Maliki kept U.S. officials in the dark about his true intentions for the Basra offensive.

Maliki kept U.S. officials in the dark about his true intentions for the Basra offensive.

Maliki kept U.S. officials in the dark about his true intentions for the Basra offensive.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 3 2008 6:23 AM

How To Lose a Fight in Five Days

The New York Timesleads with a look at what went wrong in the Iraqi government's offensive on Basra. It all apparently comes down to a question of planning, which was at least partly due to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's failure to understand the full strength of the militias, as he was convinced the assault would be a success. Ambassador Ryan Crocker tells the paper that he first learned of the operation on March 21 and insists U.S. officials thought it would involve a long-term strategy to slowly root out militias from the area. USA Todayleads an interview with Crocker, who says the offensive "had its share of problems" and estimates that the United States had only about 48 hours' notice before the operation began. Overall, though, Crocker, who is set to testify before Congress next week, insists the situation in Iraq has improved and says he expects the "political and economic progress" to continue.

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsboxlead with Senate leaders agreeing on a bipartisan plan to help the housing market. The package would cost approximately $15 billion over the next 10 years and involves a little give-and-take on both sides, as it's clear that lawmakers are facing intense pressure to get something passed. The WP is most blunt in stating up high that the measure provides billions for "the slumping home-building industry while offering little to homeowners threatened with foreclosure." The plan would provide $6 billion in tax breaks for home builders, tax breaks for those who purchase foreclosed properties, grants for cities to buy foreclosed properties, $100 million for counseling, and a new deduction on property taxes, among other measures.

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When Maliki launched the full-scale assault in Basra, "nothing was in place from our side," Crocker said. Apparently U.S. and Iraqi officials were developing a plan that would involve a slow buildup of troops followed by strategic attacks against militias. Gen. David Petraeus even warned Maliki that acting too quickly could reverse recent gains. But Maliki seemed determined to have a triumphant moment and, displaying his very impulsive nature, decided to send his troops into the city of Basra even before all the Iraqi reinforcements had arrived. U.S. forces then had to quickly get organized in order to come to the aid of the Iraqi troops. On the upside, the move did show that Iraqi troops have the ability to mobilize quickly.

In a Page One article, the LAT tries to figure out how the Iraqi security forces performed during the fighting, which is something lawmakers will undoubtedly ask Petraeus next week. There is no clear answer, although most seem to agree that the Iraqi forces did relatively well overall, even as the fighting revealed they continue to be plagued with logistical and command problems. "There were pockets of excellence, but there was no synchronized excellence," a U.S. Army official said. The biggest shortcomings seemed to come from the national police, who often are not trained in urban warfare. Although there are no official figures, there are reports that a large number of police officers deserted or worked with militias during the fighting. "Police work where they live and are inherently influenced by the politics of their community," said a Western security official, who estimates there was a more than 50 percent desertion rate in Mahdi Army strongholds.

Senators came under much criticism yesterday for removing the provision from the housing legislation that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of mortgages. Some estimate this change could prevent as many as 600,000 foreclosures, notes the LAT. Passing it without this provision "amounts to dancing around a fire when Congress is supposed to be putting it out," the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said. The WP points out that Democrats "will almost certainly" try to reinsert the bankruptcy provision as an amendment.

Under a huge picture of President Bush walking with the president of Romania near a beautiful lake (swan included!), the NYT points out that "for a man who came into office as the nation's first M.B.A. president," he has "sometimes seemed invisible during the housing and credit crunch." Yesterday was another clear example of this because Bush was discussing NATO membership while the Senate rushed out its bipartisan plan. Allowing others in the administration to discuss the issue could be a good idea considering his low approval ratings. But some Republicans worry that if Bush continues this way, most will simply remember how he was surprised to hear about $4-a-gallon gasoline, and he will end his tenure appearing out of touch with the concerns of regular citizens.

The WP and WSJ front news that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke finally said the R-word before Congress yesterday. "A recession is possible," Bernanke said. Although Fed leaders usually avoid using the word, many analysts praised Bernanke for being more honest, even if he was saying something that everyone already knew. "This testimony says that the Fed isn't in denial anymore," an economist said.

The NYT and LAT front the latest from Zimbabwe, where election officials announced that President Robert Mugabe's party had lost control of parliament. And now it seems virtually certain that there will be a runoff between Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai. The LAT notes that an initial pronouncement from opposition leaders who said Tsvangirai had received more than 50 percent of the vote, which the NYT cites, was actually due to an "embarrassing math mistake." In fact, the opposition's own figures show Tsvangirai didn't quite reach the 50 percent threshold. Both papers note that there's growing fear that a runoff will lead to widespread violence that was all too common in previous campaigns.

In the WSJ's op-ed page, Richard Bond, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has the power to end the Obama-Clinton fight if he's willing to put his own interests aside for the good of the country and his party. Reid would have to agree to step down and offer the role of Senate leader to Clinton. Bond thinks that "only the proffer of this consolation prize would likely persuade Mrs. Clinton" to drop out. Meanwhile, USAT says many Democratic insiders see North Carolina's primary on May 6 as Clinton's last chance to improve her standing or face even more calls for her withdrawal from the contest.

The NYT breaks word that rapper Jay-Z is close to reaching a $150 million deal with concert promoter Live Nation. The paper says the deal "rivals the biggest music contracts ever awarded" and notes that it could be a sign of what is to come as the music industry deals with the constant decline of album sales. The contract would give Live Nation a stake in virtually every aspect of Jay-Z's career for the next 10 years, and the WSJ suggests that these side deals with the ever-enterprising artist are the real draw for Live Nation rather than his concerts. "I've turned into the Rolling Stones of hip-hop," Jay-Z said.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.