant Peralta did that day," says Robert Reynolds, who was beside Peralta the day he died. Mr. Reynolds says he was able to survive an explosion inside a house in Fallujah in November 2004 when Peralta, already severely injured, snagged a live grenade and thrust it against himself, shielding Reynolds and at least three others from probable death.
The question is whether or not Peralta could have knowingly and purposefully acted, after the severe brain injury he had just sustained.

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz covers republican vise-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, in another in a series of apparent misstatements. In only her third interview since accepting the nomination, Gov. Palin described the need for more troops in Afghanistan, saying that the United States had achieved "victory" in Iraq.
Palin told CBS's Katie Couric that "a surge in Afghanistan also will lead us to victory there as it has proven to have done in Iraq," adding that "we cannot afford to retreat, to withdraw in Iraq." Palin struggled at times and appeared less comfortable than in her earlier sit-down with ABC's Charles Gibson. When Couric asked why she cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of her foreign policy experience, Palin said: "It's funny that a comment like that was kinda made to . . . I don't know, you know . . . reporters -- " "Mocked?" Couric asked. "Mocked, yeah I guess that's the word, mocked." Pressed on why her location enhanced her foreign policy experience, Palin said: "Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of." She added that when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin "rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska."
The editorial page of the Washington Post offers an opinion about the need to keep up levels of U.S. troops in Iraq, saying that the passage of the election law is a direct result of the stability caused by the strong U.S. presence.
This week's breakthrough follows others in recent months, including the reform of a law that purged former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party from government posts. More steps are needed -- most important, agreement on a law distributing Iraqi oil revenue among provinces and allowing for new investment. But it's now clear that the political progress that the Bush administration hoped would follow the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq has finally begun. How can the next president preserve that momentum? Democrat Barack Obama continues to argue that only the systematic withdrawal of U.S. combat units will force Iraqi leaders to compromise. Yet the empirical evidence of the past year suggests the opposite: that only the greater security produced and guaranteed by American troops allows a political environment in which legislative deals and free elections are feasible.
The Wall Street Journal’s “Review and Outlook” page has another opinion on the same subject, entitled “ Iraq Political Progress”. Difficulties ahead are mentioned, but it mostly basks in the improved security of past months.
For some better news this week, turn the channel to Iraq. The Parliament in Baghdad just undid the biggest political knot in the country. Wednesday's deal to hold provincial elections opens the way for former insurgents and their supporters, mainly Sunni Arabs, to join the democratic process in Iraq. That in turn should help consolidate the stunning security gains of the past year. We used to hear from Joe Biden, the Pentagon and others on both sides of the aisle in Washington that only political reconciliation and a U.S. force pullout could stem the violence. They got it backwards. The "surge" and General David Petraeus's new counterinsurgency strategy, in a matter of months, turned or neutralized Sunni and Shiite militias and all but defeated al Qaeda in Iraq. Only now that it's calmer do Iraqis feel secure enough to make political progress.
Claudia Puig of USA Today writes a review of the film “The Lucky Ones”, about the events that occur during the journey of three U.S. soldiers, returning home. She calls it “a road trip that never quite arrives at its destination, despite strong performances and good intentions.”
This is not the worst of the Iraq-themed movies of the past few years, and it's possibly the best acted of any of them. But you wish the bonding of these three people wasn't diluted by the trite scenarios and artificial circumstances of their saga.

New York Times, no Iraq coverage.
Daily Column
Iraq Red Crescent paralyzed by allegations: 20 Iraqi sec. forces slain in ambush
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/25/2008 01:55 AM ET
Today, with the passing of the long-awaited provincial election law, there is a return to some substantial Iraq coverage. Also covered are the considerable troubles of the Iraqi Red Crescent, Iraqi security forces killed in an ambush in Diyala, and Western attorneys calling the trial of Saddam Hussein unfair and biased.

The Iraqi Parliament has passed the provincial election law, which could pave the way for elections to take place (the first in nearly four years) by early 2009. Still looming large is the much-disputed issue of Kirkuk, in which Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, and Christians have all staked claims. Kirkuk will not be included in the elections stipulated in the new law, but is being tabled for a later date. This compromise can be looked at as both good and bad news: it allows for the rest of the country to proceed, but leaves this most divisive issue unaddressed.

Of the three papers that covered the passing of the law from Baghdad, Erica Goode of the New York Times writes the clearest and most concise version.
The elections are viewed by many Iraqi and American officials as crucial for the nation to heal its deep-running political and religious fissures and also to shore up the fragile security gains that have been achieved in recent months. The question of how to settle a fierce dispute over control of the ethnically mixed and oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, however, was given to a committee for further study. And an article in an earlier version of the law that provided a limited number of provincial council seats for Iraq’s Christians and other minorities was eliminated from the new bill, stirring outrage among the groups. Still, the bill’s passage represents a significant achievement for a country that has more often resorted to violence than political negotiation in resolving its differences. The elections are likely to result in broader political representation in many parts of Iraq. And they will be watched closely for what they might forecast for the next parliamentary elections, to be held in 2009.
Sunni Iraqis, many of whom boycotted the last elections, are expected to win a larger part in the government in any upcoming elections, as reported by Jim Michaels of USA Today, who penned the briefest article on the subject.
Large numbers of Sunnis boycotted the last provincial elections and have a limited voice in the Shiite-dominated government. Since then, many Sunnis have put down their arms and given support to U.S. and Iraqi forces, but are frustrated by a lack of a strong voice in government. The elections to choose councils in 14 provinces will likely shift the political balance in Iraq and have the potential to lessen simmering mistrust between the Sunnis and Shiites. "The Sunnis refused to participate in the last elections," said Salim al-Jibouri, a Sunni lawmaker. "The coming elections will change the Iraqi political map."
Though women were guaranteed representation quotas, religious and ethnic minority groups weren’t so lucky, according to the Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan,
Officials from Iraq's minority groups and the United Nations expressed disappointment that minority rights were not adequately addressed in the law. Iraq's Christians and other minorities were hoping to get a specific percentage of provincial seats allocated to them, giving them a greater political voice. "We the Chaldeo-Christians feel a great disappointment because what was done today was a regression from democratic practices," said Yonadem Kanna, a lawmaker. "This is a good day for Iraq and democracy, a day in which Iraqis proved they are capable of reaching a consensus," said U.N. envoy Staffan di Mistura. "But still I say on any great day there is always one cloud, which we had not expected, which is the lack of representation for minorities. I hope this can be rectified."
Read recent details on the Kirkuk situation as it applies to passing of the law here.

Also From Baghdad
On the front page of the Washington Post, Amit R. Paley and Ernesto Londoño report that the Iraqi Red Crescent, the country's leading humanitarian organization with an annual budget of $60 million, has been crippled by allegations of embezzlement and mismanagement, including what Iraqi officials call the inappropriate expenditure of more than $1 million on Washington lobbying firms in an unsuccessful effort to win U.S. funding. Said I. Hakki, the group’s former president, left the country this summer after the issuance of arrest warrants for him and his deputies. The Iraqi-American doctor recruited by the Bush administration to lead the restructuring of the country’s health care system and his aides deny the allegations, calling them politically motivated.
Under Hakki's leadership, the Red Crescent expanded rapidly. Its budget over the past five years has swelled from about $3 million to $60 million and its staff from 50 employees to 3,500, according to Mazin A. Salloum, the group's secretary general. But several humanitarian organizations grew concerned over what they considered the Red Crescent's lack of transparency with funds, and some, including UNICEF, stopped working with the organization. "We simply don't know where our money went," said the head of one aid program, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation against his organization. Hakki alienated some of his colleagues by employing Washington lobbying firms to help the Red Crescent seek U.S. government funding and to arrange for Hakki to meet U.S. officials. The arrangement is highly unusual for foreign humanitarian groups.
"Why are they doing this to the only effective organization in Iraq helping people?" Hakki said in one interview. "I came from America to do something good for the people of Iraq. And I feel I have succeeded. I don't want the political parties to take over the Iraqi Red Crescent and ruin the success."

Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times reports that, according to Iraqi Army officials, at least 20 Iraqi security forces were killed in an ambush on Wednesday, as they searched for weapons in an agricultural area of Diyala province that had been held by extremist Sunni insurgent groups. The forces were made up of National Police officers and members of the local Awakening Council. “The problem is that most members of the police are from other provinces, so they do not have any idea about the terrain in this neighborhood,” said Lt. Col. Sabah al-Tamimi of the Diyala police. “These forces had not faced a real battle before, because they conducted most patrols in safe areas, and that led to excessive self-confidence,” he said. “Conducting operations in these areas without support from the Iraqi Army or from the multinational forces is a suicide mission.”
Violence has seemed to be increasing lately in Diyala Province, despite a high-profile campaign over the summer by the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and the American forces to rid it of insurgents. The ambush suggested that some of the most hardened of the Sunni fighters were again active in Diyala. ...Early this week, bombs severely damaged two schools. Many efforts have been made to stop Shiite families from returning to their homes. Before the ambush on Wednesday, three policemen were killed and five others were wounded in the same area. But the attack near Khan Bani Saad was the most lethal in recent months — some estimates put the death toll at 35. ...On Wednesday morning a combined police and Awakening Council force entered the area known as the Azzawi gardens, a district of orchards and large bushes that was controlled by the extremist Sunni insurgency until spring of this year. With the increasing military presence in the area, their influence dwindled until recently, when they reappeared. Several officers in the security forces and local people said the insurgents had been waiting for the victims. Fire came from all sides and many had no chance to escape. The gun battle lasted about 20 minutes, said Ahmed al-Masoudi, a tribal leader from Dulaim, a village nearby.
In Other News
The New York Times’ John F. Burns files from Cambridge, England that, nearly two years after an Iraqi court sentenced Saddam Hussein to death, new disclosures by Western lawyers who helped guide the court have given fresh ammunition to critics who contend that he was railroaded to the gallows by vengeful officials in Iraq’s new government.
These lawyers say the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, forced the resignation of one of five judges in the trial only days before the court sentenced Mr. Hussein. The purpose, the lawyers say, was to avert the possibility that judges who were wavering would spare Mr. Hussein the death penalty and sentence him to life imprisonment instead. The disclosures, made amid a steep decline in violence in Iraq, seem likely to raise fresh questions about the degree to which the Bush administration has succeeded in promoting democratic principles, including the rule of law, among Iraq’s new leaders. Inevitably, they will also lend new momentum to die-hard Baathists who regard Mr. Hussein as a martyr. Long before Mr. Hussein was hanged on Dec. 30, 2006, with supporters of Iraq’s new Shiite-led government taunting him as the noose was tightened around his neck, a pattern of intervention by powerful Iraqi officials had been established.
A spokesman for Mr. Maliki on Wednesday denied any role played by the Iraqi government in the judicial proceedings. “This is a judicial issue, and it’s up to the judges,” said Yassin Majeed, an adviser to Maliki. “I refuse to comment about it because the government has nothing to do with it. And whoever accuses the judicial system should talk to them. “The government did not interfere, and we refuse to comment about it. The Americans know this is not our business; it’s the judicial system’s business,” Mr. Majeed said.

USA Today’s Bob Minzesheimer writes a brief but heartfelt review of “The Forever War”, by Dexter Filkins. He focuses on Filkins’ observations on U.S. servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of the Marines of Bravo Company, he (Filkins) writes, "There wasn't any point in sentimentalizing the kids; they were trained killers, after all. ... They had faith, they did what they were told and they killed people. ... Sometimes I wished they asked more questions. ... (But) out there in Falluja, in the streets, I was happy they were in front of me." Filkins is full of questions. He wonders "not only what the Americans were doing to Iraq, but what Iraq was doing to the Americans." He also writes, "The Iraqis lied to the Americans, no question. But the worst lies were the ones the Americans told themselves. They believed them because it was convenient — and because not to believe them was too horrifying to think about." If The Forever War were fiction, it would be a fractured narrative, short stories more than a novel. But it's that kind of war.
Ben Brantley of the New York Times offers a review of a New York production of the play "In Conflict" which was adapted by Douglas C. Wager from Yvonne Latty's 2006 book of interviews with Iraq veterans.
It’s possible that no cast on or off Broadway these days shares fewer professional stage credits than the young ensemble of “In Conflict,” a sober and very affecting docudrama about veterans of the war in Iraq. ...It’s this double layer of rawness — untried actors trying to make sense of the feelings of untried soldiers suddenly tested in ways that strain sanity — that gives “In Conflict” its particular biting poignancy. Under Mr. Wager’s direction, the performers seem painfully in touch with the confused emotions they have been asked to give voice to, unprotected by the lacquered walls of well-honed technique. And the transcribed interviews of Ms. Latty’s book (its full title is “In Conflict: Iraq War Veterans Speak Out on Duty, Loss, and the Fight to Stay Alive”) acquire a specifically theatrical tension and immediacy.

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

Daily Column
Corruption-related firings upset the Iraqi Ministry of Trade
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/24/2008 01:55 AM ET
Yesterday was a busy day for Iraq coverage, but today sure isn't! Just a report on corruption at the Ministry of Trade, an odd op-ed by Thomas Friedman, and an opinion piece by a professor at the Naval War College.

From Baghdad
Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times reports that, with frustration running high about the lack of basic services and a widespread sense that corruption is one of the chief causes, the Iraqi cabinet announced Tuesday that it had forced out six officials of the Ministry of Trade as part an anticorruption plan. Three of them were high-ranking officials.
While some in the Trade Ministry complained that the government was overreaching, others said it did not go far enough. The Parliament’s integrity committee has gathered extensive evidence of the ministry’s malfeasance, its chairman said, and its members were perturbed that the cabinet had not forced the trade minister, Falah al-Sudani, to resign or at least call him to account. In recent weeks, Parliament members have collected the 107 signatures they said they needed to discuss a no-confidence motion against the trade minister, said Sabah al-Saadi, the chairman of Parliament’s integrity committee. But committee members were upset to find on Tuesday that the cabinet had punished lower-level people in the ministry and that discussing the no-confidence measure was not on the agenda. Mr. Sudani, a native of Basra, is from a wing of the Dawa Party, although not the wing most closely associated with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. “To polish their image, they submitted scapegoats instead of starting with the head: the minister of trade,” Mr. Saadi said. “All the contracts that are handled by the Ministry of Trade are under the minister’s control, and he knew about all the spoiled and corrupt material that Iraq has imported.”
“The reason to concentrate on the Ministry of Trade is because it gives direct services to the citizens,” according to Mr. Saadi. “People cannot live without food. It’s not like electricity where they can buy power from private generators. It’s related to poverty and hunger.”
Yesterday, three Iraqi expatriates testified before a Democratic Senate Policy Committee on corruption in Iraq, with unsettling results. To read more about this, click here.
Rubin also includes mention of American soldiers accidentally killing yet another Awakening member. The man was killed in an operation to clear a house of insurgents near Baiji. Also, an American serviceman was killed on Tuesday in a gunfight near Salman Pak, south of Baghdad.

Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman writes a fictional letter from President George W. Bush, addressed to “President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashadani” and entitled “Dear Iraqi Friends”. It is, of course, a vehicle to state his own views, and to draw a relation between the U.S. financial crisis that’s in all the news, and the expensive war in Iraq. Now that we have some very serious financial problems, it may draw a line in the sand for American taxpayer dollars continuing to shell out billions for Iraq. It begins as follows.
Dear Sirs, I am writing you on a matter of grave importance. It’s hard for me to express to you how deep the economic crisis in America is today. We are discussing a $1 trillion bailout for our troubled banking system. This is a financial 9/11. As Americans lose their homes and sink into debt, they no longer understand why we are spending $1 billion a day to make Iraqis feel more secure in their homes.
For the past two years, there has been a debate in this country over whether to set a deadline for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. It seemed as if the resolution of that debate depended on who won the coming election. That is no longer the case. A deadline is coming. American taxpayers who would not let their money be used to subsidize their own companies — Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch — will not have their tax dollars used to subsidize your endless dithering over which Iraqi community dominates Kirkuk.
Americans are noble and patient: Iraqis “endlessly bargain and dicker”, and are encouraged to “Look in the eyes of Americans who are seeing their savings wiped out, their companies disappear, their homes foreclosed,” to learn what true fear is.

The discussion continues of the questionable behavior by U.S. military brass, behind the scenes of the “surge” debate as described in Bob Woodward’s book “The War Within”. Mackubin Thomas Owens (professor at the Naval War College and editor of Orbis, the journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute) pens an opinion piece called “Our Generals Almost Cost Us Iraq". In it, he calls false the “dominant media storyline about the Iraq war holds that the decisions about how to conduct it pitted ignorant civilians -- especially the president and secretary of defense -- against the uniformed military, whose wise and sober advice was cavalierly ignored.” Owens says military officials have no place trying to assert their will against that of the commander in chief in matters of war, and draws historical parallels between Pentagon Generals attempting to undermine Bush’s authority and problems between Abraham Lincoln and Gen. George McClellan.
Although the conventional narrative about the Iraq war is wrong, its persistence has contributed to the most serious crisis in civil-military relations since the Civil War. According to Mr. Woodward's account, the uniformed military not only opposed the surge, insisting that their advice be followed; it then subsequently worked to undermine the president once he decided on another strategy.
In one respect, the actions taken by military opponents of the surge, e.g. "foot-dragging," "slow-rolling" and selective leaking are, unfortunately, all-too-characteristic of U.S. civil-military relations during the last decade and a half. But the picture Mr. Woodward draws is far more troubling. Even after the policy had been laid down, the bulk of the senior U.S. military leadership -- the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, the rest of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. Abizaid's successor, Adm. William Fallon, actively worked against the implementation of the president's policy.
If Mr. Woodward's account is true, it means that not since Gen. McClellan attempted to sabotage Lincoln's war policy in 1862 has the leadership of the U.S. military so blatantly attempted to undermine a president in the pursuit of his constitutional authority. It should be obvious that such active opposition to a president's policy poses a threat to the health of the civil-military balance in a republic.
Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
$13 billion in Iraq aid wasted or stolen: Shell opens up Baghdad office
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/23/2008 01:55 AM ET
Plenty of Iraq coverage today. Much of it focuses on the Awakening groups’ troubles from all sides. Other topics include billions of wasted Iraqi aid, Shell’s renewed presence in Baghdad, and the VA, finally set to increase benefits to veterans with mild brain trauma, an injury which has become an unfortunate hallmark of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Awakening Woes
There are three major stories filed from Iraq which deal with the Awakening forces, also known as the “Sahwa” or “Sons of Iraq”(SOI). The mostly Sunni security forces are largely credited with driving groups allied with al-Qaeda out of many areas of Iraq. One sensitive issue is that many members of the almost 100,000 strong Awakening forces are former insurgents themselves, now being paid about $300 a month. On Oct. 1, about 54,000 of them will be switched from the American payroll, and will then be paid by and under the control of the Iraqi government. It is being promised that twenty percent of them will be assimilated into Iraqi security forces. The rest may get government jobs or training.

Charles Levinson of USA Today writes about the recent crackdown on many Awakening members by the Shiite dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Many in the government see the Amakening movement as nothing more than a militia of former insurgents. "Our government is after us," says one leader, now in hiding for fear of arrest, Mulla Shihab al-Safi. "We sacrificed hundreds of our sons to drive al-Qaeda out. Now the government says we are no different than the terrorists." Maj. Tim Hunt, the U.S. Army's liaison to the provincial government says, "I think what's occurring here indicates there is a sectarian political bias in how the government is prosecuting security operations." Levinson writes “By arresting leaders of a movement that helped defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq, the government may be inadvertently helping al-Qaeda re-establish itself.” Concerning the arrests, he continues.
In another example, the headquarters of the Sunni Islamic Party, which is allied with the Awakening in Diyala for the upcoming elections, has been raided three times in the past six weeks, provincial lawmaker Mahdi Saleh al-Jabbouri says. At least a half-dozen of the party's leading politicians have been arrested or are wanted, he says. The most well-publicized arrest came Aug. 18, when an Iraqi special forces unit stormed the provincial capital headquarters in the middle of the night and shot and killed the provincial governor's secretary before nabbing Islamic Party lawmaker Hussein al-Zubaidi. Hunt, the U.S. Army liaison, says al-Zubaidi was known for his close ties to the Awakening and his arrest "enraged U.S. forces," who viewed him as an ally. Al-Zubaidi remains in custody on terrorism charges, though Hunt says the U.S. military has seen no evidence to back up the allegations. When U.S. military doctors checked on al-Zubaidi after his arrest, "he appeared very roughed up"; his face and body were covered in bruises, Hunt says. "Every time the government of Iraq does something like that, it nudges these moderate Sunnis back toward the insurgency," Hunt says. Back in the rural hideaway, al-Safi says he feels as if he is back in the insurgency and fleeing the authorities.
Erica Goode of the New York Times reports on Baghdad’s largely Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, and how some of the problems the Awakening forces are having there are emblematic of the situation throughout the country. As the transition to the Awakening councils falling under the jurisdiction and payroll of the Iraqi government, issues are also arising between the different Awakening leaders and groups. Adhamiya and in some other areas of Iraq, the patrols, hailed by many as heroic for making the streets safer, have posed increasing problems. Commanders quarrel and jockey for power and territory. Finger-pointing and threats are common. Some residents complain that the men, not a few of them swaggering street toughs, use their power to intimidate people. Sometimes violence erupts. “What you have is essentially armed factions, like mini-gangs, that operate in a certain set of checkpoints in certain territories,” said Lt. Erick Kuylman, a patrol commander in the First Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, which operates in Adhamiya. He said the Awakening Councils had met their original purpose, but he added, “They have outlived, I think, their service since then.” Some American officers say it is no coincidence that the problems have worsened at a critical juncture for the Awakening movement and for American forces.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Tom A. Peter writes a story centered around the weakened but still-present al-Qaeda presence in Iraq, but this leads prominently, again, to the Awakening groups.
Adding to the difficulty, a number of AQI members have joined the Iraqi Army, the police, and especially the SOI, US and Iraqi military officials say. Its leaders encouraged operatives to enlist in these security forces as spies when popular attitudes toward the group began to turn. Many other low-level members of the AQI, who'd been motivated to work with insurgents for financial reasons, joined the SOI because it offered a regular paycheck. Now as Iraqi Army Lt. Col. Walid Nouri Motlib tries to purge sleeper cells from the ranks of his unit in Anbar Province, he says he would not be surprised if one of his soldiers became a suicide bomber. "Generally when we talk about the strategy of Al Qaeda, they've lost control of their territory," he says. "Now their main activity is targeting the leaders of security troops and SOI with suicide bombers."
Oil and Lost Aid Money
Sam Dagher if the New York Times reports from Baghdad about the return of the first Western oil company to Iraq. Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, completed a multibillion-dollar natural gas deal with the Iraqi government on Monday and said it had established an office in Baghdad — the first foreign petroleum giant to do so since Iraq nationalized its oil industry more than three decades ago.
The company described its decision to open an office here as a milestone that partly reflected the vast improvement in Iraq’s stability compared with conditions during the worst years of the war. But in a sobering reminder of the underlying dangers of doing business here, the company would not disclose the location of its office, and the senior Shell official who announced the gas deal was accompanied by a phalanx of armed guards. “We are ready to establish a presence,” the official, Linda Cook, executive director of the company’s gas and power unit, said during a news conference in Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone.
Guy Chazan and Hassan Hafidh of the Wall Street Journal also report on Shell’s return.
Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told reporters Monday the deal with Shell was worth "billions of dollars." Shell declined to put a price on the investment, saying the agreement signed Monday merely set out the commercial principles of the joint venture, which will be 51% owned by Iraq's state-run South Gas Company and 49% by Shell.
Dana Hedgpeth of the Washington Post reports that a former Iraqi official estimated yesterday that more than $13 billion meant for reconstruction projects in Iraq was wasted or stolen through elaborate fraud schemes. Salam Adhoob, a former chief investigator for Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, an arm of the Democratic caucus, that an Iraqi auditing bureau "could not properly account for" the money.
While many of the projects audited "were not needed -- and many were never built," he said, "this very real fact remains: Billions of American dollars that paid for these projects are now gone." He said a report that went to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other top Iraqi officials was never published because "nobody cares" about investigating such cases. Many investigators, he said, feared for their safety because 32 of his co-workers have been murdered. Adhoob said he reported the abuses to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an agency charged by Congress with helping to root out cases of waste, fraud and abuse in the nearly $50 billion U.S. reconstruction effort. SIGIR spokeswoman Kristine Belisle said her agency continues to "actively follow up" on Adhoob's information, but she would not discuss ongoing investigations.
Hedgpeth details some of the schemes, which include ghost companies and billions paid for services not rendered.

Military Matters
USA Today’s Gregg Zaroya covers the U.S. government’s plans to substantially increase disability benefits for veterans with mild traumatic brain injuries, acknowledging for the first time that veterans suffering from this less severe version of the Iraq war's signature wound will struggle to make a living. "We're saying it's real," said Tom Pamperin, a deputy director for the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Up to 320,000 troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered traumatic brain injury, a RAND Corp. study estimated this year. The vast majority of the cases are mild and came from exposure to an explosion, often from a roadside bomb. Most veterans with mild cases recover, Pamperin said, but some are left with permanent problems. Compensation could reach $600 a month, the VA said. Currently, veterans with symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light, ringing in the ears and irritability and insomnia collect $117. After it takes effect in 30 days, the new regulation will benefit between 3,500 and 5,000 veterans a year, the department said. It estimated the changes would cost an extra $120 million through 2017. ...Veterans groups, such as the Disabled American Veterans, applauded the change. However, they said the estimated numbers of traumatic brain injury cases may prove low, because the science around blast damage to the brain is still new.
Tom Vanden Brook, also of USA Today, reports that the Pentagon's plan to put more drones in the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan as a critical weapon against insurgents relies on a company that government investigators and military analysts say has not met the skyrocketing demand for the aircraft. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has demonstrated that it can’t produce the unmanned Predator and Reaper planes at the pace necessary to meet the needs of the the U.S. military.
The company's Predator and Reaper drones are at the heart of the Pentagon's efforts in Afghanistan, as the drones are used to attack Taliban targets hiding in mountainous areas hard to reach on the ground. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made deploying more drones his top priority.
"It's a concern because the Army and Air Force are trying to surge their production," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute. "If General Atomics can't keep up with the demand, war fighters can't get the intelligence they need."

Christian Davenport of the Washington Post writes about the history of the Marines is demonstrated by Corps veterans who are on hand to answer guest’s questions at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, outside Quantico, VA. Of the veterans on hand, 11 have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Sgt. Richard Tack, 22, is featured, a recipient of the Purple Heart from his two tours of Iraq. The sharing spans generations of wars, and Tack is described, speaking with an elderly marine visitor who fought in Iwo Jima.

Daily Column
Military falls short on foreign languages, but reports big plans for lasers.
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/22/2008 01:55 AM ET
It’s a very light day on Iraq-related news, with nothing filed at all from Iraq, and only some reports on U.S. military programs, an op-ed, and some letters to the editor.

Military Matters
Will Bardenwerper of the New York Times reports that, although three years ago, the Defense Department set out to increase sharply the number of military personnel who speak strategically important languages, progress has been slow, and the military has not determined how to reach its goal — or what exactly that goal is. Because not enough soldiers speak foreign languages, the military has had to rely on more than 10,000 civilian contract linguists, many local Afghans and Iraqis of widely differing abilities. “Having a soldier who speaks Arabic is a huge asset,” says Capt. Eric Nelson, whose 120-man infantry company has only 11 Iraqi interpreters. He added “A patrol with a good interpreter is 10 times as valuable as one with a lousy one.”
John Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who is co-author of the Army’s new counterinsurgency field manual, said in an interview that the military had been moving too slowly, and he questioned the military’s assertion that language needs were difficult to assess since they were subject to changing global security conditions. He said the military by now should “have a pretty good idea of what countries we’re fighting in.”

The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus reports that the Senate has embraced last year's Defense Science Board conclusion that directed-energy weapons -- such as high-, medium- and low-power lasers -- hold great potential and should be developed as soon as possible. However, the Senate Armed Services Committee, in its report on the fiscal 2009 authorization bill, asked about the progress of lasers. "Years of investment have not resulted in any current operational high-energy laser capability," the committee noted in its report. The science board said that research on laser systems was valuable, and that "future gunships could provide extended precision lethality and sensing." Last month, the Army awarded Boeing $36 million to continue development of a high-energy laser mounted on a truck that could hit overhead targets such as rockets, artillery, and mortars, but deployment is not expected until 2016 at best.

The Senate committee was critical of the "airborne laser" program, a first-generation missile defense system. It held back $30 million from next year's budget and said funds for a second version would not be authorized until the first shoot-down test from a 747 aircraft is conducted at the end of 2009. More information is needed to determine whether the system "could eventually provide a militarily useful, operationally effective and affordable missile defense capability," the panel's report said. Past Defense Science Board studies have had impact. A 2004 report recommended a "Manhattan Project" approach to take "available and emerging technologies . . . to identify objects or people of interest from surveillance data and to verify a specific individual's identification." It suggested that "biometrics, tags, object recognition and identification tokens" be harnessed with sensors and databases "to overcome the shortcomings of conventional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems."
Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland writes an op-ed entitled ”Bush’s War Triple Play”, in which he speaks about how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and also rising tensions in Pakistan could affect the popularity of President Bush, and of the two leading presidential hopefuls.
A war that can be won is a valuable asset for a presidential candidate. It spreads hope and wards off vote-numbing despair on the campaign trail. For Barack Obama, the winnable war is Afghanistan. John McCain makes the same claim for Iraq. Each candidate arrives at his differing assessment through political calculation as much as battlefield analysis. That is inevitable in modern politics. Each engages in relentless image projection -- that is, make-believe -- on conflicts he does not yet control as he fights toward Election Day.
Hoagland ends with the looming specter of future Pakistan problems, on the heels of the recent deadly hotel bombing in Islamabad.

There are four letters to the editor of the Wall Street Journal in response to William McGurn's "Generals Behaving Badly", which was featured in last week’s Journal, and which dealt with the behavior of U.S. military leaders in the ongoing discussion of the events that led to the “surge”. Some agree with him, some disagree. (not the most important news to round up, but it’s a slow day)

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Also, suicide bombing in Tal Afar: Baghdad tourism?
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/21/2008 01:57 AM ET
Not a lot of news, but the New York Times saves the day, with Dexter Filkins’ story of a Baghdad improved (for the moment, at least). In other stories, a bombing and a man with a challenging job: Chairman of Iraq’s Board of Tourism.

From Baghdad
Dexter Filkins of the Times has been away from Baghdad, and a lot has happened since. The Baghdad he left two years ago was, in his words, “shuttered, shattered, broken and dead.” Upon his return, he calls it “unrecognizable”.
On Karada Mariam, a street that runs over the Tigris River toward the Green Zone, the Serwan and the Zamboor, two kebab places blown up by suicide bombers in 2006, were crammed with customers. Farther up the street was Pizza Napoli, the Italian place shut down in 2006; it, too, was open for business. And I’d forgotten altogether about Abu Nashwan’s Wine Shop, boarded up when the black-suited militiamen of the Mahdi Army had threatened to kill its owners. There it was, flung open to the world.
It goes on like this for a while, naming place after place of vast improvement, including places outside Baghdad, like Ramadi. I have to agree with him; seeing families outside together after so long is really very moving. Shiite minorities are moving back to Sunni-dominated neighborhoods, protected by Awakening members, some of whom ran them out in the first place. Things are happening. He speaks to the newly-ordained top U.S. military man in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, about some of the reasons for this.
At its most basic level, General Odierno explained, the premise of this “surge” was that ordinary Iraqis didn’t want the violence. That is, that the chaos in Iraq was being driven by small groups of killers, principally those of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, who, by murdering Shiite civilians in huge car and suicide bomb attacks, were driving ordinary Iraqis into the arms of Shiite deaths squads and the Mahdi Army. If that dynamic could be broken, ordinary Iraqis would stop relying on militias to protect them. Something approaching normalcy might return.
Therein lies the rub. There are sticking points ahead, everyone seems to agree, but Filkins points to the dissolution of the Awakening councils as a potential big one.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has expressed an intention to dismantle the Awakening Councils, which employ about 100,000 men, most of them Sunnis. Mr. Maliki doesn’t like the idea of paying people who used to be shooting at him. But many American and Iraqi officials worry that firing these men would drive them underground, and back to the gun. Mr. Tikriti, the Awakening leader, doesn’t make much of a secret of that. “I’ve come too far to turn back now,” Mr. Tikriti said. “It’s this or death.”
Worth reading in its entirety.

The New York Times offers an un-credited rundown of the latest events. According to Iraqi security officials, three people were killed and 20 wounded when a car bomb exploded Saturday near a sports field in Tal Afar, north of Baghdad. Earlier on Saturday, a bomb blast in Baghdad outside the offices of the national journalists union wounded the union’s chief and four other people, the police said. In Basra, in the south, gunmen on a motorcycle killed a cleric loyal to Moktada al-Sadr on Friday.

Erica Goode and Riyadh Mohammed report in the New York Times that Humoud Yakobi, chairman of Iraq%u2019s Board of Tourism, charged with attracting foreign visitors to his beleaguered country, is on the prowl.
Jazirat A’aras, an island in the Tigris that is just across from the fortified Green Zone and the new American Embassy, is central to his plans. He is seeking investors who might want to spend $2.5 billion to $4.5 billion to build on the island, which was a honeymoon resort before it was bombed and looted in 2003 and then taken over by the Americans for use as a construction yard for the new embassy.
As Mr. Yakobi and his colleagues envision it, the development would include “a six-star hotel,” spas, a yacht club, an amusement park, a shopping center and luxury villas, built in the architectural style of the Ottoman Empire-era buildings in Old Baghdad. The complex would also have an 18-hole golf course, the “Tigris Woods Golf and Country Club,” as it is called in preliminary sketches prepared by the Tourism Board. Some might argue that Mr. Yakobi’s vision is premature, if not absurd.
Despite a drop in violence in Baghdad in recent months, Mr. Yakobi still cannot leave his office on Haifa Street without a convoy of armored cars and bodyguards. During an hourlong interview at his office recently, the lights blinked off, then on again, as the building’s generator kicked in, an event repeated many times a day throughout Iraq. It was not so long ago that American forces sometimes had to escort the workers at the Tourism Board home, shielding them from the firefights in the street.
Mr. Yakobi, however, is by his own description an optimist, and he says he has some reason to believe that Iraq, known for its holy sites and antiquities, will once again be a tourist mecca.
“Western visitors are very sensitive to bombings and things like that,” he said. “You can’t achieve the tourism industry without security.” ...“Tourists want entertainment, rest, relaxation. If they find that in any place, they will come.”
Baghdad should be a good test of this.

Military Matters
Kayt Sukel, who finds herself the wife of a U.S. serviceman on his second tour of Iraq, reports from Bedesbach, Germany for the Washington Post about taking on the added responsibility of her husband’s company-level family readiness group, or FRG. She calls it “the Army's reinvention of the old-school military family support group”, and says that “The informal, potluck-supper and sympathy-casserole model that had prevailed during past conflicts wasn't going to cut it for the long, frequent deployments of Operation Iraqi Freedom. So the Army created the FRG, an official, solidly regulated organization run by family volunteers, with the dual goal of supporting both families and the military mission.” On first having accepted the task, she was confident that she’d do better than others before her.
I'd heard the horror stories of FRG leaders who were stressed to the point of breaking. Rumors abounded about the wife of one former commander who cried before and after every monthly FRG meeting, overwhelmed by all that the families expected of her. That would not be me. After years in the corporate world as an information-technology consultant, I knew how to delegate and how to distance myself to get the job done. Dealing with a few dozen Army wives and their families may not have been strictly analogous, but it seemed to me that the same rules applied. And if I stuck to the rules, there was no way, no how, I'd get sucked into the drama.
But I got sucked into the drama.
"My ex-husband won't let my daughter come live with us. Not that he wants to take care of her, he just wants to punish me. I don't know how I'm supposed to get by for 15 months without my husband or my child."
She ends on a humbled note, after seeing how hard it really is.
I don't know. It seems that I'm just not traffic-cop material. And with some predicting that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan may continue for another 10 years or more, I have to wonder, when faced with the diverse and complex needs of military families, whether anyone really could be.

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

Daily Column
Iraqi government cries fowl: Al-Sistani's web site hacked
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/20/2008 01:54 AM ET
A light day of Iraq-related news, but not terrible for a weekend. Another deadly attack on Iraqi civilians angers many in Iraq, and is likely to make SOFA negotiations go even less smoothly. There’s the odd story of al-Sistani’s web site being hacked, an interview with Gen. Jack Keane, and an opinion.

From Baghdad
According to Iraqi officials and witnesses, U.S. soldiers killed eight Iraqi civilians, including three women, during a raid and airstrike Friday, north of Baghdad. But the U.S. military said soldiers were legitimately targeting Sunni extremists of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, and only report seven dead. An Iraqi child is reported to have been rescued from the rubble by allied forces and was taken to a nearby base for treatment. As Sudarsan Raghavan reports in the Washington Post,
The assault came as the U.S. and Iraqi governments were negotiating a security agreement to extend the U.S. military presence in Iraq. The Iraqi government is demanding that U.S. soldiers no longer have immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law for criminal acts, part of a move to exert stricter controls over U.S. forces in Iraq. Senior Iraqi lawmakers and officials charged Friday that U.S. soldiers used excessive force and demanded that an inquiry be launched. "This operation is tantamount to a crime, and we have to investigate the commander that planned the operation and the soldiers who shot the bullets," said Ayad al-Sammarai, a prominent Sunni lawmaker from the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni political party. He said the incident was even more reason to assert control over U.S. forces. "In the next security agreement, we want to minimize the mistakes and minimize the victims," he added. Evans said the U.S. troops followed proper procedures based on intelligence reports and "lawfully engaged" their targets who showed "hostile intent."
"Forces surrounded the building and called for its occupants to surrender. Despite nearly an hour of multiple calls and warnings that the force would engage them, the individuals inside refused to come out," a U.S. military statement said. "An armed man appeared in the doorway, and coalition forces, perceiving hostile intent based on the man's actions, engaged him. Later he was determined to be the suspected terrorist."
Iraqi eye-witnesses give a decidedly different account. "Ali got out of his house, raising his hands, and when he walked for 10 meters the Americans opened fire and killed him," said Munir Abdul Razzak, 37, a policeman and neighbor, whose house was also raided. Abdul Razzak said that one of Ali's brothers and Ali's wife fled through a back door, "but the American helicopter . . . showered them with bullets." Another neighbor said, in Stephen Farrell’s report in the New York Times, “The American forces surrounded my cousin’s house, then they bombed it,” he said. “I was watching from my roof through a hole in the wall. The American forces lit the place with flashlights. I saw my cousin with his wife escape from the backyard, when the American helicopter shot them and killed them immediately.”
Farrell also writes that, after the attack, 400 people gathered at the site, demonstrated peacefully against the raid and marched to the cemetery for the funeral.

The New York Times’ Sam Dagher reports that the official Web site of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential and revered Shiite religious leader, was defaced and then blocked in what appeared to be a sectarian-motivated cyber attack on Shiite-related sites. The cyber attackers added a YouTube video clip of the American comedian Bill Maher ridiculing a religious opinion, known as a fatwa, by Ayatollah Sistani on whether certain positions of sexual intercourse were permitted for married couples.
A statement signed “Group XP” was posted on the home page of the Ayatollah’s Web site, contending that the attack was on behalf of Sunni Muslims. The group said it had carried out similar attacks on other Shiite sites in the Persian Gulf and Iraq. It was not clear whether the attack began Thursday or early Friday, but by late Friday Ayatollah Sistani’s Web site was offline. At least one other site related to one of Ayatollah Sistani’s religious organizations,, was affected. But an alternative address,, was still operational. The Iranian news agency Fars reported that Group XP had blocked access to almost 300 Shiite-related sites on Thursday and Friday. Neither this claim nor an Iranian assertion that Group XP was based in the United Arab Emirates could be verified independently. Several Iranian news sites said late Friday that many of the Shiite and Iran-related Web sites that had been attacked were running normally again.
Iraqslogger covered this story on Thursday. To read the report (along with a screenshot), click here.

Matthew Kaminski has the "Weekend Interview” in the Wall Street Journal, with retired Gen. Jack Keane, who has gained much notoriety lately after being prominently featured as a major player in making the “surge” happen in Bob Woodward’s book “The War Within”. In the interview, Keane downplayed the part he played.
Public attention, such as his front-page photograph in the Washington Post last week, makes him uneasy -- a sentiment that he expresses with a bluff New York accent and no sign of false modesty. A close friend and mentor to Gen. Petraeus, he talks down his contribution to the Iraq war effort: "Minimal," "just another set of eyes," "given more credit than I deserved in all of that." Talk to others, however, and the unusual and critical role he played these past two years becomes clear. Gen. Keane helped conceive the new Iraq war strategy and then sell it to the White House. He advised on its implementation, visiting Iraq often and reporting back to the president and vice president. As recounted in Bob Woodward's new book, "The War Within," George W. Bush stiffed his Joint Chiefs of Staff, who opposed the surge, and made Gen. Keane his back channel to the Petraeus command in Baghdad. The Pentagon "almost presided over an American defeat in Iraq, and Jack Keane helped save the day," says Michael O'Hanlon, a scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Some particulars of his involvement are given(including the rift between Keane and the Joint Chiefs of Staff), with quotes from the man himself peppered in. About the success of the surge, Keane says, "It's a stunning turnaround, and I think people will study it for years because it's unparalleled in counterinsurgency practice." "All the gains we've achieved against al Qaeda, the Sunni insurgency, the Iranians in the south are sustainable" -- a slight pause here -- "if we're smart about it and not let them regroup and get back into it."

Also in the Washington Post, the “Review and Outlook” page reports that earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin "teamed up to block a vote on a bipartisan resolution 'recognizing the strategic success of the troop surge in Iraq' and thanking our men and women in uniform for their efforts". It’s the continued fight between many folks on different sides of the aisle, arguing about how successful or not the surge was, with neither side hesitating to use the grunts on the ground to score upcoming votes or points with their constituencies.
Democrats have often claimed that while they may oppose the war in Iraq, they wholeheartedly support the troops. That's a defensible position, and this resolution honoring our soldiers and Marines for a job well done gave them a chance to back up their rhetoric. Yet they still balked.
...The Lieberman-Graham resolution is a chance for Democrats to show that their support for the troops is more than rhetorical. It changes no policy and in that sense is only symbolic. Yet it is precisely the political symbolism of admitting they were wrong that is stopping the Democratic leadership from letting it come up for a vote before the Senate adjourns. Unfortunately, the last thing that Democrats want to discuss in this election season is success in Iraq.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

Daily Column
Two die in shooting at Base: 7 Killed in copter crash: SOFA talks falling apart?
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/19/2008 01:59 AM ET
Most news today is about the U.S. military, with the exception being the shaky status of a status of forces agreement. The reports which deal with the American military are all really full of feel-bad news, with soldiers being killed, some probably by one of their own, and further outcry over the denial of the Medal of Honor to one who died in 2004.

From Baghdad
There isn’t much information being released yet, but Stephen Farrell of the New York Times covers the U.S. military’s announcement that it is holding an American soldier in connection with the shooting deaths of two fellow soldiers on Sunday, at their patrol base near Iskandariya. The name of the one being held has not been released. “A U.S. soldier is in custody in connection with the shooting deaths,” a military spokesman said. “He is being held in custody pending review by a military magistrate. The incident continues under investigation.” The two who were killed were identified as Staff Sgt. Darris J. Dawson, 24, of Pensacola, Fla., and Sgt. Wesley R. Durbin, 26, of Hurst, Tex. All three soldiers were assigned to the Third Battalion, Seventh Infantry Regiment, Fourth Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.
Farrell also writes about the helicopter that crashed shortly after midnight on Thursday, 60 miles west of Basra. All seven soldiers on board were killed, while on a routine supply mission, according to American and British officials. Enemy activity is not suspected. It was the 69th helicopter to go down in Iraq in the war, US sources said. The names of the dead were being withheld, pending notification of next of kin.

The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan also covers both topics, but gives the helicopter crash the headline and a few more details. The CH-47 Chinook is reported as being part of a four-helicopter convoy, flying from Kuwait to the northern city of Balad.

Stephen Lee Myers and Sam Dagher of the New York Times report that the SOFA agreement, needed to legally extend the American military mandate in Iraq beyond this year, supposedly near completion only a month ago, has stalled over objections by Iraqi leaders and could be in danger of falling apart, according to both Iraqi and Bush administration officials.
The major remaining point of contention involves immunity, with the United States maintaining that American troops and military contractors should have the same protections they have in other countries where they are based and Iraq insisting that they be subject to the country’s criminal justice system for any crime committed outside of a military operation, the officials said. In a television interview this week, Mr. Maliki cited the example of an Iraqi killed by an American soldier in a market, saying that a case like that should fall “to Iraqi courts immediately.” “This,” he said of the American position, “they reject.” The White House has expressed confidence that an agreement can be reached before the end of December, when the United Nations mandate authorizing American forces in Iraq expires. In a sign of urgency, though, the administration plans to send its chief negotiators back to Baghdad in the coming days to try to complete an agreement that officials had originally planned to finish in July.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, traveling in London, said that U.S. negotiators were stepping up their efforts to find common ground with their Iraqi counterparts, and will be “carrying with them some ideas that perhaps meet both the Iraqi and our concerns on some of the remaining issues.” Both sides seem committed to their key points.
Mr. Maliki also, for the first time, raised the possibility of seeking an extension to the United Nations mandate at the Security Council, saying that had become complicated because of American and Russian tensions over the conflict in Georgia. “Even if we ask for an extension, then we will ask for it according to our terms and we will attach conditions and the U.S. side will refuse,” he said in an interview on Wednesday with the directors of Iraqi satellite television channels. “U.S. forces would be without legal cover and will have no choice but to pull out from Iraq or stay and be in contravention of international law.”
Further Military Matters
The Washington Post’s Ann Scott Tyson writes about the decision by Robert Gates not to recommend Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor. It was covered by Gregg Zoroya in yesterday’s USA Today, but Tyson has had time to get additional a bit more information and a few more quotes. The announcement stirred an outcry Wednesday, by his family and Marines who say he saved their lives. According to the secretary of the Navy, Peralta gave his life to save his comrades in Fallujah in 2004, grabbing a hostile grenade, pulling it to his body and absorbing the brunt of the blast. President Bush later praised Peralta as a hero. Instead of the Medal of Honor, he will be posthumously awarded the second-highest award for valor in combat, the Navy Cross.
Peralta's family members said they could not understand the decision, which was delivered to Peralta's mother, Rosa, by a Marine general on Tuesday. "She is really disappointed," Peralta's sister, Icela, said in a telephone interview from her home in San Diego. She said her mother has no plan to accept the Navy Cross from the military. "At this point, she doesn't want to receive that medal right now," she said. A Marine Corps spokesman said medical evidence was conflicting as to whether he was capable of grabbing the grenade given a head wound he had suffered moments earlier. Peralta, an immigrant from Mexico City who enlisted in the Marine Corps the day before receiving his green card, was serving with the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment during the U.S. military assault to retake Fallujah in November 2004.

Christopher Rhoads of the Wall Street Journal reports on the popularity of a new online video, featuring an Iraq war veteran criticizing Sen. Barack Obama’s stance on the war.

To date, Sen. Obama has dominated the race in the use of online video, both in viewership and production. Videos created by supporters of the Democratic presidential candidate, such as one entitled "Yes We Can," featuring Will.I.Am of the band Black Eyed Peas and directed by Bob Dylan's son, Jesse, have attracted millions of views. The new Republican video rivals those figures, attracting more than eight million views since it was launched on YouTube Aug. 27. That performance ranks it sixth overall among online videos during the past 30 days, according to The video, entitled "Dear Mr. Obama," features 23-year-old veteran Joe Cook describing his experience in Iraq and taking Sen. Obama to task for his stance on the war. The one minute, 55-second segment concludes with Mr. Cook walking away from the camera, revealing his prosthetic left leg, as Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" plays. Mr. Cook was injured this past June in Baghdad when his vehicle was hit by an explosive device, he said.
"This might be the Republicans' first real runaway hit," said Micah Sifry, executive editor of Personal Democracy Forum, a nonpartisan group studying technology in politics.

Washington Post op-ed columnist Charles Krauthammer pens a piece entitled “History Will Judge”, in which he lauds President Bush’s ability to stick to his guns, despite public opinion. Much credit is given as well, for protecting the United States against further terrorist attacks after Sept. 11, 2001, and speaks of how humble Mr. Bush was, when Krauthammer himself pointed this out to him.
What the president did note with some pride, however, is that beyond preventing a second attack, he is bequeathing to his successor the kinds of powers and institutions the next president will need to prevent further attack and successfully prosecute the long war. And indeed, he does leave behind a Department of Homeland Security, reorganized intelligence services with newly developed capacities to share information and a revised FISA regime that grants broader and modernized wiretapping authority. In this respect, Bush is much like Truman, who developed the sinews of war for a new era (the Department of Defense, the CIA, the NSA), expanded the powers of the presidency, established a new doctrine for active intervention abroad, and ultimately engaged in a war (Korea) -- also absent an attack on the United States -- that proved highly unpopular. So unpopular that Truman left office disparaged and highly out of favor. History has revised that verdict. I have little doubt that Bush will be the subject of a similar reconsideration.
Let's all meet here in 40 years, to see if he's right.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Dead marine is refused Medal of Honor: Tough decision for US on Iran dissidents
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/18/2008 02:01 AM ET
There are two stories today dealing with the high number of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody. Also reported on are conflicting numbers of death tolls(as always), a U.S. marine who many feel is being cheated out of a posthumous Medal of Honor, three U.S. soldiers charged in the death of Iraqi civilians, Iranian dissidents within Iraq’s borders, and the sanctions which are designed to keep international countries from supplying sophisticated weapons-technology to Iran which some say ends up in Iraq.

From Washington, Gordon Lubold of the Christian Science Monitor covers the rising concerns over the roughly 19,000 Iraqi prisoners in U.S.-run jails in Iraq. By year’s end, the number is expected to decrease to just over 15,000 prisoners, but it makes for difficult decisions on whether to turn them over to Iraqi custody, let many of them go, or neither, or both.
Last year, during the height of the "surge" of US troops, the United States held as many as 26,000 suspected insurgents. As security improved, commanders had hoped to whittle down the number of detainees, most of them Sunni, by reintegrating only the least dangerous individuals back into Iraqi society and leaving Iraq with a smaller group to manage. But the detainee population remains large, testing the resolve of Iraq's Shiite-led government to prepare to manage the detainees on its own by committing to fair treatment and due process.
Though the system has reportedly come a very long way since the days of the Abu Ghraib scandal, much is still left to be done. "We need to get these people moving through, and there is a hold-up in the process," says a senior uniformed official familiar with the issue. "There is a challenge to work through here."
The US holds detainees at Camp Cropper near Baghdad and Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. The facilities combined currently have about 18,900 detainees, a population that includes "very dangerous and determined people," according to a US military official in Iraq. But the camps also hold thousands of moderates who don't necessarily adhere to an extreme ideology but were caught up in the insurgency, perhaps placing roadside bombs just for the money. Last year, the US worked to separate the extremists from the moderates, implemented new family visitation programs, and began giving each detainee a formal review, with the intent of releasing as many people as possible. American military officials want to ensure that their program of detainee "care and respect" will be continued once the Iraqis take over detainee supervision, as US forces draw down.
For the Wall Street JournalYochi J. Dreazen reports from Baghdad on the efforts to deal with the problem by an effort to rehabilitate as many of the detainees as possible. "The idea is to move from punishment to rehabilitation," said Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, one of the officers leading the push. "It's not enough to simply lock these guys up and hope they somehow turn into productive members of Iraqi society." What everyone is afraid of is that, when prisoners are released, many of them who are suspected of insurgent activity, that there will be no reason for them not to join back up with insurgent groups.
The effort, centered in Baghdad and Basra, includes courses in literacy, mathematics and moderate Islamic thought. The military hopes the courses will temper the detainees' religious beliefs and give them the skills to find and hold a steady job... Few in the military question the need for the rehabilitation effort, but some wonder whether troops should be leading it. Some officers privately complain the program is turning them into social workers who coddle violent extremists. But few are willing to voice those criticisms because the effort is a favored project of Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Gen. Petraeus believes the country's stability will be shaped by how well former insurgents are integrated back into Iraqi society. He sees the rehabilitation push as a powerful weapon in that fight.
"I'm hopeful that what the detainees learned in the program will moderate their religious extremism," said Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, who commands U.S. forces in northern Iraq. "Will some go back to their old habits? Probably."
The program grew out of an American realization that the U.S. wouldn't be able to hold most of the detainees much longer. The thousands of Iraqis in American custody are a major source of public anger, and politicians regularly demand that the U.S. release the detainees or transfer them to Iraqi control. This year, more than 12,000 detainees have been released. Maj. Jay Gardner, the executive officer for Task Force al-Amal, which runs the rehabilitation effort, said the military believes that some detainees would need to be held for the long term, while others "simply made bad choices" and could be freed, he said. "The thin line we have to walk is figuring out which is which."
The article goes into a fair amount of detail, and is worth reading.

From Baghdad
Sam Dagher of the New York Times covers the conflicting death tolls in the continued bombings in Baghdad. According to an official at Iraq’s Ministry of the Interior, eight people were killed and 25 wounded Wednesday in double bombings in a busy section of central Baghdad filled with currency exchange shops and medical clinics. The U.S. military put the toll at three killed and 16 wounded, and a source at Yarmouk Hospital, where some of the casualties were taken, gave a toll of five killed and 20 wounded. Dagher points out that discrepancies in death tolls are common in Iraq. “The security improvement is just in the media, it has nothing to do with reality,” said Ali Mahmoud, a grocery shop owner caught up in the bombings.
The first bomb exploded about 11:20 a.m., in an area called Al Harthiya, adjacent to the fortified Green Zone. Several witnesses said it appeared to have been placed in a pickup truck that belonged to Raad al-Maliki, a former member of the local municipal council and owner of one of the money changing businesses that dot the area. Mr. Maliki, who was inside his shop at the time, survived. Almost five minutes after the first blast, a second bomb exploded about 300 feet away, next to a kiosk that sells cigarettes and soft drinks. Iraqi and American soldiers cordoned off the area and cut off traffic on one of the capital’s most congested thoroughfares, known as the Baghdad International Expo Street. Smashed storefronts, burned vehicle remains and scattered debris were reminiscent of scenes that Baghdad residents have been anxious to forget.
There were also two separate bombings in Baghdad’s Zayouna neighborhood and five American soldiers were killed when their helicopter made a “hard landing” about 60 miles west of the southern city of Basra. Dagher also mentions violence in Kirkuk, when a minibus was attacked by gunmen, and the continued difficulties with passing a new provincial elections law.

Military Matters
Gregg Zoroya of USA Today reports that a rare decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to reject a Marine Corps recommendation that one of its heroes receive the Medal of Honor has angered Marines who say Sgt. Rafael Peralta sacrificed his life to save theirs. For his actions during a Nov. 15, 2004, firefight in Fallujah, Iraq, Peralta will receive the Navy Cross, the service's second-highest award for valor. The citation said Peralta, 25, covered a live grenade thrown by insurgents. "I don't want that medal," Peralta's mother, Rosa, said Wednesday. "I won't accept it. It doesn't seem fair to me."
A Gates-appointed panel unanimously concluded that the report on Peralta's action did not meet the standard of "no margin of doubt or possibility of error," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. The argument about whether to award Peralta the nation's highest military honor centers on whether a mortally wounded Marine could have intentionally reached for the grenade after suffering a serious head wound... The decision is "almost like somebody called me a liar," said Marine Sgt. Nicholas Jones, 25, who was with Peralta that day. Jones, a recruiter, said Peralta's actions have become part of Marine Corps lore, as drill sergeants and officer-candidate instructors repeat it to new Marines. "His name is definitely synonymous with valor," said Jones, who was wounded by the grenade blast. "I know for a fact that I would have been killed ... and that my daughter, Sophia, our new baby, Sienna, would not be here or coming into the world. And that my son, Noah, would have grown up without knowing his dad," said Robert Reynolds, 31, a corrections officer and former Marine who was with Peralta that day. In a Marine Corps investigation of the attack, Natonski said, "I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt" that the gravely wounded Peralta covered the grenade.
The Washington Post’s Peter Finn reports that three U.S. soldiers have been charged with killing four captured Iraqis who were allegedly taken to a canal near Baghdad last year and shot in retaliation for American casualties, according to an Army statement yesterday and earlier testimony in the case. Sgt. John E. Hatley, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr., who were part of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd "Dagger" Brigade, were charged with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice. Four other soldiers from the unit were charged earlier with conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. The Iraqis were killed in March or April 2007, according to the Army statement. The incident first surfaced in January when one of the four soldiers approached an Army lawyer.
Cunningham and Quigley appeared at a preliminary hearing in August in Germany, and an Army criminal investigator testified that Cunningham first provided an account of the incident to an Army lawyer. "He was tired of holding it back," the investigator testified, according to a report in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. The killings took place after a gun battle with insurgents. In a statement, Cunningham identified the shooters and named 14 soldiers who were in the area when the killings occurred, according to testimony at the August hearing. Attorneys for Cunningham and Quigley said the two were some distance from the site of the killings. After the shootings, Hatley allegedly told soldiers in the unit not to talk about what had happened, according to witness testimony. And the soldiers maintained silence until Cunningham came forward in January. Hatley and Leahy have also been charged with one count each of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder in a death near Baghdad in January 2007. The Army statement provided no details about that killing except to describe it as a separate incident. Leahy was also charged with being an accessory after the fact.
John Hughes from the Christian Science Monitor covers the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), the 38,000 strong dissident group who once mounted military operations against the Tehran regime from sanctuary in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. They have been disarmed and placed under the protection of American forces since the US invasion of Iraq. They are a sticking point between the Americans and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is putting on pressure to have them deported back to Iran, where they could likely face torture or death.
To hand over the Mujahideen to a cruel fate at the hands of Iran would probably cause an outcry among the American public, and in the US Congress, where the former Iranian fighters have substantial support. Indeed, they are credited by US sources with having provided earlier accurate information about clandestine Iranian nuclear facilities. But not to accede to Tehran's demand to hand them over could hinder any broader negotiations for less tension in the US-Iran relationship. Refugee status in the US might seem an obvious solution to the problem. But in another bizarre twist, the Iranian Mujahideen members, who are considered "protected persons" under the Geneva Convention by US forces in their "Camp Ashraf" north of Baghdad, are actually listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department. They allegedly supported the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. British courts and the European Court of Justice have ordered that the PMOI be removed from their respective lists of proscribed organizations.
As Hughes writes, “It is a decision that pits principle, humanitarianism, and national self-interest against one another. “

The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Perez reports that federal prosecutors on Wednesday unsealed charges against alleged members of a global network procuring potentially sensitive electronic components for Iran -- including some, they said, that were used to make deadly roadside bombs used against U.S. troops in Iraq. Iraqis who have been killed by them aren’t mentioned.
The grand jury indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, charged eight companies and eight people, including Iranian, Malaysian and British nationals, with violating the U.S. embargo that restricts export of certain goods with dual commercial and military uses to Iran. All the individuals involved are believed to be residing outside the U.S., including in Britain and Dubai. U.S. prosecutors charged a global network with procuring electronic components for Iran, some of which were used in making roadside bombs in Iraq like the improvised explosive device that damaged this Humvee. U.S. officials have warned for years that American-made equipment illegally exported to Iran could be aiding insurgents who kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Among the equipment listed are hundreds of global-positioning-system devices and 12,000 Microchip micro-controllers, which have been identified in the manufacture of IEDs, according to prosecutors.

Falah Mustafa Bakir, Minister of the Department of Foreign Relations for the Kurdistan Regional Government writes a letter to the editors of the Washington Post, regarding Amit R. Paley’s Sept. 13 front-page story "Strip of Iraq 'on the Verge of Exploding' ".
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its pesh merga forces are not seeking control of the city of Khanaqin. More than 90 percent of the residents of Khanaqin are Kurdish, and the city was peaceful until Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent Iraqi military forces there last month in an unwelcome and unnecessary provocation that sparked demonstrations by tens of thousands of residents. ...The KRG is fully committed to a peaceful, democratic and federal Iraq, but we reject such intimidation from the prime minister. Furthermore, we are becoming alarmed at the increasingly threatening nationalist rhetoric that some Iraqi Arab parties have directed at the Kurds, which brings back memories of the approach of previous Iraqi governments to the Kurds.
As always, there are heightened emotions on this issue. There is, of course, good reason for this, but it doesn’t give one the feeling that anybody has much negotiating in mind. Read Paley’s original article here.

Thane Rosenbaum, a novelist, essayist and law professor at Fordham University, writes an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal called ”Victory is an Orphan in Iraq”. He begins by noting the security gains in Iraq. “Yet,” he writes...

...instead of rejoicing and a ticker-tape parade, our political leaders and opinion makers speak of immediate timetables for the contraction and withdrawal of our troops, the counting of our losses and the atonement for our sins. Few speak of the war with any sense of pride or patriotism. Never before has a nation so distanced itself from a military triumph. There is an overarching taboo associated with any acknowledgment that it may have benefited Iraqis and Americans. Buried beneath the mosh pit of President Bush's declining approval ratings, Iraq remains a continuing source of shame.
Not too much to say about this one. Your political leanings (and definition of "military triumph") will decide what you think of it before you get through the first sentence.

Bing West adds to the many positive reviews of veteran journalist Dexter Filkins’ book about his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, “The Forever War”. He calls it “splendid”, and says that “Filkins's singular skill in this book rests in showing how war shatters lives and how some people manage to survive amid fear, violence, intrigue and chaos.” On the other hand, he also writes “In many of these stories, Filkins depicts loss and grief uncompensated by accomplishment. To him, it seems, war is sound and fury, signifying nothing except pathos and irony.” Still, the book is given very good grades overall.

Daily Column
A look at female suicide bombers: Iraq drive for voters lags
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/17/2008 01:57 AM ET
Odierno’s the man of the hour, and the word of the day. There are a few other stories as well, covering female suicide bombers, Iraqi voters, and an American woman who is desperately trying to stand trial for aiding the previous Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein.

From Iraq
Gen. Ray Odierno assumed command of American forces in Iraq on Tuesday, and everyone reported on it. He is taking over Gen. David H. Petraeus’ old post, and is stepping into the job as the United States starts to reduce troop levels and as the Iraqi government asserts more control over its security. As has been the style of Petraeus, Odierno spoke with caution about Iraq's future at the ceremony held in Baghdad’s Camp Victory, as did just about everyone else who spoke. A big point was made that the security gains in Iraq are “fragile” and “reversible”(no “mission accomplished" signs were to be seen). That being said, there couldn’t have been more praise for Petraeus, on his way out and up, to lead the Army’s Central Command. Hopefully he can get used to the climate and culture in Florida, where the command center in charge of two wars, and covering operations in East Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia is based. The articles covering it in four different papers are similar, and that makes sense. Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post summed up some of the challenges that Odeirno faces as follows.
One of the short-term challenges he will face is the handover of the Sons of Iraq -- tens of thousands of mainly Sunni guards who have helped to improve security -- from U.S. to Iraqi control. The Sunni fighters want jobs in Iraq's security forces, but the Shiite-led government says some of the fighters have backgrounds as insurgents or are unqualified to join the police or the military. Also, Iraq and the United States remain in contentious negotiations over the terms under which American troops will be allowed to remain in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.
Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor has a slightly more extensive piece than the rest, due to more quotes from sources back in America.
"The main uncertainties at this point are probably in Washington rather than in Iraq," says James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, a US think tank. No major changes are anticipated in Iraqi political leadership. Even US Ambassador Ryan Crocker is expected to remain in office for at least the first several months after the next president takes office. The US political future, however, is much more amorphous, says Mr. Dobbins. "In Washington you'll have a new administration with new priorities, a growing demand for troops in Afghanistan, and a diminished appetite for the war in Iraq." Winning the confidence of a new US president, he says, will probably be one of Odierno's biggest challenges.
Thom Shanker and Stephen Farrell of the New York Times gave some detail of the hour long ceremony, attended by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, acting commander of the Central Command; and senior Iraqi government and military officials. Jim Michaels of USA Today runs down the basic facts.

The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan writes a feature from Baquba on the phenomenon of female suicide bombers in Iraq. Since the 2003 invasion, 53 Iraqi women have either carried out suicide attacks or were apprehended before they could do so, killing more than 370 people and injuring 650, according to the U.S. military. This year, there have been 31 female bombers, including 17 in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. The youngest bomber was 13, according to U.S. military statistics. Many articles about female suicide bombers to date have mostly painted them as unwitting pawns. While Raghavan gives further examples of this, he also writes that many are fueled by the same hatred as their male counterparts.
In a village east of Fallujah in Anbar province, a veiled, olive-skinned woman described herself as the second in command of the Naseeba al-Ansariya Martyrdom Battalion. The unit is an arm of the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group created by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. She said the 20 members of the group, formed in November, were would-be suicide bombers who were the wives, sisters or daughters of insurgents killed by U.S. or Iraqi forces. Contacted through previously successful means of reaching members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the woman gave her name as Um Islam and agreed to speak to a Post special correspondent on condition that her real name and precise location not be mentioned. Women, she said, had long been involved in the Sunni insurgency. Some came from other countries with husbands who were determined to become fighters in Iraq. The women treated wounded insurgents and carried explosives belts underneath their garments, taking advantage of conservative Muslim traditions, Um Islam said. A U.S. military intelligence official said he had no knowledge of Arab women accompanying their husbands to Iraq. "Searching women at the time was a red line, and there were no women guards searching other women at the checkpoints," explained Um Islam, an Iraqi who said her husband was killed by U.S. forces last year. But as fighters died in increasing numbers, she said, "hatred and a sense of revenge" drove their widows to rise up against the Americans.
Examples of women who arrived at checkpoints, police stations, etc. with explosive vests or belts are given. Some are successful in their missions, like one in the opening of the piece that causes a blast that kills an Awakening leader. Others are not, such as one in Baquba named Rania who was stopped before the vest went off. A transcript of her initial interrogation is of interest, as is the video clip which accompanies the online version of the story, which shows her being caught, along with the interrogation.
"There's a definite correlation between pressure we've put on al-Qaeda, in stopping funding and stopping foreign fighters from coming into Iraq, and the rise in female suicide attacks," said Col. Scott Maw, a U.S. military intelligence officer. Abu Abdul Aziz al-Mohammadi, an al-Qaeda leader in Anbar, conceded that women are being recruited because there were fewer Arab fighters. Many male Iraqi insurgents, he added, are less willing to "die in car bombs or wear explosives belts." "We consider the women's battalion a winning card which has not been used effectively up to now," Mohammadi said. "They have a penchant for vengeance more than men sometimes. Also, a woman blowing herself up applies pressure on the men who refuse to do the same."
Raghavan continues that, in Baghdad, the fear of female bombers has persuaded officials to create the National Institute for Handicapped and Special Needs, a school for children with mental impairments that is funded by U.S. reconstruction money.
Girls and boys are given an hour's lesson every week on how to identify Iraq's dangers. On a recent day, teachers drew stick diagrams of insurgents on whiteboards and posted colorful crayon drawings of bombs and other explosives on walls. "This is an explosives belt. Don't ever get close to it," teacher Zena Abbas told the class. "If a stranger comes to you and gives you a toy or money and asks you to put on an explosives belts, say no. He wants you to blow yourself up and die. And then you will hurt many people for no reason."
Says one of the women from the groups claiming to be behind the bombings, "We have one woman who is pregnant and is now waiting to deliver," she added, "after which she will be in line for a martyrdom operation."

The Wall Street Journal’s Gina Chon and Zaineb Naji report that, as Iraq's parliament haggles over an election law, election officials say they are disappointed by low voter registration ahead of provincial polling that could take place this year. Last month, only 2.9 million out of 17 million eligible voters went to election centers during a registration drive, according to election-commission figures. That was after officials extended their deadline by a week. Just 100,000 of Iraq's internally displaced population of more than two million have applied for absentee ballots.
The low rate won't necessarily translate into low turnout. Iraqis who voted in the last election, in 2005, didn't need to reregister if their personal details hadn't changed. More than eight million people voted then in Iraq's first free elections in decades. Participation in the drive was seen as a gauge of voter excitement amid a relative improvement in security across the country. To encourage voting, Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged Iraqis to participate in the drive. The turnout was "very disappointing," said Faraj al-Haidari, the head of Iraq's election commission.The apparent apathy coincides with criticism of the government for failing to take advantage of security gains to improve basic services. Unemployment is rampant and there is little evidence of promised reconstruction in many areas.”
Chon and Naji cite these poor conditions and poor services as one of the main causes of the low registration. "The streets are unpaved and there is almost no drinking water so why should I vote again?" said Suham Ali, a 50-year-old Kurd who lives in oil-rich Kirkuk in the north of the country. "The Kurdish politicians are just fighting with each other to get posts while we are seeking to get a piece of bread."
The major sticking point is oil-rich Kirkuk, an area claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen. Kurds dominate the Kirkuk provincial council. As part of any compromise in Baghdad among sects, voting in Kirkuk is likely to be delayed, lawmakers said. The results of the voter drive contrast with the euphoria that surrounded the January 2005 elections to choose an interim parliament, which saw about 60% voter turnout. That turnout was seen as an especially high figure considering many polling stations were blown up by insurgents and Sunnis boycotted the elections. The registration results suggest a silver lining: The U.N. says that of the 2.9 million people who showed up at registration centers, about 1.8 million of them were new voters from areas with substantial Sunni populations. The 2005 Sunni boycott essentially locked the sect out of the government, exacerbating tension with Shiites and Kurds who performed well in the polling.
Benjamin Weiser of the New York Times reports that a federal judge in Manhattan has ruled that Susan P. Lindauer, a former journalist and Congressional aide who was accused of working with Iraqi intelligence before the war, is still mentally incompetent to stand trial. It’s an odd story, all right.
Ms. Lindauer, who had been declared incompetent for trial by Judge Michael B. Mukasey, now the United States attorney general, tried to persuade a different judge that she was now competent. But the second judge, Loretta A. Preska of Federal District Court, ruled late Monday that while Ms. Lindauer was “highly intelligent” and “generally capable of functioning at a high level in many ways,” she also was suffering from a mental disease or defect. As a result, the judge said, Ms. Lindauer was “unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against her or to assist properly in her defense.”
Ms. Lindauer, 45, who pleaded not guilty to the charges against her, which include acting as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein’s government and engaging in illegal financial transactions with the Iraqi government, said, “I am disgusted and horrified by the decision. The right to a trial is fundamental in a democracy. I have been fighting for a trial because I am innocent and I believe I have the right to prove my innocence.”
The judge cited the testimony of a government psychiatrist who said that Ms. Lindauer claimed to have special powers and that she had indicated she once met with Osama bin Laden, who disclosed to her the location of a bomb. The judge said that demonstrated “a lack of connection with reality.” Judge Preska also cited Ms. Lindauer’s behavior in court last year, when, after being admonished not to speak without first consulting with her lawyer, she stuffed tissues in her mouth. That was “not the response of someone rationally connected to the proceedings,” Judge Preska said.
Washington Post op-ed columnist David Ignatius has a piece called “20 Months in Baghdad”, in which he gives Gen. David Petraeus a hero’s sendoff.
The night before Gen. David Petraeus turned over command here, a group of senior officers gathered at Camp Victory to say goodbye. It was like a football team's testimonial dinner at the end of a winning season: There were steaks and baked potatoes and a highlight film of the general's 20-month command, scored with rock music, called "Surge of Hope." The signature line of the video was a statement Petraeus made to Congress when he began what seemed to many people like mission impossible: "Hard is not hopeless." That was his closing comment, too, as he relinquished command in an elaborate ceremony yesterday at the gilded Al Faw Palace. But now, he said, Iraq was "still hard but hopeful." Petraeus did something astonishing here. It wasn't simply managing the "surge" of U.S. troops, whose precise effects military historians will be debating for years. It was that he restored confidence and purpose for a military that had begun to think, deep down, that this war was unwinnable and unsustainable. By force of will, Petraeus and his president, George W. Bush, turned that around. They didn't win in Iraq, but they created the possibility of an honorable exit.
Petraeus’ penchant for being, though soft-spoken, more involved in the political side of wartime decision-making than most generals is listed as an attribute that helped him achieve what he did, as was his consistent cultivation of the media in those 20 months. The problems that remain in Iraq, behind the headlines of increased security, are given brief mention but are not focused on extensively. Ignatius brings it to a close with, “Iraq is still a bruised country. It will bleed for years. But the very fact that it is still a country at all is a tribute to a remarkable American general and his insistence that ‘hard is not hopeless.’”

Daily Column
Gates in Iraq: Ex GOP House Leader says Cheney linked Hussein and al-Qaeda
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/16/2008 02:00 AM ET
Nothing kills Iraq coverage like bad news from Wall Street. Still, there’s Gates in Iraq for Petraeus’ departure, some opinions, and a new book makes claims about VP Dick Cheney perhaps bending the truth a little to a congressional leader that was wavering on whether or not to support the invasion of Iraq.

From Baghdad
Ernesto Londoño for the Washington Post reports that more than 30 people were killed in bombings in Iraq on Monday, including one in the city of Balad Ruz in Diyala province, in which a female suicide bomber attacked policemen gathered to celebrate the release of a fellow officer from an American detention facility, Iraqi officials said. At least 20 people were killed and 30 injured in the bombing, according to Lt. Gen. Abdel-Karim al-Rubaie, the commander of military operations in the province. "Despite the fact that a lot of police officers were invited, I notice that there were no security procedures to search the guests," said an Iraqi Red Crescent employee who was wounded in the explosion. Twin bombings near Baghdad’s main passport office killed at least 12 people, and wounded at least 40, including at least 22 soldiers. On Sunday night, an Iraqi policemen was among two killed outside a popular Baghdad ice cream shop.
Gen. Mizher Mishaher, the commander of the Iraqi army's 11th division, said his troops were targeted Monday while they were on patrol. "They try to challenge us with these criminal attacks but it will only increase our insistence to abolish them," Mishaher said. He said insurgents have stepped up attacks against his troops because they have been successful in running insurgents out of havens in Baghdad.
...The blasts occurred seconds apart, according to a Washington Post employee who was trying to renew his passport at the time. Shortly after the explosions, Iraqi soldiers began shooting in the air to dispel the crowd gathered at the site because they feared a third explosion might take place.
Londoño also makes brief mention of Gen. Petraeus’ farewell letter to Iraqi troops, as he officially moves on to Central Command.

The New York Times’ Thom Shanker and Stephen Farrell cover Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arriving in Iraq to meet Iraqi officials and preside over Tuesday’s change-of-command ceremony, as Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno takes over from Gen. David H. Petraeus as the senior American officer in Iraq. General Petraeus “has played a historic role” in his “translation of a great strategy into a great success in very difficult circumstances,” Mr. Gates said, and described the challenge of the months ahead, saying the central question was “how do we preserve the gains that have already been achieved, and expand upon them, even as the numbers of U.S. forces are shrinking?”
On the eve of the formal change-of-command ceremony, Mr. Gates hosted a dinner Monday night during which he presented General Petraeus with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and, in a surprise, presented Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador here, with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service, the Pentagon’s top honor for someone not in uniform. Mr. Gates joked that the general and the ambassador played “good cop, bad cop” — but alternating the roles — and he praised them for having forged the strongest, most successful diplomatic-military working relationship in more than a generation. Speaking before the blasts in Baghdad and Diyala, General Petraeus said the average number of attacks a day was down to 25 from 180 at the height of the violence in June 2007, and praised the role of Iraqi and American-led coalition forces during his time in command.
“I don’t use words like victory or defeat,” he said. “In fact, I am a realist, not an optimist or a pessimist. And the reality is that there has been significant progress but there are still serious challenges.” Among them are the dissolution of Awakening councils, or “Sons of Iraq”, the U.S.-backed fighters that are credited with breaking the back of many Sunni insurgent groups in much of Iraq. On Oct. 1, funding and control of Awakening forces will begin to be switched to the Iraqi government.
Many of the groups are filled with former Sunni insurgents who are now on the American payroll, and some of their leaders are unhappy at the Shiite-led government’s plans to absorb only around 20 percent of them into the police and army, and the remainder into other programs. Asked if 20 percent was enough to satisfy the Sunni groups, General Petraeus said: “Clearly it depends on what is done for the other 80 percent.” He said that Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki had given a commitment to him and other American commanders “that the government of Iraq will honor the Sons of Iraq and ensure that it recognizes appropriately the services that they have provided to Iraq in the fight against extremism.” Speaking at a podium alongside General Petraeus, Iraq’s defense minister, Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi, insisted that the Iraqi government was working to move the Sons of Iraq into the government system “gradually.”
Also included is a basic explanation of the recent bombings.

Jeff Leen of the Washington Post reports that, according to a new book by Washington Post investigative reporter Barton Gellman, a GOP congressional leader who was wavering on giving President Bush the authority to wage war in late 2002 said Vice President Cheney misled him by saying that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had direct personal ties to al-Qaeda terrorists and was making rapid progress toward a suitcase nuclear weapon. Could Dick Cheney have really misrepresented the threat to America in the events that led to the invasion of Iraq?(*insert sarcastic remark here)
Cheney's assertions, described by former House majority leader Richard K. Armey (Tex.), came in a highly classified one-on-one briefing in Room H-208, the vice president's hideaway office in the Capitol. The threat Cheney described went far beyond public statements that have been criticized for relying on "cherry-picked" intelligence of unknown reliability. There was no intelligence to support the vice president's private assertions, Gellman reports, and they "crossed so far beyond the known universe of fact that they were simply without foundation." Armey had spoken out against the coming war, and his opposition gave cover to Democrats who feared the political costs of appearing to be weak. Armey reversed his position after Cheney told him, he said, that the threat from Iraq was actually " more imminent than we want to portray to the public at large." Cheney said, according to Armey, that Iraq's "ability to miniaturize weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear," had been "substantially refined since the first Gulf War," and would soon result in "packages that could be moved even by ground personnel." Cheney linked that threat to Hussein's alleged ties to al-Qaeda, Armey said, explaining that "we now know they have the ability to develop these weapons in a very portable fashion, and they have a delivery system in their relationship with organizations such as al-Qaeda."
"Did Dick Cheney . . . purposely tell me things he knew to be untrue?" Armey asked. "I seriously feel that may be the case. . . . Had I known or believed then what I believe now, I would have publicly opposed resolution right to the bitter end, and I believe I might have stopped it from happening."

Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt gives a good deal of credit for President Bush’s decision to order the “surge” to his national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley. He begins by writing “It's easy to forget the utter hopelessness that had settled on Washington with regard to Iraq less than two years ago,” and sets the stage for a very unpopular decision which Hadley began pushing for.
With the State and Defense departments opposed, Congress in Democratic hands, and the public skeptical of anything Bush would say on Iraq, he realized the limits of the president's power. A decree from the White House that was seen as directly opposing Pentagon wishes would undermine morale, confuse the country and fail in implementation. So Hadley patiently worked the interagency system, the tedious task forces and review groups, to garner at least the appearance of consensus. He didn't seek credit and in fact tried not to be viewed as an advocate of any one idea. But he made sure that the one idea that counted would not get quashed. "You have got to give the president the option of a surge in forces," he told an interagency task force in November 2006, as Woodward recounts. "You can all take your positions for or against or in between, but you have to present him that as an option."
Wall Street Journal “Main Street” columnist William McGurn tries to revive the debate about whether or not Iraq was ever in a “civil war”, the idea being that, since security has improved, it couldn’t have been. He gloats thusly...
If the editors of the New York Times changed the paper's line on Iraq and no one called them on it, would it make a noise? Like the proverbial tree falling in an empty forest? Something of the kind seems to have happened to the Times use of "civil war" to describe the conflict in Iraq. In the fall of 2006, the Times began insisting Iraq was in a civil war. And in the year that followed, the paper's editorials routinely castigated George W. Bush for refusing to acknowledge it.
He finishes with “The fact is, though some of its columnists call Iraq a civil war, the Times hasn't run an editorial saying so since last November. Could that editorial silence be the Gray Lady's way of admitting a mistake? If I were the president, I think I'd take that as a ‘yes.’”

Iraq on the Stage
The New York Times offers a review by Charles Isherwood “Beast”, a new play about U.S. veterans, wounded in Iraq and on their way home from a military hospital in Germany. Isherwood finds it effective on some counts, but falling a little short, due to the focus on politics, instead of people.
Ben (the main character) is presumably meant to be some sort of supernatural manifestation of the collective psyche of the soldiers who have suffered and died in the Iraq war. But a real man grappling with the painful challenges of reintegrating into society after enduring a terrible ordeal would more powerfully illustrate the cost of the war.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
U.S. Military's intellegence gathering lauded: Petraeus' farewell letter
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/15/2008 02:01 AM ET
Not a big day of Iraq-related coverage. Still, some stories worth reading.

From Baghdad
Sam Dagher of the New York Times reports that a Sunni Arab leader of an Awakening group in Baghdad who had been a proponent of reconciliation in his neighborhood was assassinated over the weekend. This is just one in a string of recent attacks on Awakening (or Sahwa) leaders in Iraq. The leader was Fouad Ali Hussein al-Douri, a Sunni mosque imam who directed a group of about 65 guards in the Jihad neighborhood in western Baghdad. The almost 100,000 strong Awakening program, made up of many former insurgent groups such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, is currently on the U.S. payroll, but as of October 1, funding and management will be handed over to the Iraqi government. Of late, relations between the mostly Sunni Awakening Councils and the Shiite-led government have become increasingly strained.
Mr. Douri’s death is a double blow, given his efforts to promote Sunni-Shiite coexistence in a section of Baghdad especially riven by sectarian killing and displacement. Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador, specifically mentioned Jihad in October as a place that was “critical” for preserving security gains in Baghdad. It was unclear who was responsible for Mr. Douri’s death. Relatives and friends blamed the government. “The Awakenings are being targeted by the government, Iran and Al Qaeda elements linked to Iran and other neighboring countries,” said Nusayef Jassim Muhammad, Mr. Douri’s cousin and neighbor. Mr. Douri was killed when a bomb concealed in shrubs was detonated as he drove his car into his driveway on Saturday night. At Mr. Douri’s funeral on Sunday, a simple wood coffin was carried out of his home by members of the citizen patrol he commanded, as women in black wailed and slapped their faces in grief.
“I do not think I am interested in a job in the police or army anymore,” said a Jihad Guard member who gave his name as Mohammed. “Not like before. He’s gone. He was the tent that held us all together.” Dagher also mentions that two police officers were killed and six civilians wounded by a car bomb that exploded Sunday next to an ice cream shop in Baghdad’s Jadriya neighborhood, and was followed by a bomb attack in the Mansour district that wounded two policemen. In northern Iraq, two roadside bombs hit a police convoy on the outskirts of Jalawla, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing five policemen and wounding seven. In other news, Iraq’s Parliament is abuzz with the recent visit of a lawmaker to Israel to attend a conference on terrorism. Parliament voted to strip the lawmaker, Mithal al-Alousi, an independent Sunni Arab, of his immunity and recommended that he be prosecuted for “dealing with the enemy.” Also, Gen. David H. Petraeus, on his way to lead Central Command, distributed a final letter of thanks to the troops on Sunday in which he underscored his view that Iraq’s stability remained fragile and tenuous.

Jim Michaels of USA Today dedicates a whole article to Petraeus’ farewell letter, which told the troops that they have brought hope to a country that had been "besieged by extremists" and on the verge of civil war. "Your accomplishments have, in fact, been the stuff of history," Petraeus wrote.
The counterinsurgency campaign over the past year has led to a dramatic drop in violence. In Baghdad alone, enemy attacks have declined 87% over the past year, according to the U.S. division in the capital. They now average about three a day. "Indeed, your great work, sacrifice, courage and skill have helped reverse a downward spiral toward civil war and to wrest the initiative from the enemies of the new Iraq," Petraeus told his troops as he prepared to leave Iraq. The reinforcements, about five combat brigades, have since returned to the United States, but violence has continued to decline.
Gen. Petraeus will take over Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters in charge of operations in North-east Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will be replaced by Gen. Raymond Odierno, until now the No. 2 ranking American officer in Iraq, under Petraeus.

Washington Post staff photographer Andrea Bruce continues her series of single photos accompanied by a small article, documenting the lives of people in Iraq. Today’s installment tells the story of widows and orphans living in squalor, in rows of trailers looking very much out-of-place inside Baghdad's Kadhimiyah neighborhood. She focuses on a woman named Noria Khalif Abdullah. As always, Bruce’s slice-of-life writing and photo is worth a gander.
The Iraqi government opened this community of 150 trailer homes in late July to house widows and their children. Like many of the women here, Noria stayed with her parents after her husband died. But after a year with more than 25 people in one house, she and her children had worn out their welcome. She had no choice but to move her family into these foreign-looking trailers. In the walled park, services such as electricity and water have been neglected by the government, she says. Many families left, deciding to risk their lives squatting in the empty houses nearby. Noria cleans okra for lunch and looks out the door, which is always open to release the heat trapped inside the metal-walled trailer.

Walter Pincus of the Post reports on the successes of "ISR" (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) which has become the new silver bullet in counterinsurgency. Pincus describes it as “a series of new sensors and other electronic collection and analytic gadgets”. Last July, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates approved shifting more than $1 billion to ISR programs from other fiscal 2008 Pentagon budget accounts. The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee announced last week that it had provided an additional $750 million "to fund high priority intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance initiatives" in the fiscal 2009 defense appropriations bill. An article is quoted from a recent issue of the Joint Force Quarterly journal written by Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and two of his subordinates, Lt. Col. Nichoel E. Brooks and Lt. Col. Francesco P. Mastracchio. In a section of the article, they describe a recent combat operation in which a variety of ISR assets were used to destroy an insurgent mortar team.

Initially, a counterfire radar detected, tracked and determined the location of a firing point and sent that data to an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). That UAV maintained contact through full motion video with the mortar site while information was sent to alert close support aircraft. The brigade tactical operations center brought in another UAV which, they wrote, "provided clear evidence of mortar tubes being transferred to a second truck." The close air support plane destroyed the mortar team, and a UAV immediately verified its destruction. Success was attributed, they wrote, to the brigade commander being able "to orchestrate FMV assets based on rapid feedback from intelligence analysts supporting the commander and tipping and cueing from multidiscipline intelligence sensors."
Pincus continues.
“Being Army officers, Odierno and his colleagues wrote that while close air support is an "invaluable capability that brings large amounts of firepower to the fight in short order," they think that brigade commanders need more ISR rather than armed UAVs. ISR assets, they concluded, "are some of the best tools our ground commanders have in breaking through that fog ."
The Wall Street Journal’s “Review and Outlook” page gives us a piece called “Bush’s Lonely Decision”, citing Bob Woodward’s celebrated new book about the decision-making process of President Bush, and the infighting that occurred, as the choice to enact the “surge” was made. Woodward’s conclusions are panned, but he is also praised for reporting the events in such detail.
That's one reason to welcome "The War Within," the fourth installment in Bob Woodward's account of the Bush Presidency. As is often the case with the Washington Post stalwart, the reporting is better than the analysis, which reflects the Beltway conventional wisdom of a dogmatic and incurious President. But even as a (very) rough draft of history, we read Mr. Woodward's book as an instructive profile in Presidential decision-making.
The argument is pretty well summed-up by the closing of the article, as follows.
The success of the surge in pacifying Iraq has been so swift and decisive that it's easy to forget how difficult it was to find the right general, choose the right strategy, and muster the political will to implement it. It is also easy to forget how many obstacles the State and Pentagon bureaucracies threw in Mr. Bush's way, and how much of their bad advice he had to ignore, especially now that their reputations are also benefiting from Iraq's dramatic turn for the better. Then again, American history offers plenty of examples of wartime Presidents who faced similar challenges: Ulysses Grant became Lincoln's general-in-chief in 1864, barely a year before the surrender at Appomattox. What matters most is that the President had the fortitude to insist on winning. That's a test President Bush passed -- something history, if not Bob Woodward, will recognize.

Christian Science Monitor, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Bombings in Baghdad, Khanaqin: Petreaus's part in security gains looked at
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/14/2008 00:35 AM ET
The bombings continue in Iraq, as do tensions between the Kurdish leadership and the Iraqi government. General Petraeus' tactics are praised in one article, there’s an opinion piece that backs it up, and both newly-released powerhouse books on Iraq are reviewed by the newspapers the books’ authors work for.

From Baghdad
Friday’s grizzly death-toll was followed by more explosions on Saturday, as eight Kurdish pesh merga soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in the city of Khanaqin, a disputed part of eastern Diyala Province on Saturday. Four Iraqi journalists were also killed in Mosul, and a bomb concealed in a kiosk used to sell ice killed three Iraqi police commandos and a member of a Sunni Awakening in Baghdad. Details are scant on the Baghdad incident, but of the two accounts published today, Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post has the most information on the slain journalists.
The journalists were part of a team from al-Sharqiya television shooting a piece for a series about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, according to a member of the team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he fears for his life. Shortly after some of the journalists walked into a house in the northern city of Mosul, men drove up and kidnapped four of them, he said. heir bodies were found nearby an hour later. The journalists had been visiting low-income families across the country and giving them gifts and food for iftar, the evening meal that ends the fast between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan. One of the slain journalists, Musaab al-Azzawi, was the son of an Iraqi lawmaker. The others were identified as Ahmed Salim, Ehaab Mua'ath and Qidar Suliman.
The Khanaqin bombing adds to tensions with the Iraqi government and local Arabs over the Kurds’ presence there, and the area’s senior pesh merga commander is reportedly one of the dead.Sam Dagher from the New York Times sums up the situation best.
The Kurdish presence in Khanaqin, and in other nearby areas, has been a growing source of tension. Kurdish forces have been moving beyond the borders of their semiautonomous region in northern Iraq, in what they say is an effort to improve security. But the move has been viewed by many Iraqi and American officials as a threat to stability in areas that are already prone to violence...
(For more detailed background on the present tension between the KRG and the Iraqi central government over places like Khanaqin, see Amit R. Paley’s piece in yesterday’s Post)

For the most meat-and-potatoes today, Linda Robertson of the Washington Post has an article she calls “He came, he cut deals, he may conquer”, in which she asks how the dramatic security gains in Iraq were made, and what part General David H. Petraeus had in it all. She begins with a critique of the two most popular opposing Washington arguments on the issue, ones that she rightly dismisses as a bit too simplistic.
Many conservatives believe that the 2007 "surge" in U.S. troop levels directly produced the decline in Iraqi violence. Meanwhile, liberals argue that Iraq's warring Shiites and Sunnis spontaneously decided -- for their own internal reasons, unrelated to the surge -- to stop fighting. As is so often true of Washington debates, these arguments bear little relation to the reality of how Iraq actually pulled out of its death spiral, which is far more interesting than either partisan yarn. There was no single silver bullet, but rather a multifaceted strategy crafted and carried out by those in Baghdad -- not, despite recent claims, in Washington.
At the heart of her point is the idea that the part Petraeus played was not only of a military leader, but that of a leader who was willing (as those in the league of L. Paul Bremer never were) to reach out to actual Iraqis to promote constructive understanding to reach a common goal. She says, “...for the first time since the war began, a U.S. leader decided to address the political motivations of the Iraqi combatants.”
While policymakers back in Washington continued to be duped by sectarian-minded Shiite politicians, Petraeus and Crocker set about using all available levers -- including thinking about Iraqi politics -- to rectify the earlier, catastrophic U.S. blunders. The extra surge brigades certainly helped, but the number of U.S. troops was far less important than the new ways in which they were used. The most important new tactical move still gets scant Beltway attention: Petraeus's initiative to reach out to the Sunni insurgency and its base. "We cannot kill our way to victory," he said. On June 2, 2007, Petraeus gathered his commanders and told them to engage with influential Sunnis and insurgents and persuade them to stop fighting. "Tribal engagement and local reconciliation work!" he said. "Encourage it!"
On the Shiite side of things, she gives him credit as well.
Another major change over the past 18 months is also poorly understood: the decision of the Mahdi Army, the radical Shiite militia led by Moqtada al-Sadr, to largely stop fighting. Sadr, a young firebrand Islamist cleric, raised a militia of poor youths to take on U.S. troops, even as he backed his fellow Shiite, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, through political channels. Then last August, Sadr abruptly declared a ceasefire. That move has been widely misinterpreted as a spontaneous, unilateral gesture; in fact, it came after months of military and political pressure.
She doesn’t pretend to have quite all the answers, but has a great grasp on what would lead one to make a pretty good guess at what they are, and what the possible outcomes are. She finishes with, “No, the Iraqis can't finish the job on their own now; at the same time, no, we don't need 100,000 U.S. troops to stay in Iraq and do it for them. It would be heartening if we could understand the real record of Iraq's turnaround -- and talk about its future like grown-ups.”

John A. Nagl, who is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, was an operations officer in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 and who helped write "The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual." writes a piece in the Washington Post’s Opinion page, entitled “This Time, Things are Looking Up”. He gives an upbeat, yet cautious analysis of the current situation in Iraq, and says that it is a situation that can possibly support real gains for the country. Nagl certainly isn’t the only one with that opinion these days, but the evenhandedness with which he approaches the topic, backed by experience on the ground in Iraq and a wide base of knowledge, make it worth reading.
I am no cheerleader for the war in Iraq. We've made horrible mistakes that cost the lives of too many of my friends, American and Iraqi. It took us too long to learn from our errors and adopt an effective counterinsurgency strategy, and even now the war is far from won. But the way ahead is becoming clearer, with a road map provided by men such as Col. Dominic Caracillo, a brigade commander in the 101st Airborne whose men patrol a patch south of Baghdad that used to be called the Triangle of Death. The soldiers now laughingly refer to it as the "Triangle of Love." A year ago, there were as many as 50 attacks every week; now there are just a few. Caracillo is overseeing a drawdown of U.S. forces; his brigade of about 4,000 soldiers is shipping out, to be replaced by a task force of fewer than 1,000. This force will not conduct counterinsurgency operations, but will support the newly created 17th Division of the Iraqi army. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Ali Jassim Mohammed Hassen al-Frejee, faces his own challenges: He's short of helmets and body armor, and he'd sure like to have some heavy artillery of his own rather than having to rely on ours. Still, as Caracillo says, Ali's forces are "good enough for the enemy they have to face."
Josiah Bunting III reviews “The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008” by Bob Woodward, in the pages of the Washington Post (where Mr. Woodward is an associate editor). What can be said about “The War Within” that hasn’t been said before... every day... in the Washington Post? Well, they can be forgiven for a bit of over-saturation. It is, in fact, pretty big news. The White house feels a need to keep criticizing it, thus keeping it relevant.
The War Within's controversial revelations and contentions are numerous. It details, for example, the Bush administration's spying on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his counselors; the intellectual estrangement between the White House and senior U.S. commanders in Iraq from 2003 to early 2007; and the creation of backchannel means of keeping in touch with officers in Iraq, deliberately circumventing the chain of command. But, mainly, it is a study of what happens when men and women, charged with leading the country in wartime or with counseling those who lead, do not tell each other what they really think. White House advisers are faithless to their responsibilities if they withhold their conclusions and convictions from those they serve, or from their colleagues. It is a toxicity that, by Woodward's account, infected the whole grim process.
Bunting gives the book good grades, adding, “’The War Within’ makes its case quietly and persuasively. Woodward states few conclusions directly. He describes the symptoms in detail, but hands off to his readers the burden of diagnosing what went wrong,” statements that White House spokesmen aren’t likely to see eye-to-eye with.

Another positive review on the other big Iraq-related book just out, this one by New York Times reporter Dexter Fiklins, in the pages of the same paper. “The Forever War” is given great marks by reviewer Robert Stone, as soon as he finishes giving his personal treatise about war and reporting, which takes half of the review (though it can be said that it provides logical background). When he does speak of the book, it is in glowing terms.
It is not facetious to speak of work like that of Dexter Filkins as defining the “culture” of a war. The contrast of his eloquence and humanity with the shameless snake-oil salesmanship employed by the American government to get the thing started serves us well. You might call the work of enlightening and guiding a deliberately misguided public during its time of need a cultural necessity. The work Filkins accomplishes in “The Forever War” is one of the most effective antitoxins that the writing profession has produced to counter the administration’s fascinating contemporary public relations tactic. The political leadership’s method has been the dissemination of facts reversed 180 degrees toward the quadrant of lies, hitherto a magic bullet in their never-ending crusade to accomplish everything from stealing elections to starting ideological wars. Filkins uses the truth as observed firsthand to detail an arid, hopeless policy in an unpromising part of the world. His writing is one of the scant good things to come out of the war.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

Daily Column
US to admit 17,000 Iraqi refugees: KRG make moves to expand borders
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/13/2008 02:00 AM ET
As has been the trend lately, the Washington Post is by far the heaviest on Iraq coverage. Other than the bombing, there’s a feature on the growing border tensions between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad, Iraqi refugees to be admitted to America, and further public criticism by the White House of Bob Woodward’s “The War Within”.

From Iraq
There was a bombing in Dujail, one of the few mainly Shiite areas in Salahuddin province, which killed around 30, and wounded upwards of 47, making it one of the worst single bombings in recent memory. Dujail, 35 miles north of Baghdad, is best known as the scene of a failed attempt on Saddam Hussein’s life in 1982, after which he ordered the execution of 148 residents. This is the crime that he was found guilty of, and sentenced to death for. It was covered by two of the three papers that had editions today. Sam Dagher of the New York Times reports that a car bomb killed 31 and wounded 60.
The bombing occurred at dusk as many residents rushed to make last-minute purchases from the central market before going home to break the daytime fast observed by the majority of Iraqis during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A policeman in Dujail... described a scene of mayhem and destruction that had become less common as violence had dropped countrywide in recent months. The policeman, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak with the news media, said the explosives-packed vehicle blew up amid grocery stalls and butcher shops on the main street just across from the town’s barricaded police headquarters. The impact of the blast destroyed a building that housed several clinics and set at least 10 vehicles ablaze. At least seven women and four children were among the dead, and distraught residents rushed to the scene to search for loved ones, he said.
Ernesto Londoño from the Washington Post reports that it was a truck bomb near a police station. Iraqi officials give the number of dead at 23, but quotes a doctor with higher figures.
Haidar al-Baldawi, a physician at the Balad hospital, provided a higher death toll, saying that 33 people were killed and at least 35 wounded. He said most of the victims were women and children. "We don't have the capability to treat all the victims," Baldawi said in a telephone interview. "We have a shortage of medicine to stop bleeding."
In another attack on Shiites on Friday, two people were killed and 12 were wounded when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest in the town of Sinjar in the northern province of Nineveh. The bomber targeted worshipers as they were exiting the mosque, the American military said. “This period is one of the most delicate periods in Iraq’s history, especially these coming months,” Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, told the London-based Arabic daily newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, in an interview published Thursday.

Since there isn’t too much other news today, proper space can be devoted to the following story. The Washington Post’s Amit R. Paley files a sobering piece from Jalawla, north of Baghdad, in which he reports that Kurdish leaders have expanded their authority over a roughly 300-mile-long swath of territory beyond the borders of their autonomous region in northern Iraq. They have stationed thousands of soldiers in ethnically mixed areas in what Iraqi Arabs see as an encroachment on their homelands. Under his campaign of “Arabization”, Saddam Hussein kicked untold Kurds out of their homes and cities, creating bad feelings for eons to come. Having formed a close-knit alliance with American forces from day-one of the U.S. invasion and having dominion over much of the resources and economy of the most stable region in the country for the last five years, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) confidence seems to grow every day. Recently, this has manifested itself in the Kurdish security forces taking control of areas which may have a history of Kurdish majority population, but may be currently inhabited by other groups. in direct opposition the central government’s orders.
The assertion of greater Kurdish control, which has taken hold gradually since the war began and caused tens of thousands of Arabs to flee their homes, is viewed by Iraqi Arab and U.S. officials as a provocative and potentially destabilizing action. "Quickly moving into those areas to try and change the population and flying KRG flags in areas that are specifically not under the KRG control right now -- that is counterproductive and increases tensions," said Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, referring to the Kurdistan Regional Government, which administers the autonomous region. The long-cherished dream of many of the world's 25 million ethnic Kurds is an independent state that encompasses parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. All but Iraq adamantly oppose Kurdish autonomy, much less a Kurdish state. Iraqi Kurds continue to insist they are not seeking independence, even as they unilaterally expand the territory they control in Iraq. The predominantly Arab-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in recent weeks has sent the Iraqi army to drive Kurdish forces out of some of the lands, ordering Kurdish troops, known as pesh merga, to retreat north of the boundary of the Kurdish autonomous region. The face-off between the Iraqi army and pesh merga has stoked fears of Arab-Kurdish strife just as Iraqis begin to recover from years of sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis.
Kurdish military leaders aren’t apologizing, and the way people are talking, compromise isn’t the word of the day.
"Who could argue that we have not already made this area part of the Kurdish regional government?" asked Nihad Ali, acting commander of a 150-person Kurdish detachment now based in Jalawla, at a headquarters that flies the Kurdish flag next door to the fledgling local Arab police force. "Who spent all the money here? Whose martyrs spilled their blood here? These people are totally reliant on the Kurds. We cannot abandon them." But Arab residents of this town of 70,000 began to chafe over what they described as a campaign to drive them out of their lands. Ahmed Saleh Hennawi al-Nuaimi, an Arab tribal leader in Jalawla and a former army officer under President Saddam Hussein, said the Kurds had imprisoned, kidnapped and killed more than 40 Arabs recently in an attempt to promote "Kurdification," accusations that Kurdish officials reject. "We are now subject to two occupations -- one by the Americans and one by the Kurds," said Nuaimi, who claimed the area is 85 to 90 percent Arab, although Kurds estimate the figure is closer to 50 or 60 percent. "The Kurdish one is much worse by far and is driving the people to become terrorists. This area is now on the verge of exploding." With prodding from angry Arabs such as Nuaimi, the Iraqi army last month ordered the pesh merga's 34th Brigade to withdraw within 24 hours from Jalawla and the surrounding area. The Kurds initially refused. Kurdish officials said they killed only insurgents and were in the area to protect civilians, not occupy territory. But after high-level political negotiations, the 4,000-member brigade pulled back to the mainly Kurdish city of Khanaqin, about 16 miles south of the Kurdish border. Two weeks later, a suicide bomber targeting Arab police recruits in Jalawla killed at least 28 people, an attack the Kurds blamed on Sunni insurgents, and Arabs blamed on Kurds. Last week, Kurdish officials also agreed to withdraw the pesh merga from Khanaqin as long as the Iraqi army agreed not to enter. "We cannot stand by with crossed hands and do nothing in the disputed areas while Kurds are being killed," said Jafar Mustafa Ali, the Kurdish regional government's minister of state for pesh merga affairs. "We will step in as soon as the Iraqi government leaves."
Fearing that the issue could imperil the security gains of the past year, the U.S. government has tried to persuade both sides to back a U.N. process, led by Stefan de Mistura, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq, to present reports on contested areas and put them up to a vote. The strategy has now changed.
Western officials increasingly believe that a referendum in which residents of individual areas decide whether to join the Kurdish autonomous region will only spark greater conflict. De Mistura said the approach now is to have the leaders of each bloc reach a viable compromise, perhaps to be confirmed later through a straight yes-or-no referendum. "At the end of the day, what we need is a grand deal, not a piecemeal approach," de Mistura said.
As for Khanaqin's mayor, Mohammed Mullah Hassan, he says the city would remain under Kurdish control even if the troops all departed. "We are all pesh merga now."

The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus reports that the United States plans to take in a minimum of 17,000 Iraqis over the next 12 months under its refugee program, and an additional 5,000 under a special visa program for Iraqis who formerly worked for the U.S. military and embassy or their contractors, a State Department official said yesterday.
In announcing that the government had reached its goal of 12,000 Iraqi refugees for this fiscal year, Ambassador James B. Foley, the secretary of state's special coordinator for refugees, told reporters that he expected to exceed that total in the coming year. "I think you'll see the U.S. government admitting over the course of fiscal 2009 tens of thousands of Iraqis," Foley said. Advocacy groups were not satisfied with the new goal. Noting that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has reported that 90,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and other neighboring countries are seeking resettlement, said Kristele Younes of Refugees International, "The U.S. certainly met its goal for this year, but next year's target of resettling 17,000 Iraqi refugees falls far short of what is needed."
Dan Eggen continues the Washington Post’s coverage of Iraq with more fallout from Bob Woodward’s newly released book, "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008". The book (in case you haven’t heard of it) “depicts an administration riven by dissension over Iraq war strategy in 2006 and says Bush privately believed U.S. efforts were failing even while declaring publicly that the war was being won.” On Thursday, the White House attacked the book, not for the first time, but with more details. Apparently, they’ve had a chance to read it.
In a lengthy statement issued last night, White House press secretary Dana Perino said that "a thorough and careful reading of the book leads us to conclude that Woodward's prologue and epilogue are not supported by his own reporting in the body of the manuscript." The statement focuses its criticism on Woodward's depiction of the military establishment as being marginalized in the debate over troop levels in Iraq, and his assertion that Bush "maintained an odd detachment" from the management of the war. "In fact, President Bush was engaged with his war cabinet in the process leading up to the decision to surge troops in Iraq," the White House statement says, listing a series of quotes and meetings cited in the book. The citations include meetings between Bush and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, and a quote from Bush: "I will be making the decisions, and the goal is radical action to achieve victory." The White House also faults Woodward's assertion that Bush "rarely leveled with the public" and "rarely was the voice of realism on the Iraq war." The statement again cites Bush quotations: "I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq," he said in October 2006. "I'm not satisfied, either."
Eggen points out that the White House statement does not include another, widely noted quote from the same news conference: "Absolutely, we're winning."
Expect more rebuttals.

Vivien Schweitzer is listed as having written an Iraq-related music review in the New York Times Arts section, but at the time of publishing this post, neither the NYT print or online sites brought up the story when selected (only a “page not found”). It was an interesting classical program promoting peace and observing September 11. Karim Wasfi, the principal cellist and director of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra traveled to New York to perform for a sold-out crowd.
If they’ve fixed the problem, clicking here should give you the story.
If not, have no fear... Iraqslogger was at the show, too. Read our version here.

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

Daily Column
Palin links Iraq to 911 in speech to troops: Biden's partition plan defended
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/12/2008 01:59 AM ET
A decidedly light day of Iraq coverage in U.S. papers. The most important news story today, the cancelling of six oil contracts, was already covered in another paper yesterday. Still, a few interesting things.

From... Tokyo
Martin Fackler of the New York Times reports that Japan announced Thursday that it wanted to withdraw its remaining military personnel from Iraq by year’s end, wrapping up an overseas mission that had pleased Washington but divided this pacifist nation.
Defense Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the country was negotiating a withdrawal of its small military airlift mission because of the improved security situation in Iraq. He said the Iraqi government had asked for a reduction in the presence of foreign military. Mr. Hayashi said his country wanted to shift its priority to Afghanistan, where a Taliban insurgency has been stepping up attacks. The Japanese have ferried equipment and foreign troops between Kuwait and Iraq, including to Baghdad, since 2006 in a mission that involves cargo aircraft and 210 members of Japan’s air force. Before that, from 2004 to 2006, Japan deployed 600 ground troops on a humanitarian mission in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa, in the country’s first overseas deployment since World War II. Japan also still has refueling ships in the Indian Ocean to support American and other vessels involved in the war in Afghanistan. “The importance of operations in Afghanistan has increased,” Mr. Hayashi told reporters, but he gave no more details. However, the future of the Afghan mission is also in question as the law currently authorizing it comes up for renewal in January. Renewing the law may prove difficult because the opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house of Parliament, is against renewal.
“Even if we withdraw the Air Self-Defense personnel, our resolve to support Iraq will not change,” he said.

From Baghdad
The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño writes a similar story to that of Andrew E. Kramer and Campbell Robertson yesterday in the Times, but a day later. The Iraqi government has decided to scrap plans to award no-bid short-term advisory and technical support contracts six of Western oil companies, Iraqi officials said this week, saying that the talks negotiation the contracts took too long.
The companies -- including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, France's Total and British Petroleum -- are expected to submit bids in coming weeks for deals that the Iraqi government hopes will boost exploration and output in its oil fields, which have been hampered by years of war. Industry analysts said the short-term contracts could have helped companies win more lucrative exploration and development deals. The Iraqi government informed the companies about its decision this month, said Assem Jihad, a spokesman for Iraq's Oil Ministry. He said the ministry decided to end the talks because they had dragged on for too long. But he said Iraq looks forward to working with those companies in the future.
Two big oil deals were recently signed: one with China’s National Petroleum Corp. that is a service-only contract, and one this week with Shell, which gives the company a 49 percent share in the proceeds. Iraq has yet to pass a hydrocarbon law, which would regulate oil production in the country.

Anne E. Kornblut from the Washington Post writes a big headline that tells us Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin linked the war in Iraq with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Palin told an Iraq-bound brigade of soldiers that included her son that they would "defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans." Kornblut explains...
The idea that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaeda plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a view once promoted by Bush administration officials, has since been rejected even by the president himself.
This is all true (and politicians who repeatedly mention Iraq and 9-11 in the same sentence in a veiled attempt to link the two in voters’ minds should be questioned), but frankly, the charge seems a little thin with this particular quote, given the actual presence of groups like al-Qaeda In Mesopotamia since the U.S. invasion of 2003. Well, at least the headline will get people to read it (as ours got you to read this). Pvt. 1st Class Palin, 19, is being sent to Iraq as a dismounted infantryman with the Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division.

In the Wall Street Journal, Peter W. Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, takes issue with Dan Senor’s September 9 Journal op-ed “Iraqi Leaders Opposed Biden’s Partition Plan”, which criticized Sen. Joe Biden's plan for a decentralized Iraq. Galbraith makes the point that at least the Kurdish leaders in Iraq support his plan.
Mr. Biden's plan is nothing more than an expression of support for decisions the Iraqi people have already made. While asserting it is doing the opposite, the Bush administration has been pushing along the same lines as the Biden plan. In 2005, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad helped negotiate an Iraqi constitution that establishes powerful regions and an almost powerless central government. And, the Sunni Awakening -- so key to the success of the surge -- is basically a Sunni military comparable to the one the Kurds already have.
Read Senor’s op-ed here, and decide for yourself.

Lee H. Hamilton gives a review of veteran journalist Dexter Filkins’ new book, “The Forever War” for the New York Times. It’s had plenty of coverage in the Times already, but it’s probably worth it, judging from the excerpts that have been released. (Also, it is understandable that the Times might want to give a boost to one of its own, after all the ink that the Washington Post dedicated to Bob Woodward of late.) Hamilton gives good grades to “The Forever War”.
Mr. Filkins’s stories are those of a writer willing to endure hardship, danger and anguish to paint an accurate picture of war for the American public. In Iraq the pursuit of a story can cost a journalist his or her life, a fate Mr. Filkins, a reporter for The New York Times, and others have tempted each day outside the Green Zone in Baghdad. As I read this book, I could not help but contrast his courageous, at times even foolhardy, journalism with the reportage by those restricted to the Green Zone or spoon-fed information by the Defense Department’s powerful public relations machine. No doubt such commentators take some risks, but Mr. Filkins’s experience is of an entirely different magnitude. His prose is as blunt as it is powerful. Iraqis, and Afghanis, have spoken for themselves, and Mr. Filkins has listened carefully.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
"Daughters of Iraq" sign up: So do some investors
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/11/2008 02:00 AM ET
Not a heavy day of Iraq-related news, but not so bad, either. Other than the oil contracts, the “Daughters of Iraq” are covered, and the Iraqi government just might be able to attract some investment (possibly to offset the price of new F-16s).

From Baghdad The New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer and Campbell Robertson report that an Iraqi plan to award six no-bid contracts to Western oil companies, which came under sharp criticism from several United States senators this summer, has been withdrawn, participants in the negotiations said on Wednesday.
Iraq’s oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, told reporters at an OPEC summit meeting in Vienna on Tuesday that talks with Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, Total, BP and several smaller companies for one-year deals, which were announced in June and subsequently delayed, had dragged on for so long that the companies could not now fulfill the work within that time frame. The companies confirmed on Wednesday that the deals had been canceled. While not particularly lucrative by industry standards, the contracts were valued for providing a foothold in Iraq at a time when oil companies are being shut out of energy-rich countries around the world. The companies will still be eligible to compete in open bidding in Iraq. The six no-bid deals were for work to increase Iraqi oil production from existing oil fields by half a million barrels a day — the same amount by which OPEC countries agreed Tuesday to reduce output. After its cancellation of the deals, Iraq reduced by 200,000 barrels per day its goal of producing 2.9 million barrels per day by the end of the year.
Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor writes that, to combat the threat of an alarming rise of female suicide bombers, Iraqis have begun recruiting women for the Daughters of Iraq, a female counterpart to the Sons of Iraq community policing program largely credited with reducing violence in Iraq. Cultural sensitivities do not permit women to be searched by male security guards, at least as thoroughly as men are. This has created a weakness which groups such as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia have been using to their advantage in past months, and the use of female suicide bombers has skyrocketed.
"Right now women are more dangerous than men," says Sheikh Zaid Ahmed Al-Wan, an Awakening Council leader in Adhamiya, a Baghdad neighborhood. "You can't see anything on a woman's body, especially when she's wearing an abaya or a long dress. In the summer you can see everything on a man, you can even see if there's something in his pocket and even in the winter you can tell if he's carrying a big weapon or a bomb." The most recent female suicide attack killed 18 people and injured 75 on Aug. 14. The bomber targeted Shiite pilgrims in a rest area in Iskandariyah in Iraq's Babil Province. The bombing highlights how females can often inflict more damage than males. The majority of women bombers wear explosive vests or belts covered by abayas and are sometimes made to look pregnant, according to US military officials who track suicide bombing trends. This allows women easy access to crowded areas where they can cause the most damage. ...To reverse the new trend, community leaders began calling for women to join the Daughters of Iraq about a year ago. Though females in the group number in the hundreds, they remain a small fraction of the 103,000-strong Sons of Iraq community policing organization.
Questions as to whether this will have an effect on women’s possibility for acceptance in the workplace, are examined.

Sam Dagher of the New York Times reports that the Iraqi defense minister, Abdel Qader Mohammed Jassim, said buying the jets would be a crucial step if Iraqi forces were to assume more responsibilities from American soldiers. Officials in Washington, however, said any possible sale was at a very preliminary stage. The sale of sophisticated weaponry by the United States to Iraq has been reported on lately, but the F-16 deal, at least, is being publicly mentioned with increasing regularity by Iraqi officials. This is raising some eyebrows of some international neighbors, as well as the Kurdistan Regional Government, within Iraq’s borders.
Under Saddam Hussein, the Kurds suffered greatly from air bombardment, and they are now sparring with the Shiite-dominated central government on other issues, including how to distribute Iraq’s oil wealth and where internal borders might fall. But Mr. Jassim, the defense minister, vowed that jet fighters would be used only in the name of the entire Iraqi nation and not, as they were under Mr. Hussein, against parts of his own country. “The F-16s being ordered by the Iraqi government are for advancing the future capability of the Iraq military and to protect all of Iraq’s land, including the cherished Kurdistan region,” Mr. Jassim told reporters. Mr. Jassim spoke at a news conference in Baghdad with Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, the coalition official in charge of training and equipping Iraqi troops. General Helmick confirmed that Iraq had requested the price and availability of F-16s, but would not elaborate, except to say that American allies often made such requests. The general said Iraq’s newly reconstituted air force numbered 2,000 people and had a fleet of 75 aircraft, expected to grow to 123 by next year. He also said that Iraq’s military, which stood at 206,000 service members, continued to make progress.
Charles Levinson from USA Today writes that Iraq is poised to receive a flood of foreign investment, thanks to improved security. More than $74 billion in projects have been submitted for government approval in just the past five months, according to Iraq's state investment regulator. Proposed projects include several hotels and thousands of housing units, a $13 billion new seaport for Basra, and even an entire city, just outside of Najaf, with a price tag of $38 billion.
Only one of the projects has broken ground, while most others are still awaiting government approval, which has been difficult to obtain. The scale of the proposals — which, combined, equal almost as much foreign investment as China receives in a year — has drawn skeptics who say the final amount spent will be much smaller. However, companies say they are eager to plow money into a country that has not received significant foreign investment for decades due to Saddam Hussein's economic mismanagement, U.N. sanctions and war. "The political direction of Iraq is going the right way," said Najah al-Balaghi, the Iraq chairman for The Aqeela Company, the consortium behind the project in Najaf. "Our company is ready to play." The projects seek to address long-standing needs in Iraq, such as a severe housing shortage and under-investment in public utilities. Najaf is visited by millions of Shiite tourists a year but infrastructure there is poor. "This is an extraordinarily undercapitalized society," said Todd Schwartz, an economic counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. "There's no question that Iraq can absorb $74 billion and hundreds of billions more."
The Washington Post’s Michael Abramowitz says that “The Coalition of the Willing appears to be going out of business.” In his story, he makes the point that the Bush administration is glossing over the fact that most members of the Iraq coalition currently making preparations to leave the country.
The presence of other countries in Iraq, even if the troop contribution was modest, has long been used by the Bush administration as a way of deflecting criticism that its actions in Iraq were "unilateral." Now, Bush is portraying their departure as a sign of "return on success," his policy of bringing home troops as conditions improve in Iraq. It's also a sign that the U.N. mandate permitting foreign troops to operate in Iraq expires at the end of the year. Any country that remains will have to negotiate a bilateral agreement with the Iraqi government, as the United States is now trying to do. According to Bush, 41 countries -- and more than 140,000 foreign troops -- have participated in the Iraq conflict, but that number has been dwindling for some time. The Web site for Multi-National Force-Iraq says there are 21 countries still participating in the war effort in addition to the United States, including such contributors as Australia, Japan, Britain, Albania and Estonia. A senior administration official, briefing reporters on background about Bush's speech, said the number of coalition members will shrink to a "handful" in the next few months. He declined to say which countries will remain, saying that decision should be up to the Iraqi government to announce. After the United States, which has 146,000 troops in Iraq now, the British have the largest remaining foreign presence, with about 4,000 troops, he said.
"We're going to reshape the coalition," said the senior administration official.

Douglas Stranglin at USA Today reports that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Congress Wednesday that the United States has entered the "end game" in Iraq, but cautioned that the next president should expect to be in Iraq "for years to come." A new emphasis on Afghanistan was spoken about by both Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A greater push to improve the Afghan security forces, and increased pressure on Pakistan to work with Kabul to quell insurgents crossing the border were cited as examples of this push. Mullen told the panel that while he is not convinced the coalition is winning in Afghanistan, "I am convinced we can."

Gates told the House Armed Services Committee that the first troops in President Bush's announced withdrawal of 8,000 by February will begin leaving in a few days. The defense secretary spoke with cautious optimism about conditions in Iraq, saying that Iraqi security sources have made great strides, although political progress had been "incremental but significant." He warned, however, that problems remain, including the prospect of violence before regional elections, Iranian influence and threat that al-Qaeda in Iraq still imposes. "I worry that the great progress our troops and the Iraqis have made has the potential to override a measure of caution born of uncertainty," Gates told the committee. "Our military commanders do not yet believe our gains are necessarily enduring — and they believe that there are still many challenges and the potential for reversals in the future."
"I believe we have now entered that end game and our decisions today and in the months ahead will be critical for regional stability and our international security interests for years to come," he said.

Also in the Post, Jon Cohen says that, as more voters’ attitudes about restoring order in Iraq improve, so do John McCain’s poll numbers.
The percentage of voters seeing progress in U.S. efforts to restore civil order in Iraq is now higher than it has been in nearly three years, even as Americans still hold broadly negative views about the original decision to go to war. The more upbeat public assessments of the current situation helped bolster Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Voters polled now trust McCain to handle the situation in Iraq by a 10-point margin over Sen. Barack Obama, his Democratic rival -- the first clear advantage either candidate has had on the question. In the new poll, 56 percent of registered voters say the United States is making significant strides toward bringing order in Iraq -- the highest proportion to say so in nearly three years and nearly double the level in late 2006, before President Bush ordered additional American troops to the country.
...Sixty percent of voters polled say the war has not been worth its costs. That has been the majority view for four years.
Another consequence of more sanguine views of the situation in Iraq and the souring U.S. economy is that Iraq has faded as a top issue in the presidential election. Ten percent in the new poll highlight Iraq as the most important voting issue, with those seeing no real progress there twice as apt to mention it. Nearly four in 10, 37 percent, say economy and jobs are issue No. 1; a year ago at this time, those numbers were basically flipped, with 36 percent calling Iraq tops and 12 percent focused on the economy.
Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
General Petraeus speaks about withdrawal plan: Iraqi Parliamentent reconvenes
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/10/2008 01:58 AM ET
The Washington Post dominates Iraq coverage again, and not only with Bob Woodward-related material. There’s more analysis of the Bush’s troop withdrawal plan, coverage of the Iraqi Parliament reconvening to try and pass a much-needed election law, and talk of some big development plans for Iraq. Also, if you like less-than-favorable accounts of President Bush, today's your lucky day.

Petraeus on Iraq/Afghanistan
Ernesto Londoño and Amit R. Paley report from Baghdad in the Washington Post that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the departing commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said that the country remains "the central front" for al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, but acknowledged that violence is rising in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- battlegrounds he will soon oversee as the next head of the U.S. military's Central Command. "Clearly al-Qaeda in Iraq has suffered substantial reverses and there have to be questions about how viable it is, given that it has been largely rejected by the people whose support is so critical," Petraeus said. "It could be that the assessment by al-Qaeda of where its central front is could change based on the damage they have sustained here."
Petraeus oversaw the dramatic drop in violence in Iraq that began last summer as the Bush administration deployed 30,000 additional troops here. "We have gone from being on the brink to being on the mend," he said at his office in Baghdad's Green Zone. Petraeus said the threats that al-Qaeda and the Taliban "pose to Pakistan and Afghanistan are obviously very serious, and needless to say that the rise in the level of violence in Afghanistan is cause for significant concern." Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was not a haven for al-Qaeda, which found a footing in the country in the near-anarchy that followed the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is an organization of mostly Iraqi foot soldiers that U.S. officials believe is led by Arabs from other countries. Once considered the greatest threat to Iraq's stability, the organization has been severely weakened, in large part because it lost the support of Sunnis in western Anbar province and other parts of the country. Al-Qaeda in Iraq members told The Washington Post this summer that senior leaders had left for Afghanistan.
Petraeus said that recent intelligence reports suggest that Iranian-backed Shiite fighters (known as “Special Groups” by the U.S. military) who left the country in recent months to avoid a military confrontation with U.S. and Iraqi forces are considering returning to Iraq. Also, disputed internal boundaries in northern Iraq and the uncertain future of the largely Sunni Awakening forces are causes for concern. Petraeus said, "There are a number of what we call storm clouds in the horizon."

The Christian Science Monitor’s Gordon Lubold writes a follow-up piece to all of yesterday’s articles on the Bush administration’s plans for a modest drawdown of about 8,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by February, and the planned addition of troop levels in Afghanistan. Lubold focuses on the questions that remain over how soon the Iraqi government will begin to absorb as many as 100,000 Iraqis known as the Sons of Iraq, which he calls "a loosely organized Sunni-dominated group essentially paid by the US military to form a neighborhood watch program”.
"We're entering the most critical period for long-term success in Iraq," says Fred Kagan, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who was instrumental during the planning of the surge. The US runs the risk of getting out of Iraq too fast to "rescue" Afghanistan – repeating the original mistake of exiting Afghanistan too quickly in 2002, says Mr. Kagan. "If you don't have enough to win everywhere at once, you make sure you keep enough of a force to win in the most important theater," he says. Meanwhile, the government of Iraq will face one of its biggest tests in just a few weeks. Under a new agreement announced in Baghdad earlier this month, Iraqis will assume responsibility for some 54,000 of the roughly 100,000 members of the Sons of Iraq. The program, which grew out of the so-called Awakening movement in Anbar province, has given former insurgents something to do as well as a stake in the security of their own neighborhoods. It's also a popular jobs program. But before the US can truly leave Iraq, it must transition this mostly Sunni force to Iraqi control. The agreement to convert half of the force to Iraq by Oct. 1 could be a milestone if the Iraqis honor their word. The plan is to transition about 11,000 into the Iraqi security forces and give regular jobs to the rest, defense officials in Baghdad say.
The numbers of the Bush administration’s withdrawal plan are gone over, as is the cautious response by House Democrats to Mr. Bush’s announcement of the plan on Tuesday.

Dan Eggan of the Washington Post reports on the political battles over U.S. war policy being shifted from iraq toward Afghanistan, as President Bush announced a fresh influx of troops there while presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama attacked each other's commitment to defeat terrorists.
Democrat Obama, a senator from Illinois who has long called for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said at a news conference in Ohio yesterday that Bush "is moving in the direction of the policy that I have advocated for years." But he said the plan also "comes up short" because "it is not enough troops and not enough resources, with not enough urgency." "What President Bush and Senator McCain don't understand is that the central front in the war on terror is not in Iraq, and it never was," Obama said. "The central front is in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the terrorists who hit us on 9/11 are still plotting attacks seven years later." McCain (R-Ariz.), by contrast, praised Bush's announcement of Iraq withdrawals as a demonstration of "what success in our efforts there can look like," and alleged that Obama "believes we must lose in Iraq to win in Afghanistan." He criticized Obama for opposing an increase in troops in Iraq last year that the administration credits for reducing violence. "Senator Obama's comments today demonstrate again his commitment to retreating from Iraq no matter what the cost," McCain said in a statement. "His focus is on withdrawal -- not on victory." Bush spent nearly half of his speech focusing on the worsening conflict in Afghanistan, where the increasing death toll among foreign troops has surpassed those in Iraq in recent months. The new deployments represent a 15 percent increase in U.S. military personnel for Afghanistan, and administration officials say the groundwork is being laid for more troops in the future.
The latter half of the article focuses on the worsening situation in Afghanistan, and how it is again the center of attention.

From Baghdad
Campbell Robertson and Atheer Kakan from the New York Times report that Iraqi lawmakers returned to Parliament on Tuesday after a month’s recess facing a host of unresolved issues, including the passage of a crucial provincial election law. Elections had long since been planned for this fall, but most Iraqi officials now say that they are not likely to take place until at least early next year.
The election law, which was stalled by bitter disputes in the last session, is seen as a vital step toward reintegrating Iraqi groups that had been underrepresented in the political process, primarily because they boycotted the vote in 2005. Officials from the United Nations, the United States and Britain have all pressed Iraqi politicians to arrive at a solution soon to take advantage of Iraq’s improved security situation. When Parliament adjourned last month, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the speaker, suggested the formation of a committee to explore solutions to the impasse during the recess and raised the possibility of a special session to pass a new election law. None of this happened. The main sticking point is the status of Kirkuk, a city that is populated by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens. Kurdish officials insist that Kirkuk rightfully belongs to Kurdistan; Sunni Arab and Turkmen lawmakers have proposed a power-sharing agreement to govern the city. The Kurds, with one of their own, Jalal Talabani, holding the presidency and as allies of the major Shiite parties, can veto any election law that does not meet their specifications. Indeed, just this summer Mr. Talabani vetoed a previous election law that Parliament had struggled long and hard to produce.
One temporary resolution to the problem that is being discussed is to go ahead with elections everywhere in Iraq but Kirkuk. The article also mentions that a spokesman for the Oil Ministry said that it had agreed to establish a joint venture company with Royal Dutch Shell in a deal worth more than $3 billion, the first post-invasion oil deal with a Western company. Under the deal, Shell would hold a 49 percent stake in the company while the state-run South Oil Company’s stake would be 51 percent.

USA Today’s Charles Levinson writes that many of Baghdad's leaders are starting to draw up bold plans for the future, envisioning a city they wouldn't have dared to contemplate one year ago, when sectarian militias roamed freely and car bombs were a daily scourge. He begins the article with Baghdad’s Mayor, Saber Nabat al-Essawy, looking out from his office window in City Hall, over a parking lot that isn’t slated to stay a parking lot for long.
In two months, he says, a United Arab Emirates-based developer will break ground on a 30-story, $270 million tower. It will house shopping malls, office space and apartments, the first step toward realizing al-Essawy's ambitious vision for Baghdad's future. Eventually, he hopes to look across the capital and see billions of dollars worth of malls, luxury hotels, outdoor amphitheaters, public swimming pools, apartment towers, gardens, stadiums and more. He hopes it will be funded largely by foreign investors whose interest in Iraq has suddenly perked now that security has improved and sectarian tensions have eased.
Levinson goes on to quote others, and give an idea of the enthusiasm, and also the hurdles, which are attached to Iraq’s possibilities for development in the near future.
Al-Essawy has elaborate computer mockups of a Baghdad that bears little resemblance to this war-battered city's sewage-soaked streets, where electricity shortages occur every day. Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said the growing interest Iraq is generating among foreign investors is "a very good reflection of what is really happening in the country." "That really shows that people have a serious interest in doing business in Iraq," Hufbauer said. There are plenty of skeptics, who haven't forgotten that past promises to deliver even the most basic public services have yet to materialize. Only three of al-Essawy's projects have received the necessary permits and licenses to go ahead, and on those little has been done. On an empty, trash-strewn lot in the city's moneyed Mansour District there is no sign of the gleaming glass tower promised on paper. A lone trailer and a sign proclaiming "the future site of the Mansour Shopping Center" are the only indications a brighter future may be stirring. "I want a realistic plan that can be executed on the ground, not impossible projects meant only for newspapers and dreams," says Basim Anton, the vice chairman of the Iraqi Businessman's Union. Billions of dollars in deals are in limbo because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has yet to pass several regulations that would resolve disputes among government agencies over who has final authority to approve investments. Al-Essawy admits that the confusing regulatory environment "is causing big problems." However, he says he has plenty of foreign investors eager to get in on the ground floor of an economy that, after years of war, may have nowhere to go but up.
‘War Within’ Continued
The fourth and last day of the Washington Post’s four-part series of writing drawn from Bob Woodward’s new book "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008" ends with today’s installment, “A Portrait of a Man Defined by His Wars”. Of course, we’re talking about President Bush. In the past three days, we’ve read about Americans spying on Iraqis, infighting between the Pentagon and the State Dept., infighting between the Pentagon and the Pentagon, back door channels of communication between the president and Gen. Petraeus, and many a flashy quote, all in Woodward’s telling of what went on behind-the-scenes, as decisions about the war in Iraq were made. Today, he rounds it up by again shining his not always flattering spotlight on the leadership style and character of Mr. Bush.
Any scorecard for the Bush presidency would focus on his performance as commander in chief: Did he set up and enforce a decision-making system worthy of the sacrifice he has asked of others, particularly the men and women of the U.S. military? Was he willing to entertain debate and consider alternative courses of action? Was he slow to act when his strategies were not working? Did he make the right changes? Did he make them in time? And was the Bush administration a place where people were held accountable?

...David Satterfield, a senior diplomat known as "the Human Talking Point," had watched the president up close for several years from his vantage point as Iraq coordinator for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Satterfield had reached some highly critical conclusions not shared by Rice: If Bush believed something was right, he believed it would succeed. Its very rightness ensured ultimate success. Democracy and freedom were right. Therefore, they would ultimately win out. Bush, Satterfield observed, tolerated no doubt. His words and actions constantly reminded those around him that he was in charge. He was the decider. As a result, he often made biting jokes or asides to colleagues that Satterfield found deeply wounding and cutting. Bush had little patience for briefings. "Speed it up. This isn't my first rodeo," he would often say to those making presentations. It was difficult to brief him because he would interject his own narrative, questions or off-putting jokes. Discussions rarely unfolded in a logical, comprehensive fashion.
Woodward ends in a somewhat softer tone, speaking of a noticeable older president’s revised expectations of what it is possible for him to accomplish, as the end of his term approaches.

The softer tone is ratcheted back up to a loud dissonance as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank spares not the rod in his scathing portrayal of President Bush, entitled “The Commander in Speech”, which often references ‘The War Within”. It begins with...
"The president," Bob Woodward writes in his new book, "talked irritably of how he believed there was an 'elite' class in America that thought he could do nothing right." The disdain of the elite class must be painful for the president, who rose from the humble origins of Andover, Yale, Kennebunkport and the Texas Rangers owner's box. But he can take solace in the knowledge that his problem isn't with the elites; it's with pretty much the entire country. As Woodward points out in "The War Within," when the administration started planning the Iraq "surge" in August 2006, a Gallup poll showed that 56 percent of the country thought the Iraq war was a mistake, and President Bush's approval rating was 37 percent. Two years later, even Barack Obama says the troop increase has succeeded beyond anybody's "wildest dreams." And what says the latest Gallup poll? Fifty-eight percent of Americans think the Iraq war was a mistake. Bush's approval rating is down to 33 percent. For Bush, the solution was obvious: Give another chest-thumping victory speech.
You get the idea.

The New York Times editorial page continues in a similar vein, but speaks less to character, and more to U.S. policy and the debate over which course to take in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Bush was right on one point Tuesday when he said that “Afghanistan’s success is critical to the security of America.” What he didn’t say is that Washington is in real danger of losing the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda — the war Mr. Bush shortchanged again and again for his misadventure in Iraq. American commanders in Afghanistan need a lot more help than the 4,500 additional troops Mr. Bush has now pledged to send there. Mr. Obama has offered a sensible blueprint for quickly drawing down American troops in Iraq and bolstering the fight in Afghanistan. After a befuddling silence, Mr. McCain on Tuesday finally agreed that more troops are needed in Afghanistan. What Mr. McCain has yet to explain is where those troops will come from. Mr. Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq has so overtaxed American forces that the math is painfully simple: Until there is a real drawdown from Iraq, there will not be enough troops to win in Afghanistan.
Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Bush to announce troop cut Tuesday: Iceland agrees to take in Iraqi Palestinians
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/09/2008 01:50 AM ET
Coverage of Iraq has picked up again, for the moment, with another wide array of stories. The headline is President Bush’s upcoming speech about U.S. troop withdrawal, to be made on Tuesday. Also, the Post’s Woodward-a-thon continues, Iraqi Palestinians, veteran suicide rates in the news again, and much more.

Troop Withdrawals
All the papers have been reporting on the military’s recommendations of troop cuts for days. Finally, President Bush will announce Tuesday that he has accepted the recommendation of his senior civilian and military advisers on the number of American troops to be withdrawn from Iraq in the coming months. The withdrawal of approximately 8,000 military personnel by February will amount to a shift of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. Additional troops may leave Iraq in early 2009 if "the progress in Iraq continues to hold," according to an advance copy of a speech Mr. Bush will deliver at Washington, D.C.'s Fort McNair Tuesday morning.
“Here is the bottom line: While the enemy in Iraq is still dangerous, we have seized the offensive, and Iraqi forces are becoming increasingly capable of leading and winning the fight,” Mr. Bush says in the speech. “As a result, we have been able to carry out a policy of ‘return on success’ — reducing American combat forces in Iraq as conditions on the ground continue to improve.”
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said, “The president’s decision paves the way for us to get even more troops out of Iraq this year and into Afghanistan.” He continued, “So the progress our forces are making in Iraq continues to pay big dividends for the commanders in Afghanistan." A Marine battalion that was soon scheduled to deploy to Iraq will instead deploy to Afghanistan by November. Also, an Army combat brigade that had been scheduled for service in Iraq will deploy instead to Afghanistan in January. Senior U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have said they need at least three additional combat brigades, or 10,500 to 12,000 more troops. The plan being announced by Mr. Bush would meet less than half of that request. Mr. Bush will also highlight the order reducing to 12 months the current 15-month combat tours for Army forces in Iraq.
Three papers report the story, without much variance. Tom Shanker of the New York Times and Yochi J. Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal, write versions which are comparable. Dan Eggen’s story in the Washington Post focuses on the next U.S. president being the one who will have to make any further decisions about the troops, but reports the same quotes and withdrawal numbers as the other two.

More "War Within"
The third day of the Washington Post’s four-part series of writing drawn from Bob Woodward’s new book "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008" continues with today’s installment, “'You're Not Accountable, Jack': How a Retired Officer Gained Influence at the White House and in Baghdad”.
Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane came to the White House on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2007, to deliver a strong and sober message. The military chain of command, he told Vice President Cheney, wasn't on the same page as the current U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus. The tension threatened to undermine Petraeus's chances of continued success, Keane said. Keane, a former vice chief of the Army, was 63, 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, with a boxer's face framed by tightly cropped hair. As far as Cheney was concerned, Keane was outstanding -- an experienced soldier who had maintained great Pentagon contacts, had no ax to grind and had been a mentor to Petraeus. Keane was all meat and potatoes; he didn't inflate expectations or waste Cheney's time. By the late summer of 2007, Keane had established an unusual back-channel relationship with the president and vice president, a kind of shadow general advising them on the Iraq war. This September visit was the fifth back-channel briefing that Keane had given the vice president that year. As Keane was laying out his view, President Bush walked in. "I know you're talking to Dave," Bush said to Keane. "I know that the Joint Chiefs and the Pentagon have some concerns."
The Joint Chiefs had not favored the surge of 30,000 troops that Bush was intent on sending to Iraq. Bush decided to send a message to Petraeus, through Gen. Keane. Woodward’s account continues...
Earlier in the week, Petraeus had testified before Congress. After two days in the national spotlight -- cautiously reporting progress in the war but warning that conditions were "fragile and reversible" -- he was about to head back to Baghdad. The two men sat alone. Keane took out the piece of paper and read the president's message, verbatim, aloud to Petraeus: "I respect the chain of command. I know that the Joint Chiefs and the Pentagon have some concerns. One is about the Army and Marine Corps and the impact of the war on them. And the second is about other contingencies and the lack of strategic response to those contingencies. "I want Dave to know that I want him to win. That's the mission. He will have as much force as he needs for as long as he needs it...” ...No ground commander could ask for more. That Bush had sent it through this back channel, or even at all, revealed the depth and intensity of disagreements between the president and the military establishment in Washington.
Woodward goes on to describe members of the Joint Chiefs barring Keane’s travel to Iraq, and the White House overriding the decision. It is compelling reading, and is full of back-door decisions and high-level confrontations. It finishes with Admiral Fallon’s resignation from leading Central Command, and Petraeus’ nomination to replace him.

From Baghdad
The New York Times’ Stephen Farrell reports on Iraqi’s general opinions about how long and under what circumstances American troops will remain in Iraq.
For the most part, Iraqis’ views fall into three categories. One group, which includes many followers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and some intensely nationalist Sunni Arabs in parts of the country that have suffered the worst since the invasion, simply want the Americans to leave, period. They say no amount of American effort now can make up for the horrors of the occupation, including the destruction of society and the killing of innocent civilians.
A second group takes a similarly dim view of the occupation, but worries that the brief period this year of improving security in Iraq will be vulnerable if the Americans abruptly withdraws. They say that the United States has a moral obligation to remain, and that continued presence of the occupiers is preferable to a return to rule by gangs and militias.
A third group worries that without a referee, Iraq’s dominant powers — Kurds in the far north and Shiites in the center and south — will brutally dominate other groups.
Farrell draws historical parallels between the difficulty the Americans have had in placating Iraq with that of England under Winston Churchill in the 1920s and, in A.D. 694, the Umayyad provincial governor Al-Hajjaj. “Names and governments change,” he writes, “but there is nothing new under the Mesopotamian sun.”
The article is followed by some Iraqi perspectives on whether and how American troops should stay in their country.

Erica Goode and Mudhafer al-Husaini report in the New York Times that “U.S. and Iraqi officials try to reassure citizen patrols about transfer.” There is increasing uneasiness among members of Iraq’s Awakening councils, especially since the recent announcement that the management and payroll of the mostly-Sunni security forces will be handed from the Americans to the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government. Goode and al-Husaini write of a meeting held by Iraqi and American military officers on Mondy, attended by Awakening leaders in the Baghdad’s Adhamiya neighborhood.
The meeting, the Iraqi and American officers said, was called in part to quash rumors that there would be mass arrests of Awakening members and that American forces would no longer be involved with the patrols. “People didn’t know what was happening, and there was some friction,” said Lt. Col. Michael Pappal, commander of the First Battalion, 68th Armor, which operates in the area. Many American military officers say the councils have done as much to reduce violence in Iraq as the surge in American troops has, and maybe more. After the transfer is complete, it is unclear how much leverage the Americans will have with the Iraqi government in how it deals with the councils. Tensions in Adhamiya, a Sunni stronghold, have been increasing as news of the pending transfer spreads. Some Awakening leaders have expressed fears that the Iraqi government may dissolve the councils and that their members will not be allowed to join the Iraqi security forces. Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki has said that about 20 percent of the roughly 99,000 Awakening members on the American payroll would be incorporated into the Iraqi Army, the national police and other security forces. At the meeting on Monday, General Hameed told the Awakening members that they would be given application forms for jobs in the security forces. Those not accepted would be hired into civilian jobs in ministries or other government offices, he said. All Awakening members, General Hameed said, would continue to be paid the same amount the Americans paid them. They receive about $300 a month.
“The Iraqi Army is not targeting the Awakening Councils, and the army will not conduct random raids or detentions of Awakening members,” General Hameed said, but added that any Awakening member who broke the law in the future would be arrested. One Awakening member said he hoped “that from now on we can work as one army... We will never believe anything unless we see it with our own eyes.”
The article includes a few other news items. A doctor was mistakenly killed by American forces east of Baquba, while driving to work. The American military said in a statement that “a local national” was killed “while driving his car toward coalition forces,” but that it was not known whether he was a doctor. In Babil Province, members of the provincial council accused Iraq’s central government of playing down a cholera outbreak in the province to hide the deterioration of water and other services. They said the number of cases was higher than the government had reported. On Monday, Dr. Ihsan Jaafar, a spokesman for Iraq’s Health Ministry, said 27 cases of cholera had been confirmed in the country: 20 of them in Babil Province, 6 in Baghdad and 1 in Maysan Province. Three people died from the illness, he said. “We moved very fast to end the outbreak of the epidemic,” Dr. Jaafar said, “but 60 percent of Iraq’s area is not covered with potable water.”

Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post writes that Iceland has agreed to resettle nearly 30 Palestinian refugees who have lived for two years at a desolate camp on the Iraqi-Syrian border, the U.N. refugee agency announced Monday. It is the first group of refugees from Iraq that Iceland has accepted.
Saddam Hussein protected Iraq's Palestinian community, which included approximately 34,000 people when he was deposed in the spring of 2003. Between 10,000 and 15,000 Palestinians remain in Iraq, according to the United Nations. Palestinians living in Iraq have been particularly difficult to resettle. Syria and Jordan, the two countries that have taken in the majority of Iraqi refugees, have refused to take in many Palestinians out of concern that thousands would follow. Few countries have heeded the U.N. refugee agency's call to open their doors to Palestinians living in Iraq. More than 2,000 Palestinians have languished at two austere camps near the Syrian border for years, including some with severe ailments who have had scarce access to medical care.
USA Today’s Gregg Zaroya sites statistics to be released Tuesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs in his story that suicide rates for young male Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans hit a record high in 2006, the last year for which records are available. This adds to the data already published data on the subject, and strengthens the overall case that there is a real problem afoot. From 2006, figures show there were about 46 suicides per 100,000 male veterans ages 18-29 who use VA services. That compares with about 20 suicides per 100,000 men of that age who are not veterans. "We've been telling Congress and the (VA) for a long time is that what we have seen are increasing numbers of mental health issues that have not been adequately addressed, says Dave Autry, spokesman for the Disabled American Veterans. VA records show that 141 veterans who left the military after Sept. 11, 2001, committed suicide between 2002 and 2005. In the one year that followed, an additional 113 of the Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans killed themselves. It's critical to identify soldiers in despair, said Col. Carl Castro, an Army psychiatrist. "By collecting the numbers (of suicides) we know exactly where we are at, so we know now what's not working. We've got to try new things; we've got to get innovative."

In the Wall Street Journal, “Main Street” columnist William McGurn writes a critique of both Bob Woodward’s telling of the story of the surge in “The War Within”, and General George Casey, as he is described in the book. McGurn defends President Bush for his insistence on sending the extra troops.
Sophisticates have never liked Mr. Bush for his preference for words like "win" and "victory" to describe what America is trying to do in Iraq. And if Mr. Woodward's latest contribution is any clue, they'll never forgive him for doing something even worse: proving it can be done.”
Dan Senor, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who served as a senior adviser to the Coalition in Iraq, offers an opinion in the Journal on Senator Joseph Biden’s “series of stunning arguments in defense of his plan for segregation of Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines” while on Sunday’s “Meet the Press”. It isn’t a positive opinion, and he gives multiple examples of many Iraqi’s strong opposition to such a partitioning.
Secular Sunni parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi held a news conference in Baghdad to call on the Iraqi government to formally declare Mr. Biden "a persona non grata" in Iraq. As for Iraq's neighbors, The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League both denounced the Biden resolution. The uproar was unsurprising, as partition would have involved expelling Iraqis from their homes. How would a partition work, for example, in major cities like Kirkuk, which is majority Kurdish but also has a large Sunni population, and substantial Christian and Turkomen populations? The likely outcome would have been forced relocation. This could have sparked a wave of renewed sectarian violence, if not civil war.

Christian Science Monitor, no Iraq coverage.
Daily Column
Woodward says surge overrated: What makes Americans feel less guilty about Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/08/2008 02:01 AM ET
Not much Iraq news in general, but the Washington Post more than makes up for it with their continued blitz of Bob Woodward on Iraq. Those books sure better sell! There’s also news of a psychological study which tested Americans’ guilt about Iraq, a photo essay, and an opinion piece about the flag-draped coffins which are flown home, far from cameras’ lenses (and Americans’ minds).

More of “The War Within”
The release of Bob Woodward's new book "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008.", is still what keeps Iraq coverage going, at least in the Washington Post. Woodward pens a story about Washington conventional wisdom being incorrect in translating Iraq’s dramatically improved security into a simple view: That the surge had worked. He writes that the full story was more complicated, that “At least three other factors were as important as, or even more important than, the surge.”
Beginning in the late spring of 2007, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies launched a series of top-secret operations that enabled them to locate, target and kill key individuals in groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency and renegade Shia militias, or so-called special groups.
For months, U.S. forces worked with tribal leaders, who had once fought the Americans, to build local security forces throughout Anbar. "We are the ones who saved our country," Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, whose slain younger brother first allied himself with U.S. forces and who now serves as president of the Iraqi Awakening Council, said in an interview. "We were able to fight al-Qaeda."
And third...
A third significant break came Aug. 29, when militant Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his powerful Mahdi Army to suspend operations, including attacks against U.S. troops.
Then, we have the second day of the four-part series of writing drawn from “The War Within”. Today’s installment is entitled ”Outmaneuvered And Outranked, Military Chiefs Became Outsiders”. It begins...
At the Joint Chiefs of Staff in late November 2006, Gen. Peter Pace was facing every chairman's nightmare: a potential revolt of the other chiefs. Two months earlier, the JCS had convened a special team of colonels to recommend options for reversing the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Now, it appeared that the chiefs' and colonels' advice was being marginalized, if not ignored, by the White House. During a JCS meeting with the colonels Nov. 20, Chairman Pace dropped a bomb: The White House was considering a "surge" of additional troops to quell the violence in Iraq. "Would it be a good idea?" Pace asked the group. "If so, what would you do with five more brigades?" That amounted to 20,000 to 30,000 more troops, depending on the number of support personnel. Pace's question caught the chiefs and colonels off guard. The JCS hadn't recommended a surge, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Iraq commander, was opposed to one of that magnitude. Where had this come from? Was it a serious option? Was it already a done deal?
...A rift had been growing between the country's military and civilian leadership, and in several JCS meetings that November, the chiefs' frustrations burst into the open.
Woodward tells of President Bush losing confidence in General George W. Casey, who opposed the surge, and also in General John P. Abizaid. The events leading to the surge are at the center of the discussion. The Joint Chiefs of Staff frustration with the debate over the surge grew so intense that Pace told Bush, "You need to sit down with them, Mr. President, and hear from them directly." Woodward writes of when he interviewed President Bush on the topic.
"In my own mind, I'm sure I didn't want to walk in with my mind made up and not give these military leaders the benefit of a discussion about a big decision." The president said that if he were just pretending to be open-minded, "you get sniffed out. . . . I might have been leaning, but my mind was open enough to be able to absorb their advice." I told him that, based on my reporting, some of the chiefs thought he had already decided, that they had sniffed him out. "They may have thought I was leaning, and I probably was," Bush said, noting that the chiefs had felt free to express themselves. "But the door wasn't shut." Still, Bush fully understood the power of his office. "Generally," he said, "when the commander-in-chief walks in and says, done deal, they say, 'Yes sir, Mr. President.' "
From Iraq
Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor reports from Baghdad on the evolution of U.S. counterinsurgency tactics, in an article entitled “U.S. begins hunting Iraq's bombmakers, not just bombs”.
When members of the Air Force's 447th Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit first arrived here in May, they were dealing with three to four roadside bombs a week. During prior tours, the group's veterans say at least one a day was normal. But last month, they went their first week without encountering a single roadside bomb. For US soldiers in Iraq, this decline is perhaps the loudest herald of a quieter Iraq. It's also representative of the US military's greater strategic shift, focusing less on individual threats like improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and broadening their scope to the larger counterinsurgency mission. "We've made a mistake focusing on IEDs as a technological threat," says Frederick Kagan, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute. To defeat roadside bombs in Iraq, the military had to broaden their focus beyond the devices and look at them as a piece of the entire conflict. "As we've been winning the counterinsurgency, the effectiveness of IEDs has been wearing off," he says.
Bombmakers often leave fingerprints and other biometric data that soldiers can use to find those behind the bombs. "We're more with gathering evidence, trying to preserve evidence, bring it back so we can try to do that CSI aspect," says SMSgt. Pervis King. "The way it has evolved since the war started, weapons intelligence teams now assist us with gathering evidence out on the battlefield so we can come back and try to prosecute the insurgents."

Washington Post staff photographer Andrea Bruce continues her effective and personal series of photos accompanied by her written descriptions. These aren’t photos of burning cars or military operations, but of people. Today’s photo is a dark inside shot of an old woman in a bleak-looking bank office in the city of Khanaqin(a disputed city in Diyala province currently all over the Iraqi newspapers – It’s the site of a standoff between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government). The following is an excerpt from Bruce’s description.
Leaning on a cane, a gray-haired man exits the bank with unapologetic slowness while the policeman checks a list and calls Zakia Suleiman's number. She looks down at the young, mustached man pictured on the ID card in her hand -- her husband, dead for five years now. The card is the key to his disability check, her only income. After she enters the thick darkness inside, her abaya, draped over her head, is removed and searched by female hands. The room doesn't provide the relief she was looking for. The windows are closed for safety reasons, and there is no air conditioning.
American Guilt
Washington Post “Department of Human Behavior” columnist Shankar Vedantam covers intriguing new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by social psychologists Michael J.A. Wohl and Nyla Branscombe. The results of the research suggest that reminders of the Sept. 11 attacks seem to dull the responsibility that Americans feel for the harm caused to Iraqis by the U.S. war in Iraq, whether or not they believed there was a connection between the two. Even injustices done to Americans many years ago seemed to dull guilt about Iraq. In the controlled experiments, volunteers were randomly divided into groups.
One group was reminded of the terrorist attacks, while another was told about Nazi atrocities in Poland during World War II. A third group was reminded of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The volunteers were then quizzed on their views about the Iraq war. Volunteers reminded about the Sept. 11 attacks were less likely to perceive the distress the war has caused many Iraqis, and less likely to feel collective responsibility, compared with volunteers told about the tragedy in Poland. Is the result confused by the fact that many Americans associate the Sept. 11 attacks with the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein? Although links between Hussein and 9/11 have been systematically debunked, it is possible that Americans reminded of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon feel less responsibility for Iraq because they think it was implicated in the terrorist strike. That's where the third group of volunteers comes in. When it comes to dulling Americans' sense of responsibility for their country's actions in Iraq, it makes no difference whether you remind them about the Sept. 11 attacks or about Pearl Harbor. Even though there is no conceivable link between Pearl Harbor and the war in Iraq, reminding volunteers about the Japanese attack on Hawaii that left about 2,400 Americans dead reduces their sense of responsibility for the harm caused to Iraqis by the war.
"What is the basis for feeling guilt?" asked Branscombe, of the University of Kansas. "Guilt stems from feeling you or your group is responsible for having done illegitimate harm. . . . To the extent people feel their actions were completely legitimate, they won't feel any guilt."

The New York Times’ editorial page has a piece called ”Shrouded Homecomings”, in which it makes the case that the Bush Administration’s ban on news photography of coffins containing dead U.S. servicemen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is ill-conceived, and a disservice to the fallen soldiers. It speaks of a bill before Congress which would repeal the ban, and which is gaining bi-partisan support in the House. If passed, accredited journalists would be granted access to commemoration services and arrival ceremonies for flag-draped coffins coming home at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
The measure in no way interferes with the right of grieving families to bar news coverage of interments at national cemeteries. The sponsor, Representative Walter Jones, Republican of North Carolina, focuses instead on the graphic moment of homecoming and honor that has been foolishly denied the nation’s notice. “I hope that anyone who sees a flag-draped coffin will remember this individual gave his or her life for this country and respect and revere that sacrifice,” he explained this month. Congress should approve his bill. As the debate over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continues, the dead keep journeying home. Proper attention and reverence should be paid, in plain sight.
Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Bombing in Tal Afar: Iraqi refugees: Help for returning veterans
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/07/2008 01:50 AM ET
Not a huge day of Iraq coverage, but compelling reading all around. Woodward's "White House Follies" are at the head of the news for the third day in a row. Plus, a bomb in Northwestern Iraq kills 6 and wounds at least 50, more Cholera reported in Iraq, Iraqi refugees returning from Egypt, and a program back home that assists U.S. veterans.

“The War Within” Continues
This week, there has been a lot of news about Bob Woodward's new book "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008.", and it goes on, as more of the book becomes available. The Washington Post has been talking this one up as big as possible (perhaps something to do with the fact that Woodward is an associate editor there). Today in the Post, we hear from Woodward himself. First, with a piece about the controversy sparked by his own claims, in “The War Within”, that the U.S. government has been spying on Iraqi leaders. Woodward says...
Gathering intelligence on known or suspected enemies made perfect sense. But spying on friends and allies -- particularly a young democracy the United States had vowed to help -- though not unprecedented, raised all kinds of questions. Several senior officials asked: What was there to gain? And was it worth the risk? Although intelligence agencies love to deliver the inside goods, it was not clear how useful the information has been to President Bush. Just as Gen. David H. Petraeus said it is not possible for the United States to kill its way to victory, it probably was not possible to spy its way to political stability there -- the ultimate goal.
Next, in the four-part series of writing drawn from “The War Within”, entitled “Doubt, Distrust, Delay: The Inside Story of How Bush's Team Dealt With Its Failing Iraq Strategy”, and the front page is dominated by it. For the book, Woodward interviewed more than 150 people, including President Bush and his national security team, senior deputies and key players responsible for intelligence, diplomatic and military operations in the Iraq war. Other officials with firsthand knowledge of meetings, documents and events -- employed at various levels of the White House, the departments of Defense and State and the intelligence community -- also served as primary sources. Today’s installment tells the story of a president who encouraged optimistic news from those briefing him on the war in Iraq, even as the violence spiraled out of control in 2006. To base his opinion of how things in the war were going, the president seemed most interested in just hearing numbers of enemy body-counts. Friction between members of the military and the State Dept. are highlighted.
Once, when he (General George W. Casey) had called the number of civilian personnel who had volunteered to serve in Iraq "paltry," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had chided him. General, she had said, you're out of line. On another occasion, in late 2005, he butted heads with Rice after her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which she offered a succinct description of the U.S. military strategy in Iraq -- "clear, hold and build: to clear areas from insurgent control, to hold them securely and then build durable Iraqi institutions." "What the hell is that?" Casey asked his boss at U.S. Central Command, Gen. John P. Abizaid. "I don't know," Abizaid said. "Did you agree to that?" "No, I didn't agree to that." When Rice next came to Iraq, Casey asked for a private meeting with her and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. "Excuse me, ma'am, what's 'clear, hold, build'?" Rice looked a little surprised. "George, that's your strategy." "Ma'am, if it's my strategy, don't you think someone should have had the courtesy to talk to me about it before you went public with it?" "Oh," she said. "Well, we told Gen. Odierno," who served as the liaison between the military and the State Department. "Look, ma'am," Casey said, "as hard as I've worked to support the State Department in this thing, the fact that that went forward without anybody talking to me, I consider a foul."
Much more infighting is covered, and whatever you might think of the Bush administration, the military leaders involved, or Woodward himself, it certainly makes for some interesting reading. The series of excerpts will run in the Post through Wednesday.

Michiko Kakutani writes about the book for the New York Times, and gives it mixed reviews (making sure that we know the Times has been reporting on the topic, too, not just folks from the Post). It is less of a review than another sum-up of what is to be found in the book, with plenty of quotes.
“After ordering the invasion,” Mr. Woodward goes on, “the president spent three years in denial and then delegated a strategy review to his national security adviser. Bush was intolerant of confrontations and in-depth debate. There was no deadline, no hurry. The president was engaged in the war rhetorically but maintained an odd detachment from its management. He never got a full handle on it, and over these years of war, too often he failed to lead.”...But while Mr. Bush talked to Mr. Woodward for this book, he turns out to be a somewhat marginal figure in what is largely a chronicle of internal administration arguments about the war and the debate over last year’s troop surge, which became a rare success in the American war effort. For that matter, this volume contains less compelling news than Mr. Woodward’s earlier Bush books and makes for considerably less gripping reading. Mr. Woodward’s assertion that the Bush administration conducted surveillance on Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq is dealt with in a couple paragraphs. And his argument that groundbreaking techniques — to “locate, target and kill key individuals in extremist groups” — were as important as the surge in stemming violence lacks force; they are described in highly opaque terms because, he says, “disclosing the details of such operations could compromise their ongoing use.” Much of “The War Within” simply ratifies the picture that has already emerged from newspaper and magazine articles and dozens of books by journalists and former administration insiders. It’s a picture of an administration riven by internal conflicts (between the Pentagon and State Department, between defense department civilians and the uniformed military, between hard-line neoconservatives and more pragmatic realists), an administration in which the advice of experts was frequently ignored or dismissed, traditional policy-making channels were routinely circumvented, policy often took a backseat to electoral politics, accountability was repeatedly evaded, and few advisers dared speak truth to power.
From Baghdad
Erica Goode of the New York Times reports that a car bomb exploded near shops and cafes in the northwestern city of Tal Afar late Saturday morning, killing at least six people and wounding at least 50 others, at least 19 of them critically. According to witnesses, the bomb was set off at a market in the Wihda district of the city, as people ran to the scene of a car accident. In a statement, American military officials said that five were killed and 53 were wounded.
Tal Afar, the capital of Nineveh Province, is split among Turkmens, Sunni and Shiites and was once a place of almost relentless violence. American military officials in Tal Afar say, however, that bombings and other mayhem have markedly declined in recent months, though the level of violence has picked up slightly since the start of Ramadan this month. In July, a car bombing in a street market in Tal Afar killed at least 20, including nine children. Khisro Goran, Nineveh’s deputy governor, blamed the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia for the attack. “Their only aim is to kill as much as they can of Shiites to inflame a new circle of sectarian violence,” Mr. Goran said, adding that all the victims of the bombing were Shiite.
Goode concludes her story with a few other items of news. First, Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special representative to Iraq, traveled to the holy city of Najaf for a rare meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite religious leader. Mr. de Mistura said that the meeting was about issues that have blocked passage of a provincial election law by Iraq’s Parliament. Also on Saturday, Iraqi government health officials said that they have received reports of seven cases of cholera in Baghdad, including one death. Cholera is also suspected in the deaths of three Iraqis in a hospital near Hilla. Dr. Ihsan Jaffar, the general director of public health for the Health Ministry, said that the cases are still under investigation.

For the Washington Post, Ellen Knickmeyer reports from Cairo about many Iraqi refugees who moved to Egypt to flee violence in Iraq are returning home, not always because they want to. The Iraqi government has, of late, touted security improvements in its call for refugees to come home. For those returning from Eqypt, free airfare is even available. Fear of returning to Iraq remains, but often for them, there is no other choice. When they do return, they often find that the situation they are returning to is less than desirable. Knickmeyer writes about an Iraqi refugee named Jenan Adnan Abdel-Jabbar, and the worries she faces about going back to Iraq.
Abdel-Jabbar said she and her husband had received weekly e-mails from their two married daughters in Iraq's Diyala province, urging them, "Come home!" But for Abdel-Jabbar and all of half a dozen other returning refugee families interviewed, fear of returning remained strong, overridden by only one factor. Two or more years of living abroad as refugees had exhausted their savings -- and their options. "Of course we are afraid," Abdel-Jabbar said in her apartment four days before the family's departure. "But we are at the end of our rope." Wearing a black head scarf, with her copper-colored hair peeping out, she leaned against a bare wall stacked with suitcases. The family, which had owned a prosperous dairy back in Diyala, had sold all its other furnishings. The family arrived in Egypt with $30,000 in life savings in the summer of 2006, a month after al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters had come to husband Qais Shihab Ahmed at the dairy, demanding a $40,000 payoff to keep the fighters from burning his business and killing his children.
Military Matters
Also in the Post, Keith B. Richburg reports on a program which aids veterans entering a very different world than that of deployment, the corporate world. It is about a group called American Corporate Partners, which pairs returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with mentors from the corporate world, to assist them in many ways, including acclimation to the extreme change in lifestyle. It begins by describing the situation of Ed Pulido, who joined the Army at 18 and spent 19 years in uniform.
He lost his left leg four years after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Baqubah, Iraq. And when he was discharged in 2005, with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, he decided to the devote the rest of his life to work with a foundation helping the families of veterans who have been wounded or killed. That's where Sidney E. Goodfriend came in. Goodfriend spent 25 years as a banker on Wall Street, mostly at Merrill Lynch. But, he said, he had made enough money, he was looking for a career change, and he wanted to make a contribution through public service. With his own money, and using his Wall Street connections, Goodfriend, 48, founded the company. ...The mentors pledge to spend four hours each month for a year meeting with their assigned veteran, and the meetings could take most any form: lunch, a fishing trip, a golf outing. "These folks come back, and in their first year, they don't know anybody, and they especially don't know anybody in the corporate sector," Goodfriend said. "There is no way for them to transition easily into corporate America." ...Pulido, who lives in Oklahoma City, said he will be driving once a month to Dallas to meet with his mentor, from Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo. "The transition from military to civilian, it's a very hard transition if you don't have the skills and the education," Pulido said by telephone. "I'm going to be driving down to Dallas to be part of that program because I think it's important for my future."
Goodfriend is working closely with the Army Reserve. "ACP is not a 'jobs' program for men and women leaving the military," said Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, chief of the Reserve, in an e-mail statement. The program, he said, "aims to strengthen the relationship between employers of America's leading corporations and those who have served our country, often at great sacrifice."

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.
Daily Column
The White House denies: The Iraqi government is dismayed
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/06/2008 02:00 AM ET
Most of today’s stories are continuations of stories covered yesterday, but things continue to develop. It's almost all the Post. The subject material is really limited to the reaction to information released yesterday about a new book that claims the U.S. government has been spying on the Iraqi government, and also some discussion of the U.S. military in Iraq.

From Baghdad
Yesterday, Steve Luxenberg of the Washington Post broke the story about claims in Bob Woodward’s upcoming book, “The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008”, that American officials have been spying on the Iraqi government for some time, from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on down. In response, the Iraqi government reacted with concern and dismay on Friday, and warned that it could affect negotiations over the continuing American troop presence in the country. Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman said, “If it is a fact, it reflects that there is no trust and it reflects also that the institutions in the United States are used to spying on their friends and their enemies in the same way,” he continued. “If it is true, it casts a shadow on the future relations with such institutions.” Ernesto Londoño, also of the Washington Post, gives the most information and background on the story.
He (al-Dabbagh) also indicated that the concerns may run deep enough for Iraqi negotiators to seek guarantees in the continuing discussions to frame a long-term security agreement governing the continuing presence of American troops in Iraq. The White House press secretary, Dana M. Perino, said early Friday that the White House “would not comment on any of the assertions in the book,” adding that “we have a good idea of what Prime Minister Maliki is thinking, because he tells us very frankly and very candidly, as often as he can.”... “This rumor is dangerous if it is true, and it will shake the credibility of the U.S. and what it stands for about building democracy and a free world,” said Faleh al-Fayadh, a member of Dr. Jaafari’s new party, the National Reform Movement. He pointed out that Iraq “faced such things during Saddam’s era, things such as random arrests and spying without warrants.” But, he added, “This is something that the U.S. is supposed not to do, and then talk about creating democracy.”
New York Times’ report by Stephen Farrell includes interesting quotes by White House press secretary. She said, early Friday, that the White House...
“would not comment on any of the assertions in the book,” adding that “we have a good idea of what Prime Minister Maliki is thinking, because he tells us very frankly and very candidly, as often as he can," When pressed on whether she was denying the spying allegations, Perino said: "I didn't deny it. I said I declined to comment on it."
Dan Eggen, from the Post, gives further White House reaction from Washington.
In a seven-paragraph statement, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley disputes several of the book's main themes, reported in a Post article published yesterday, calling Woodward's portrayal of Iraq war policy "at best incomplete." Hadley says that Bush "acknowledged the violence in his public statements and discussed what we were doing about it" in 2006 and that "there were positive developments that suggested our strategy at the time might work" until that fall. Hadley quarrels with the contention that Bush was largely detached from an internal Iraq strategy review in late 2006, saying the president "drove the process." He also says it is "not true" that the review was kept secret to avoid damaging GOP chances in the midterm elections. "The president wanted a private internal review process precisely so as not to politicize the process," writes Hadley, who conducted the review. "If he had wanted to boost the Republican chances in the election, he would have publicly announced both the strategy review and the decision to change his Secretary of Defense."
Joby Warrick and Robin Wright of the Washington Post report that “U.S. Teams Weaken Insurgency In Iraq”, with a story about the Joint Task Force, a U.S. military-led team that includes intelligence and forensic professionals, political analysts, mapping experts, computer specialists piloting unmanned aircraft, and Special Operations troops. Progress is being made, says Warrick and Wright, and they begin their report by illustrating their point with an example of an elusive insurgent leader, known as “The Tiger”, a man Pentagon officials describe as the kidnapper of American journalist Jill Carroll and also as one of a dwindling number of veteran commanders of the Sunni insurgent group known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). On August 11, U.S. troops kicked down his door and arrested him.
Aiding the U.S. effort, the officials say, is the increasing antipathy toward AQI among many ordinary Iraqis, who quickly report new terrorist safe houses as soon as they're established. Fresh tips are channeled to fast-reaction teams that move aggressively against reported terrorist targets -- often multiple times in a single night. "Wherever they go, they cannot hide," said a senior U.S. defense official familiar with counterterrorism operations in Iraq. "They don't have safe houses anymore." The rapid strikes are coordinated by the Joint Task Force, a military-led team that includes intelligence and forensic professionals, political analysts, mapping experts, computer specialists piloting unmanned aircraft, and Special Operations troops. After decades of agency rivalries that have undermined coordination on counterterrorism, the task force is enjoying new success in Iraq with its blending of diverse military and intelligence assets to speed up counterterrorism missions. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said in a recent interview that the cells produce intelligence that nets 10 to 20 captures a night in Iraq. "We're living in a world now where targets are fleeting," Mullen said. "I don't care if they're on the ground, in the air, on the sea or under the sea -- you don't get much of a shot, and you've got to be able to move quickly."
The Washington Post’s Ann Scott Tyson and Karen DeYoung continue their coverage from yesterday of the Pentagon’s recommendation on a modest drawback of U.S. troops in Iraq. There is not a lot of new information in the piece, but it further details the process that led to the recommendation. They report that, although the Joint Chiefs of Staff pushed for a speedy withdrawal, General David H. Petraeus was in favor of a more cautious route. The agreement between them is called a “compromise”.
Senior military officials said the "consensus" proposal incorporated the final recommendation of Petraeus. He called for withdrawing 7,500 to 8,000 troops from Iraq by the end of January, including an 1,100-man Marine Corps battalion and a Marine aviation squadron of several hundred strong to depart this fall, an Army combat brigade of up to 4,000 soldiers to depart in mid-January, and more than 1,000 support troops, such as logisticians and forces, assigned to handle detainees. The Pentagon plan also calls for bolstering the U.S. force in Afghanistan to counter a growing insurgency, deploying a Marine battalion there in November to replace one that is departing, and sending an Army brigade of 3,500 to 4,000 troops there early next year.

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.
Daily Column
Modest drawdown of troops recommended: Soldier suicides approach all-time record
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/05/2008 01:55 AM ET
A full plate of varied Iraq-related news, even though there’s a political convention going on. We are told about a Pentagon recommendation for troop cuts(but aren’t allowed to see it), as well as Woodward’s new book, the Iraqi government wanting to buy F-16s, Iran pressuring Iraq on U.S. relations, possible troubles for an Iraqi visa law, some opinions, and a rise in the percentage of servicemen suicides.

Spying and Other Scoops
The Washington Post’s Steve Luxenberg gives a glimpse of Bob Woodward’s new book, which claims that the Bush administration has conducted an extensive spying operation on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his staff and others in the Iraqi government. The book is Woodward’s fourth, in a series written to examine the inner debates of the Bush administration and its handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, including the spying.
"We know everything he says," according to one of multiple sources Woodward cites about the practice in "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008," scheduled for release Monday. The book also says that the U.S. troop "surge" of 2007, in which President Bush sent nearly 30,000 additional U.S. combat forces and support troops to Iraq, was not the primary factor behind the steep drop in violence there during the past 16 months. Rather, Woodward reports, "groundbreaking" new covert techniques enabled U.S. military and intelligence officials to locate, target and kill insurgent leaders and key individuals in extremist groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq. Woodward does not disclose the code names of these covert programs or provide much detail about them, saying in the book that White House and other officials cited national security concerns in asking him to withhold specifics. Overall, Woodward writes, four factors combined to reduce the violence: the covert operations; the influx of troops; the decision by militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to rein in his powerful Mahdi Army; and the so-called Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and allied with U.S. forces.
It looks like Woodward makes quite an effort to do as scholarly an account as possible, giving readers plenty of insight into the psychology behind the decision-making of everyone involved. It also looks like Woodward won’t be sparing the juicy quotes he got in his more than 150 interviews with the president's national security team, senior deputies and other key intelligence, diplomatic and military players, not to mention two on-the-record interviews with Bush in May.
In response to a question about how the White House settled on a troop surge of five brigades after the military leadership in Washington had reluctantly said it could provide two, Bush said: "Okay, I don't know this. I'm not in these meetings, you'll be happy to hear, because I got other things to do."..."Casey had long concluded that one big problem with the war was the president himself," Woodward writes. "He later told a colleague in private that he had the impression that Bush reflected the 'radical wing of the Republican Party that kept saying, "Kill the bastards! Kill the bastards! And you'll succeed." ' "
Military Matters
If Woodward’s book deserves placement above the stories about the Pentagon's views on the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, then this news certainly deserves to. Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post reports that suicides among active-duty soldiers this year are on pace to exceed both last year's all-time record and, for the first time since the Vietnam War, the rate among the general U.S. population, Army officials said yesterday. They said that attempts at suicide had also increased.
Ninety-three active-duty soldiers had killed themselves through the end of August, the latest data show. A third of those cases are under investigation by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office. In 2007, 115 soldiers committed suicide. Failed relationships, legal and financial troubles, and the high stress of wartime operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are the leading factors linked to the suicides, Army officials said. The officials voiced concern that an array of Army programs aimed at suicide prevention has not checked a years-long rise in the suicide rate. Still, they said, the number of deaths probably would have climbed even more without such efforts. "What does success look like? Frankly, we do not know," said Col. Eddie Stephens, deputy director for human resources under the Army's personnel division.
Pentagon Troop-Cut Recommendations
According to the Bush administration, top Pentagon officials made a confidential recommendation for a modest withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by early next year, amounting to a conservative shift of forces to Afghanistan. The recommendation was described by the officials as a compromise between two camps within the Pentagon – one which wants to continue close to the level of troop cuts that began this spring, and another that is loathe to withdraw too many troops before long-standing security has been established. Of course it’s all subject to change, depending on what happens on the ground. General David Patraeus was cautious in his assessment last week of security gains in Iraq that he presented to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gates and Mullen will testify on the matter next week before the House Armed Services Committee. The current number of American forces in Iraq is about 146,000. Depending on which story you read, the number of troops to possibly be withdrawn is between 7,000 and “nearly 8,000". The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Ann Scott Tyson give the most facts and figures, and a good overview. Jim Michaels and Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today have a more bare-bones rundown, but you get the idea. Michael R. Gordon and Thom Shanker of the New York Times strike a pretty good balance in between. Here’s the basic plan, according to them.
...the reductions in American forces in Iraq would be made as follows: a Marine battalion that is scheduled to leave Anbar Province this fall would not be replaced. (A Marine battalion that had been earmarked to replace it would be sent to Afghanistan instead.) In addition, the United States would withdraw several aviation units and some military police companies from Iraq, among other units. In the early weeks of 2009, the United States would redirect to Afghanistan an Army combat brigade that had been preparing to go to Iraq, which would have the effect of reducing the number of American brigades in Iraq by February. “All of these moves are not set in stone,” said a senior Defense Department official who asked not to be named because he was discussing confidential deliberations. “There will be a continuous assessment of the conditions on the ground, and we will have the flexibility to adjust as required.” The proposed increases in American troop levels for Afghanistan go part of the way toward satisfying the requests from American commanders there. There are about 15,000 American troops in Afghanistan assigned to the NATO-led stabilization mission, which has 45,000 troops in all. Another 19,000 American troops are in Afghanistan carrying out combat, training, counterterrorism and detainee operations.
F-16s for Sale
The Wall Street Journal’s August Cole and Yochi J. Dreazen report that the Iraqi government is seeking to buy 36 advanced F-16 fighters from the U.S. American military officials familiar with the request say that the multibillion-dollar deal, if approved by Washington, could help reduce Iraqi reliance on U.S. air power and potentially allow more American forces to withdraw from the country than had been previously proposed. Iraq has become one of the biggest weapons-buying countries in the world, something that could be of concern to some neighbors of so unstable a country, with so new a government. On the U.S. arms business side, they explain,
The F-16, made by Lockheed Martin Corp., is the most sophisticated weapons system Iraq has attempted to purchase so far. The Pentagon recently notified Congress that it had approved the sale of 24 American attack helicopters to Iraq, valued at as much as $2.4 billion. Including the helicopters, Iraq has announced plans this year to purchase at least $10 billion in U.S. tanks and armored vehicles, transport planes and other battlefield equipment and services, benefiting companies such as General Dynamics Corp., Boeing Co. and Raytheon Co. Last year, the U.S. had world-wide foreign military sales of $23.3 billion, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Gina Chon, also in the Journal, reports on pressure that Iran is putting on the leaders of Iraq, to reject a draft proposal for the continued presence of U.S. soldiers in the country. The draft, which is controversial at best in Iraq, is needed to supply the legal framework for the duration and nature of any continued U.S. military presence, after the end of 2008.
But Iran, which shares a long border and a history of conflict with Iraq, has made it clear it is unhappy over progress made so far in the talks. Iran's parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, earlier this week told Iraqi journalists that a security deal with the U.S. would humiliate the dignity of Iraq. On the same day, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes opposition by Iran has also intensified, according to Iraqi officials. Some top leaders of the two main Iraqi Shiite political parties, the Islamic Dawa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, were sheltered in Iran for almost two decades. Those two parties make up a strong element of the governing coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who himself spent time in Iran. The two parties also received funding from Iran and training for their militias. That makes pressure from Iran difficult for the government in Baghdad to ignore. Iraqi and U.S. officials say the pressure by Iran adds another thorny dynamic to the talks.
A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry in Tehran said Iraq "does not need the advice of others." "As their neighbor, we seek the realization of the will of the Iraqi people," the spokesman said. "Our assessment is that the people of Iraq want an end to policies that ignore and disregard their true demands."

The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus has the next story. According to a report by the inspector general's Middle East regional office, a new law that permits up to 5,000 Iraqis who previously worked for the U.S. government or its contractors to resettle in the United States annually over the next five years "is at high risk for fraud and abuse." The report investigated an earlier program that in 2007 and 2008 provided special immigrant visas to 500 Iraq and Afghan translators and interpreters who had worked for U.S. government agencies.
The investigators found that almost 25 percent of those approved worked "in a variety of positions such as medical doctors, computer programmers, engineers, pharmacists, warehouse workers, and caterers" and "did not meet the criteria as working primarily as interpreters or translators." Several cases involved individuals who "could not speak English," according to the report. Iraqis who had worked for the Defense Department -- making up 95 percent of the resettlement cases -- were required to obtain recommendation letters from U.S. generals or flag officers as part of their application. However, investigators found that most of the letters submitted appeared to be "nonspecific pro forma documents endorsing petition submissions from military subordinates."
...The law, contained in the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization Act signed by President Bush last January, is more expansive. It provides that over each of the next five years, 5,000 Iraqis who have provided "faithful and valuable service" to U.S. government agencies or their contractors and as a result faced "an ongoing serious threat" are eligible for the special immigrant visas (SIVs) for themselves and their immediate family members to enter the United States. The recipients also will be eligible for financial help reaching the United States, along with resettlement benefits once they arrive.
The report also states that it is difficult to verify whether an applicant "is experiencing an ongoing serious threat based upon their employment." It calls for State to coordinate with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to develop a "clear definition of what constitutes . . . an ongoing serious threat" and how to verify it. Melissa Waggoner, a spokeswoman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, said "We're satisfied that Ambassador Crocker is fully committed to rescuing those Iraqis whose lives are at risk for helping Americans." (A lot of us who have been helped by many of these folks time and time again would hope so.)

The Wall Street Journal opinion pages put a damper on today’s interesting news stories that the Journal’s reporters came up with. On Tuesday, they had an article entitled “Victory in Anbar”, in which they gave a less-than-subtle and more-than-simplistic cheerleader’s view of the Anbar handover, not even hinting that any troubles might still remain in the entire province. Today, they have a strikingly similar article, entitled... “Victory in Anbar”. Sure there's cause to celebrate, but it sounds like an RNC speech. The new one actually admits that some doubt of Anbar’s future remains, but subtlety is still wanting(as is a new name).

Some subtlety is provided by New York Times Op-Ed Contributors, John Nagl, a former Army lieutenant colonel, Colin Kahl, an assistant professor of security studies at Georgetown, and Shawn Brimley, all fellows at the Center for a New American Security. In their piece, “How to Exit Iraq”, they speak of a recent drive they took around Basra, escorted by Iraqi Army soldiers and coalition advisers.
...we glimpsed a model of post-American Iraq that he (John McCain) and Barack Obama would do well to consider. This world, defined principally by more capable Iraqi security forces taking the lead with coalition support and an increasingly confident Iraqi government, defies the simplistic “all in” or “all out” way that Iraq is debated in Washington. With the Bush administration now working out an agreement on having American troops out by 2012, understanding how this withdrawal will proceed is vital. Basra is as an example of what an exit strategy might look like — and of the dangers of getting it wrong.
They give examples of how lessons learned in Basra can be translated into a plan for the whole country, and weigh the options for pulling out quickly or slowly, and how to do so. In the end, they suggest a process based upon actions the Iraqi government takes to improve itself, in America's eyes. “The next president must make it clear that we do not endorse a particular set of Iraqi leaders, but rather the system as a whole.”

Christian Science Monitor, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Awakening forces embattled from all sides: Petraeus kept offstage?
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/04/2008 01:50 AM ET
Not a lot of Iraq coverage today, but enough to keep you going. The Awakening forces are seeing some difficult times, and there are rumored plans to possibly give Gen. Petreaus a few less public appearances in the coming months. McCain is mentioned too, of course.

From Baghdad
The Washington Post’s Amit R. Paley reports that U.S. troops mistakenly killed six members of Iraq’s security forces, and wounded ten in a stretch of farmland along the Tigris River north of Baghdad known as Mizrafa. (The Post says it happened on Monday, but that is obviously an error. It happened in the early-morning hours of Wednesday) Of those killed, two were policemen, and four were members of the Awakening forces. Paley describes what happened.
The incident took place when U.S. troops aboard a boat on the Tigris approached a patrol of Awakening fighters. The fighters were already on high alert because a suicide bomber had attacked the leader of the local group in nearby Tarmiyah, killing one person and wounding four. "They heard a rumor that al-Qaeda was going to stage an offensive against their town from the river," (Iraqi Army Maj. Mohammed)Younis said, referring to the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. "They deployed themselves along the river waiting to ambush al-Qaeda if they started to attack." When the boat approached, the Awakening fighters fired warning shots because they could not determine whether the vessel was manned by Americans, Younis said. He said the troops on the boat did not shoot back, but an Apache helicopter later opened fire on the Iraqis...
An American military spokesman confirmed that U.S. forces were indeed in the area at the time conducting operations which involved aircraft, but declined to specify the number of casualties, saying that the incident was under review. It is only the latest in a string of attacks by U.S. forces on the Awakening fighters, the U.S. backed mostly-Sunni force which is given a good deal of the credit for recent security gains in Iraq. "We don't feel safe working with the Awakening anymore because of the American forces," said Ali Younis, 18, one of ten Awakening members who quit because of the incident.
The shooting comes at a delicate time in negotiations between Iraq and the United States over a security pact governing the presence of American troops in the country. Iraqi officials say both sides have agreed that American forces will withdraw by the end of 2011, with the key disagreement centering on whether the U.S. troops will be immune from prosecution under Iraqi law. U.S. negotiators have demanded complete immunity for the troops; the Iraqis counter that the immunity should apply only on American bases and on missions approved by the Iraqi government, according to Sami al-Askari, a prominent Shiite lawmaker.
The article ends with mention of the Iraqi cabinet voting this week to re-open Abu Ghraib prison as a facility for holding criminals, with part of it set aside as "a museum of the former regime's crimes," according to a statement from government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. According to an official from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the museum will be divided into two parts: one devoted to crimes under Hussein, and the other focused on abuses by U.S. troops.

More Awakenings
Another story from Baghdad about the Awakening councils, this one addressing the rift between them and the Iraqi government. Erica Goode from the New York Times writes a piece entitled “Handshake Defuses a Standoff in Baghdad”. In it, she tells the story of an Awakening commander in Baghdad’s al-Adhamia district named Ali Abdul Jabbar, who sat in his headquarters early afternoon, waiting for the Iraqi Army to come and arrest him. His men stood, guarding the door, prepared to defend him. There was a one-day strike of Awakening members in the area, called in protest of Mr. Jabbar’s rumored status as a wanted man. Goode writes,
But a few hours later, the atmosphere appeared to have calmed. Mr. Jabbar and an Iraqi Army captain stood in front of the neighborhood’s Abu Hanifa mosque, shaking hands and exchanging mutual expressions of support and friendship. The strike was called off. And the warrant was forgotten, if it had ever existed; the captain told Mr. Jabbar it had never been issued. The escalating events of the morning, and the abrupt turnaround by midafternoon, offered a vivid illustration of the mounting tensions between the Awakening Councils and Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki’s government, which is mainly Shiite. American and Iraqi officials have said that the Iraqi government will take full control of the Awakening patrols in and around Baghdad on Oct. 1.
Tensions are growing between the U.S. backed Awakening forces and members of Iraq’s government, many of whom consider the Awakening movement a militia. Arrest warrants for at least 650 Awakening members have been reported in the past week in Iraq, and many have gone into hiding.
Mr. Jabbar said he had heard that the Iraqi Army issued an arrest warrant for him in connection with a kidnapping and killing. The warrant, he said, was based on false accusations made by the family of a militia leader in a Shiite group, the Mahdi Army, whom he had helped to capture and turn over to Iraqi security forces. Mr. Jabbar said that he had asked the American forces for help, but that he had been told that this was “an internal affair.”
...Earlier in the day, Mr. Jabbar, 31, who is known in the neighborhood as Abu Sajad, said angrily that the government was trying to undermine the councils and to make them fail. “We think we are fighting not against just Al Qaeda; now we are also fighting against the Iraqi Army.” Goode also includes a brief account of the incident from the Washington Post article above.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Gordon Lubold writes of a high-level move to keep General David Petraeus out of the political spotlight, just days before he gives his official assessment on troop levels. He is highly expected to recommend a reduction of troops from Iraq soon, but there is only speculation as to how much of one he will call for, and when. The Defense Dept. recently refused a request from members of Congress to have Petraeus make another appearance on Capital Hill, ostensibly because of scheduling issues. the Pentagon struggles to muster more troops for Afghanistan, officials worry that the general's testimony on Iraq will upstage other needs. Petraeus is expected to be cautious on troop drawdown, not wanting to lose a hard-won security despite pressure from some colleagues to free up forces for Afghanistan. Officials also want to prevent any testimony he would provide from becoming political fodder as both sides would grope to use his testimony to their advantage. "The Hill respects him and they also expect to use him," says one retired senior officer who did not want to comment publicly on the sensitive matter.
Petraeus is thought to be wary of drawing down U.S. troops in Iraq too hastily. A blunt public plea was made last week by Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, to reduce some of his 25,000 marines currently stationed in Iraq’s Anbar province, so more troops could be sent to Afghanistan. "He's the first four-star who has openly challenged Dave Petraeus's view of Iraq," says one official close to the debate on troop levels within the government. Petraeus' assessment will include not only the level of violence but also the strength of Al Qaeda and other militia groups, political progress within the government of Iraq, and the growth of Iraq security forces, defense officials say. There are currently 15 combat brigades in Iraq after the final "surge brigade" left in July, and a total of about 146,000 soldiers serving there right now. Lubold finishes the story with the following...
But there is another reason to keep Petraeus out of the political limelight. With intense pressure to use the military as pawns that suit one or another political view, top military officers have for the last year railed against suggestions that the military play any political role during an intense election year in which the war in Iraq still figures prominently. Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the senior uniformed officer at the Pentagon, has long criticized the politicization of the military. "We are an apolitical, neutral organization in this country, and we need to stay out of politics, those of us in uniform," Mullen told reporters last week at the Pentagon. "And it is very tempting in this time because of where we are, and we just shouldn't do it."
McCain and Iraq
From St. Paul, Michael Abramowitz from the Washington Post adds to the latest stories about Senator John McCain’s decision to focus on the war in Iraq, and how it is a gamble that carries risk. It’s a well put together article, with the latest quotes, but you probably know the gist. McCain’s unabashed support for the troop surge in Iraq at an unpopular time has made him look very good, since the surge is largely credited with the marked improvement in Iraqi security. The war has become unpopular with the American public in general, and has reflected badly on the Republican party, so many in the GOP are nervous about highlighting the war too much. McCain, never one to shy away from controversy, seems to be going for it.
Obama has said, as have military experts, that this narrative of the buildup is too simple, and that reduced violence in Iraq has causes in addition to the troop increase, such as the cease-fire of Shiite militias and the greater willingness of Sunni tribes to fight the group al-Qaeda in Iraq... But in St. Paul, there is little outward sign of dissatisfaction with McCain's approach. "Among most of the grass-roots, the general consensus is we want to win with honor," said Kentucky delegate Richard Grana, president of a small export company in Paducah. "We don't want to have expended all those lives for nothing." Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Bush administration official, said McCain should tread carefully in discussing the war. "I think the Republicans, in particular, are saying that these are tough times and we need a tough president. McCain has been positioning himself in that place. My sense is that is easier to do because Iraq has improved," said Haass, who was also attending the convention. "But a growing number of Americans see involvement in the world as costly, and I believe that's because of Iraq. McCain and the Republicans have to be careful that the toughness will not lead Americans to think we will have four more years of costly foreign policy."

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Daily Column
Anbar handover a boost to RNC
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/03/2008 01:55 AM ET
After yesterday’s big features about the handover of Anbar province to Iraqi control, it is followed up today by... almost nothing. The news today was all RNC, which provided the one piece of Iraq coverage.

Stateside Election News
the New York Times’ David E. Sanger reports from St. Paul that Events in Iraq Likely to Be Key Theme for McCain”. Not a surprising headline. It makes the point that the improved security in Iraq, and particularly Monday’s handover of Anbar, are something that both McCain and Bush can bask in.
It allows Mr. Bush to claim that five years after the invasion, Iraq is achieving stability, and it allows Mr. McCain to argue that he was the first to come up with the winning strategy, an infusion of additional troops. Mr. Bush skimmed past his long-running, very public argument with Mr. McCain over troop levels when he addressed the convention here on Tuesday night by video link. “Some told him that his early and consistent call for more troops would put his presidential campaign at risk,” Mr. Bush told the delegates. “He told them he would rather lose an election than see his country lose a war. That is the kind of courage and vision we need in our next commander in chief.” That is likely to be a central element of Mr. McCain’s campaign coming out of the convention, his policy aides here said. But it may be one of the few areas where he and Mr. Bush are on the same page: Mr. McCain plans to call for far more vigorous efforts to reduce dependence on Middle East oil, his senior policy adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said Tuesday, an area “where I think you’ll see some overlap between our position and the Democrats’.”
McCain’s insistence on the “surge” was a gamble that he may be able to cash in on in the coming election, or at least at the RNC this week.

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

Daily Column
Iraqis take control, but questions remain: Awakening forces off US payroll soon?
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/02/2008 01:50 AM ET
Well, it finally happened. Anbar Province has been handed over to the control of the Iraqi government, and U.S. newspapers have noticed. All the papers have something to say about it, and there’s more to the story than champagne glasses being clinked. There are even a few other stories – a welcome change from the recent general lack of Iraq coverage.

Anbar Handover
With much fanfare, the U.S. military turned over control of Anbar province to the Iraqi government on Monday, in a much anticipated move toward a more stable Iraq, and towards the withdrawal of more American troops. There’s no doubt that the Anbar of today is an entirely different place than it was two years ago, then a stronghold of Sunni insurgency and the deadliest area for U.S. servicemen in the country. The fierce fighting left major cities in the province, such as Ramadi and Falluja, in ruins. Currently, many who were previously part of the insurgency have switched allegiances. About 100,000 Iraqis are on the American payroll, and these “Awakening” Councils (or Sahwa) are credited with breaking the back of groups like al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia in the region, where the U.S. military could not. Of today’s articles, the New York Times’ Dexter Filkins, reporting from Ramadi (the rest filed from Baghdad), gives the most thorough explanation of elements that turned the tide.
What finally broke the stalemate, according to former insurgents and local Anbar leaders, was a revolt against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. As the group began to expand its ambitions to include sectarian killings and imposed a fundamentalist brand of Islam on the population, local tribal leaders pushed back and began reaching out to the Americans for help. Hence the “Sunni Awakening” was born in Anbar Province, and it soon spread across the Sunni areas of Iraq. Saadi al-Faraji, once a teacher, was a gunmen for a local insurgent group, the Islamic Movement of Holy Warriors, which, despite its religious name, focused mainly on attacking the American forces, which it regarded as invaders, Mr. Faraji said. Then, in 2006, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which Mr. Faraji said was led by foreign Arabs, tried to take over his group and force its members to kill Iraqis who had signed on with the new government. “Al Qaeda declared that we were apostates, and they demanded our heads, because we would not kill Iraqi soldiers or Iraqi police,” he said in an interview. So, by late 2006, the Islamic Movement of Holy Warriors began laying ambushes against Qaeda fighters, Mr. Faraji said. At roughly the same time, a Sunni sheik named Abdul Sattar Abu Risha approached the Americans for help and formed the first Awakening Council. By early 2007, the Islamic Movement of Holy Warriors had formed its own Awakening Council, and today Mr. Faraji is a colonel in the Iraqi police. As for the Americans, Mr. Faraji said that his views had evolved. “They made mistakes, and so did we,” he said. “The past is past.”
Amit R. Paley of the Washington Post casts more doubt on the outcome of the handover, focusing on the uncertainty of Anbar’s future. The Awakening councils have gained much power and respect in the areas in which they operate, and moves were made to translate this into political clout, organizing parties that would be expected to carry substantial popular support. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government is at odds with much of the Awakening groups, and has recently begun a campaign to arrest hundreds of their members. Paley writes,
Many of the fighters have abandoned their posts and fled their homes to avoid detention, stoking fears that some will rejoin the insurgency. Aides to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki contend that many Awakening members are al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters in disguise. Shiite leaders are also suspicious of armed Sunnis outside their control patrolling the streets. But under heavy U.S. pressure, Maliki has agreed to move at least a fifth into the security forces and train the rest for civilian jobs. The U.S. military said Monday that the Iraqi government will take charge of 54,000 of the fighters on Oct. 1. Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, a U.S. military spokesman, said the Iraqis were "assuming payment responsibility and command and control" of the men, who would then be moved into the Iraqi army, Iraqi police or vocational training. Awakening leaders and U.S. officials said they were pleased with the news but worried about how the government would implement the transition. It was unclear how long the Iraqis planned to keep the fighters on the government payroll and how many of them would actually find jobs. Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, did not return calls seeking comment. "There are some assurances but they have been vague," said a U.S. military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter. "This is a positive development but we have very real concerns." "We are afraid that half of the Awakening will be left alone in the streets," said Kaleefa Ahmed, a leader of the movement in Anbar province, of the transition plan announced Monday. "If that happens, we will return to square one, with some of our men returning to the insurgency."
USA Today’s Charles Levinson gives a more brief, yet effective and complete overall understanding of the situation in general, and of the Iraqi government/Awakening forces rift in particular (the latter having caused more than a little uneasiness among the ranks of the U.S. military).
In recent weeks, the government has arrested several Awakening leaders, leading to complaints that they are being targeted for political reasons. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said recently that the government was dragging its feet on promises of jobs in the security forces and other government ministries to the more than 100,000 members of the Awakening. The tensions have grown acute enough that in July, Awakening leaders asked the United States to delay Anbar's hand-over for 12 months so they would continue to receive protection from the Americans. At the hand-over ceremony, Awakening leader Sheik Ahmed Buzaigh Abu Risha's name was not on the initial speakers' program. He took the podium and lashed out at the government, accusing it of ignoring the "heroic acts" performed by members of his movement. Abu Risha also complained that the government was compiling lists of members of his movement who used to belong to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, which would prohibit them from receiving government jobs. Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the top U.S. commander in Anbar, hinted at the looming conflict in his closing remarks. "There are two other things that are desperately needed here — trust and friendship amongst you all," he urged. "Or the agony we have endured together will have been for nothing."
USA Today also includes an Anbar timeline (provided by AP) which could be helpful.

Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor summarizes the Anbar situation like everyone else, but illustrates the worries of many who live in the province with the story of Sheikh Fawzi Ftikhan, who fled to Syria in 2005 after militants threatened his life for acting as a negotiator between U.S. and Anbar officials.
After hearing about security gains, he returned in 2007. But Sheikh Ftikhan is struggling to rebuild his contracting business after selling all his trucks to finance his flight out of Iraq. He spent his entire savings in Syria. "I'm starting from the beginning," says Ftikhan. Security must continue to improve for his business to improve, he adds. He worries that "the police have been infiltrated by Al Qaeda, if the Americans leave I can't guarantee that the situation will get better." Ftikhan's concerns about the police represent what many Iraqis say is one of the biggest issues facing the Anbar Province after the handover. "Many of the Al Qaeda operatives have just changed into a police uniform," says an Iraqi police colonel in Ramadi who has policed Iraq for 23 years. "Maybe they will go back to killing people if the situation changes."
At any rate, it’s not as though the American forces are leaving Anbar yet, just because the official handover ceremony was held. Stay tuned for more developments.

Related News
From Baghdad, the New York Times’ Erica Goode basically writes a sequel to all the handover stories, and quite a relevant one. Since the story of the security improvements in Anbar is largely the story of the U.S. forces backing the Awakening councils (and acting as a buffer between them and the Iraqi government), the announcement by both Iraqi and American officials that the U.S. Military Will Transfer Control of Awakening councils to the Iraqi Government by October 1 is a big deal.
The transfer will involve 54,000 Awakening members who are now paid by the American military to guard neighborhoods or, in some cases, simply to refrain from attacking American and Iraqi forces. Once the transfer takes place, the Iraqi government will have “full administrative control” of the Awakening cadres, said an American military official who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject. It was not clear whether the Iraqi government, which is dominated by Shiites, had given the Americans or the Awakening forces assurances about how long, or even whether, it would keep the patrols intact. Some senior Iraqi officials have expressed reservations about paying armed Sunni militias, which draw from the ranks of former insurgents.
Awakening leaders complain that the government has done little to incorporate them into the Iraqi security forces, and that they are being treated with ever-increasing hostility.
The American military says the Awakening movement has been critically important in helping reduce violence in the capital and around Iraq, including in Anbar Province, where control was returned to Iraq on Monday. In fact, some American officers contend that the patrols have done more to quiet the country than the American troop increase known as the surge. They worry that any weakening of the movement could lead to greater instability.
Goode reports that, on Monday, few Awakening leaders in Baghdad seemed aware of the announcement. Some said they had only recently signed six-month contracts with the American military, which, if true, could make for a bumby road in Anbar's future.

The Wall Street Journal’s “Review and Outlook” page writes a “hurrah” story, called “Victory in Anbar”. There’s nothing wrong with that, and multiple “hurras” are certainly understandable. The only problem is that there is not even a suggestion that any difficulties (or even nuances) remain in Anbar. Deserved credit is given for the Americans’ pursuance of a different counterinsurgency strategy in the dismal, violent era in 2006, when the Awakening councils were formed. The article, though, ultimately shortchanges the work of Iraqis, giving almost all the kudos to the American forces.
Yes, the stunning progress in Anbar owes a great deal to the Awakening Councils of Sunni tribesmen who broke with al Qaeda terrorists and allied with U.S. forces. But those Sunni leaders would never have had the confidence to risk their lives in that way without knowing the U.S. wasn't going to cut and run.
True, but they also arguably had other reasons for taking the chance, such as that their cities were being completely destroyed, and their lives always at risk. Early on, it complains that “Very few in the American media even noticed this remarkable victory,” though the Journal was the only paper of the five reviewed here that didn’t publish an original feature about it today. Again, there is not even a whisper of the potentially disastrous divisions between the Iraqi government and the Awakening councils, so the article's following statement "The result has been the most significant military and ideological defeat for al Qaeda since the Taliban was driven from Kabul in 2001.” could be correct in more ways than one.

On Monday, thousands of protesters marched from the capitol building to within a block of the Xcel Energy Center, the site of the Republican National Convention. They were led in part by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and called loudly for an end to the war in Iraq. Though it was largely peaceful, windows were smashed and, in clashes with police, both pepper spray and wooden batons were used against the protesters. Some report having had projectiles of some sort fired at them. Alan Gomez of USA Today writes,
Dwayne Baird, a spokesman for the police agencies patrolling the route, said the crowd was no more than 8,000. Mick Kelly, a spokesman for the Coalition to March on the RNC, said the crowd was closer to 30,000.
Patrick Healy and Colin Moynihan from the New York Times cover it in a bit more detail, and give the following description.
As the protests grew, scores of National Guard troops in riot gear and gas masks fanned out around the Xcel Energy Center, where the convention is being held, and set up a blockade about three blocks away. Police helicopters buzzed over St. Paul throughout the day. Humvees painted in fatigue green ferried water to police officers working in the 88-degree heat, and city dump trucks were used to block traffic on some streets.
It sounds a little like Iraq (except that it was only 88 degrees).

Michiko Kakutani writes a review in the New York Times of a new book by Farnaz Fassihi, entitled “Waiting for an Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq”. Fassihi reported from Iraq for the Wall Street Journal from 2003 to 2005. Though her book doesn’t reflect the further descent of Iraqi security after 2005, “What her book does do - and does with visceral immediacy –“ writes Kakutani, “is convey what life was like in Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, and how the United States’s failure to restore law and order fed Iraqi resentment, and how that resentment, combined with nationalistic pride, fueled a snowballing insurgency as the occupation wore on.” She continues, “It is Ms. Fassihi’s snapshots of individual Iraqis — who have lost their homes, their businesses or the simple security of knowing they can go grocery shopping or take their children to school without the fear of a bomb or sniper attack — that lodge most insistently in the reader’s mind.”

Daily Column
'Times' editorial on McCain and Iraq: Responses to veterans' brain trauma story
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/01/2008 01:55 AM ET
Everyone but the New York Times and the Washington Post are off at Labor Day barbecues. The Washington Post published a paper today, but the reporters on the Iraq beat seem to have joined the festivities. This leaves only the Times, with an editorial on McCain’s stance on Iraq, and letters in response to last week’s story about traumatic brain injuries of U.S. veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The New York Times’ editorial page runs a piece called “Mr. McCain and Iraq”, in which it makes a point fairly common in election reporting of late. With even the Bush administration having changed their tune on accepting a fairly speedy timetable for U.S. combat troop withdrawal from Iraq, McCain seems to be the only one still saying that we must stay the course, as long as it takes, leaving him the “stubborn man out” on Iraq.
Mr. McCain told veterans on Aug. 11 that he would end the war, but intended to “win it first” and assured them that “victory in Iraq is finally in sight.” He needs to explain what he means by victory. A free and democratic Iraq, as Mr. Bush originally promised? That would take generations. Even after spending nearly $700 billion, the United States will be lucky to leave behind a marginally functioning central government in a very fragile country. Iraq’s leaders have at least agreed on one thing: they want the Americans gone, sooner rather than later. But they are still squabbling over the political reforms that might bolster stability — squabbling that Mr. Bush enabled by insisting that America’s patience was unlimited. Mr. McCain seems eager to repeat that mistake.
One thing that the article doesn’t address is something that lies beneath the much publicized acceptance of timetables, or “time horizons”. Judging from administration officials’ quotes on the topic, there will almost assuredly be plenty of wiggle-room for future change, likely leaves U.S. troops in Iraq for years to come. If this is the case, McCain is perhaps alone in the sense that he is one of the few politicians advocating a more extended withdrawal out loud. The article ends with...
Mr. Obama has offered a sensible blueprint for dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan. Even so, as with Mr. McCain, we need to hear more details. We also need to hear a lot more about how both candidates intend to rebuild an American military whose men and materiel have been depleted by repeated wartime deployments. For decades Republicans fed off of Vietnam and more often than not successfully painted Democrats as soft on defense. In this election, it is the Republicans who have to defend an abysmal eight-year legacy. We are waiting to hear Mr. McCain’s answers.

On the front page of last Tuesday’s Times was a compelling story by Lizette Alvarez, entitled “Home From War, Veterans Say Head Injuries Go Unrecognized". In it, she reported on the lack of effective assessment and treatment provided to a multitude of soldiers who sustained traumatic brain injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan. Since the symptoms are often not immediate, and for myriad other reasons, soldiers returning home with sometimes very debilitating brain injuries are either not properly diagnosed, or not diagnosed at all. The collection of four impassioned letters in today’s “to the editor” section, make for a short, but worthwhile addition to the story. Letter writers include the president of the Brain Trauma Foundation, and a major in the Army National Guard Medical Corps. See the original article by Alvarez here.

Washington Post no Iraq coverage.
Christian Science Monitor,USA Today, Wall Street Journal no Labor Day Editions.


Wounded Warrior Project