The Times scores an intel exclusive with a review of Pentagon documents that suggest that militants carefully planned the targeting of US helicopters in Iraq. Secretary Rice’s sneak visit to Baghdad and the Senate’s abortive Iraq vote also vie for headlines. Don’t miss Michael Slackman’s profile of Iran’s role in the region in the Times.
From Damascus, the NYT's Michael Moss and Souad Mekhennet profile an Iraqi who had been jailed two years, without charges, by American forces, and the arbitrary abuses he endured during his captivity. Moss and Mekhennet write in the Times that Laith al-Ani described Camp Bucca, in the southern Iraqi desert, as a place where “guards casually used their stun guns and exposed prisoners to long periods of extreme heat and cold; where prisoners fought among themselves and extremist elements tried to radicalize others; and where detainees often responded to the harsh conditions with hunger strikes and, at times, violent protests.” A must-read account of one Iraqi’s experience inside a US detention facility and his life afterwards.
Wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan complain about the level of care and support they receive at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Dana Priest and Anne Hull write in an eye-opening Post front-pager. Bureaucratic infighting, inadequate care, and indignant treatment combine with the particular post-combat needs of physically and psychologically wounded soldiers to create an environment of “frustration at every turn,” they write. "I hate it," one patient said, "There are cockroaches. The elevator doesn't work. The garage door doesn't work. Sometimes there's no heat, no water. . . . I told my platoon sergeant I want to leave. I told the town hall meeting. I talked to the doctors and medical staff. They just said you kind of got to get used to the outside world. . . . My platoon sergeant said, 'Suck it up!' "
Several US aircraft have been downed recently as a result of a “carefully planned strategy,” Michael Gordon and David Cloud write in an exclusive review of intelligence documents attributed to the Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia organization. Tactics include careful study of flight patterns, multiple weapons systems, and ambushes for rescue crews, all of which reflect increasing battlefield skill. The documents reflect concerns voiced by Gen. Simmons earlier this week, although Simmons also suggested that some attacks on aircraft were simply “opportunistic.”
Rice in Baghdad
On a surprise visit to Iraq, Secretary Rice announced that she urged the Iraqi government to pass a hydrocarbon-sector law, expand reconstruction efforts in war-torn neighborhoods and hire more Sunnis in the civil service, Damien Cave writes from Baghdad in the Times. It was too early to read the results of the new security plan, she said. Rice also pressed the administration’s claims that the Iranian Qods force was arming Iraqi militias, saying that Iran should be “held accountable,” even without conclusive proof that such a policy is connected to the top tiers of the Iranian regime.
“Rice emphasized a great deal the issue of urgency," Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari told Ernesto Londoño of the Post in a telephone interview, adding that Rice said that “patience is not unlimited in the United States and that there's a great deal of frustration.” Rice held talks with PM Maliki and President Talabani, and lunched at the US ambassador’s residence with FM Zebari and Barham Salih, deputy prime minister.
“We will be relentless,” Sen. Schumer says after the failure of yesterday’s Senate vote, “There will be resolution after resolution, amendment after amendment, all forcing this body to do what it has not done in the previous three years: debate and discuss Iraq.” The next wave of Iraq debate in the Senate may include a Democratic focus on clarifying the war’s mission, with a GOP counterattack aimed at forcing Democrats to take an up-or-down position on the issue of funding, Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny write in the Times. In a rare Saturday session, the majority again failed to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome the procedural block that would have advanced a nonbinding anti-escalation resolution to the floor, although five more Republicans voted with the Democrats this time around.
Majority Leader Reid will not bring up the nonbinding resolution again, Shailagh Murray writes for the Post. The measure’s terse text was identical to that passed in the House on Friday. Sens. Warner, Hagel, Smith, Coleman, Specter, Snowe, and Collins crossed over from the GOP to vote yes on advancing the bill. Minority Leader McConnell said his party was likely to force the issue of funding into the debate when Iraq comes up again in the Senate.
"If George Bush doesn't end this war before he leaves office, when I'm president, I will," said Sen. Clinton, campaigning in New Hampshire hours before returning to DC to vote yesterday. Jonathan Weisman of the Post writes up the effects of the Saturday session on campaigning senators’ travel plans, noting also that GOP senators derided the Saturday scheduling during the chamber's debate.
Sen. McCain declined to attend Saturday's vote, instead campaigning in Iowa, saying that the Iraq war is a "long, tough struggle that we should have told the American people about," Dan Balz writes in the Post.
One can’t help but wonder if “long, tough struggle” will be the language that voters want to hear in November 2008. Adam Nagourney poses that question for the Times, filing from Iowa on the McCain campaign trail. McCain’s aides, he writes, expressed concern that the senator's all-out support for the Iraq war could be a liability in the general election, even if it garners support in GOP primaries. According to Nagourney, one aide said, “Republicans are in a tough spot — there’s nobody running for president who controls the destiny of what happens ,” continuing, “I do think as Republicans we have to get to a difference place on Iraq or we are in trouble as a party.” Nagourney notes that McCain also faced tough questions from Republicans in the audience at campaign events.
In a risky gamble, Sen. Clinton has said that she would rather lose voters than offer an apology for her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq war, Patrick Healy writes in the Times. This tactic is designed to avoid facing a “flip-flopping” narrative, such as the one that the GOP weaved in 2004 about Sen. Kerry’s Iraq voting record, but is also intended to drive Iraq electoral discussion to focus on her ideas about Iraq policy for the future, not on her past record. Healy reports that Clinton’s advisors are split over the issue of an apology, and that Clinton, having been inside the White House for eight years, has a deferential view of executive foreign policy power, even now as a senator.
In other coverage:
NEW YORK TIMES
The “cornerstone” of Iran’s regional plans “lies in Baghdad,” Michael Slackman writes in an analysis piece discussing regional politics from the perspective of Iran’s national interests. Iran and Iraq have religious and cultural ties that go back centuries to the early days of Islam and are still linked by networks of religious scholarship and pilgrimage, by political ties that go back to Iran’s relationship with Shi`a movements that opposed the Ba`thist regime, and by the potential for very deep economic and infrastructural relations. “From Iran’s perspective, given its longstanding interests in Iraq, it is the United States that is meddling in its backyard,” Slackman writes.
“The team that once sold the country smoking guns in the shape of mushroom clouds has completely lost its mojo,” Frank Rich writes in his op-ed that deplores what he sees as the “sloppy internal contradictions” of the Bush administration’s approach to Iran’s role in Iraq.
Post ombudsman Deborah Howell explains the anatomy of an error, referring to a correction that appeared in the February 10 edition that confused Sen. Lewin’s remarks about a Pentagon audit of Douglas Feith’s office with the text of the report itself.
John Agresto shares saddening excerpts of letters from “Hasan,” an Iraqi friend, that detail the worsening conditions in the country from a personal perspective. Most disturbingly, Hasan has not answered Agresto’s correspondence since December.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
No weekend edition.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
No Sunday edition.
No weekend edition.