In the NYT John Burns narrates from Baghdad the macabre scene of the execution of Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s half-brother and former head of his secret police, and Awad Hamad al-Bandar, former head of the Iraqi revolutionary courts, as captured in a video shown to a small group of reporters by Iraqi officials. Burns also describes the arrangement that Iraqi officials had negotiated to obtain custody of the two Sunni men in order to carry out their sentences, including a technical discussion of the mechanics of proper hanging. The US had insisted that the event be managed to avoid the embarrassing public relations incidents that followed the hanging of Saddam Hussein, and only then agreed to helicopter the two men from Camp Cropper near Baghdad to the gallows in the former secret police headquarters before dawn yesterday. Unfortunately for the US and the Maliki regime, another wave of recriminations from Sunni leaders followed the execution as Barzan was decapitated in the process, sending both the US and the Iraqis into public relations damage control mode.
In the Washington Post, Joshua Partlow and Muhanned Saif Aldin also discuss the fallout of the hangings, with less morbid detail of the scene inside the gallows chamber, but registering more Iraqi and regional reactions to the executions, referring to celebrations in some Shi`a areas of Iraq, and condemnations from Sunni leaders, human rights groups, and the UN. Despite the Maliki government’s claims to the contrary, many Sunnis claim that Barzan’s decapitation was a humiliating act of revenge by the Shi`a-led regime.
The Times and the Wall Street Journal both point to US diplomatic efforts in the region in support of its new initiatives. In the Times, Michael Slackman reports from Cairo that Condoleezza Rice was silent about issues of human rights and democracy during her visit to that country, even as allegations of torture, corruption, and repression were circulating only days before her visit. This contrasts with the “scolding” that Rice had delivered the Egyptian regime during previous visits, signaling a Bush administration retreat from the rhetoric of widespread political transformation in the Middle East, and a new appreciation of stable authoritarian allies as the US seeks regional support for its Iraq policy and its confrontational stance against Iran.
In a piece focused on Israeli-Palestinian issues, Thom Shanker and Greg Myre also note that Rice had achieved at least verbal support from Egypt’s foreign minister, Ahmad Aboul Gheit for the US escalation plan during her visit. Rice will continue on to visit Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf allies.
From Brussels and Egypt, Greg Jaffe and Neil King, Jr. note in the Wall Street Journal a new Bush administration talking point and policy dilemma: Condoleezza Rice in Egypt and Robert Gates in Europe are both sounding grim warnings about Iranian ascendancy in the Middle East, should the US fail to achieve its goals in Iraq. Rice has been shuttling in the region; Gates is headed there today. The US apparently hopes to play on fears among conservative Sunni allies in the Gulf that Shi`a political expression in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, or Bahrain might be a conduit for Iranian influence in the region. However, they write that “winning broad support in the Persian Gulf region for the weak Iraqi government, or even for an overt campaign against Iran, won't be easy. The region's Sunni Arab states -- most of which either Mr. Gates or Ms. Rice are visiting this week -- are leery of the Shiite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They are also apprehensive about lining up too publicly alongside the U.S. in a Cold War-style, anti-Iran bloc.” Says Gates of Iran, "They are doing nothing constructive in Iraq" and "are acting in a very negative way in many respects." Iranian officials might say similar things about the US.
NEW YORK TIMES
Ivar Ekman reports for the NYT on the large Iraqi community in Sweden and Swedish asylum policy. Numbering over 80,000, Iraqis make up the second largest immigrant group in Sweden, after Finns. That figure is growing with the mass exodus of refugees from Iraq. Ekman quotes a 63-year old Iraqi woman: “For Iraq, there is no hope,” she said. “For me, my wish is that I get word that my daughter and granddaughters are alive, and that I can help them to come here, to Sweden.”
Walter Pincus writes up the debate over the plan to use two Kurdish pesh merga brigades in operations in Baghdad. Although seen as some of the best fighters in the country, the loyalty of Kurdish forces to the aims of the central state is not assured. Moreover, open hostilities between Kurdish and Mahdi Army militiamen in Kirkuk may carry over into the capital if pesh merga are deployed in pro-Sadr areas of Baghdad. Questions also have emerged about the willingness of Kurds to bear arms against fellow Sunnis in alliance with the United States.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
The CSM’s Iraq coverage focuses on domestic implications of the Iraq war. Ron Scherer gets top billing today with a story on mounting concerns in Congress and among analysts about the fiscal consequences of the Bush administration's "borrow now, pay later" approach to financing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the cost is still only one percent of GDP, tax cuts and heavy borrowing beg the question of how the bill will ultimately be paid off. White House accounting practices have made it difficult to pin down with precision the current cash outlay (estimated to be nearing the cost of the Vietnam or Korean Wars), and future costs of supporting injured veterans and replacing exhausted equipment loom large.
No big scoop, but Linda Feldmann catches the Monitor up on the role that Iraq is taking in the 2008 campaign, describing the triangulation between Democratic frontrunners Clinton, Edwards, and Obama on the one hand, and potential fissures between GOP hopefuls McCain, Giuiliani, Romney, Brownback, and Hegel, on the other.
Suggesting a cycle of endless escalation, the CSM runs a clever editorial cartoon today featuring a yellow ribbon-cum-Mobius-band with the self-repeating message: "Support the Troops . . . with Ever More Troops." Worth a quick click.
Rick Jervis writes about a press conference inside the Green Zone in which General Casey, outgoing commander of US forces discussed troop surge: "As with any plan, there are no guarantees of success, and it's not going to happen overnight. But with sustained political support, and the concentrated efforts on all sides, I believe that this plan can work."
Susan Page writes up a USAT/Gallup poll taken over the weekend that showed little change in American public opinion after Bush's recent address. The public’s support for Bush’s policies in Iraq remains low. Over sixty percent of those polled would support a nonbinding congressional resolution opposing the escalation, whereas those polled were divided relatively evenly over whether Congress should deny the president funding.
In opinion, DeWayne Wickham suggests that the Iraq invasion might have parallels to earlier episodes of US economic imperialism in Panama and Hawaii. Citing reports in the British press that the Bush administration has been heavily involved in writing Iraq’s new hydrocarbon regulations to the advantage of Western oil corporations, he wonders if economic interests, rather than the selfless promotion of democracy, may explain the US interest in Iraq.