Wearing a helmet and a flak jacket and flanked by machine-gun-toting bodyguards to defend against insurgents, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came here Thursday, insisting that there were new signs of progress in Iraq and that the Bush administration had never sugarcoated its news about the American occupation.
The above is from Philip Shenon's "Rice, in Baghdad, Insists That Iraqis Are 'Making Progress'" in this morning's New York Times and why is it always important to mainstream reporters to note what Condi Rice is wearing? Fortunately, the article goes beyond the "fashion" report so many Rice filings are:
Yet signs of progress were not much in evidence in the first hours of her visit.
It began inauspiciously when the military transport plane that brought her to Baghdad was forced to circle the city for about 40 minutes because of what a State Department spokesman later said was either mortar fire or rockets at the airport.
On Thursday evening, during her meeting with President Jalal Talabani, the lights went out, forcing Ms. Rice to continue the discussion in the dark. It was a reminder of the city's erratic -- and sometimes nonexistent -- electrical service.
She arrived in the midst of an especially bloody few days for American troops. At least 21 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since Saturday, most in Baghdad. Two car bombings in the city on Thursday left at least four Iraqi civilians dead.
The extraordinary security precautions for Ms. Rice’s trip here -- her first to Iraq in six months, her fifth as secretary of state -- were evidence of continuing turmoil in Iraq three years after the American ouster of Saddam Hussein.
Shenon notes that after finally landing, military helicopters whisked Rice to "to the heavily fortified American-controlled Green Zone, bypassing the dangerous, explosives-strewn airport highway into the city." Three years after the beginning of the illegal war, four years this coming March. The realities of Iraq include that Rice's plane can't land for forty minutes and when it does, she must avoid the highway others travel.
Martha notes Robin Wright's "Rice Pushes Iraqis to Defuse Violence" (Washington Post):
During the dinner, Iraq's parliamentary speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, suggested to Rice that U.S. troops reoccupy Baghdad, where the government's new security plan has made limited progress, according to both Iraqi and U.S. participants. Mashhadani, the leading Sunni Arab in government, until recently had denounced the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq.
[. . .]
In a reflection of the deteriorating security situation here, Rice's plane was forced to circle Baghdad for nearly an hour before landing because of a mortar attack near the airport.
Violence continued to rage across Iraq, with at least 35 people killed or found dead in separate incidents across the country, police said.
The U.S. military announced that two Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7 were killed in combat Wednesday in Anbar province, the volatile Sunni insurgent stronghold. And a Kurdish member of parliament, Mohammed Ridah Sinkawi, was assassinated by militia members in northeast Baghdad on Thursday night, according to Mohammed Abu Bakr, another Kurdish legislator.
No 'liberation' in sight. Just continued chaos and violence and it's not getting any better, not even with Condi rushing over to strong arm the puppet government. The 'crackdown' provided additional violence, not security. The puppet's four-part 'peace' plan is so embarrassing that reporters avoid noting the third plank (the death of press freedom) and try to rush in to credit him for 'security councils' which, in fact, were already established by local communities before he decided to 'think up' the idea.
Things just continue to get worse and, on that note, Lloyd highlights Sudarsan Raghavan's "Another Freedom Cut Short" (Washington Post):
The cleric's young men fanned out across the neighborhood, moving from shop to shop, posting the new religious decrees.
Printed neatly on white-and-green fliers, the edicts banned vices like "music-filled parties and all kinds of singing." They proscribed celebratory gunfire at weddings and "the gathering of young men" in front of markets and girls' schools. Also forbidden were the "selling of liquor and narcotic drugs" and "wearing improper Western clothes."
But at the bottom of the list of prohibitions was a single command. Scrawled in green ink, it read simply: "Cut hair."
"I feel powerless," lamented Moataz Hussein, 22, a wiry, soft-voiced teacher seated in a hair salon on the main road of the Tobji neighborhood on Sunday. His long, stylish black hair was now a recent memory. "They are controlling my life."
Amid the sectarian strife plaguing Baghdad, a wave of religious fundamentalism is curbing personal freedoms and reshaping the daily lives of Iraqis who have long enjoyed one of the most liberal lifestyles in the Arab world. The measures speak to a central question dangling over the future of Iraq: Can it remain a secular nation at a time when religion is exerting a powerful influence on every aspect of life, from politics to the mundane elements of society?
And it's that kind of reality that leads to the reaction noted by David S. Cloud's "Senator Says U.S. Should Rethink Iraq Strategy" (New York Times):
The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee warned Thursday that the situation in Iraq was "drifting sideways" and said that the United States should consider a "change of course" if violence did not diminish soon.
The chairman, Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, expressed particular concern that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had not moved decisively against sectarian militias.
"In two or three months if this thing hasn't come to fruition and this level of violence is not under control, I think it's a responsibility of our government to determine: Is there a change of course we should take?" Senator Warner said.
He did not specify what shift might be necessary in Iraq, but he said that the American military had done what it could to stabilize Iraq and that no policy options should be taken "off the table." He was speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference after returning from a Middle East trip that included a one-day visit to Baghdad.
His comments underscored the growing misgivings of even senior Republicans about the situation in Iraq. They also appeared to be a warning to the Bush administration that it might have to consider different approaches after the November midterm elections.
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