Alissa Rubin of The New York Times leads her roundup with the news that Iraqi civilian deaths are down for June, although she caveats the good news by adding that the size of the decline is hard to measure because of the unreliability of death counts in Iraq. An American military spokesman said there was only a "slight decrease" for June, but there was "a potential downward trend" that the military would be closely watching. Iraqi officials estimated the deaths had dropped 36 percent, down to about 1,200. In May, civilian casualties topped 1,900. The number of bodies dropped from 726 in May to 540 in June, but that's still higher than in April and horrifically high no matter what month is measured. With more soldiers on the ground, however, American deaths have gone up. June is the third consecutive month that has seen 100+ American deaths. April had 104, May 126 and June 101, making it the deadliest quarter in the Iraq war since March 2003. Rubin rounds out the rest of her story with news of bombs in Diyalah, a truck bomb in Ramadi that killed five people and wounded seven, two car bombs in Sunni areas of Baghdad and the discovery of 14 bodies in the capital. The military announced two soldiers killed on Sunday in Baghdad. Parliament seems unlikely to get much done in the next few days because of the boycott of Sunni legislators and Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki floated a plan to hold provincial elections at the end of this year, possibly as a means of mollifying Sunni Arabs.
A truck bombing in Ramadi that damaged a bridge over the Euphrates leads Joshua Partlow's roundup for the Washington Post. The bombing is the latest in a series of bombings designed to damage Iraq's bridge network and, possibly, isolate Baghdad. The bombing injured two civilians, he writes. Another, earlier bombing in Fallujah targeted a police checkpoint and killed one police officer and injured four. Partlow wraps it up with the decline in Iraqi deaths -- which seems more important than a truck bomb, really.
Air Baqoubah: Hurry Up and Wait
The Post's Partlow offers a reporter's notebook piece on the joys of flying "Air Baqoubah" in Iraq. Anyone -- and we mean anyone -- who's moved around the U.S. military bases in Iraq knows that air travel is frustrating and unpredictable. But there's a certain camaraderie among journalists and soldiers waiting for Chinooks or Blackhawks to settle down on a gravel field and, well, "whisk away" isn't the term -- that implies speed -- but lumber off into the night after days of waiting. Partlow captures the discomfort (sandfleas, heat), boredom (46 hours, pirated DVDs) and sheer randomness (Hollywood producer) of getting from base to base. He even recounts the inevitable crazy schemes (they usually involve driving through insurgent-controlled territory) dreamed up to get the hell off the base in Baqoubah and back to Baghdad, only 37 miles away.
USA Today has a couple of good stories from their homefront coverage. Gregg Zoroya reports that the Marines have a "combat-stress program" for leathernecks who have a clean record but get into some kind of trouble -- usually drug- or alcohol-related -- because of possible PTSD, but the Corps lacks the resources to implement it. In the first four years of the war, 1,019 Marines have been dismissed with less-than-honorable discharges for misconduct during their overseas deployment, with at least 326 of them showing signs of mental health problems. The problem is that veterans with a less-than-honorable discharge usually lose benefits and are denied health care services by the Veterans Administration, so the coordinator of the program is urging any Marine who commits out-of-character misconduct to be "aggressively screened for stress disorders" and possibly shown lenience. "If a Marine who was previously a good, solid Marine -- never got in trouble -- commits misconduct after deployment and turns out they have PTSD, and because of justice they lose their benefits, that may not be justice," said Navy Capt. William Nash, coordinator of the program.
Tom Vanden Brook writes for USA Today that the Pentagon approved an Army recommendation to produce up to 17,770 armored anti-mine vehicles -- a 600 percent increase. The melliflously-named Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, which has a higher chassis and a v-shaped lower hull that deflects the blast of IEDs away from the vehicle, is to replace armored humvees in Iraq on a one-for-one basis. Joe Biden, D-Presidential Race, and Kit Bond R-Mo., have said as many as 742 American troops might be alive today if the MRAPs had been deployed in February 2005 when the Marines in Anbar filed an urgent request for the vehicles. The approved increase will boost the Pentagon's commitment to almost 23,000 vehicles.
In other coverage
Walter Pincus, national security and intelligence reporter, digs deep into an overlooked report to find that even if the Iraqi parliament ever gets around to approving the oil law -- which is supposed to manage distribution of future oil revenue and the granting of exploration rights to foreign companies -- Iraq's oil industry is in deep trouble. The devil, as always, is in the details. The law decentralizes the industry by granting regions the right to draw up contracts with foreign companies but centralizes the revenue, the Government Accounting Office report says. But only the Kurdish region is well-defined and the Shi'ite bloc is demanding its own region in the south -- where most of Iraq's oil lies. Sunnis are pushing back hard against the Shi'ite regional demand. More tricky still is the distribution of oil revenue based on population, which will require a politically sensitive -- to say the least -- census to be taken. Many Sunni Arabs, which most analysts say make up 20 percent of the population, cling to the idea they make up 40 percent, or even a majority, of Iraqis. Because Sunnis make up the bulk of the insurgency, any census reporting fewer Sunnis would be a red flag. Throw in governmental corruption and the inability of the Iraqi government to reconcile its internal differences and the passage of the oil law, far from being a magic bullet, could open up a new set of problems for Iraq.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
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WALL STREET JOURNAL
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