Sunday, February 26, 2006

Morning copy 02.26.2006


The Washington Post: "Shiite Militias Roam Free Despite Curfew, Occupy Sunni Mosques"

Zeyad has an update:
An armed Sunni group was able to retake the Salman Al-Farisi shrine from elements of the Mahdi militia at Madain (Salman Pak), southeast of Baghdad, this evening. It was reported that they have seized a large amount of weapons and ammunition from the periphery of the shrine. It should be mentioned that there is a huge presence of Interior ministry forces in Madain, namely the Al-Karrar and the Al-Hussein brigades.

In Baghdad, 15 mosques were retaken, but no details on locations.
Knight Ridder Newspapers:
BAGHDAD - Fear of full-scale civil war continued to mount Saturday as Iraq's minority Sunni Muslim population lashed back in a bloody campaign of retaliation after three days of Shiite Muslim militiamen and mobs killing Sunnis and attacking their mosques.
Al Jazeera:
Iraqi political leaders have agreed to push ahead with US-sponsored efforts to form a government and condemned sectarian violence in an attempt to ease the gravest crisis in postwar Iraq.
BBC News: "Iraq leaders see hope of progess"

The Observer:
Iraq's leading Sunni political bloc said yesterday it would rejoin talks to form a government of national unity if the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, followed through on measures designed to banish the prospect of religious war between Shia and Sunni communities.
AFP: "Iraq's Sunnis and Sadr's movement make peace"

Juan Cole points to this New York Times story and says:
In some of the best reporting on the role of the Shiite clerics in this crisis, Robert Worth and Ed Wong of the NYT reveal that the Americans in Iraq initially were powerless when the crisis broke out on Wednesday, and could only hope that the Shiite clerics would calm people down. They only gradually realized that the clerics were equally capable of stirring people up, and that the clerics themselves were under enormous pressure from enraged followers to do something.

This last point is why it is so dangerous for Sistani to form his tribal levies into a militia. He will be hostage in some ways to their enthusiasms.
Steve at The News Blog sees this as the rise of Sadr. His points on Sadr are all interesting and valid, but Sadr could never take power in opposition to Sistani -- unless Sistani is widely viewed as incapable. Sistani's move to augment his influence with a militia could be a check, in this regard. Or, Sistani may now genuinely feel that the government is not a viable first option for security.

None of those explanations, nor the point raised by Professor Cole, are good signs.

The Washington Post:
Current U.S. military commanders say they have come to understand that they are fighting within a political context, which means the results must first be judged politically. The pace and shape of the war also have changed, with U.S. forces trying to exercise tactical patience and shift responsibilities to Iraqi forces, even as they worry that the American public's patience may be dwindling.
The Los Angeles Times: "Analysts See Lebanon-ization of Iraq in Crystal Ball"

MikeVotes has this interesting observation:
Over the last few weeks, it's become apparent, if you look at the bylines, that the wire services have started employing Iraqis to go out and get photographs. Interestingly, this has resulted in a very different composition. Just looking tonight on the Yahoo Iraq tab, there are four pictures of injured small children and several bodies in the most recent 30 pictures or so whereas before you would rarely see one a week. The US and European photographers had been taking alot more pictures of US and British soldiers because that was who they were travelling with.

Previously, almost all the Iraqis pictured were insurgents or townspeople talking with US soldiers, whereas now, with the far greater mobility of local photographers, we're seeing the rest of the people. I don't know what impact it will have; it's just an observation.
Port security

The New York Times:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 — After two days of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Bush administration and Congress, the Dubai company seeking to manage terminals at six American ports is expected to announce by Monday a deal inviting the government to conduct a broad new review of security concerns, senior administration officials and a company adviser say.
TIME Magazine:
If approved by all parties, the new deal would allow Bush to avert a GOP-driven bill to overturn the Dubai deal with enough votes to override Bush's threat of his first veto. Republican sources tell TIME that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee proposed the basic terms of a deal designed to give the White House a graceful way out, while also allaying the concerns of the many lawmakers in both parties who have said the deal could be a threat to our security. Under the Frist plan, the deal could stand a good chance of ultimately going through after the extended review. Frist aides apparently proposed the terms to representatives of the company and the White House late Friday. Neither has formally responded but both seemed interested in the idea, according to a Senate Republican aide. "This avoids a direct clash," the aide said. "It solves everyone's problem. The President doesn't have to cancel the deal or veto anything."
A.P.: "Homeland Security protested ports deal"

Best pun of the day goes to the Washington Times: "Strategy on ports gets sea change"

The Baltimore Sun headlines with "Ports deal puts focus on vetting" and:
Now that a United Arab Emirates company is poised to assume some operations at six U.S. ports, including Baltimore's, the resulting surge of criticism has cast a glaring light on a process so enigmatic that it gives the tight-lipped National Security Agency a run for its money.

"Clearly," said Peter Morici, a University of Maryland business professor who once worked for the U.S. International Trade Commission, "it's too secretive."
The New York Times (the really important port story lost in the hullabaloo):
“We’re not really debating whether the ports are secure,” said Thomas H. Kean, the group’s chairman. “We’re debating who should be running them. It’s the wrong question.”

The right question, in the view of Mr. Kean and his vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, is whether oceangoing cargo is adequately screened for bombs. They grade the effort so far a near-failure.
Also in the New York Times:
In short, even at this model port, the security regimen set up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, largely at the request of the United States government, is far from enough to address the vulnerabilities that make ports still such an attractive terrorist target.

It explains why so many port experts consider as misplaced the furor that erupted this week over whether Dubai Ports World, the government-owned company that operates this port, should be allowed to take over management of terminals in six American cities.
Rep. Peter King (R., NY) will be on Meet the Press today, and his political capital could not be higher. Here's hoping that Russert steers King to more port security topics.

Al Qaeda

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, writes the following about Osama bin Laden in the Washington Post:
What's left is the question: What are the United States and its ally, Pakistan, doing about it?

Not enough, according to high-ranking Afghan, Pakistani and Western officials I've spoken to here. Indeed, the disastrous policies of the United States and Pakistan, starting with the aftermath of the war in 2001, have only hastened the radicalization of northwest Pakistan and made it more hospitable to bin Laden and his Taliban allies. The region has become a haven for bin Laden and a base for Taliban raids across the border back into Afghanistan which they had fled.

Not that you'd be able to tell any of that from what Bush administration officials have been saying. Almost everything the administration claims about the al Qaeda leader is tinged with bravado and untruthfulness. "We are dealing with a figure who has been able to hide, but he's on the run," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said earlier this month. Here in Pakistan, however, the view is different. Bin Laden is not considered to be on the run, but well protected by friends who are making his life as comfortable as possible.

After all, his number two, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, appears to have a busy social calendar in Pakistan's Pashtun belt. U.S. missiles narrowly missed him at a dinner party held in his honor on Jan. 13.
The Times of London also has a very important Op-Ed:
Last week’s desecration of a Shi’ite shrine moved Iraq towards civil war. Abdel Bari Atwan, who has had unique access to Osama Bin Laden, explains why Al-Qaeda wants to divide Islam
From Russia with Scrutiny

The Washington Post tells us that the Bush administration is finally getting wise to the Kremlin:
The Bush administration is quietly exploring ways of recalibrating U.S. policy toward Russia in the face of growing concerns about the Kremlin's crackdown on internal dissent and pressure tactics toward its neighbors, according to senior officials and others briefed on the discussions.

Vice President Cheney has grown increasingly skeptical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and shown interest in toughening the administration's approach. He summoned Russia scholars to his office last month to solicit input and asked national intelligence director John D. Negroponte to provide further information about Putin's trajectory, the sources said.
I hope no one has told Dick Cheney about Russia's nuclear weapons program.

Domestic politics round up at the end because I am tired

The New Orleans Times Picayune:
The construction of sector gates to keep storm surges out of the Industrial Canal, and permanent backflow protection to stop inland flooding through pump stations in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, are among $1.46 billion in hurricane protection improvements the Bush administration is asking Congress to authorize and finance.
The Hartford Courant:
By lining up early endorsements from Democratic leaders and organized labor, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman signaled Thursday he is taking seriously the anti-war candidacy of Ned Lamont.
Robert Novak:
A prominent anti-abortion Catholic legislator in New Hampshire on Feb. 17 sent a ''confidential invitation for addressee only'' to a meeting with Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 3 p.m. March 17 at the Upham-Walker House in Concord, N.H.

Republican state Rep. Maureen C. Mooney said the meeting would be ''private'' and ''closed to the press.'' She added Romney would answer questions from a ''small group of conservatives.''
The Houston Chronicle:
WASHINGTON - Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, is trailing his potential Democratic opponent, former Rep. Nick Lampson, in fundraising and cash in the bank, according to new financial reports that covered the first six weeks of the year.


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