What's behind the drop in violence in Iraq?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 21 2008 7:04 AM

A Separate Peace

The New York Times leads with analysis of the impressive, yet exceptionally fragile, security gains made in Iraq over the past six months. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the House passing an electronic surveillance bill that would all but certainly put an end to legal challenges pending against telecommunication companies who were involved in warrantless wiretaps. The Washington Post leads with grassroots groups in Burma aiding cyclone victims despite crackdowns from the ruling junta. The Los Angeles Times leads with worrisome local unemployment reports.

The NYT's assessment of the Iraqi security situation boils down to its opening questions: "What's going right? And can it last?" On the surface it looks like a military victory: The Iraqi army has quashed Shiite militias in a number of hot spots, driving violence to its lowest level in more than four years. But the article proceeds to elaborate the more unusual factors propping up the peace, including high recruitment for the Iraqi army, high oil revenues fending off inflation, tenuous deals with militias (including paying some insurgents to help keep the peace), and some very convenient assistance by American special forces. The WP is a little more bullish in its assessment of calm on the streets in Basra. The most striking element of both pieces is a sense of guarded optimism in the quotes from Iraqis.

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The WSJ says many Democrats object to the FISA measure, but support from conservative Democrats and Republicans gave it enough votes to pass the House Friday. The paper says the leadership put the bill to a vote in order to protect Democrats in vulnerable districts. Enactment now seems inevitable, as the Senate takes up the bill next week. Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain each say they'll vote for the bill. The WPgoes inside with its coverage of the FISA measure.

The Burmese government denied several offers of foreign aid for cyclone victims out of what the WP politely calls "xenophobia." The paper argues that the government is helping its own opposition, however, as Burmese people looking to aid each other are learning to band together, solve their own problems and develop a sense of community activism. Of course, the junta is opposed to these groups as well. In one town, people distributing food are ordered to stop because a local general wants to be seen as the first to give out aid. Stories about people helping disaster victims are one thing—but the fact that the Burmese are trying to feed their starving countrymen over the objections of armed thugs takes the story to another level of inspiration. Meanwhile, WSJ runs a piece on Yangon, the country's old capital city, which the paper now calls a "ramshackle city of fear."

It might be a local story, but high unemployment in California doesn't bode well for the rest of the country. The state's unemployment rate rose to 6.8 percent in May, the fifth-highest rate in the nation. One analyst is quoted saying the state is already in a recession.

Meanwhile, the NYT off-leads with news that recent declines in homeowning have all but erased the gains made earlier in the decade. The decline in homeowning since 2005 amounts to 1.3 percent of all households, which sounds small, but the paper assures us is the biggest drop in 20 years.

And the WP offleads with a sobering assessment of the budget headaches the next president will face. The papers argues that the campaign promises being made today would only make the situation worse if they were enacted. The story starts off with a laundry list of current financial woes, many of which will get much, much worse over time, no matter what the next president does. The paper argues, however, that in the face of declining revenues and spiraling entitlement costs, both candidates' tax policies would swell the national debt and leave little funding for broad initiatives like a national health care overhaul. The paper finds Obama's tax policy less costly but reasons that McCain would be more inclined to cut spending.

The White House pursued its Guantanamo Bay detainee policy even though it knew there was a good chance the Supreme Court would overturn it, says the WP. The administration knew it would have a better chance of surviving a legal challenge if the detainee system were done in a legislative framework, the paper says, but declined to get Congress involved. Sources say officials pursued the policy unilaterally as part of a strategy to strengthen the executive branch.

The NYT writes about Floyd Brown, one of the guys who produced the Willie Horton ad in 1988. Brown is now trying to raise money to go after Obama, but he's having a hard time attracting donors. The paper says this is partly because of legal changes to the limits of "527" or issue-advocacy organizations like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that helped defeat Sen. John Kerry in 2004.

Under the fold, the WP covers the much-ballyhooed discovery of ice on Mars. Of course, the paper notes that even if the white substance found by the Phoenix lander is ice, it doesn't answer the really big question of whether or not Mars ever sustained life.

The LAT reports on the success of rapper Lil Wayne's new album "Tha Carter III," which last week became the first album in more than three years to sell more than 1 million copies in a single week. The LAT argues that the album's success proves that commercial music is far from dead—but that this kind of success requires flexibility and a work ethic that few artists exhibit.

An estimated 4 million wild hogs are raising hell in 37 states— destroying property to the tune of $800 million a year, says the NYT. For some states, the solution has been encouraging private hunters to go after the porcine troublemakers "with no weapon restrictions." But bagging a wild pig is a lot tougher than cornering Wilbur. For some hunters, the challenge of tracking something that can outsmart you is precisely the point.

"Winners don't quit and quitters never win." In China, that phrase is taken all too literally, according to the NYT's report on the unhappy fate of the successful Chinese athlete.

Starting in 2010, students who take the SAT multiple times will be able to decide which scores they want to send to colleges, according to the LAT.

The WP fronts a feature on the last day of school.

The LAT fronts the made-for-TV-movie-ready story of an uptight English teacher who teaches lower income youth the value of their own minds.

Ever wonder what people eat in Bhutan? The WP knows the answer, but readers with weak stomachs might not want to find out. (Hint: It may make you wanna yak …)

Jesse Stanchak is a writer living in Washington, D.C.

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