With the killing of six American soldiers in three separate attacks, 2007 became the deadliest year for U.S. troops yet, reports Damien Cave for The New York Times. The total so far is 852 killed. Five died in two roadside bomb attacks near Kirkuk while the sixth died in Anbar. The grim milestones come amid a steep drop in U.S. deaths -- 38 troops have died in October, the lowest since March 2006. That 2007 is the deadliest year yet while there's a sharp drop in violence may sound contradictory, but it really just emphasizes just how violent the first half of this year was. What's more sobering is that the second deadliest year, 2004, included major offensives against Fallujah and Najaf. This year has seen no such battles, but the surge has put more U.S. troops in harm's way. In other news, military officials announced the discovery of a mass grave holding 22 bodies in a rural area north of Fallujah. Also, nine Iranians held in Iraq would soon be released, including two of the five who were captured in a January raid on a consular office in Erbil. Clashes south of Kirkuk left four gunmen dead and in a second attack, gunmen killed the mayor of a small village south of Kirkuk. A member of the Mosul governing council was assassinated and six police officers were killed in an ambush. In Baghdad, police found four dead bodies, a roadside bomb blew up near an American patrol in Zawra Park and a second bomb went off in Karrada, a central Baghdad neighborhood. A bomb in Latifiya killed an Iraqi soldier and a man was found stabbed to death north of Hilla.
Amit R. Paley has the story on the U.S. casualties for the Washington Post, and adds a comprehensive quote from a military spokesman: "The strategy was to interject our soldiers between the Iraqi citizens and the terrorists, insurgents and militias," said Lt. Col. Douglas A. Ollivant, chief of plans for American forces in Baghdad. "A regrettable consequence of that is your casualties go up." Paley's coverage of the story is decidedly more optimistic than Cave's.
Meanwhile, up in Iraqi Kurdistan, Richard A. Oppel Jr. of the Times says an all-out armed conflict between Turks and Kurds is unlikely because of the growing trade ties that has increased prosperity on both sides of the border. "The Kurds’ longstanding fear of dominance by other powers now seems to be colliding with modest yet growing material comfort for some urban Kurds that was unthinkable not long ago, and has come on the back of Turkish investment, consumer goods and engineering expertise." Eighty percent of foreign investment in Kurdistan is Turkish, with some major infrastructure projects the result of direct financial partnerships between the Kurdistan Regional Government and major Turkish construction firms. The Turks don't want a big fight either. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish premier, suggested this week that any military operations would be narrowly concentrated on guerilla positions. Think Special Operations raids and helicopter gunship attacks on camps. But war may come anyway. The Kurdish pesh merga already have their orders: any attack on civilian villages will be met with a fierce counterattack.
USA Today's Blake Morrison and Peter Eisler report that bomb disposal units in Iraq are increasingly not being utilized to dismantle and study IEDs in the hope of gathering evidence on the cell that constructed it. Instead, a May 30 classified order allows local commanders to use engineers traveling with their units to simply detonate the bomb. The idea is called "blow and go" and is designed to keep convoys moving, away from ambushes and snipers. But it puts short-term gains ahead of long-term goals: mapping and destroying the cells that plant the bombs in the first place. "The blow-and-go strategy undermines and compromises those overall efforts by losing key biometrics and evidence needed to identify and capture the network of insurgents," says Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and chairman of the subcommittee on military readiness. USA Today does a nice job of mapping out the schizophrenic strategy of the Pentagon. Until last year, the Pentagon didn't want to spend money on better vehicles to protect troops from IEDs because it said the better strategy was to focus on destroying the networks that were building and planting the bombs in the first place. And now, it seems that with the new vehicles, the Pentagon has done a 180 on the idea of gathering forensic evidence, which everyone seems to agree is useful. America's newspaper reports that the order came from Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, after lobbying from Brig. Gen. Michael Silva, an Army engineer. USA Today notes that engineers haven't had much to do in Iraq since the initial invasion, because they focus on blowing buildings and breaching defenses, not forensic investigation of bombs. In other words, this is yet another stupid turf battle. Well worth a read.
The Post's Robin Wright expands on the brief news above that the U.S. will release nine Iranians, out of 20, it's holding in Iraq. The idea is that "they no longer threaten U.S. forces." Wright notes that all the military says all 20 prisoners are members of Iran's Quds Force, the foreign military wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Also of note, until yesterday, the U.S. had only acknowledged holding eight Iranians. And while this may be spun by spokesmen as a strictly military decision -- why hold them if they're not a threat? -- the release follows a recent pledge to Iran to the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to stop arming, funding and training Shi'ite militias in Iraq. All this comes amid news of the discovery of large weapons caches of Iranian weapons and the start of the latest round of mid-level talks between the U.S. and Iran.
A senior Iraqi official said the Iranians' release reflects growing recognition that Iran has been playing a less provocative role in Iraq recently, evident in fewer U.S. deaths caused by roadside bombs and in restraint by Shiite militias on U.S. targets.
"There is wide acceptance of the notion that over the past month or two, they have been less problematic in Iraq," he said.
Sam Dagher has the story for the Christian Science Monitor, and finds an Iranian analysis who says that perhaps the release is a quid pro quo. "Reciprocity for the reduction of violence in Iraq," said Mohammad Hadi Semati, of Tehran University. "It is definitely a sign from both sides that they are trying to send signals to each other, to disengage, to calm things down."
Jim Michaels of USA Today reports on that up to one-third of the U.S. combat battalions could be pulled from Anbar by next spring, reflecting the improved security situation. The numbers being discussed are between about 4,000 and 5,000 troops. Some will be sent home, some will be sent elsewhere in Iraq.
The Times' Robert Pear reports that House and Senate negotiators approved a $459 billion military spending bill, but refused to include a Republican bid for $70 billion more to fight the war in Iraq without restrictions. Future funding for the war would have more conditions attached, Democrats said.
Walter Pincus has the story for the Post, and notes that the rest of the money for the war would have language about troop withdrawals attached to it. Both measures will head to the House floor this week.
Josh White of the Post reports that a federal judge ruled that a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 200 Iraqis against a U.S. military contractor can forward. It could be the first case in a U.S. civilian court to weigh accountability for the 2003 abuses of Abu Ghraib. The suit is against CACI International, which provided interrogators under a Pentagon contract. Legal experts said it could affect other contractors who are alleged to have harmed Iraqi civilians. (Yeah, we're looking at you, Blackwater.)
Some troops are trying to cheat on tests designed to show traumatic brain injuries in order to stay with their units, reports Gregg Zoroya of USA Today. "We know what they are doing," said Army Col. Stephen Flaherty, chief of surgery at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. "We're just trying to protect them, make sure they are healthy and get back to fully functional status as soon as possible." Military officials pretty sympathetic: It's the military culture," said Col. Brian Eastridge, a trauma surgeon. "For the most part, we have a lot of hardworking people over here who would be very disappointed to leave ... their people behind."
USA Today's Martha T. Moore reports that minority elected officials -- who trend Democratic anyway -- are more eager to get the U.S. out of Iraq than the public at large is.
More than 83% of minority elected officials -- ranging from state representatives to school board members -- believe U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible, according to the Gender and Multicultural Leadership Project Survey.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.