- Detainees released, family members on the hook
- White House's goal: "To kick the can down the road"
Blackwater continues to gather its share of coverage, with both the Washington Post and The New York Times devoting large stories to the special status the company holds in Iraq. Still, despite a U.N. conference on Iraq, no major story leaps out.
The Times' James Glanz and Sabrina Tavernise report that the Iraqis are upping the ante in their poker game with the United States and Blackwater, threatening to refer the firm's guards involved in last week's deadly shooting to the Iraqi criminal justice system. "The murder of citizens in cold blood in the Nisour area by Blackwater is considered a terrorist action against civilians just like any other terrorist operation," stated preliminary findings by Iraq's Interior Ministry, the National Security Ministry and the Defense Ministry. The U.S. State Department -- which relies on Blackwater to move around -- is conducting its own operation, but its progress has been slowed because it has suspended its diplomats' travel in the wake of the shooting. This raising an interesting question that Glanz and Tavernise only hint at: Can the State Department investigation into Blackwater's actions be trusted when Blackwater itself is responsible for guarding diplomats while they gather evidence? Isn't that like asking a car thief to drive the detectives around as they investigate a case against that very thief? The U.S. military doesn't rely on Blackwater for protection, of course, so it's able to move around and gather evidence for its own investigation. The two reporters note that even if murder charges are referred to Iraqi courts, it's unclear whether the company and its employees are in any real legal jeopardy, thanks to CPA Order 17, which immunizes contractors from Iraqi law. A greater peril is the investigation into Blackwater in the United States, which is looking into whether the company smuggled weapons illegally into Iraq that then fell into the hands of insurgents. The company says two guys involved have been fired and convicted in American courts already so it's no involved. Meanwhile, the Americans arrested Agai Mahummdi Firhadi, an Iranian diplomat, for transporting bombs into Iraq and training militants. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani reacted angrily and protested the arrest -- mainly because Iran threatened to close its border with the Kurdish enclave if Firhadi isn't released. Also, The Islamic State in Iraq released a video showing the execution of five men. Iraqi authorities arrested 11 people in connection with the assassination of Sheikh Abu Risha, head of the Anbar Awakening council.
Sudarsan Raghavan and Steve Fainaru of the Post report that the U.S. repeatedly rebuffed Iraqi complaints against Blackwater, despite a flurry of activity from Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister who oversees the private security industry on behalf of the Iraqi government. The two have this interesting nugget buried at the end. If the U.S. gives Iraqi no love in Baghdad on this issue, and Order 17 prevents the Iraqis from punishing the company, Iraq could still file suit against Blackwater in American courts.
The Times' former Baghdad bureau chief John F. Burns pens a long look at contractors in Iraq, and Blackwater specifically, for the paper's Week in Review section. It's mainly a rundown of the history of Blackwater in Iraq, but he gets the contempt that many in the military hold for Blackwater. Referring to the sharpshooters who hang out the small whirly-birds that buzz over the city like mosquitoes, an American officer said, "If I've got one ambition left here, it's to see one of those showboats fall out." It takes a while for him to get to the real point, but he finally discusses the doctrine of "force protection," which until recently has been nearly an absolute for U.S. forces and private contractors in Iraq. It was only after Haditha that the rules of engagement were changed for the military, but contractors had no reason to start valuing Iraqi lives, given the legal immunity they enjoy. Would that most of the article focused on Burns' last point:
Just why some contractors resort to such extremes is a study in war and the ways in which it plumbs the darker sides of human nature. In the military units where they acquired their weapons and tactical skills, the men who cause mayhem on the streets and highways of Iraq were subject to tight constraints -- as one former soldier who does security work in Iraq and did not want to be identified expressed it in a private note to this reporter:
"Being motivated, and also somehow restrained, by the trappings of history, and by being part of something large, collective, and, one hopes, right," this man wrote. "But being a security contractor strips much of this sociological and political upholstery away, and replaces it with cash."
Both Warren Hoge of the Times and Colum Lynch of the Post cover the closed meeting on Iraq at the U.N. yesterday. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Iraq's neighbors and other regional powers need to work together to stabilize Iraq. Lynch gets high up that the conference highlighted the tension between Iran and the United States over Iraq while Hoge emphasized that Ban urged other countries to keep their internal troublemakers from going to Iraq.
Walter Pincus and Megan Greenwell report for the Post that the U.S. has released 260 detainees in the first week of Ramadan as part of a program by the United States to prevent recidivism among former accused insurgents, by compelling each one released to pledge before an Iraqi judge not to get into any more trouble. A family member or friend is required to act as guarantor of their clean living, because the guarantor faces sanctions if there's any backsliding.
Jonathan Weisman reports for the Post's "Congress' War over the War" series that Senate moderates, including Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, have mainly talked the talk but accomplished little in the debate over Iraq. They all said it was vitally important to get more troops home, forge a bipartisan compromise, and that consequences would be dire if they didn't. But in the end, they accomplished little. The current White House strategy seems firmly entrenched until next spring at the very earliest. "It'll be very difficult, very difficult," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. "The Petraeus testimony kind of put this whole question of change on hold. That is the administration's goal: to kick the can down the road to the next administration."
Helene Cooper of the Times follows a Los Angeles Times report that the White House will ask for $50 Billion more in its 2008 request for war-funding in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. That's on top of its previous request of $141 billion. A quarter of the $50 billion will go toward armored vehicles designed to withstand roadside bombs, and much of the total $191 billion will go toward refurbishing military equipment and buying new gear for troops, indicating the wear and tear the wars have put on the U.S. military.
New York Times
Clark Hoyt, the Times' public editor, reports that the paper gave MoveOn.org a price break on its "Betray Us?" ad and violated its own written standards for accepting advertising. The liberal group got the standby rate of $64,575, which after a week of defending the price charged, the Times advertising department admitted was a mistake. It should have been charged $142,083. And the Times' internal advertising acceptability manual states that "We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature." Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the ad, said the question mark after "Betray Us" convinced him it wasn't a personal attack on Gen. David H. Petraeus, but was instead a comment on his management of the war.
Deborah Howell, the Post's ombudsman, has her crack at her paper's coverage of competing Sept 15 rallies on the war. Readers complained that the anti-war rally was "exponentially larger" than the pro-war rally, and yet the two rallies were treated relatively equally in the paper. Editors at the paper said, essentially "Our bad!" because the numbers of the anti-war side got lost in the editing process. Lead pictures showed the pro-war camp, giving the impression it was larger than the anti-war camp. Metro columnist Marc Fisher reported on his blog -- not in the paper -- that anti-war activists numbered 6,850 and pro-war folks were only about 800.
George F. Will, op-ed columnist, writes that the mission in Iraq is antithetical to the Marines Corps' sense of self -- fight first, then get out -- but no other service is as prepared to carry out that mission. Its skills as an expeditionary force are being eroded, Will says.
CIA wasn't all wrong in the run-up to the Iraq war as is commonly reported, writes op-ed columnist David Ignatius. Some of the agency's analysts got it exactly right; they just weren't listened to. Indeed, the star analyst, Paul R. Pillar, had one of his reports on the instability to follow an Iraq invasion leaked only to have a White House spokesman sniff dismissively and say it was the work of "pessimists and naysayers."
Christian Science Monitor
No weekend edition.
Wall Street Journal
No Sunday edition.
USA Today No weekend edition.