Not to mention, the big Iraq-datelined story is a nonstarter: the US once again over-played the evidence it is willing to share in its bid to pin the charge of Iranian support for Iraqi militants.
In other news, today's papers go insane for McCain, with the senator's bid to capture media attention with his tough Iraq talk clearly catching on.
The day's must-read has to be Paul von Zielbauer's article in the New York Times, in which he and other Times staff analyze documents submitted by Iraqis for compensation after US forces kill Iraqi civilians in "non-combat" situations.
In the only serious Iraq-datelined stories in our papers today, the US claims to have captured Iranian-made weapons over the last week in a majority-Sunni area of Baghdad, Alissa Rubin reports for the Times. From this information, US officials have inferred that Iran’s leadership is providing weapons to Sunni militants in Iraq. Gen. Caldwell made this new allegation in remarks to the press yesterday. In a car were found in the Jihad district, the US found an Iranian-marketed rocket, and mortar rounds that appeared to be made in Iran. Buried nearby were thousands of bullets and some Bulgarian RPGs. The US is obviously eager to pin its allegations on Iran, but this is a stretch. Yes, Iran has a weapons industry, and there is no doubt that Iranian weapons are finding their way into Iraq. But that’s all that this find proves, which we already knew. 16 bodies were recovered in the capital, a director general of the city’s electricity district was assassinated. In Fadl and other parts of central Baghdad the situation was tense after Tuesday’s heavy fighting. The US raised its estimates to 14 militants killed, 8 captured, and 12 wounded. (Residents of Fadl estimated much higher civilian casualties yesterday.)
Sudarsan Raghavan has the story for the Post, noting that the Iranian embassy denied the charge. Caldwell also presented the mixed results from the first two months of the security plan. The CIA denied that a recently released Iranian diplomat was tortured while in its custody.
An ACLU FOIA request has yielded about 500 claims by Iraqi civilians to the US military for compensation after “non-combat” civilian casualties. The NYT has obtained and examined, noting that the accounts provide “unusually detailed accounts of how bystanders to the conflicts have become targets of American forces grappling to identify who is friend, who is foe,” Paul von Zielbauer writes. The approved cases sketched by Zielbauer on the basis of the documents involve either awful misunderstandings by nervous soldiers or serious violations of the rules of engagement, resulting in various amounts of compensation, ranging from $500 for a boy’s death to $38,000 for a well-known incident in Haditha where two dozen were killed by US troops in 2002. Well worth a full read.
Most active-duty Army troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will serve 15-month tours, rather than the standard twelve, David Cloud writes for the Times. Sec. Gates announced the change in a press conference today, saying that extending tours would be the only way to maintain higher force levels without shortening time at home between tours.
The extension will apply to all active-duty Army units in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa, including those to be deployed there, Ann Scott Tyson and Josh White report in the Post. On Capitol Hill, members of the Armed Services Committee expressed concern about the effect of this policy on retention and on the all-volunteer army.
Greg Jaffe and Yochi Dreazen wonder in the Journal if the timing of the announcement isn’t politically motivated: “Some Republican congressional staffers argued that it may be better for the administration, already locked in a power struggle with Capitol Hill, to be sure all the difficult Iraq news emerges at once rather than in a steady stream of leaks and announcements to extend tours of troops as the 2008 election cycle grows closer,” they write. They also note that Sec. Gates defended the administration against charges that the army was “broken”, although he admitted the force was strained.
Tom Vanden Brook and Greg Zoroya report on the extensions for USAT, noting that military families’ reaction “ran the gamut from anger to stoic resignation.”
The stalemate over the appropriations bill involves a struggle over Iraq policy, but also a dispute over domestic spending priorities, David Rogers writes in the Journal.
Gary Kurpius and Paul Morin contribute an op-ed to the Journal arguing that the Democrats were wrong not to fall in line behind the president, whipping the Congress with the charge that they do not “support the troops.”
A Pentagon review panel has concluded that Walter Reed Hospital should be closed sooner than it was earlier planned, Steve Vogel reports in the Post. The panel’s findings recommend boosting the quality of care at the facility in the short-term, but only along with accelerating the transition of the Walter Reed capacities to Bethesda Naval Hospital.
McCain on the brain
Sen. McCain kicked off a series of policy speeches yesterday at the Virginia Military Institute, strongly supporting the war in Iraq and delivering a “blistering critique” of Democratic policy choices, Michael Shear reports in the Post. The war’s supporters are on the “right side of history,” he said, calling the war “necessary and just.” McCain is expected to deliver two more major policy addresses before formally announcing his candidacy for the presidency.
John Broder and Adam Nagourney write in the Times that McCain and the rest of the GOP field may have little choice in adopting a strategy of trying to outdo each other in support for the war, given the strong support that the Iraq war still enjoys among Republican voters, who will decide the nomination.
The Times also runs excerpts from the senator’s speech yesterday in at the Virginia Military Academy.
In his NYT column, David Brooks expresses admiration for McCain’s choices and wonders if, in the long run, his support for the war will not hurt him as much as conventional wisdom holds now.
Joe Biden, another senator with 2008 in his sights, contributes a lengthy op-ed to the Post in which he attempts to rebut John McCain’s Iraq positions, looking especially the op-ed McCain placed in the Post on Sunday. Biden renews his call for a “decentralized, federal system, as called for in its constitution, where each major group has local control over the fabric of its daily life, including security, education, religion and marriage.”
In other coverage:
NEW YORK TIMES
David Sanger describes the difficulties that the Bush administration has faced to find a full-time Washington point person for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, tracing the course of the administration’s efforts to organize such a function in the administration. For the White House, Sanger writes, “this seems to be another step away from ideological missions and toward the nuts and bolts of rescuing its troubled nation-building experiment”
Times editors look back at the euphoria just four years ago with the fall of the Ba'thist regime, arguing that by now, “few Iraqis still look on American soldiers as liberators.” Without getting into policy specifics, they write that the gains hoped for in the Bush escalation plan have not materialized. “There is no possible triumph in Iraq and very little hope left,” they close.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
The Army is on track to make its recruitment goals for 2007, Gordon Lubold writes in the Monitor, but with a cost: per-recruit expenses have increased to $16,834 per accession. Citing a new Pentagon study, Lubold writes that the Army has used a combination of bonuses, educational benefits, and advertising to make its enlistment goals for the year. The Marines have had similar success, but rely less heavily on bonuses; the cost for that branch is about $7,900 per accession. Both branches expect these costs to increase by about $2,000 per recruit in 2008. Lubold’s report doesn’t mention the extended tours of duty announced yesterday or consider their effects on the military’s recruitment plans.
The society we came to “liberate” should now be bombed to smithereens, John Dillin essentially argues in his lengthy op-ed in the Monitor. Likening the Iraq war to World War II, he calls for a doctrine of “total war.” Forget hearts and minds, Dillin argues, “America and Britain didn't win WWII by building playgrounds and schools and setting up local governments. They won by pounding the other side into dust. As American Gen. George Patton once said, ‘Nobody ever defended anything successfully; there is only attack and attack and attack some more.’ Rebuilding comes later.”