Monday, May 22, 2006

Two tones on Tony Blair and the latest with Iraq

CNN has the most tepid account of Tony Blair's visit to Iraq. You have to dig down deep to arrive at the following:
The senior British official told PA he hoped that at least one of the four of Iraq's 18 provinces currently controlled by UK forces would be able to transfer to civilian control soon.

He said: "The UK has four provinces. I would certainly hope that at least one of our provinces would be able to transfer during the course of the summer."

That would almost certainly be al Muthana or Maysan, the two most stable of the provinces -- the others being Basra and Dhi Kar, PA said.

But the official repeatedly made clear that handing over to civilian control would not lead to an immediate repatriation of British troops this summer.
However, the London Times and the Guardian have a very different sentiment and give it top-billing.

The Times of London lede:
Britain and Iraq announced an accelerated timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from much of Iraq today during a surprise visit by Tony Blair to show his support for the country's new government.

Britain could return two southern provinces to Iraqi security control within in a few months. Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's new Prime Minister, said that he expected as many as 16 of the 18 provinces to be "Iraqi-ised" - under the control of Iraqi forces - by the end of this year.
The Guardian's:
The new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, today said Iraqis could be in control of security by the end of the year in all of the country apart from Baghdad and Anbar province.

Mr Maliki, appearing at a news conference with Tony Blair, who is visiting Baghdad, indicated that he expected the Iraqi government to begin taking over control of some of the more peaceful provinces from the multinational forces from next month.
The different accounts from CNN and the Brits are not mutually exclusive, but their tones are very different.

TIME on the new Iraqi government:
But for many Iraqis, such optimism is hard to justify, especially since the new government includes several of the inept, corrupt and thoroughly discredited leaders who had made such a hash of the interim administration under the previous Prime Minister, Ibrahim Jaafari. Indeed, the most discredited of them all, former Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, has received a promotion.

During his year as Interior Minister, Jabr had become the symbol of governmental failure — and that was the charitable view. Others, especially the minority Sunnis, accused him of looking to other way as Shi'ite militias infiltrated the police force and, shielded by their uniforms, launched a campaign of kidnapping, torture and assassination of Sunnis. Jabr is himself connected to the Badr Brigades, a Shi'ite militia that was created and funded by Iran. Although he denied that death squads were at large in the police force, he failed to halt the killings, which currently run at around 1,000 a month in Baghdad alone.

In the new cabinet, Jabr has been made Finance Minister. "The message this sends to Iraqis is that incompetence is acceptable, even in the most crucial ministries," says a Western diplomat in Baghdad. "Any cabinet that has Bayan Jabr in a top position is starting with a huge credibility gap."
The A.P. via the Boston Globe: "Iraqi leader vows to stop bloodshed"

The San Francisco Chronicle:
Just a year ago, Sunnis were the driving force behind the calls for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. (The Chronicle agreed not to identify the man and some other Iraqis interviewed for this story to protect their safety.) But since the Feb. 22 bombing of the revered Shiite Askariya Shrine in Samarra, the dramatic escalation in sectarian violence has given Sunnis an enemy to loathe more than the Americans -- Iraqi police, who are mostly Shiite.

Sunnis say militias affiliated with Shiite political parties have infiltrated the police and are using their status to kidnap, torture and kill Sunni civilians. Shiite officials have denied the accusations.

The interim head of the Interior Ministry -- which has authority over police forces -- was a Shiite, and control of the agency is so controversial that the selection of a permanent minister has been postponed by the coalition government that took office Saturday.


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