The Post has a fascinating front-pager today, by Amit R. Paley, although it should have been played higher. He reports that one of the main reasons some Iraqis joined the insurgency is because of cash, not conviction. Cells across the country are increasingly turning to gangsterism in order to pay recruits who don't have the ideology that would keep them in the cells without pay. "I tell a lot of my soldiers: A good way to prepare for operations in Iraq is to watch the sixth season of 'The Sopranos,' " said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces in central Iraq. "You're seeing a lot of Mafioso kind of activity." This means the U.S. can fight back with more cash. In Mosul, the military is spending money to buoy the local economy, including issuing microloans to keep unemployed young men out of insurgents' hands. And it's the dismantling of the insurgents' financial networks that's really putting a crimp in their operations; they're running out of money, says Col. Stephen Twitty, commander of U.S. forces in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province. Paley scores a major scoop by interviewing the alleged head of the Mosul branch of al Qaeda in Iraq -- if only by phone. It's a chilling picture of a man who managed the $6 million a month operation up there, and who joined because his metalworking business had collapsed. Abu Nawall, as he called himself, said he was responsible for running the group's bureaucracy and paying the 500 or so fighters in the city. They try to carry out up to 30 attacks a day. The detail he provides on the funding is fascinating and his assessment of the insurgency is more optimistic than that of the Americans'. This is an important story and well worth a read.
Signs of normal life are creeping back to Baghdad, reports the Times' Damien Cave in its fronter on the security situation. A trickle of residents are returning to their homes, days go by without car bombs, the number of bodies in the streets are now in the single digits. All signs point to a real improvement in security, Cave reports. Still, one of the key metrics of safety is the number of people who have returned to their homes. Only about 20,000 Iraqis have returned out of the four million who have been displaced. According to a recent Iraqi Red Crescent survey, 1.4 million are displaced in Baghdad alone. However,
In more than 50 interviews across Baghdad, it became clear that while there were still no-go zones, more Iraqis now drive between Sunni and Shiite areas for work, shopping or school, a few even after dark. In the most stable neighborhoods of Baghdad, some secular women are also dressing as they wish. Wedding bands are playing in public again, and at a handful of once shuttered liquor stores customers now line up outside in a collective rebuke to religious vigilantes from the Shiite Mahdi Army.The images of Iraqis willing themselves to feel safer, and of the idyllic environments in a library to help children, are moving. Cave's story is a portrait of a city struggling toward normality in the middle of a hurricane.
Blackwater is still in hot water. David Johnston and John M. Broder of the Times report that federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to some of the Blackwater guards present at the Sept. 16 incident in Nisour Square. This is significant, the two reporters write, because it indicates that prosecutors believe there is enough evidence for a criminal investigation. That doesn't mean anyone will be charged, but it's an important step. Blackwater responded with its typical bravado. "It should come as no surprise that this might happen when the F.B.I. is investigating such a matter," said Blackwater's spokeswoman, Anne E. Tyrrell. The members of the convoy are being winnowed down, and prosecutors now believe only 5 of the 19 guards fired their weapons. One focus of the investigation is "turret gunner No. 3," who was responsible for a number of Iraqi deaths.
Steve Fainaru and Carol D. Leonnig have the story for the Post, and add that Blackwater isn't the only company that has received subpoenas. Other security companies have also been served, because federal prosecutors are seeking their "after-action" reports and other documents that might shed light on specific incidents. This indicates federal investigators may be looking beyond the incident on Sept. 16. Private security companies in Iraq "have been shooting a lot of people," said a legal source briefed on the probe. Federal authorities may be seeking to gather information about abuses within the industry, with the Post reporters pointing out that the military has brought "numerous" charges against soldiers and Marines in Iraq, including "dozens" of servicemen accused of murder. No contractor has been charged with anything, although they are in the thick of it and often engage in combat.
Cara Buckley reports for the Times that Iraq security forces detained 43 people who were part of a contractor's convoy after a gunner in the procession shot an 18-year-old woman in the leg as the vehicles traversed Karada. None of those arrested was American, and the company involved is Almco, a Dubai-based company under contract with the Pentagon. A mob of angry civilians immediately lashed out at the guard and his passengers, and Buckley writes that the Iraqis thought they were insurgents. Elsewhere in Iraq, the U.S. military found an execution site and torture chamber in Diyala province during a raid against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Also, thankfully, an Iraqi television journalist kidnapped last week was released unharmed in central Baghdad.
Sudarsan Raghavan has the story for the Post and does his usual good job with color from the scene. The Iraqis who rushed to the high-walled dump truck to confront the shooter saw a bunch of men from Sri Lanka, India and Nepal and mistook them for others. "They are Afghanis. They are terrorists!" shouted Frank Leever, 28, an Iraqi Christian shopkeeper. (Named "Frank"?) It was an ugly scene, apparently. A cell phone video showed Iraqi soldiers beating the contractors with sticks or clubs as the crowd cheered them on. Raghavan reports the Iraqis rose up against the truck and the shooting to preserve the security gains of the last few months.
Sam Dagher returns to the pages of the Christian Science Monitor with a look at the Shaheed al-Mihrab Foundation, which has built 400 mosques in Iraq since 2003. It's building the largest seminary in Najaf and opening a chain of schools. And it's all run by Ammar al-Hakim, who winning adherents to his father's party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, through mass-marriages and cash payments and gifts to the newlyweds. All to further the goal of the SIIC: The formation of a nine-province federation in the south under the reign of conservative Shi'ite Islam. Opponents say the plan threatens the breakup of Iraq. Al-Hakim and his supporters believe it would provide Shi'ites with security and benefit the country. And they're winning support ahead of a national referendum on the issue in April 2008. And while Dagher writes that the foundation is a way for SIIC to show its independence from Iran, where it was founded and nurtured during the 1980s, his description of the massive, structured seminary in Najaf sounds a lot like the massive, structured seminaries in Qom, Iran. Al-Hakim says the foundation gets no money from Iran, but instead relies on donations of pious Shi'ites. Sounds fishy, frankly, given the amount of money the group is throwing around, and the International Crisis Group agrees. In a report issued last week, the group said SIIC is still a sectarian Shi'ite party in Iraq, which means it gets money from Iran. "Its quest for power (political in Baghdad, religious in Najaf) has first and foremost taken the form of a quest for respectability," said the report.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Washington Post Mark Berman reports on the life and death of Army Staff Sgt. John D. Linde, who was buried yesterday in Arlington National Cemetery. He died Nov. 5 when a homemade bomb exploded near his humvee during combat in Tal al-Dahab in Iraq.
Op-ed columnist Anne Applebaum cautions against the optimism starting to bubble up in Washington over Iraq, because even if it all comes out OK after 10 years of warfare, she writes, the U.S.'s behavior and handling of the war has caused the country tremendous damage around the world. A win in Iraq in such an environment would be, at best, a Pyrrhic victory.