Last week's debate about Iraq policy focused on the White House and Capitol Hill. Now it switches to Baghdad where things are as confused as can be. NBC's Richard Engel covered a press conference held by Gen George Casey, the departing commander of US troops, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the departing US Ambassador. "American forces will remain under American command. Period. No issues," was Casey's soundbite. "Iraqis will be in the lead," was how Khalilzad put it. Engel's conclusion was understated: "Disputes remain."
Then there is the question of whether the new plan for Baghdad will involve a crackdown on the Mahdi Army, the militia headed by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Engel asserted: "US troops want to tackle Shiite militias accused of acting as death squads." When ABC's Jonathan Karl (subscription required) talked to Gen Raymond Odierno, the commander of ground troops in Baghdad insisted that his forces would not attack the Mahdi Army because al-Sadr controls a bloc in the Iraqi parliament, and is therefore not an "extremist" but "part of the political process."
ABC stuck with the domestic political debate over Iraq. Martha Raddatz performed a headcount among Democrats to see if there were votes to block the Pentagon's $100bn request for supplemental Iraq funding next month. "They could try to stop me," conceded President George Bush in a soundbite Raddatz quoted from CBS' 60 Minutes. Raddatz called John Edwards the leading advocate for blocking funds while Hillary Rodham Clinton was "not so definitive." So Raddatz expects no block, only a "symbolic resolution."
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