Thomas E. Ricks and Karen DeYoung of the Post have a major front-page piece today, with some members of the U.S. military in Iraq eager to declare Al Qaeda in Iraq beaten, so degraded has its capabilities become. Others are urging caution, noting that the group is resilient, flexible and other big wins against it -- notably the killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2006 -- offered little beyond temporary gains. But, interestingly, the White House is reluctant to offer the "got 'em on the run" rhetoric so favored by the President. Why? Ricks and DeYoung flick at it high up: "Such a declaration could fuel criticism that the Iraq conflict has become a civil war in which U.S. combat forces should not be involved." The rest of the story is catchall of the various opinions in Baghdad and the Pentagon over the reasons for al Qaeda in Iraq's decline, but that sentence is intriguing. Is the White House, which has in the past shown no reluctance to trumpet lesser victories in the war on terror, keeping mum because if they declare victory in Iraq here -- and they're right -- they'll be forced to go home? Can we get some follow-up on the mindset in the White House on this question?
But the Post suffered a deep tragedy this weekend. On Sunday afternoon, Salih Saif Aldin, an Iraqi reporter and photographer for the paper was shot and killed in one of Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods. Joshua Partlow and Amit R. Paley write the story for the Post's front page and it no doubt must have been a hard one to write. The 32-year-old journalist was shot once in the forehead, apparently at close range, in Sadiyah, a neighborhood dominated by the Mahdi Army. It was also the neighborhood where Khalid Hassan, a reporter for The New York Times, was killed in July. One man whispered that Iraqi Army members killed Saif Aldin as he was taking pictures of burned houses on the street. (The Army is believed to be infiltrated by the Mahdi Army.) Iraqi police officers blamed Sunni members of the Awakening Council. Saif Aldin is the 118th journalist to die in Iraq while on duty. Nearly 100 of those are Iraqis. Everyone at IraqSlogger would like to express our deepest condolences and sympathies to the Post and Saif Aldin's family. Omar Fekeiki, the Post's former office manager in Iraq told Saif Aldin one time that his fearlessness would one day get him killed. "You know what he answered?" Fekeiki said. "This was his exact quote: 'What's life, really, if we don't leave something good behind us?' It was so stupid and so heroic at the same time."
Sudarsan Raghavan pens his friend's memorial story for the Post, reprinting emails and notes of remembrances from the paper's reporters around the world who had worked with Saif Aldin. He was fearless, curious, an insomniac, proud of his work, a hard worker, always joking, a dogged reporter, tough and a doting father. Without a doubt, he will be missed.
Paul von Zielbauer and Andrew E. Kramer write up the story for the Times, leading their Iraq roundup with Saif Aldin's death. In other news around Iraq, more than 40 Shi'ite tribal and political leaders met with Sunni tribal leaders in Ramadi in a show of support for the Sunni tribesmen's fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq. It was the first time Shi'ite political leaders had traveled to Anbar to meet with Sunni sheikhs. Amar al-Hakim, political heir to Abdu Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, was among the attendees. Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr Organization also came. Elsewhere, three members of the Salahuddin Awakening Council were killed near Kirkuk. In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in a traffic circle downtown, killing eight people and wounding 15.
Sebnem Arsu of the Times reports that the chief of the Turkish military warned that military relations with the U.S. could take a nosedive if Congress approved the Armenian Genocide resolution passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week. This is important because Turkey's Incirlik Air Base is a vital lifeline for U.S. troops in Iraq and Turkish trucks carrying food and fuel travel into Iraq daily. Would the Turks refuse use of their air space to American planes? Evidence pointing to yes: Last year, they severely cut back military and business ties with France after the French Parliament passed a similar bill. Evidence pointing to no: The U.S. is not France. It's a lot more important and it's consistently backed Turkey's ascension into the European Union. Counter-evidence pointing to yes: Turkey kind of screwed up the U.S.'s war plans in 2003 by not allowing the 4th Infantry Division to use its territory to invade Iraq from the north. So maybe a story on what might really happen if the resolution passes? Are the Turks blustering? On the Iraqi border, tensions are rising, as Turks shelled some Kurdish villages on the Iraqi side of the frontier.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
New York Times
Roger Cohen writes of the mission of Debra Cagan, described as "John Bolton on steroids," to tiny eastern European and Caucuses countries looking for "soldiering scraps" to add to the "Coalition of the Willing" once other members pull out. It's a diplomatic mission to keep the fig leaf of internationalism on the Iraq adventure, even though the accounts for 94 percent of the troops in Iraq. Cohen writes that the U.S. is as isolated as it's ever been, and sending Cagan, who allegedly bullies and threatens allies, to places like Moldova is a sign of desperation.
The Times editorial board weighs in on the "quickening pace of oil deals between Kurdish regional leaders and foreign companies" as a sign that Iraq is spinning out of control and the White House's response is an exercise in fecklessness. The deals "needlessly elevated tensions" in Iraq, but the administration has done little to lean on Hunt Oil of Dallas, one of the signatories with close ties to the Bush clan.
Walter Pincus delves into the dark world of federal contracts again this week, finding one calling for bids for a new biometric credential system to provide ID cards for three Iraqi ministries.
Matt Kelley looks at Camp Arifjan, a sprawling military base in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert that's also a center for corruption investigations. It's an overview story that wraps up the status of the various corruption cases exceeding $10 million in favors, bribes and kickbacks among Army officers, contractors and subcontractors.
Wall Street Journal
August Cole reports that Blackwater founder Erik Prince is looking to catapult Blackwater into the truly big leagues of military contractors by expanding into other hot spots around the world and privatizing "all kinds of government security." He plans to deploy remotely piloted blimps, an armored truck that can compete with the Pentagon's vehicles and get involved in "delivering humanitarian aid to responding to natural disasters to handling the behind-the-lines logistics of moving heavy equipment and supplies." To do all this, they first need to extricate themselves from the controversy surrounding the Sept. 16 shooting in Nisour Square in Baghdad, which killed as many as 17 Iraqi civilians.
Christian Science Monitor
No edition today.