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Daily Column
Diplomats Are Casting About to Find a New Formula to Influence Politics in Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 07/06/2009 02:00 AM ET
Well, US papers relied largely on wire stories today for their Iraq material. For original work, we have only the New York Times, with a “where we are now” piece worth reading.

From Baghdad
Alissa J. Rubin gives us some analysis of an emerging Iraq with everyday decisions increasingly being made by Iraqis, instead of the guests who invited themselves over six years ago.

Now more than ever, American military and civilian officials do not have the daily contact with national, local, military and tribal leaders, decreasing their influence greatly. Iraqis are operating without their English-speaking buffers, now somewhat out of the loop – something neither side is very used to.
As they deal with Iraqi politics, the Americans must find a new tone. They have a reputation for being heavy-handed, for telling Iraqis what to do rather than asking what they want — a legacy of the period when Americans were in charge as an occupying force. Now that Iraq is in most respects a sovereign country, that approach only generates hostility.
Rubin discusses an Obama administration Iraq policy that has seemed distant to many Iraqis, and Vice President Biden’s trip this week, intended to counter that impression. The big fear, as always, are sectarian divides.
National parliamentary elections set for January already look likely to be run along sectarian lines. Shiite parties are leaning toward forming a united coalition with only nominal Sunni support. That could push Sunnis to run together in order to maximize the number of seats they get — perpetuating a Lebanese style of politics, with ministries and other posts divided along sectarian and ethnic lines.
Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

The Latest
Border Surveillance, Checkpoints to Block "Infiltration" over Eastern Frontier
06/30/2009 6:34 PM ET
Google Earth image/

Iraqi forces in the southern province of Maysan have reinforced their positions along the Iran-Iraq border, according to remarks by the top provincial security officer reported in Arabic.

Maj. Gen. Sa’d Ali Ati al-Harbiya, commander of Maysan Police said that “Intensive security measures have been taken by (Iraqi) Army and Police forces especially along the eastern border with Iran to prevent any infiltration into Iraq.”

The general told al-Malaf Press that the security measures focus on “intensifying surveillance along the Iran-Iraq border” to prevent any cross-border penetration.

The security measures also include intensified inspections at the provincial border crossings as well as sending foot and mounted patrols in principal areas of the province, the security commander added.

Al-Harbiya added that Iraqi police and army forces have become capable of receiving the security file and are equipped to protect the province and to fill the void after the withdrawal of US forces from the cities.

There will be an official ceremony in the Majar al-Kabir district, about 25 miles south of the provincial capital Amara to mark the handover of the security file from the American forces, to be attended by the governor of Maysan Province and the head of the provincial council as well as the provincial police and Army commanders, along with US military commanders and key political and security figures in the province.

Daily Column
On Eve of U.S. Pullback, US Forces' New Role is Still Evolving
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/30/2009 02:00 AM ET
The future role of US forces in Iraq is beginning to emerge to fuller extent than in previous weeks, as is a vocabulary to explain it in the writings of American newspapers. It takes more than a soundbite (or even several paragraphs) at this point, but it continues to be boiled down, as official statements are being compared with each other and with what is happening on the ground. Today, most of the stories are based on Iraqi reaction and the prospects for security under the country’s own forces, but from within can be gotten a pretty full grasp of the situation as a whole.

From Iraq
We'll start off with Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post, who gives the best general picture of what’s happening. The celebrations in Iraq are the focus, but there are telling undercurrents, as people dance and sing at a government-sponsored event at Baghdad’s Zahwra Park.
But city streets were also largely empty of Humvees and U.S. troops. Those Iraqis who ventured out were in the mood to party, celebrating a moment that the Iraqi government has said represents its return to full sovereignty. "Out, America, out!" a group of sweat-drenched young men chanted. ...Iraqi policemen, many wearing body-armor vests without plates, bobbed their heads, taken by the moment.

As Americans adapt to the vaguely defined terms of the security agreement that set June 30 as the deadline for soldiers to leave the cities, there is little talk among U.S. commanders and diplomats of engineering a victory in the 2 1/2 years they expect to remain here. Some officials have begun saying privately that the best-case scenario would be to depart with a "modicum of dignity." Doing so will mean contending with a resilient insurgency, volatile politics and a growing assertiveness among Iraqis whose patience with the U.S. presence long ago wore thin.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf continues her coverage of Mosul, where a joint US/Iraqi ceremony included Ninewa Governor al-Najafi announcing "June 30 is the first day in the history of the true and complete independence of Iraq," and the top US general in the region displayed a sign reading "Iraqi approved US assistance teams" that will be placed on American military vehicles. Arraf has been pushing the understanding of the future US presence in Iraq through here Mosul reporting for weeks, and keeps it coming.
Six years into the war, it has become politically untenable for both Iraq and the US to have American combat troops in the streets. But although the intent of the security agreement is clear, the mechanics of how it will be carried out and how well it will work are much less certain.

The effectiveness of the agreement will come down to coordination – so far not the hallmark of the Iraqi military. Although there is an Iraqi officer embedded at the battalion tactical operations center, the Iraqis have not provided someone to fill the same function at the higher brigade level in Mosul.

...As if to underscore the concerns, last week at a major checkpoint in the city an IED packed with ball bearings exploded just after a US military training team drove past. The blast missed its apparent target and shattered the windows of a passing Iraqi car. The IED had been placed just a few hundred yards from the Iraqi Army checkpoint.
Marc Santora of the New York Times writes about US forces pulling out of Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, where the prospect of less security (even with more than 500 army soldiers, 700 National Police officers and 400 members of the Sunni Awakening - plus several hundred others) brings with it the specter of past sectarian violence. Though it marks improvement from the worst of times, it is a picture much more grim than that seen through the rose-colored lens of Iraqi state-run television.
Schools are open, including one where a teacher had been strung up by her feet and had her face cut off by extremists. For the first time since the outbreak of the war, major thoroughfares are lit up at night. Streets where raw sewage once streamed are now merely battered and strewn with trash.

But beneath the calm, the original sectarian tensions that exploded into civil war remain. Few displaced families have moved back into their houses, with Shiites living in the northern half and Sunnis in the south. Responsibility for security is also equally divided — the National Police for the Shiite area and the Iraqi Army for the Sunnis.

“Right now we are balanced on a knife’s edge,” said one Sunni man. “We do not like the Americans, but we also thank God when we see them with the Iraqi Army, because we know we can trust them more than the government forces.”
Aamer Madhani and Nadeem Majeed write, in USA Today, about the Zahwra Park celebration as well, and about other things less celebratory, such as the death on Mmonday of four US soldiers.
U.S. troops weren't in sight in the capital Monday. Instead, Iraqi police and soldiers flooded the streets — their vehicles covered in plastic flowers and streamers. Troops blared martial music and patriotic songs from speakers mounted at checkpoints throughout the city.

...While Iraq celebrated the switch-over, violence continued. The U.S. military announced Monday that a soldier was killed in combat on Sunday, but his name was not released. More than 4,300 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began in 2003.
"We are grateful for what the U.S. military did in toppling Saddam Hussein's regime and fighting the militias and al-Qaeda," said government spokesman Tahseen al-Sheikhly said. "What we need now is their help rebuilding our country."

"I pray our police and army will be able to provide us security," said Kareem Abdul Hassan, 56. "But I still feel uneasy about the situation."

From Elsewhere
Bidding on huge Iraqi oil contracts Tuesday are foreign companies far and wide – and one of the wider players is looking to be China. Keith Bradsher files from Hong Kong, and details some of China’s current and likely future involvement in Iraqi oil.
As the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing consumer of oil, China is showing increasing interest in oil fields in a country that has until very recently seemed to be firmly in the American sphere of influence for natural resources: Iraq.

...Chinese oil companies have been particularly interested in buying oil fields ever since crude oil prices plunged late last summer, because that dragged down the cost of oil fields as well, Mr. Andrews-Speed wrote. And with their experience in some of the most turbulent countries in Africa, Chinese oil companies may have the ability to cope with the unpredictability of Iraq.

The Latest
Qadisiya Province Home to Camp Echo
06/29/2009 8:20 PM ET
As American combat forces prepare to draw back from Iraq's urban centers under the terms of the US-Iraqi security agreement, the governor of Iraq’s al-Qadisiya province has announced that security forces in the southern governorate are ready to take the security file from the American forces.

Governor Salim Husayn Alwan announced that security forces in the southern province where violence has flared occasionally are “completely prepared” to take the security responsibility for the province after the withdrawal of American troops, al-Malaf Press writes in Arabic.

Speaking in a press conference that he convened in the provincial administration building in Diwaniya, the governorate capital, the governor added that he had taken several field tours of security installations in the province to observe preparations for the transfer of security responsibility.

The governor confirmed that under the US-Iraqi security agreement, Camp Echo in the province will be vacated by foreign combat forces and will be host to US reconstruction teams working in the province.

Security and intelligence measures are in place to contend with any attempts to interfere with the security handover, the governor added.

Daily Column
Anxiety, Pride in Iraq for Iraqis as U.S. Troops Leave Iraq's Cities
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/29/2009 02:00 AM ET
As one would expect, most of the news today is about the US troops largely leaving Iraq’s cities, and the Iraqi forces taking the reigns. Also, a story about a retiring marine pushing for more support for recuperating troops.

From Iraq
The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño writes of some of the Iraqi view on the withdrawal, from regarding “the presence of U.S. troops in their neighborhoods as a necessary evil, to, as one Iraqi put it, “only propaganda for Maliki.” He focuses on Salah al-Jbory, a Sunni tribal elder in Baghdad’s Dora region, one of the fiercest neighborhoods in the height of the sectarian violence, and one of the areas more commonly attacked by insurgent bombings in past months.
In a country where perception often matters more than reality, some Iraqis see the June 30 deadline as little more than symbolic. After all, more than 130,000 U.S. troops remain on Iraqi soil, and a mass drawdown is not expected until after the Iraqi general election in January.

...For Jbory, the withdrawal happened months ago, when American troops left the small combat outpost near his home. This time last year, Jbory was a busy man. Maliki named him head of a local support council that was to act as the eyes and ears of the government. The Americans, meanwhile, appointed him to oversee the transition and rehabilitation of inmates they released back into his neighborhoods. His office was always crowded and his calendar booked. He said he grew to regard the U.S. troops who came to him seeking information and counsel as his sons.

One night last winter, they left their small outpost quietly, never to come back. "I'm in charge of rehabilitation of detainees," he said, smoking a Davidoff cigarette with a plastic filter. "And no one told me they were leaving."
Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal writes of the growing unease with which Iraqi officials and residents are looking on, as US the transition happens. In Baghdad’s neighborhood of Khadra, Chon writes that fears of past sectarian violence are being heightened. A scary example is big red X’s suddenly appearing on some houses, and Chon writes that a Sunni resident said “he thought the symbol had sectarian significance since it seemed, from talking to neighbors, that the mark appeared on homes belonging to Sunni families.” “We're very scared about the meaning of this," the Sunni resident said in an interview. "Maybe we will be targeted for something.”

This brings up one crucial role that the US military has served – a buffer between sects.
U.S. officials worry that as they continue to battle the remnants of an insurgency and efforts to reignite sectarian strife, they will be losing critical, on-the-ground intelligence gleaned from the neighborhoods they once lived in and patrolled. The boots-on-the-ground approach was crucial to the Pentagon's mostly successful surge strategy in Baghdad.

Many Iraqis are still deeply suspicious of the sectarian leanings of the country's nascent security forces. For them, the pullout of American troops means the disappearance of an effective check on suspect Iraqi soldiers and police officers.
Also, she writes that the Iraqi Oil Ministry said Sunday it had pushed back by one day the announcement of winners of a closely watched oil-bidding round, citing a sandstorm that forced the shutdown of the Baghdad airport.

Aamer Madhani of USA Today has a story on a new focus US commanders have as a result of the transition, securing rural areas that they say insurgents are using as hide-outs to plan attacks. "The major mission for us is to stop activity from going into Baghdad," said Lt. Col. Jim Bradford, commander of the 1st Battalion 63rd Armor Regiment, having just moved from Baghdad to an area of surrounding countryside.

Madhani gives some specifics, and a particular example which illustrates the troops’ movement.
At the start of this year, just one U.S. battalion was overseeing the area around Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad, which had been a hotbed of insurgent activity earlier in the war that began in 2003. Now, there are three U.S. battalions, or roughly 2,400 soldiers, in the area.

About 130,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq and will still be available for combat operations if needed by their Iraqi counterparts. An unspecified number of troops are staying in cities to advise and train Iraqi forces. U.S. troop levels are not set to decline significantly until a gradual drawdown begins this fall as part of a security agreement that calls for all U.S. combat forces to leave Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010. All American troops are to be gone by the end of 2011.
Derrick Henry of the New York Times reports on Gen. Ray Odierno’s upbeat remarks to other news organizations. “I do believe they’re ready,” General Odierno said from Baghdad on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “They’ve been working towards this for a long time. And security remains good.” There is some run-of-the-mill analysis, but it’s mostly Odierno.
General Odierno, who also appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” said that he had seen “constant improvement” in the security force and governance in the region despite some large attacks last week.

Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, has called the withdrawal of American troops from cities a “great victory,” a repulsion of foreign occupiers. However, General Odierno said he did not agree.

“That’s not exactly how I read it,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “They’re seeing it as a progression in their capacities, and I think that’s the important point.”
In the Washington Post, Steve Vogel reports on the efforts of Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell’s efforts to improve the care of wounded marines, often isolated and left with little support past the medical care given. Maxwell noticed that they were living in empty barracks, away from other Marines, and that they had little supervision after being released. Having gone through the experience of being wounded in combat and sustaining a traumatic brain injury.
The simple question Maxwell asked is credited with changing how the Marine Corps supports its wounded. His advocacy for central billeting for Marines recovering from injuries led two years ago to the creation of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, headquartered at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

On Friday, at his retirement ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, Maxwell was saluted for his achievements by a crowd of 200 people, among them Gen. James F. Amos, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.
Christian Science Monitor, no original Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at


Wounded Warrior Project