Stephen Farrell of the Times reports that the U.S. military says Iran is supplying fewer of the deadly roadside bombs to Iraqi insurgents. The number of IEDs dropped by more than half, to 1,560 in October, from 3,239 in March. And half of the October bombs were found before they detonated and were cleared. What's confusing, however, is that the military says most of the attacks are in northern Iraq, where Al Qaeda in Iraq seems to have shifted its operations. But Farrell also writes, the military said "attacks involving improvised explosive devices were mainly carried out by elements of the insurgent group and criminal groups formerly associated with the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia affiliated with the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr." Well, which is it? In other news, a suicide car bomber in Kirkuk killed six people after ramming his car into a police convoy. One American soldier was killed and four wounded by a bomb in Diyala province. Six bodies were found in Baghdad.
Underscoring the danger still posed by the bombs, Amy Gardner of the Post reports on the death of Spec. Derek R. Banks, a Newport News, Va., National Guardsman who died of wounds he suffered last month from an IED.
Michael R. Gordon of the Times reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has given the go-ahead for the trial of two high-level Shi'ite officials who are accused of killing Sunnis. The two officials were at the health ministry, and are accused of allowing Shi'ite militias to enter hospitals and kill and kidnap wounded Sunnis.
"This case is as important, if not more important, than the Saddam Hussein case," Michael Walther, a Justice Department official who leads a task force that is advising the Iraqi judicial system, said in a telephone interview. He added that a successful trial would demonstrate that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government "is ready to prosecute its own."The two accused men, Hakim al-Zamili, a former deputy health minister, and Brig. Gen. Hamid al-Shammari, who led the ministry’s security force, are associated with Moqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army.
Glenn Kessler has a teaser of a story for the Post, noting that the Justice Department is conducting at least one criminal investigation into the construction of the massive U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad. He doesn't have a lot to go on, as the information was only dribbled out in yesterday's hearings with State Department Inspector General Howard J. Krongard. Justice isn't commenting, and Kessler doesn't know why the two people -- James L. Golden, a Washington-based contract employee of the State Department who oversees the project and Mary French, the embassy project coordinator based in Baghdad -- are under investigation. More will surely come out of this.
The Post's Karen DeYoung reports that the State Department is close to filling all the vacancies in Iraq with volunteers and will not force its Foreign Service officers to Baghdad.
Elisabeth Bumiller has the story for the Times, but adds that even though State is close to filling the spots, it won't abandon its policy of "directed assignments" should it need them in the future.
August Cole and Andy Pasztor report on the continuing fizziness of the Blackwater story, focusing on Krongard's brother who serves on Blackwater's advisory board and whose presence forced Krongard to recuse himself from investigations into the company. Blackwater reacted to the controversy with characteristic defiance, saying they don't see any conflict of interest. There's little new in this story.
The Times editorial board uses the FBI's findings that 14 of the 17 killings in Nisour Square by Blackwater in September were unjustifed to call for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and security contractors from Iraq.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Christian Science Monitor
Gordon Lubold reports on the difficulties of getting a new power plant online.
New York Times
Two U.S. deserters in Canada are facing deportation after the country's Supreme Court said it would not hear their claims for refugee status. The two men face court-martial and imprisonment if they're returned to the United States.
Kevin Johnson reports on the disconcerting phenomenon of reservists returning from Iraq and being put back into their law enforcement jobs. They often have PTSD and react in dangerous situations as if they were still in the military, i.e., with a lot of firepower.
Regular columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. blasts President George W. Bush for spending billions on Iraq but vetoing education bills as too costly. The president is focusing too much on the successes of the surge and not enough on the overall strategy, which could still fall apart, Dionne writes. And then why would the U.S. have spent all that money?