COMMENTS: Obama Brings Baghdad Back into Focus

The globetrotting trip by Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama may turn out to be nothing more than an attention-getting publicity stunt--but it has already produced a concrete ancillary benefit. For the first time since the start of April, the Iraq War was treated by the networks as Story of the Day. Back in April, Gen David Petraeus testified that there were "real" security improvements in Iraq, "yet fragile and reversible." Now conditions on the ground are back in the headlines as Petraeus prepares to brief Obama in Baghdad. NBC, with substitute anchor Ann Curry, led with the troops out debate. CBS led with a preview of Obama's tour. ABC chose to kick off with an economic story for the fifth straight day this week, this time the deteriorating finances of the airline industry.

The breaking news of the day from Iraq was an agreement between President George Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that there should be a schedule--they used the phrase "time horizon" instead of timetable--for the United States to withdraw combat forces from Iraq. Richard Engel covered the agreement for NBC from Afghanistan while ABC's Martha Raddatz (no link) handled the story from the White House. Engel explained that al-Maliki can now assure his people that there "will not be permanent US bases and there will not be a permanent combat mission in Iraq." As for Bush, Raddatz saw him making a "real compromise" in that he refused to accept "arbitrary" dates for a troop withdrawal "but there are dates mentioned" for Iraqi security forces to take control. CBS mentioned the agreement only in passing.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell was in Baghdad in anticipation of candidate Obama's arrival. She asked Petraeus whether a 16-month troop withdrawal timetable was "reasonable." The general's answer: "It depends." Mitchell found life safer in some Baghdad neighborhoods "even though not in many parts of the country." She predicted that Obama will receive more support from Iraq's political leaders for his troops-out plan than from the Bush Administration. ABC's advance guard for Obama was in Afghanistan, where the candidate advocates a troop reinforcement. Jim Sciutto (embargoed link) found that the Afghan War is in reality two wars: an eastern front along the Pakistani border against a coalition of Pakistani militants, Taliban guerrillas and al-Qaeda fighters; and a southern front against the Taliban proper.


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