Week in Review: Iraq, Economy and the Campaign

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr discusses the top stories of the week, including the Iraqi security forces' battle with Shiite militiamen in Basra, the Democrats' fight for the presidential nomination and the Federal Reserve's struggle to turn around the economy.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away, I'm Susan Stamberg.

This week, Iraqi's security forces aided by U.S. warplanes waged a fierce battle in Basra against militias loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Senators raised questions about the Fed's bail-out of Bear Stearns. And China continued its crackdown on Tibetan protestors.

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr is with us. Hi, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Susan.

STAMBERG: I guess we start with that war in Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi troops have been engaged this week in very heavy fighting in Basra. They're trying to crack down on these Shiite militias. So is this - do you think this is an end of the calm that we saw after the surge?

SCHORR: Well, I mean, Sadr says that the truce is over. You know, people who've been expecting a civil war between Shiites and Sunis, that's not what this is, this is a struggle for power between two groups of Shiites, the al-Sadr people and the people backing Prime Minister Maliki. And what's very interesting about this, also, it has one aspect of being a proxy war, United States fighting against Iran, Iran is backing their group, United States is backing Maliki, and so there you have it.

STAMBERG: If we're looking at the beginning now of a new wave of violence in Iraq, and there's been so much talk of U.S. troop draw down, so what are the chances that that would continue as planned?

SCHORR: Well, right now they're removing five combat brigades. There was a promise to do by July, they have not said what's going to happen after July, but it begins to look as though after the surge, you'll get something, what's going to be called, the pause. The signals coming from the administration indicate that when they reach that point in July, they'll say, okay, now we're going to pause for a while, see what happens. And then we don't know when or whether there's going to be a renewal of withdrawing troops from Iraq.

STAMBERG: Meantime, President Bush says the situation in Iraq is improving.

SCHORR: That, it's really quite remarkable. The president has made three speeches in the past few days about Iraq telling how well things are going. In one of his speeches he says, what you see there now is normalcy. My God, if this is normalcy, though, I'd hate to know what real trouble is. But there is nowhere else for them to go except to say, we're making some progress, yeah, we're having a bad time in Basra, which is very bad because that's where all the oil comes. And if you don't control the pipelines, you don't control very much, and there's already been a bombing of one pipeline. So the Basra thing is quite serious.

STAMBERG: So is the economy. We need to take a look at that. Questions raised about the Federal Reserve's decision to make that emergency loan to J.P. Morgan Chase for the purchase of Bear Stearns. And what happened to this whole idea of less government, Dan?

SCHORR: Oh, that was then, that was the conservatives who said that the best thing you can have is free enterprise and leave it free and don't bother with it. Same thing happened in 1930 when the unregulated banks turned out to be a disaster. Well, the commercial banks are now regulated. The investment banks, not yet. But it looks as though deregulation is not the thing of the day.

STAMBERG: To the campaign now, the Democratic candidates unveil their economic plans this week, and Senator Obama got a key endorsement from Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, but both of those candidates dogged by slip-ups. Hillary Clinton incorrectly saying that she came under sniper fire on a trip she took to Bosnia in 1996. Senator Obama still having to deal with fallout from those controversial remarks that his former pastor made...

SCHORR: Well, it looks as though if you read the polls that Senator Obama has pretty well weathered his problem with what you would call the right stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Uh-oh.

SCHORR: Uh-oh. Sorry about that. He seems to have weathered it pretty well, so the polls indicate. Not so in the case of Senator Clinton who continues to reverberate about how can you say you were under sniper fire when television shows - you went kissing children, all the rest of it. I know this is going to increase the pressure on her to pull out. The pressure's already getting rather strong, Senator Patrick Leahy's come out now and said there's no indication that she will, but she's going to have to face up to a lot of pressure to do it.

STAMBERG: Thus finally, China, and relations with Tibet, protests and riots in the capital of Tibet, they continue, they've spread to other Tibetan communities in the western part of China, what a public relations mess for China in advance of the summer Olympics.

SCHORR: That's right, but there are very few willing to take advantage of that mess for the simple reason that China is so strong economically that if you really try to do what should be done in case of human rights violations of this sort, you talk about sanctions, you talk about condemnation, and so on, you're not getting that very much, not even from the great human rights specialist President Bush who says, listen, I'm going to Beijing for the sport, not for the politics. That's not the way human rights advocates are supposed to talk.

STAMBERG: Thanks very much. Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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