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US Papers Wed: FBI nixes BW's tale of shootout
AQI, local fighters clash; Kurds and Arabs united in misery; Strike over border
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 11/14/2007 01:48 AM ET
Things aren't looking good for Blackwater. In the lead story in The New York Times, the FBI blows holes in Blackwater's account of what happened Sept. 16 in Nisour Square. That's the biggest story of the day, but both the Times and the Washington Post have a good selection of Baghdad and Washington stories. USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor throw their hats in the ring as well as investigations into troop injuries and exclusive interviews.

The Times' David Johnston and John M. Broder report on the front page that FBI investigators believe 14 out of the 17 killings of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater in Nisour Square were unjustified. The bureau's findings indicate that the company's employees "recklessly used lethal force." Prosecutors are still weighing whether to seek indictments, however. As many as five of the company's guards opened fire during the incident, and "turret gunner No. 3" is one of the worst offenders. He fired a large number of rounds and killed several people, investigators say. They also found that there is no evidence the guards came under fire from Iraqi civilians, demolishing the company's claims it came under fire and thus, acted appropriately. The reason for the fullisade of lead? Other security guards opened fire in response to gunshots from their own team. One official said, "I wouldn't call it a massacre, but to say it was unwarranted is an understatement." The killings of the two Iraqis in the white Kia sedan that started the incident may have been justified under the rules of engagement, as was possibly one shooting of a civilian nearby. The guards might have felt they were legitimately threatened, said investigators. The rest of the killings, however, were not justified. A separate military investigation said none of the killings were justified and that the FBI was "being generous" to Blackwater.

Over there
The Post's Amit R. Paley reports that U.S.-backed Sunni fighters have been locked in fierce clashes with al Qaeda in Iraq militants just outside Baghdad. At least 20 people have been killed this week. In one case, as many as 45 AQI fighters attacked two checkpoints manned by the "concerned local citizens" supported by the Americans, leaving 15 jihadis and five of the local fighters dead. While the AQI fighters were unable to overrun the checkpoints, American F-16s were called in and dropped two 500-pound bombs. Elsewhere around Iraq, 19 people were killed or found dead.

Damien Cave of the Times reports that Turkish military aircraft attacked a handful of abandoned Kurdish villages in northern Iraq yesterday, making it the first confirmed cross-border assault since the crisis in the north started last month. The strikes were around Zakhu, damaged very little and killed no one. They may have been connected to the killing of four Turkish soldiers in Turkey by the PKK. Kurdish officials didn't know if the Turks were using helicopters or jets, and described the attacks as scouting missions. They also assumed the U.S. knew of the attacks. "The sky is in the hands of the Americans, so they knew about this attack and they know Turkish planes entered Iraqi territory," said Fouad Hussein, chief of staff for Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader of northern Iraq. In addition to the attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq fighters, Cave reports that a brigade of 3,000 American troops from the First Cavalry Division based in Diyala will not be replaced by a new unit when it leaves the area in January. Also, a lawmaker close to Moqtada al-Sadr called for the dissolution of parliament and new elections based on new electoral laws. Five unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad.

The Monitor's Sam Dagher interviews Tariq al-Hashimi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents, for his views on the future of Iraq. Being a Sunni Arab, Hashimi isn't too optimistic, and says the government's insistence on executing Sultan Hashem, the former defense minister during Saddam Hussein's regime, would be the end of the idea of reconciliation. "This will ruin the Iraqi military establishment forever because this is an invitation to all military officers to question in the future the orders of politicians," he argues. "A dialogue is taking place with former Army officers in Jordan and Syria to return," he continues. "His (Hashem's) execution is a message to them not to come back and that's it -- we burn all bridges."

Michael Kamber, a photojournalist for the Times, reports from Suleimaniya up in Iraqi Kurdistan on the shared misery of Kurds and Arabs. Outside the largest city in northern Iraq, tent cities of the two groups, displaced by violence elsewhere, lie side-by-side in a garbage-strewn plain, united in misery, but divided by distrust. The Arabs are there because they've been driven out of their homes in Baghdad by the violence. Kamber doesn't say why the Kurds are there.

The Home Front
The Post's Ann Scott Tyson reports that according to a study by Army researchers, mental health issues among returning troops are greater than previously realized. Troops are suffering mental distress several months after returning home rather than immediately after getting off the plane, with 20 percent of active duty Army soldiers and more than 40 percent of Army reservists needing treatment. The study recommends intervention by the Army earlier with mental health care for both its troops and their families before PTSD and other maladies become "chronically entrenched." Reservists have a harder time of it than active duty because they're thrust back into civilian life without the support networks of the active-duty military.

Gregg Zoroya has the story for USA Today.

Zoroya also writes for USA Today's front about the incident of eye injuries among troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, injuries that make up 13 percent of all seriously wounded casualties. That's the highest percentage of eye wounds for any major conflict since World War I. Eyes and limbs remain particularly vulnerable to IED attacks because they aren't covered by body armor.

Josh White reports for the Post that Republicans in Congress are calling for the retraction of the report from the Joint Economic Committee that pegged the costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at $1.5 trillion. They say the report is factually wrong and laden with political overtones. "All wars involve costs, and the war on terror is no exception," Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Rep H. James Saxton, R-N.J., said. "The Democrats' report would have benefited from more analysis and quality control, and less political content." War experts said some of the report's findings warranted skepticism, but essentially agreed that the war on terror has cost more than is commonly thought.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Max Boot writes for the Times' op-ed page that not only should Foreign Service officers be sent to war under "directed assignments," but the entire department and government should be reoriented onto a war footing. The military is not the most powerful tool in America's arsenal, he argues, and State and other departments and agencies should act more like they did during the cold war, when the entire government was focused on an ideological battle.

While maintaining military power remains important, even more crucial goals are aiding moderate Muslims, countering enemy propaganda, promoting economic growth, flexing our political and diplomatic muscles to achieve vital objectives peacefully, gathering intelligence, promoting international cooperation, and building the rule of law in ungoverned lands.
Boot has the right sentiment, but he falters when he implies it's the U.S.'s job to build new governments from scratch and focus on improving the image of the United States. What's more important is fostering better societies and realizing that the image of the United States is secondary.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

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