Remember that story a while back about the 190,000 missing American-supplied weapons in Iraq? Eric Schmitt and Ginger Thompson of the Times remember, too, and lead the paper today with a look at some of the characters involved. (Margot Williams and James Glanz helped out on the reporting.) It started in 2004, when American officials, operating under Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was then in charge of training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, contracted out the distribution of weapons to Kassim al-Saffar, who promptly turned the gig into his own private arms bazaar. He did this will the full knowledge -- and possibly the approval -- of several U.S. officials working in Baghdad. He was "selling AK-47 assault rifles, Glock pistols and heavy machine guns to anyone with cash in hand -- Iraqi militias, South African security guards and even American contractors." Once again, it was a shocking lack of oversight that allowed all this to happen, exacerbated by the sense of urgency and mission that led other U.S. officials to cut corners in procuring the weapons. Maj. John Isgrigg III and Maj. Timmy W. Cox were assigned to issue weapons to the Iraqi military and national guard, and would often race to the airport the moment they heard a new shipment of weapons was arriving, "barreling onto the tarmac at Baghdad International Airport and loading the crates of Glocks and AK-47s." The system was too slow, Cox and Isgrigg said, and acknowledged they didn't do everything by the book.
"We had folks getting killed because equipment wasn't moving," said Col. Randy Hinton, the majors' superior officer. "Were there times when all the right forms were not signed? Probably. But we had a mission to do, and we were going to do it the best way we could at that time."Other officers don't doubt Cox and Isgrigg's motives, but their methods were dangerous because once the weapons left the normal procurement channel, there was no way to know where they might end up. And even if they managed to get weapons to the Iraqi soldiers, the sense of accomplishment was often short lived. Up to 30 percent of the weapons they distributed went to Iraqis that would show up to get the weapons and then disappear. "There were times we would issue a batch of weapons and within 10 days they would show up at the Enemy Weapons Purchase Program," Cox, who is on his second tour in Baghdad, wrote in an email, referring to a military effort to buy up guns off the streets. It's a tangled story, but its themes are familiar: No planning, no oversight, no real sense of what might happen once the Americans showed up and began throwing cash and materiel around. Well worth a read.
Joshua Partlow, reporting for the Post, writes that gun battles broke out between rival Sunni insurgent groups in Samarra this weekend, with the Islamic Army battling members of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Many members of the Islamic Army are now working with the Americans. IA claims it killed 18 suspected AQI members and captured 14 others. The Samarra police said they knew of the clashes but didn't intervene. Significantly, he said the fighting was between "the resistance factions." IA leaders said none of their people were killed, but Iraqi police said 15 died in the fighting.
The Post's Sudarsan Raghavan treks up to the Qandil Mountains and scores some interviews with PKK leaders, who are feeling "increasing besieged." Despite being pressed by Turks from the north and west, Iranians from the east and now the Iraqi government from the south, they remain resolute, he writes. Winter is approaching, driving away the threat of a Turkish invasion, but the fate of their jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison, is still motivating them. Raghavan does a nice job explaining the PKK: their unique worldview -- they treat men and women equally and revere nature -- their reverence for Ocalan that sounds practically Maoist. (Considering they arose from a radical leftist tradition, that's not surprising.) Raghavan is particularly impressed by the PKK women:
There appeared to be as many female fighters as male. They shared duties -- cooking, washing, standing guard. When it was time to head into Turkey on a mission, the women joined the men. The women shook hands with male visitors, a taboo in many Middle Eastern societies, and refused to have their cigarettes lit for them by men, viewing it as a gesture of subordination.A decent story, but it doesn't tell us where the situation in the north is heading. Here's a prediction: No war right now, more of the same hit-and-run from the PKK next year, Turkish growling and U.S. and Iraqi impotence. In short, nothing will change.
The Home Front
Karen DeYoung of the Post reports that with four days to go before the deadline for volunteers for Iraq postings, about half of the 48 positions there for next year remain open. This means so-called directed assignments "may be necessary," said Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte.
William Quinn, who served in Iraq from 2005-6 and is now majoring in international politics and security studies at Georgetown University, writes for the Post that the only thing more surreal than arriving in a war zone is returning from one. He writes of the usual home anxieties he faced -- traffic, airports, the sheer normality of it all. But after a year in college, he finds it inexplicable that other students seem so untouched by the way. He was an interrogator at Abu Ghraib (but not one of the brutal ones, he points out) and now he's at Georgetown. For a year, the war was his life. Now, it barely registers on the college's radar. "One student actually told me to stop thinking about Iraq. 'You need to get rid of all that baggage and let yourself live,' she said. 'We need to be shallow sometimes.'" Quinn's a little unfair, to his fellow students, however, taking them to task for being undergrads, more interested in Facebook and iPods than the war. Well, they're 18-year-olds! And yet, he sneers at his fellow international relations peers who want care deeply about the suffering of those in Iraq, North Korea, Burma and Darfur, even though he says they have "sincere compassion." He says their true priorities are "friends to meet, parties to attend, internships to work at, extracurricular activities to participate in, papers to write and classes to attend." Yes, that's called "college." It seems he wants all of his peers to join ROTC, like he did, but the military life is not for everyone, or even most people. Quinn still has some questions to answer about where he belongs, it seems.
Gerri Hirshey of the Times reports on the efforts of wounded soldiers and marines to return home and talk about their stories in the war. One interesting wrinkle is the Center for Careers in Media, which is starting a training program in January at a film lot north of San Diego, near Camp Pendleton and its medical facilities. The program, administered by the Wounded Marine Career Foundation, will prepare wounded troops for a second career in film, video, sound design, graphics and photojournalism. It sounds like a great deal: 30 film industry pros will teach course and graduates get camera equipment, computers and software -- some of it modified to account for disabilities -- as well as union membership and job placement. (Let's hope the writers' strike is over by then.) The San Diego SWAT team also trains on the film lot and will work with students on video and forensics training. A lot of troops go in to law enforcement after their service, and this new training allows disabled vets to do that, by focusing on videography and forensics work.
Elizabeth L. Robbins, an Army major serving in Iraq, writes for the Post that thousands of gifts of cards, snacks and other care packages arrive for the troops in Iraq at a rate that is overwhelming, giving lie to the belief that there is a gulf between the civilian and military worlds, and that the war isn't resonating on the home front. He essay is a bit rosy in its assessments of Iraq, but hey, it's Veterans' Day.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
New York Times
Austan Goodlsbee, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, writes that the bond markets have bet that Iraq will remain unstable for years to come.
George F. Will takes on Bob Drogin's book, "Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War." It's not so much a review as a summary of the book. And given the title, he shows remarkable restraint in not using a metaphor from his beloved sport of baseball.
Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, writes that the U.S. is engaging in imperialism in the Middle East. Yawn. But he does make a trenchant observation:
Iraq has changed everything. In Washington, a city obsessed with the present, it was easy to forget that as recently as a few years ago, the United States was not particularly disliked in the Middle East and that al-Qaeda was a tiny underground organization with almost no popular support. It was equally easy to forget that in the last phases of the Cold War, the United States had managed to protect its interests in the Middle East with no land forces on the ground, through an over-the-horizon presence.Very true, but his prescription is vague beyond belief. "The real terrorists ... can be dealt with only by means far more subtle than military might. Dealing effectively with this elusive enemy requires patience and a far more precise, carefully targeted and politically sophisticated toolkit than the mighty bludgeon of the U.S. armed forces." And that's the extent of his solution. The professor isn't a details kind of guy, I guess.
Christian Science Monitor
No weekend edition.
No weekend edition.
Wall Street Journal
No Sunday edition.