In Iraq-related coverage, the Post
runs circles around its rival to the north today: While the Times
just opts for a daily roundup of Iraq violence, the Post
gets down to business with three Iraq-datelined stories, including a look at Iraqi theater during wartime, and an important update on American strategy for infiltrating Sadr City, with the disturbing revelation that US forces have not ruled out an all-out assault on the district à la Falluja 2004.
Meanwhile, the Post also notices in a front-pager that the Iraq Study Group is gradually getting more airtime in policy circles as the “surge” delivers mixed results, at best, and Washington looks for answers.
USAT reports a US announcement of major operations against militants who targeted helicopters, but few details are to be had.
Seven US soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed in two separate IED explosions on Saturday, John Ward Anderson and Sudarsan Raghavan report in the Post. An attack in Baghdad killed six GIs and their interpreter during a search for bomb-making equipment in Western Baghdad, and one soldier was killed in Diwaniya. US forces killed Azhar al-Dulaimi, the alleged ringleader of a January attack in Karbala where assailants disguised as US soldiers infiltrated a compound, resulting in the deaths of five GIs, near Sadr City. Dulaimi, according to US forces, appeared to surrender, but was shot when he tried to grab another soldier’s gun. He died en route to the hospital. According to US forces, Dulaimi had been trained by Iranian intelligence and the Lebanese Hizbullah, although no evidence linked Iran to the Karbala attack. An Iraqi Interior Ministry official said its forces had clashed with a group digging trenches in Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood, killing 14. US forces said they killed eight and arrest 34 in separate operations west and southwest of Baghdad. The AP reported that 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Hakim was diagnosed with cancer in the US and has traveled to Iran, where he will undergo chemotherapy. 22 bodies were recovered in Baghdad, six in Mahmudiya, and four in Mosul.
A chlorine-laden truck bomb killed 11 at a police installation in Ramadi, David Cloud writes in the Times. A car bomb near the Interior Ministry killed two, and US-Iraqi forces clashed with “Shiite militia members” in the Jihad neighborhood. Two Iraqi soldiers were killed in two bombing attacks in Baghdad. Cloud also notes Gen. Petraeus’s open letter to the Iraqis and President Talibani’s trip to the United States for weight-control care. Cloud reports that Talibani will be in the States for a “multiweek visit.”
The idea of imposing “benchmarks” for the Maliki government, which has become the Iraqi policy du jour, is lifted from the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission, Michael Abramowitz reminds us in the Post. The Iraq Study Group’s conclusions, having earlier fallen by the wayside, are now becoming fashionable on the Hill, and may yet form the basis of a bipartisan push on Iraq policy. A group of lawmakers from both parties are sponsoring legislation to make the ISG’s 79 recommendations the official policy of the United States. Abramowitz notes that the administration is, in a way, already implementing some of the commission’s action points, including dialogue with Syria and Iran. It seems that the ISG recommendations are becoming the accepted counterpoint to the “surge,” the Bush policy that aborted the national debate over the group’s findings. As the pendulum swings back, it should be noted that any desperate DC consensus over the blue-ribbon report does not necessarily translate into better US fortunes in Iraq.
Baghdad’s artistic theater circle centered around the National Theater is highlighted in Ernesto Londoño’s enterprise report for the Post. Londoño describes the ambivalent feelings of the theater community: No longer targeted by the state censors, actors and intellectuals are now targeted by militias and gunmen, either for what they express on stage, or for no apparent reason at all. At least 14 actors have been killed since the 2003 invasion. At the same time, Londoño’s report offers a brief appreciation of the efforts of the theater community to express, in their own way, Iraq’s ineffable condition. Londoño describes a performance of “’The Intensive Care Unit’, a one-act play, (which) satirizes the country's ruined state. Cast members -- university students and recent graduates -- also portray a broken-hearted lover, a poet without a muse, an actor with no stage and a man hunched over from frantically searching for his lost ID. There's also a sweeper, a theater director, an Iraqi who wants to be a Westerner, a bully and The Authority, a stoic man in a long black coat to whom they all turn for guidance. The cast includes Sunnis, Shiites and a Christian. The actors are unpaid and most are unemployed. Performances are held only during the day, because the city turns into a ghost town after dark. There is no entrance fee. Audience members, most of whom are fellow actors or friends of cast members, are frisked for weapons and explosives as they enter.” Kudos to the Post for making space for a small part of Iraq’s rich cultural heritage. Worth a full read.
Also in the Post, Ann Scott Tyson prints an important update on US efforts to sidle into Sadr City. US strategy thus far rests on a combination of largesse on the one hand, and special forces raids on the other. Gen. Petraeus “personally approves” all targets for US raids in the 2-million-strong district, commanders said. However, this strategy only goes so far: Many in the Iraqi forces with whom the US is meant to be cooperating are affiliated with militias, the joint US-Iraqi base outside the district suffers constant attack, and recipients of US patronage are targeted for reprisals. Meanwhile “targeted” raids have continued in the district, and US sources say they have removed “a whole layer of middle people” in the Mahdi Army. The status of the militia in Sadr City (and all over the country) still remains unclear as Muqtada al-Sadr has not reversed his orders that the militia stand down as the security plan unfolds. As US reinforcements arrive in the coming weeks, Sadr City will be a major focus of US activity. “Commanders say they intend to use political negotiations to gain peaceful entry into the district, bringing with them Iraqi forces and reconstruction projects.” Should that fail, Tyson drops a bombshell about Plan B: "A second Falluja plan exists, but we don't want to execute it," a US officer in Baghdad told the Post.
Rick Jervis of USAT rounds up some of the issues concerning the draft oil law, reporting that influential Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman said that there is “no way” the Parliament will pass the bill by the Maliki government’s May 31 target date. For those who have been following the issue, there is little new in the USAT article. For those who haven’t, Jervis’s piece will get you started, but see also the Monitor’s extensive coverage some days ago. Jervis also does not note that the Shi'a community in Iraq does not speak with one voice about the draft, and that secular nationalist Iraqis also tend view the measure with suspicion.
In other coverage:
Without revealing much in the way of detail, the US military says it has broken up the Iraqi militant units responsible for the spate of helicopter downings earlier in the year, Jim Michaels writes in USAT. The operations apparently involved exploiting US intelligence on the attack methods and launching counterambushes on the assailants. The US Army’s top aviation officer, Maj. Gen. James Simmons told USAT that the number killed or captured in the operations was less than 100. Six military and two civilian helicopters were downed in January and February, ending in fatalities. A US military Kiowa chopper was downed in May, injuring two soldiers, and a Black Hawk was forced down in April with no casualties.
From Fort Drum, Oren Dorell looks at the culture of tattoo artistry among US soldiers, noting that soldiers returning from the Iraq and Afganistan theaters tend to opt for different designs than those shipping out. “In the beginning they wanted tattoos that identified them by name, religion or simply as soldiers,” said one tattoo artist, who said that “those who return are requesting skulls, patriotic phrases or memorials to fallen comrades.” Noting that the pain of the needle and the permanence of the design can be a form of ersatz therapy for veterans, Dorell also provides a brief history of tattoo art and a few examples of soldiers’ ink.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
Part description of a battle in Diyala province, part promo for Ahmad Chalabi, and part appeal for US support, Melik Kaylan contributes an op-ed to the Journal describing an attack at a gathering in Diyala where Chalabi was staging a media event for state-run al-Iraqiya television to support a group of local tribal shaykhs who had pledged to fight al-Qa'ida. If it is true of Chalabi, as Kaylan writes, that, “Among Iraqis he is highly respected,” why did his INC not win a single seat in the Parliament?
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
No Iraq coverage today.