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Daily Column
US Papers Friday: Western Ignorance
Conflicting Accounts of Anbar Events Show How Little We Know
By GREG HOADLEY 03/02/2007 01:53 AM ET
Recent events in Iraq’s western province of al-Anbar, generally a no-go zone for Western reporters, have been a little confusing to follow in the press. A bombing in Ramadi on Monday alleged to kill at least 16 people, most of them children, has yet to be confirmed by the press in the face of US military denials. US forces locked down and re-opened the city of Hit last month with hardly a mention in the US press. And today, conflicting reports about major fighting near Falluja further illustrate just how thin the coverage is of the important events in Anbar province.

The Post’s Josh Partlow leads his Iraq roundup with the Falluja fighting, writing that clashes began on Wednesday, and that 50 militants were killed and 80 were captured in fighting in “a village near Falluja.”

In the Times, finally, Allisa Rubin reports that fighting took place on Thursday in the village of Amiriyat al-Falluja. She names two groups involved in the fighting (“Islamic Party Fighters and forces of the 20th Revolution brigade”) but includes no conclusive information about the results of the fighting.

Slogger’s coverage of the fighting relied on Iraqi Arabic-language sources, which said that approximately 80 were killed and 50 were captured in fighting on Wednesday, which began in Amiriyat al Falluja and concluded in the nearby village of Zurba'. Neither the Times nor the Post mentions that the US also provided air support to Iraqi and tribal forces in the fighting, information available in the Arabic press, presented by a spokesperson for Iraqi police in the area.

So that’s three different versions of the fighting in Falluja, with little way to arbitrate between them. Smart money will bet on the Iraqi sources, but this discrepancy between the Times, the Post, and the Arabic-language accounts is surely a result of Western news organizations’ lack of “boots on the ground” in the Iraqi West, which has been viewed as too dangerous for Baghdad-based correspondents for some time.

By the way, we’re going to hear a lot more about Anbar Province soon, as US forces will be conducting major operations there as part of the security plan. So read with a grain of salt, because the information isn’t going to be rock solid.

Partlow’s Post report also mentions that “an additional 3,100 U.S. soldiers from the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley in Kansas, arrived in the capital, bringing the total number of new U.S. troops to nearly 6,000.”

Resource drains

The mammoth US embassy in Baghdad, which houses about 1,000 federal employees and hundreds of private contractors is causing controversy within the diplomatic community, Elizabeth Williamson reports in the Post. Its budget was $923 million for 2006, and many see the Iraq foreign service mission as a major drain, in both financial and personnel resources, on US diplomatic capabilities elsewhere.

With engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan stretching resources thing, a new study has found that the National Guard Ann Scott Tyson of the Post reports. According to the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, which Congress established in 2005, 88 percent of guard units are unprepared with the necessary equipment to face emergencies on US soil, largely due to the drain of demand for the equipment by Guard units deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Senate testimony, Pentagon officials disputed Congressional Budget Office estimates over the amount of support personnel and financing that will be required to implement the Bush escalation plan in Iraq. Tom Vanden Brook writes for USAT that Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told the Senate Budget Committee that 6,000 to 7,000 support troops would be needed to back up the extra combat troops for the Iraq plan. The CBO estimated last month that as many as 28,000 support troops would be needed. The Pentagon also expects the extra troops to cost $5.6 billion, as opposed to the CBO’s January estimate of up to $20 billion. Some committee members “scoffed” at the Pentagon’s numbers, Vanden Brook writes.

Walter Reed Hospital

Walter Reed Hospital, care facility for many wounded Iraq veterans, and Washington Post whipping boy for almost two weeks running, is back on the front page today as the scandal advances. Steve Vogel and William Branigin write that the Army has dismissed Maj. Gen. George Weightman, who took command at Walter Reed in August.

Many might say that all citizens should have a right to adequate health care, regardless of combat status, but the Post’s investigative stories of abuse and neglect of veterans at the Army’s flagship DC hospital has sparked a major scandal.

The Post also prints a staff editorial criticizing the choice of former Walter Reed chief Gen. Kiley to oversee the hospital after Weightman’s ouster.

As heads roll, the Times also gets into the act, with David Cloud sending in an article on Weightman’s dismissal.

In other coverage:

NEW YORK TIMES

Democrats continue to grapple with “the details” of their next legislative move on Iraq, Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleney write.

WASHINGTON POST

Sec. Rice has named Eliot Cohen, who has criticized the conduct of the Iraq war from the neoconservative perspective, to the position of counselor, Glenn Kessler reports. He will replace Philip Zelikow.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

Gail Russell Chaddock revisits the rift within the Democratic party over Iraq funding issues, noting that while the Dems “balked” at the Murtha proposal, new rifts opened up between antiwar Democrats who seek to deny funding to the White House for the Iraq war, and the “Blue Dog” faction which opposes any funding cuts.

Kyndra Rotunda argues that the Pentagon’s rules of engagement should be relaxed in Iraq to give soldiers more latitude to use force in “self-defense.” Citing the Bush administration’s “self-defense” rationale for the Iraq invasion, Rotunda writes “How can the inherent right of self-defense exist in order to enter a war, but not to fight it to win?” Would it were that simple. Rotunda overlooks the Bush administration’s redefinition of “self defense” to include the Iraq invasion, ostensibly to pre-empt a threat that did not exist yet. Applying that doctrine to the rules of engagement would lead to the use of deadly force whenever, wherever, against any Iraqi, which would be an unacceptable principle.

USA TODAY

Aimee Phan contributes an op-ed comparing the painful experience of Vietnamese refugees a generation ago to those of today's refugees from Iraq, holding out hope that the US will treat Iraqi refugees with dignity and respect. WALL STREET JOURNAL

No Iraq coverage today.

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