Return of the Baathists

Return of the Baathists

Return of the Baathists

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 13 2008 7:04 AM

Return of the Baathists

The New York Times and the Washington Post lead with, and the Los Angeles Times fronts, news the Iraqi parliament passed a bill loosening the limits on former Baathists' government involvement. The legislation, which its supporters tout as a key indicator of progress and a step toward Sunni-Shiite reconciliation, would allow many low ranking party members back to their government posts. Expected to be signed into law by Iraq's presidential council, the bill still restricts the government participation of past high-level officials. The Los Angeles Times leads with a look at how the battle between Clinton and Obama for the Democratic nomination has ignited a contentious split within organized labor as unions campaign for rival candidates.

The NYT recounts that the Iraqi measure comes after pressure from the Bush administration to lift the ban on former Baathists in an attempt to ease sectarian tensions between Sunnis, who ruled under Saddam Hussein, and Shiites, who now dominate the government. Besides bringing many low-level Baathists back to their posts, the new law would abolish the de-Baathification committee, which has undergone allegations of sectarian abuse, and would make many former Baath government employees eligible for government pensions. The WP observes that the bill reverses the 2003 mandate that removed all Baathists from the government, an edict that "is widely believed to have fueled the Sunni insurgency."The NYT and the WP both report that critics of the measure say it would forcibly retire many Sunnis who currently serve in the government, thus hindering efforts at reintegration. The WP cautions the legislation "could lead to a new purge of members of the current Iraqi government," including "influential Iraqi security force officials." The NYT alsonotes that hard-line Sunnis complain the measure would shut out many educated professionals like doctors, engineers, and scientists.

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Both the NYT and the WP mention President Bush's praise of the Iraqi bill as a significant step toward sectarian resolution and his announcement that the U.S. could draw down its troops by midsummer. The NYT asserts that though "the legislation would be the first major new law sought by the Bush administration intended to help reconcile Iraq's warring factions, other so-called benchmark laws continue to be stalled." While the noting the Iraqi parliament was "nearly paralyzed by infighting," the WP concludes with a hopeful quote from a Shiite leader who says "The most important thing about this new law is that it is an Iraqi law."

Unions backing Clinton and Obama in Nevada's caucuses have engaged in a "surprisingly deep and bitter" competition for votes, where accusations of disenfranchisement fly, reports the LAT. Some unions endorsing Clinton in Nevada believe the state's caucuses, many of which are held in casinos and hotels predominately staffed by members of the pro-Obama Culinary Workers union, provide an unfair advantage to the Illinois senator. And, within the pro-Clinton American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, officers have spoken out against the union's Obama attack ads. Such dissention within the ranks of organized labor sparks fears that a severe division could hurt a Democratic candidate's chances of winning the general election in November.

Above the fold, the NYT investigates the 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a murder once they returned to the U.S. The paper reports that in many of these cases, "combat trauma and the stress of deployment—along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems—appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction."

The WP off-leads with a lengthy trend piece on West Virginia miners' abuse of prescription painkillers in the midst of that region's mining boom. While providing details about the perils of mining, the feature cites that in 2006 the region experienced an 18 percent increase in drug overdose deaths from 2005 and a 270 percent increase from 1995. Another feature getting front page play from the WP is an evergreen on the aviation industry's growing use of data mining in preventing plane crashes.

A NYT review looks at two children's books that address the spiritual bond between animals and humans. The WP's "Book World" reviews two comic-book collections, those of the Hogarth-inspired Rodolphe Topffer, and the proto-Freudian Winsor McCay.

On the NYT's op-ed page, Caitlin Flanagan debunks the "fairy tale" of teen pregnancy movie Juno. She notes "the much-discussed pregnancy of 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears reveals the rudely unfair toll that a few minutes of pleasure can exact on a girl. The very fact that the gossip magazines are still debating the identity of the father proves again that the burden of sex is the woman's to bear."

The LAT rounds out its front page with a quirky story about a cricket fad in China, where fanciers pit their insects against one another in fighting and singing competitions. Top specimens of fighting crickets can cost thousands of dollars. But even this sport is susceptible to doping: Sellers of singing crickets will sometimes apply a drug to the insect's wings "to slow the rate of vibration and lower the pitch"—producing a more pleasing song, which makes for a more valuable insect.

Morgan Smith, a former Slate intern, is a law student in Austin, Texas.