Wednesday, July 09, 2008

AP journalist held; Dana Perino says Whitehouse doesn't do timetables

An American soldier was killed Tuesday when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.
The military also reported the deaths of four private contractors in a similar attack the previous day in northern Iraq. Eight contractors were injured in that bombing, about 15 miles south of the city of Mosul.

The above is from Alexandra Zavis' "Roadside bombs kill 5 in Iraq, U.S. military says" (Los Angeles Times)which we'll start with because Zavis opens with it. That is important so is a topic a friend's just called about. Remember Bilal? Click here for past Bilal Hussein coverage by AP.

That's Bilal. He's a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Free Bilal. From the April 16th snapshot:

Bilal is free. The Committee to Protect Journalists notes, "Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was freed today from U.S custody in Iraq, ending a two-year ordeal in which he fended off unsubstantiated accusations from the U.S. military that he collaborated with Iraq insurgents." Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) reminds, "The military never made public its evidence against Hussein" and that they announced their decision on Monday when they "released a statement with a slightly gruding tone". "Two years and four days" of imprisonment, Daryl Lang (Photo District News) calculates, also noting the "five-month judicial process" that ended last week. Robert H. Reid (AP) explains, "Hussein, 36, was freed at a checkpoint in Baghdad, where he was taken by the military aboard a prisoner bus. He left U.S. custody wearing a traditional Iraqi robe and appeared in good health." Dean Yates (Reuters) quotes Bilal stating, "I want to thank all the people working in AP . . . I have spent two years in prison even though I was innocent. I thank everybody." Editorial Photographers United Kingdom & Ireland describes the scene, "The photographer was embraced by sobbing family members, including his brother and mother, and spoke to other well-wishers on a mobile phone as he was showered with flowers and sweets. He later was honored with a traditional feast." They also quote professor Yassir Hussein (Bilal's brother) explaining, "I cannot describe my happiness at seeing him again. The family has been going through a hard time over the past two years, but now we thank God that we will have some rest." AFP notes Bilal's Pulitzer Prize win and that he was released at "an entry checkpoint near Camp Victory near the Baghdad airport" according to US Maj Matt Morgan. Paul Colford, Associated Press' Director of Media Relations, announced Monday, "After two years in detention, Bilal Hussein needs time to spend with his family, to rest and to catch up with the rest of the world."

Bilal is fine. A new journalist is being held prisoner. 38 year-old AP camera journalist Ahmed Nouri Raziak has been held by the US military since last month and AP has been informed he will be held for at least six weeks. He has worked for AP Television for five years and was stopped by the US military (or rounded up, let's be honest) in Tikrit. I can't find a link for this but will get one for the next entry.

Meanwhile the treaty remains in the news. From Ernesto Londono and Dan Eggan's "Iraq Wants Withdrawal Timetable In U.S. Pact" (Washington Post):

"There should not be any permanent bases in Iraq unless these bases are under Iraqi control," Rubaie said, referring to negotiations over a bilateral agreement governing the future U.S. military role in Iraq. The agreement, if approved, would go into effect when a U.N. mandate expires in December.
"We would not accept any memorandum of understanding with [the U.S.] side that has no obvious and specific dates for the foreign troops' withdrawal from Iraq," Rubaie said.

Campbell Robertson's "Iraqi Officials Still Insisting on Withdrawal Timetable" (New York Times) notes:

The Bush administration has consistently opposed a timetable, arguing that it would only embolden insurgents. Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, reiterated that argument on Tuesday in Japan, where President Bush was attending the Group of 8 summit meeting.
"Negotiations and discussions are ongoing every day," Mr. Johndroe said. "It is important to understand that these are not talks on a hard date for a withdrawal, but are discussions on a security horizon that reflect the Iraqis’ increasing capacity, as well as improved conditions on the ground that should allow for a further reduction of U.S. forces."

Yesterday's snapshot noted: "In Toyako, Japan yesterday, Dana Perino and Dan Price took questions -- no one asked about Iraq. They did so again today in Toyako and, again, no questions about Iraq. Russia and Zimbabwee were popular questions but no one could bother giving a damn long enough to ask the White House what it means when Nouri al-Maliki is floating the idea of a US withdrawal." That was and is correct. The statement from Johndroe does not come from the press briefings held by "White House on the Road." (He did not participate in them.)

Today (remember, the White House is in Japan), White House spokesperson Dana Perino declared:

This is in regards to the negotiations we're having with the Iraqis and how we want to respond is in the following: The recent Iraqi statements that you've seen that reflect the ongoing negotiations between the United States and Iraq we believe reflect the recent positive developments in Iraq, including the area of security, where Iraqi forces are currently in the lead in, for example, Basra, Mosul, and Sadr City -- places that were in horrible shape security-wise just a little while ago, but because of proactive actions they've improved so tremendously.
We also believe that the comments coming from the Iraqis are an indication of the Iraqi government's and the Iraqi security force's increasing capacity and the improving conditions on the ground for them to be able to take on more responsibility. This should allow for more what we've called return on success for our forces. A sovereign Iraqi government and the Iraqi people are every day more ready, willing, and able to take on more of their responsibility, and that is exactly what we've been working for. That's been our objective from the beginning.
So the strategic framework agreement that we are working on would describe the political, economic, security and then diplomatic relationships that we would establish with -- between our two nations going forward.
Increasingly, the Iraqis, as you've seen in those three places I've mentioned, such as Basra, Mosul, and Sadr City, they are taking over combat missions. That's one of the things that we want so that we can transition our forces to more overwatch, training, and counterterrorism activities. And that, again, allows us more return on success, because we can further reduce our combat troops and have our forces then focused on some of those other areas.
We have always been opposed, and remain so, to an arbitrary withdrawal date. We believe that, as we've said before, that any actual troop withdrawal schedule needs to be based on conditions on the ground. And we believe the Iraqis agree with us in that regard. We want a sovereign Iraq to be able to take on more of its own security, more responsibility, and we have been able to talk to them about some aspirational time frames for some of those activities, such as taking over the security control in some of the provinces, like you've seen in some of the areas. And hopefully soon we'll be turning over that security control in the area of Anbar.
And so these ideas for aspirational time frames are something that our negotiators, led by Ryan Crocker, Ambassador Crocker, in Baghdad, will continue to work on as we work to conclude this round of negotiations.

Perino state that Bully Boy has not spoken to al-Maliki since embarking on the current trip (Bush arrived in Japan July 6th) but that "he just spoke to him right before we left. I can't remember what day we left, but the President had a secure videoteleconfrence" with al-Maliki. She stated US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker "checks in with the President daily. Almost." She tried to spin the Iraqi's talk of a US withdrawal positively ("how far they've come in a year") and said "we want that, too" (responsibility) once they 'prove' they're ready. (The same old song & dance.)

Pressed as to whether the end of July was still a target for the treaty (not all that long ago the White House was stating that they would have it before July 4th), Perino stated that "we don't have timetables for troop withdrawals, we don't have timetables for negotiations." Well thank goodness there's a timetable for Bully Boy's exit (January 2009) or he might hang around in quagmire status as well.

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