The day's other Iraq-datelined reporting consists only of the two papers' daily Iraq violence roundups, both leading with an attack in Babil Province that killed 12 Iraqi soldiers. The story of the standoff on the northern border also advances: Iraq has confirmed that Turkey is shelling across the border and has formally requested that it stop.
Iraq figured heavily in an hourlong tête-à-tête between President Bush and Pope Benedict at the Vatican, with the pontiff expressing his concerns for the status of Iraqi Christians.
Stateside, the Post profiles "Code Pink," the iconic protest group that has become a lightening rod for pro- and anti-war sentiment.
At least 12 Iraqi soldiers died in a suicide truck bombing in Iskandarya, Babil Province, Richard Oppel Jr. writes in the Times. Iraqi soldiers apparently killed the bomber with gunfire before he could bring his payload closer to the target, possibly mitigating the toll. The targeted compound was heavily damaged and more casualties are expected to be found in the rubble. A midday rocket attack at Camp Bucca near the Kuwaiti frontier killed six detainees and wounded 50 more. A two-stage suicide bomb attack was averted in Diyala Province’s Ba'quba when a would-be attacker was shot dead. The man was still able to set off his explosive belt, killing one policeman. A second attacker also exploded; accounts conflicted over whether the second man was shot dead or his explosives were detonated by the first explosion. In Basra, the killing of at least 8 barbers in recent days has been traced to a decree issued by a cleric forbidding certain grooming procedures. The local Sadrist office denies any connection. A car bomb in Baghdad killed one policeman, 24 bodies were recovered in the capital, and three soldiers’ bodies were recovered in Kirkuk. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said it had formally demanded that Turkey stop cross-border shelling into Kurdish areas. “According to a statement from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, a senior ministry official in Baghdad, Muhammad al-Haj Mahmoud, summoned the Turkish chargé d’affaires on Saturday and handed him a written protest against the shelling, which Iraq says has ignited ‘huge fires’ and frightened many people in Dahuk and Erbil Provinces,” Oppel writes, adding, “At the same time, the ministry statement struck a conciliatory tone by emphasizing that the Iraqi government ‘refuses’ the P.K.K.’s presence within Iraq and considers it an illegal group.”
Joshua Partlow leads his Post roundup of Iraq violence with the Iskandariya attack that killed 12 Iraqi soldiers, noting that an Iraqi captain said the attack targeted the Iraqi soldiers as they gathered to change shifts. These gatherings are frequently targeted for attacks, Partlow writes. Two civilians died in a Mosul blast that targeted an Iraqi military patrol, and a policeman died in a separate IED attack. The US military said that a joint US-Iraqi patrol came under attack from “the al-Hussiniyah mosque” at 8:20 AM, and that the area was cordoned off and the mosque struck with Hellfire missiles by US helicopters in the course of an “escalating engagement all day.” One US soldier was shot dead in Diyala Province; it is unknown if the soldier was involved in the fighting at the Ba'quba mosque.
US commanders in Baghdad are projecting details of a “post-occupation” force in Iraq, which could number in the tens of thousands. By far the most important read of the day, Thomas Ricks’s front-pager in the Post surveys the current long-term thinking of US military planners in Iraq, against the backdrop of the “Korea analogy” that has been bandied about of late. US commanders are expecting a withdrawal of up to two-thirds of US forces in late 2008/early 2009, but the logistical reality, and US long-term ambitions, Ricks writes, mean that the US is drawing up long-term plans for an Iraq presence. The fastest withdrawal US forces could make, with only one exit through Kuwait, would still take 10 months and thousands of troops. However, the really interesting bits are the outlines of the four-point plan that US commanders are moving toward for a long-term Iraq presence, totaling over 40,000 troops: 1) A mechanized infantry division of 20,000 soldiers to protect the Iraqi government. 2) 10,000 trainers and advisors, 3) Special Operations forces to combat al-Qa'ida, and 4) HQ and logistical support staff numbering over 10,000, along with civilian contractors. Top officers “now dismiss the 2004-06 years,” Ricks writes, saying that this period represented unrealistic expectations of “transition.” "We had previously 'transitioned' ourselves into irrelevance, and the whole thing was going to hell in a handbasket," said a senior official. Even the 2005 elections are regarded as problematic in top planning circles. The big question marks in planners’ minds, however remain: the debate in Washington, the capacity of the Iraqi security forces, and the ongoing lack of political consensus in Iraq.
In the Post, Libby Copeland writes a lengthy profile of Code Pink, the women’s antiwar group that has become a household name for its quirky, and iconoclastic actions on Capitol Hill. "They can call us smelly hippies . . . but we are not going away till the troops are home," says co-founder Medea Benjamin. The group’s name is a riff on Homeland Security’s color codes for threat levels. Copeland interviews several Code Pink members, who describe various protest shenanigans, and describes the scene at the group’s house on Capitol Hill. “The group enjoys friendly relations with certain Capitol Police officers, but its members get arrested a lot,” Copeland writes.
The pontiff and the president
President Bush met for the first time yesterday with Pope Benedict XVI, at the Vatican, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Ian Fisher report in the Times. According to Bush’s remarks afterwards, the pope shared his concerns for Iraq’s Christian population. The larger issue of the two men’s disagreement over whether the US invasion of Iraq was a “just war” was not raised, according to Bush. “I assured him we’re working hard to make sure that people lived up to the Constitution, the modern Constitution voted on by the people that would honor people from different walks of life and different attitudes,” Bush said. The Vatican did not discuss the substance of the meeting in detail, but described the visit as “cordial,” saying that the Vatican brought “Israeli-Palestinian questions, Lebanon, the worrying situation in Iraq and the critical conditions in which the Christian community finds itself” to Bush’s attention. A large protest occurred concurrently in Rome’s streets, objecting to Bush’s visit to the country and American policies.
Michael Fletcher has the story for the Post, noting that Bush’s visit to Rome coincides with the opening of a trial in absentia of 26 Americans in a Milan court. The Americans are accused of being CIA operatives who seized an Egyptian on Italian soil in 2003.
In other coverage:
Michael Moss and Souad Mekhennet write in the Times Week in Review that they have discovered six relatively common rules of engagement for jihadist militants. The list is provocative, yet many of these rules are nearly universal in warfare, such as minimum age requirements (in the US it’s 18), justification of civilian casualties (in the US it’s called collateral damage, as Prof. John Voll points out in the article), and the use of subterfuge in the service of the larger goals. Other rules don’t really seem to add up, such as, “You cannot kill in the country where you reside unless you were born there.” If the rules are easily suspended, as in the case of Iraq (and other places) how can it be called a rule?
The Iraq war has figured into several university commencement addresses this season, Alan Finder writes in the Times, from both a supportive and critical position.
Jason Campbell, Michael O’Hanlon and Amy Unikewicz contribute an “op-chart” comparing various Iraq indicators in the month of May over the last four years. Check out the chart and the introductory blurb.
Steve Vogel describes several DC locals as they prepare to deploy to Iraq with the National Guard, and describes a newly released photographic book about Arlington National Cemetary, which has seen a great deal of activity lately.
As President Bush travels through Europe waxing eloquently about democracy, several activists who banked on Bush’s agenda now say the president has disappointed them, Robin Wright writes. Even as the pro-democracy rhetoric has toned down since the days of the so-called “forward strategy of freedom,” undemocratic regimes have been more assertive in talking back to the president when he offers even mild critique. And the audience of Bush supporters has shrunken to marginal figures such as the heir to the ousted shah of Iran and Syrian expat Farid Ghadry, known as “Syria’s Chalabi” to some.
The US is losing the Iraq war because it cannot combat IEDs, David Ignatius argues in his column. Describing some of the ways that the US has addressed, and declined to address, the problem, Ignatius notes that earlier generations of IEDs and EFPs were provided by US intelligence to the Afghani mujahidin in the 1980s, when the US introduced asymmetric warfare to the region, in a sense. Ignatius closes by arguing that increased nighttime special forces raids are “the kind of asymmetry that evens the balance in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Tom Ricks’s Inbox this week contains an excerpt from a recent article by Marine Capt. Zachary Martin in Marine Corps Gazette, which argues, among other things, that the logic of the Iraq war encourages conservatism in US commanding officers. “Commanders in Iraq cannot win, although they certainly can lose,” Martin wrote, adding “a commander who takes no risks and thus keeps his casualties low can be reasonably assured of a Bronze Star with combat ‘V’.”
Kevin Philips reviews two recent books about Hillary Clinton, including one by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., which takes up the issue of Clinton’s relationship to the Iraq war. The two NYT reporters had the cover story in the Times Magazine last week on the senator and Iraq.
USA TODAY, WALL STREET JOURNAL, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
No Sunday edition.