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Daily Column
Iraq Moves Up Bids For Next Oil Fields
By DANIEL W. SMITH 07/03/2009 10:00 AM ET
Biden and oil made the news - not a lot of background information needed on those items. Also, another story about recently-released summaries of FBI interrogations of Saddam Hussein (both articles have been nice enough to point out that the interrogations took place before Hussein’s execution).

From Baghdad
In the New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Timothy Williams write that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. landed in Baghdad on Thursday, beginning a two-day diplomatic mission that he said was intended to “re-establish contact” with Iraqi leaders, intended to, as they say, “prod them toward settling internal disputes over oil revenues and political power-sharing.” Biden is called “a kind of unofficial envoy to the country.”
The trip is unusually long for such a high-level official; when Mr. Obama visited Iraq, he spent just a few hours here, and President George W. Bush did not spend more than a day. But Mr. Biden said Iraq was at a pivotal moment, “the moment where a lot of Iraqis cynically believed we’d never keep the agreement.” He said the White House wanted to send a message to Iraqi leaders that it was engaged at the highest levels.

In putting Mr. Biden in the role of unofficial envoy, Mr. Obama may have recognized that he needed to pay greater attention to Baghdad. Mr. Biden said the job was Mr. Obama’s idea: “The president said, ‘Joe, go do it.’ ”
The article also focuses on a deal recently reached between France and Iraq, in which the former will supply the latter with armaments, training, and reconstruction.

Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor writes about the Biden visit, but from a more Iraqi perspective, interviewing Foreign Minister Hoyshar Zebari. "My message to them is ... you lost Afghanistan in 2001, 2002, and 2003 because you turned your attention to Iraq from Afghanistan – now you are redirecting your attentions of Afghanistan and if you disengage with Iraq, it could be another failure. The situation is not that solid," said Zebari.
Now that violence has declined in most of the country, reconciliation between the Shiite-led government and Sunni factions, between Kurds and Arabs, and among a wide range of extremists who could potentially be persuaded to disarm and join the political process is seen as the key to building on the country's fragile stability.
"Iraq is no longer a priority, definitely," says Zebari. "In a way it is a good thing that the situation is moving but in another sense the situation still needs more attention, more focus, more engagement."

Gina Chon, your go-to gal for Iraq oil stories in the Wall Street Journal, writes that the Iraqi oil ministry announced it will move up a second round of licensing bids for 11 oil and natural-gas fields. They were to happen at the end of the year, but with the coffers not quite as flush as had been expected after the bidding earlier this week. A date hasn’t been set yet, but it could be as early as a few months.

Unlike the first round this week, the oil fields on offer for the second round haven't yet been developed or are only partially developed. The new round could also include the five oil fields that were offered but not awarded this week. The oil ministry said the two natural-gas fields that were part of the first round won't be reoffered. Instead, they will be developed by a new national oil company the ministry intends to set up.

This week's round disappointed oil executives and many industry observers, who were surprised by the ministry's tough pricing. The oil ministry typically set a $2 per-barrel payout for any new production the oil companies were able to squeeze out of the fields beyond current levels.
The New York Times’ Scott Shane writes about the summaries of 20 formal interviews and five additional “casual conversations,” an FBI interrogator held with Saddam Hussein, after his capture. It is about the same as the article in yesterday’s Washington Post, and a day later.

USA Today, Washington Post, no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
War Funding Bill Passes Senate, Hard Times for Iraqi Refugees in US
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/19/2009 02:00 AM ET
The Iraq news today is based back home in the states, with nothing filed from Iraq – but with all the papers we include in the roundup offering something. Coverage includes the war-funding bill now set for President Obama’s desk, problems adjusting for both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi refugees, and even comedy news shows about Iraq can’t get ratings.

Gregg Zoroya of USA Today reports that the rate of Army soldiers enrolled in treatment programs for alcohol dependency or abuse has nearly doubled since 2003, what he calls “a sign of the growing stress of repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Army statistics and interviews.” Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the paper, "I'm sure there are many factors for the rising numbers (of enrollments) ... but I can't believe the stress our people are under after eight years of combat isn't taking a toll." Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, told a pentagon briefing, “We're seeing a lot of alcohol consumption."

Though known drug abuse percentages haven’t increased substantially, writes Zaroya, soldiers diagnosed by Army substance abuse counselors with alcoholism or alcohol abuse, such as binge drinking, increased from 6.1 per 1,000 soldiers in 2003 to an estimated 11.4 as of March 31. Duration of deployment and active wars since 2001 are cited as mitigating factors.
He said identifying and treating substance and alcohol abuse will help improve the Army's mental health care and curb suicides, which reached a record 142 cases in 2008. There have been 82 confirmed or suspected suicides this year among active-duty, compared with 51 for the same period in 2008.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Patrik Jonsson and Kristen Chick cover American streets being found not to be paved with sometimes-promised gold for thousands of Iraqi refugees entering America's resettlement program. They write that “only 11 percent are finding work this year, compared with 80 percent two years ago. Many are frustrated as benefits dwindle, cash runs out, and eviction notices pile up.” In the past three years, 25,659 Iraqi refugees have arrived, and nonprofit resettlement agencies like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are urging this week an overhaul of America's three-decade-old refugee policy.
Refugees "never imagined that they would be struggling to survive here in America," says Alaa Naji, a refugee from Baghdad who now works in Atlanta for the IRC. "They expected more from a country that was involved in the violence that destroyed our land, homes, and loved ones."

...Some argue that US officials have oversold refugees' prospects. "You'll see there's a universal theme to complaints, which is that they were told they were going to have a great life, and they're completely shocked when they're given jobs like washing cars," says Ann Corcoran, a Washington County, Md., farmer who runs a critical blog, Refugee Resettlement Watch.
"We came here because we had no safety or security because of the US war in Iraq," said one refugee. "But we didn't think people were allowed to live like this in America.... If we could go back to Iraq, we would."

War Funding
On Thursday, the Senate approved the $106 billion war-funding bill with much less ado than its friends in the House did earlier in the week. All but three Republicans voted in favor of the bill, resulting in a 91-5 tally.

As Bernie Becker in the New York Times points out the following, in the article with the most and clearest information.
The support by Republicans stood in stark contrast to their counterparts in the House, where all but five Republicans voted against the bill. The division signaled continuing disarray within the party more than six months after it suffered steep losses in the November elections. Still, Republican support in the Senate did not come easy, and party members nearly succeeded in blocking the measure on a procedural motion that left Democrats scrambling for votes.
The Wall Street Journal’s Corey Boles and Josh Mitchell and Kendra Marr of the Washington Post both hardly mention that war funding is even involved in the bill, and focus on the "cash for clunkers" car trade-in voucher program attached to the bill.

Iraq on TV
The Colbert Report broadcasts taped in Baghdad last week as a USO event wasn’t able to get much better ratings than the real news coming from here, as reported by Lisa de Morales in the Washington Post.
According to Nielsen, about 1.4 million people watched Colbert from Iraq last week. That is fewer viewers than he had the last time his show was live. Colbert's visit to Iraq also seems to have sent some of his younger fans fleeing. The median age of his audience last week was 40. The same week a year ago, it was 33.9.
Colbert should be given points, though, for emulating WWII-era Bob Hope radio broadcasts, even if it isn’t popular, and even if the broadcasts were somewhat gimmicky (as reported by a member of the seldom-used Iraqslogger network in New Haven, CT - who chose to remain anonymous, for security reasons).

One problem might have been that, though they finally relented and let some journalists here in Baghdad attend the broadcasts, the US military (or perhaps Comedy Central) made it very difficult for the media to cover it, for some reason.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Face of Attacks in Iraq Turns Younger, U.S. Says
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/07/2009 02:11 AM ET
Today, a costly “secret” ad campaign is seen as ineffective, attacks are seen differently by Iraqis and US military forces present, and Thomas L. Friedman sees things his own way.

From Baghdad
The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño writes a story that is may be news to untold numbers of people working for western companies contracted by Uncle Sam to produce expensive media campaigns in Iraq who think they’re working in secret. It is well known to Iraqis, though. Several newspapers, posters, billboards, TV commercials, etc. are all seen around Iraq – and are often clearly not produced domestically, even at a glance. Londoño writes...
U.S. military officials and contractors have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on billboards, pamphlets and TV and radio airtime in Iraq over the past six years to burnish the U.S. military's image, marginalize extremists, promote democracy and foster reconciliation. Some campaigns have been designed to encourage Iraqis to turn their backs on insurgent groups and cooperate with the U.S. military and Iraq's security forces. Others have loftier themes: democratic values, sectarian reconciliation and national pride.

In a country where few things work well, where security forces have a checkered reputation and sectarian tension remains high, many Iraqis have grown dismissive of the flood of propaganda they know or assume comes from the U.S. government.
Here are a few quotes that give the basic gist.

An engineer in Fallujah said her friends and relatives ridicule the ads. "These commercials are boring, poor and annoying," she said. "Everyone knows they're American -- not Iraqi-made."

According to an Arabic political science professor at California State University, the campaigns are ridiculed in the Arab world. "They have a very crude tone and content, and the narrator sounds like Saddam's own propagandist," he said. "The Arabic used also is awkward, clearly translated from English texts most likely drafted in some office on K Street. One is struck by the extent to which the ads show Iraqis as Westernized and secularized."

Marc Santora of the New York Times writes that, “even as American combat troops move to withdraw from Iraq’s cities by the end of the month, several recent episodes have highlighted the dangers Americans still face here, complicated by what the military says is an increasing presence of children in the fighting.” In Hilla, residents said American forces shot and seriously wounded a 6-year-old girl on Saturday after an IED targeted their patrol, but American military officials deny it.
Separately on Saturday, the military issued a news release detailing what it said was an increasing pattern of extremists recruiting children to conduct attacks. It cited three cases in the past few weeks outside the northern city of Kirkuk in which children 14 to 16 tried to attack Americans with grenades.

...Children are desirable recruits, military officials said, because they are likely to draw less scrutiny and American forces are less likely to use force against them. In many attacks, it remains unclear exactly what took place, with residents giving accounts that diverge from official American or Iraqi explanations.
The point that what exactly happened is often unclear is important, as there have been several cases of American fire after IED and grenade attacks that Iraqis characterize as “random” and of children or teenagers being blamed by Americans afterward. Both sides may be in the dark, or may just have conclusions they naturally draw from certain situations.

New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman writes that, “After Cairo, Comes Clinton.” He begins by complaining about a common reaction to Obama’s Cairo speech by analysts and officials in the Middle East - “It’s not what he says, but what he does.” Friedman then writes an article about exactly that - what should be done by Obama, through his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. He makes it all about Iraq.
The most valuable thing that Mrs. Clinton could do right now is to spearhead a sustained effort — along with the U.N., the European Union and Iraq’s neighbors — to resolve the lingering disputes between Iraqi factions before we complete our withdrawal. (We’ll be out of Iraq’s cities by June 30 and the whole country by the close of 2011.)

Why? Because if Iraq unravels as we draw down, the Obama team will be blamed, and it will be a huge mess. By contrast, if a decent and stable political order can take hold in Iraq, it could have an extremely positive impact on the future of the Arab world and on America’s reputation.
He keeps the focus mostly on Iraq, speaking some about Arabs not having a model for democracy, and of the entire Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan situation being “one war,” within the Arab-Muslim world between progressive and anti-modernist forces (as if there have been no outside influences).

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

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
How Some Iraqis Responded
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/05/2009 02:00 AM ET
There was less coverage from Iraq than one might expect, on the day of the hugely-hyped presidential speech by President Obama, addressing the Muslim world (the populations of which are seen as being at odds with America, largely over the invasion of Iraq). Some of the articles didn’t even mention Iraq. Still, there’s a paragraph here and there, either describing Obama’s references to Iraq, or brief Iraqi reaction. The articles really follow the same format, and as far as Iraq goes, none set themselves very far ahead.

From Cairo
Michael Slackman reports for the New York Times, stating that, “In Iraq, after six years of occupation, missed opportunities and failed promises, there was a heavy dose of skepticism.”
In cafes and restaurants, televisions were turned to sports or movies or blared music videos. When a man at a restaurant in Mosul tried to change the channel to the speech, diners shouted at him, “What a stupid speech!” In the Shorooq restaurant in Karbala, a small crowd heckled Mr. Obama as he spoke about Israel. “The most important thing is to accomplish things, not just say them,” said Alaa Sahib Abdullah, a 30-year-old lawyer.

....While many listeners generally agreed with Mr. Obama’s comments about violence and extremism, some said they disliked his characterization of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which they described as bloody catastrophes.

The Washington Post’s Howard Schneider wrote that a communications worker in Baghdad said, "It is the first time I've seen a U.S. president speaking like this."

USA Today has a nice graph with excerpts from the speech and corresponding reaction, organized by subject material. Included is reaction from Moqtada al-Sadr, who is reported to have said, "The honeyed and flowery speeches express only one thing that America wants to adopt a different attitude in subduing the world and putting it under its control and globalization."

Margaret Coker of the Wall Street Journal had more reaction.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the speech reflected greater understanding of Mideast culture and "reduces the chance of growth of extremist ideas that are trying to tarnish the image of Islam in the world."

Ahmed Dagher, an Iraqi civil servant, said he connected with Mr. Obama on a personal level when the U.S. leader talked about his Muslim relatives in Kenya and his childhood in Indonesia.
In the Christian Science Monitor, Howard LaFranchi quotes Clovis Maksoud, director of American University's Center for the Global South in Washington.
"He's replaced the diplomacy of dictation with the diplomacy of attempted persuasion, and that entails respect for the Muslim people," says Maksoud. "That can go a long way in defusing the residual anger that has existed," especially after the war in Iraq.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Thursday Night News
06/04/2009 8:40 PM ET
By Daniel W. Smith and Yousif al-Timimi

President Obama’s goodwill address to Muslims of the world from Cairo University was an obvious big story, but it did not dominate coverage as much as one might have thought. All channels included it, played excerpts and had political analysts giving generally positive, but decidedly mixed analysis. A few examples are, “We (Arabs) should go for what Obama is offering. We are weak and in no position to argue," while another said, "Obama hasn't brought anything new to the table. It’s just a bubble that will hit the surface and then be gone.” Al-Baghdadiya highlighted negative remarks by Sadrist politicians. American-backed Al-Hurra Iraq was the only channel to really make it the single focal point of the night. Second was government-sponsored Al-Iraqiya.

Al-Sharqiya covered little else but the death of three people from Dorra, who had last been seen being arrested by Iraqi “counter terrorism forces.” Their bodies were found later in a field, reportedly bearing the marks of being tortured, shot, and “fed to the dogs.” Late at night, they gave a warning to put children to bed and showed some grizzly footage of the bodies in a morgue, with prominent dog bites. There was some discussion as to whether the bodies had just been fed on some by stray dogs, but there was more talk of it being part of the torture – said to be a tactic borrowed “from Americans” (think Abu-Graib photos). Al-Baghdadiya also covered it, but not with the same intensity. On Baghdad TV, MP Maha al-Dori said “In next few days, we will request the Minister of Human Rights to come to parliament to be questioned for the violent mistreatment of detainees.”

Different channels reported that five civilians were injured by an IED in Dora, and another IED targeted an American convoy in Yarmok, wounding several, as well as a car bomb in Mosul, killing one and wounding four. Al-Rafadain and Baghdad TV spent some time reporting that a sniper shot and killed a U.S. soldier in Karama, near Ramadi. The Sahwa leader of Hawija, outside Kirkuk, escaped assassination by an IED. Other IEDs were said to have targeted American convoys in both Hilla and Jalawla.

Also on Baghdad TV, it was reported that “Al-Maliki requested MPs to reduce their “statements of fury” about Kuwait." On the same channel, MP Qais al-Ammeri said “Not improving the Iraqi economy will affect the political and security situation in Iraq.”

Ahmed Chalabi was got some attention for holding several meetings in an attempt to bring back together all the parties previously part of the Aitilaff coalition.

The Iranian housing minister shown meeting with Karbala’s governor to discuss “a new rebuilding plan” of the city.

Comments on the Iraqi TV roundup are welcome at
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