The Post's Peter Slevin looks at Tipton, Iowa, a small town of 3,000 that has lost two of its best and brightest in the Iraq war. It's a poignant story of two young men who came home dead. The attitudes in the town -- a community of rock-ribbed Republicanism -- are shifting against Bush and the war. "The war and the way he's handled it. We've lost too many boys," said Bob Peck, 71, a former Marine from his perch at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2537. "We've been there long enough, and it's not doing anything. It doesn't look like it will." The midwest and the south have long been the most loyal to Bush, but as the war grinds on, and small towns like Tipton bear the burden, his support is eroding even here. The nation's heartland is losing its heart for the war.
In Baghdad, the Times lost one its own yesterday. Khalid W. Hassan, a large, "pranksterish" 23-year-old reporter and translator, was gunned down as he was trying to get to work at The New York Times bureau, John Burns reports on the paper's front page. Hassan is the second Times' staffer to be killed in Iraq. The other was Fakher Haider in Basra, who local officials say was killed by Shi'ite militiamen angry about his work for the Times. The Committee to Protect Journalists says 110 reporters have been killed in Iraq since March 2003, a toll that includes 88 Iraqis, including Hassan. Hassan was a Sunni and a Palestinian, whose family fled to Iraq in 1948. Residents of Adhamiya, a Sunni stronghold where he was buried, shouted slogans against Shi'ite "infidels" and the American "occupiers." Friends and relatives believe he was killed by Mahdi Army militiamen who discovered he was Sunni. But 12 hours after his death, one of Hassan's relatives received a text message warning him to "return to God" of be killed like Hassan. It was signed by the Brigade of the Mujahdeen, an unknown organization but, based on the name, probably a Sunni group. IraqSlogger joins in offering condolences to the Times and Hassan's family.
INTERVIEW WITH THE INSURGENT
Joshua Partlow of the Post scores an interview with a guy claiming to be the "general coordinator" between al Qaeda in Iraq and the Omar Brigade, a group set up by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2005 as a counterweight to the Badr Brigade, which was established and supported by Iran in the 1980s. ("Omar" is a quintessential Sunni name.) Abu Sarhan, 37, says Iraq's Sunnis are locked in an "entrenched" civil war against Iranian-backed Shi'ites, and American tactics of putting small outposts of soldiers in violent neighborhoods only inflames the insurgency. "If U.S. forces release Sunni detainees, remove the concrete blast barriers that now cordon off several neighborhoods and improve services in areas neglected by the Shiite-led government," the attacks would be reduced "95 percent within days," Partlow quotes Abu Sarhan as saying. Hm. Doesn't sound like the al Qaeda we know and hate, who are usually pretty fired up about the "Zionist-Crusader War." In fact, this guy sounds more like a nationalist than a jihadi. "I personally don't have a hatred of the American people, and I respect American civilization," said Abu Sarhan. "They have participated in the progress of all the nations of the world. They invented computers. Such people should be respected." Does al Masri, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq know about this guy's attitude? At least he still hates Shi'ites: "People who are crying over someone who died 1,400 years ago" -- the Shi'ites, who venerate Imam Ali, who was killed in the 7th century -- "these should be eliminated, to clear the society of them, because they are simply trash." Such bigotry aside, Partlow's story is a valuable one, however, and deserves better play than being stuffed on A13. His interview shows the dissension and divisions within the insurgency and that al Qaeda in Iraq is a small -- if important -- part of the militancy, not "public enemy number one" as Petraeus and the president have stressed. Abu Sarhan paints a picture that closely maps with that of intelligence analysts on Iraq: AQI is one of "hundreds" of groups, some aligned and some in conflict, ranging in size from small cells to battalion-sized groupings. There needs to be more reporting on the structure of the insurgency like this, please.
NEWS FROM WASHINGTON
Both the Times and the Post report on the new legislation that has come from the offices of Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and John Warner of Virginia, two of the most respected voices on military and foreign affairs in the Senate.
The Times' Jeff Zeleny gives a fairly to-the-point rundown of the anticipated legislation: By Oct. 16, Bush would have to present to Congress contingency plans to narrow the mission in Iraq, which would include protecting the borders, training Iraqi forces, protecting American military personnel and going after terrorists. The plan should start by Dec. 31. It would also require Bush to seek a new authorization for the war and update the National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq by Sept. 4. This succinct and necessary summation of Lugar's and Warner's proposal comes after the politicking Washington journalists love. However, in this case, the context was even more necessary. The Lugar-Warner proposal attempts to blend a flurry of proposals floating around the Senate -- "There are, it seems, nearly as many Iraq proposals circulating on Capitol Hill as there are senators who question the war," Zeleny drolly writes -- and attract, finally, a working consensus around a bill. Right now, there are too many proposals, splitting the opposition to war and preventing a 60-vote majority from forming. The status quo only benefits Bush, who doesn't want meddling Senators getting in his foreign policy club house.
Shailagh Murray and Robin Wright pen a sprawling front-pager for the Post, saying the "Republican revolt" is gathering speed with the Lugar-Warner bill. The Post notes that the senators' plan falls short of Democratic demands "to set a firm timetable for withdrawal" but indicates that more ground is crumbling under the president's feet. While the bill may not pass, "it could shape the debate as Congress wrestles with its position on the war" in the run-up to the September report. However, the duo report that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is unwilling to bend on legislation that doesn't include a firm timeline for troop withdrawal.
Interestingly, the Post notes that this Congressional action comes while Team Bush is attempting to rally support among Sunni governments in the Middle East to come to Iraq's aid "if only to maintain a buffer zone against Iran." Whoa! That's new. They also get points for the understatement of the week: Secretaries of State and Defense Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates "will point out that a Shiite-dominated Iraqi government could become a buffer because Iraqis do not like a foreign presence."
The duo also said the U.S. military is also trying to show that it's making progress on troop redeployment, revealing its "intent" to reduces forces in northern Iraq by half beginning as early as January. But here's the question: Are they talking about Iraqi Kurdistan or do they also include Nineveh province? Because if it's just Kurdistan, cutting the number of troops in half isn't hard -- or meaningful. There's like, what? A dozen there? A little more specificity on the numbers, please. The White House failed to persuade the Iraqi parliament to stick around and finish its work, presidential aides acknowledged, and White House spokesman Tony Snow offers this weak spin: "You know, it's 130 degrees in Baghdad in August." Aww! Maybe the troops can take August off, too, then? At least the parliamentarians get to sit in air conditioning. Sheesh.
David S. Cloud and Thom Shanker report for the Times that the surge strategy has resulted in a slow-down in training Iraqi forces, a mission considered vital to the plan to turn over security to Iraqis and bring American troops home. Training efforts have slowed, according to American commanders, because preparing the Iraqis to operate on their own is now secondary to "protecting Iraqis and the heavy use of American combat power." This news must be tough to swallow for Gen. David Petraeus, who was once in charge of training Iraqi security forces and has now inherited the president's surge strategy. While noting that provincial reconstruction teams are also falling short, the reporting duo write: "Iraqi units are gaining tactical experience and improving through their contribution to the new security effort, officials said, but they remain plagued by logistical problems, troop shortfalls, and sectarian interference from senior Iraqi politicians." These are the main reasons the number of Iraqi battalions rated as capable of operating independently fell from 10 in March to six this month.
The Times' Stephen Farrell tops his roundup with news that also should get better play: U.S. forces fought Iraqi police in a predawn battle involving fighter jets. While conducting a raid against a police position, American troops came under "heavy and accurate fire" from another, nearby checkpoint as well as from surrounding rooftops and a church. (Hm. Maybe it's a good thing the training is slowing down.) The Americans killed six Iraqi police and were able to capture a police lieutenant they said was "a high ranking" member of a cell linked to the Iranian al Quds Force, the foreign operations unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. But the obvious question is this: These are the guys the U.S. is calling its allies in Iraq? On the political front, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said there were "positive developments" in the efforts to form a moderate coalition "committed to the political process and democracy." He apparently gave no specifics. In Diyala province, seven men were killed when gunmen attacked a house in the village of Harbitila. A roadside bomb killed a senior officer in the Iraqi Army and three of his guards near Muqdidiya. In Wasit province, police found three unidentified bodies in the Tigris. In eastern Baghdad, insurgents using RPGs and machine guns killed five guards manning towers around the Interior Ministry compound. In addition to the death of Times staffer Khalid Hassan, about half a dozen bodies were found in Saydia, including those of an 11-year-old girl and two women. A car bomb also exploded in the neighborhood, killing two civilians and Iraqi police found 21 bodies in Baghdad. Finally, a mortar attack on the Green Zone killed a senior Iraqi military officer.
The predawn raid also leads Megan Greenwell's roundup for the Post. Defense Secretary Gates said Friday that everyone knows the Iraqi police have "uneven training" and that when the police fired on American forces after they arrested the lieutenant, they became legitimate targets. "The fact of the matter is that there are elements of the Iraqi police and elements of the Iraqi army that are infiltrated," added Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman. The Post reports on Hassan's killing, and reports that police found 26 bodies in Baghdad, not 21. Another eight bodies, including three women, were found near Suwayrah, 20 miles southeast of Baghdad. Three civilians were killed in a mortar attack and two died in a roadside bomb attack in Sadr City. Greenwell says two Iraqi police officers were killed by the Green Zone mortar attack yesterday, instead of the senior army officer, as reported by the Times.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Christian Science Monitor
No Saturday edition.
No Saturday edition.
Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.