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.
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he has accepted the recommendation of his senior civilian and military advisers on the number of American troops to be withdrawn from Iraq in the coming months.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.
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.
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.