Richard Oppel Jr. and Stephen Farrell of the Times report that nine U.S. soldiers were killed Tuesday and Wednesday. Six were killed Wednesday in a bobby-trapped house, while four others were wounded as they took part in Operation Raider Harvest in the dangerous province of Diyala. An interpreter of unknown nationality was also killed. Three were killed Tuesday in Salahuddin Province. Sixteen Americans have died so far in 2008, mostly north of Baghdad, and the Times duo note that Sunni militants have been striking back hard against the Sunni tribesmen allied with American forces. The focus of Operation Raider Harvest was a next of al Qaeda in Iraq fighters in the so-called "breadbasket" in Diyala Province, but it appears most of them got away. U.S. commanders charitably blamed the tip-off of an impending operation on unsecured communications using cell phones and unencrypted radios by the Iraqi Army.
Amit R. Paley and Joshua Partlow have the story of the booby-trapped house for the Post's front page, and report that the interpreter was Iraqi. It apparently took an hour to get the wounded out of the house after the first radio report of the blast, angering some soldiers. "Deep-buried" IEDs are a particular concern for the Americans, who are having a hard time detecting the powerful explosives. The Post reveals the operation in Diyala is part of a much larger operation called Phantom Phoenix, which stretches across four provinces in northern Iraq and involves 24,000 U.S. troops, 50,000 Iraqi Army soldiers, 80,000 Iraqi cops and some of the 15,000 "concerned local citizens."
Tom Vanden Brook has the story for USA Today, and says U.S. troops could face fierce fighting in the coming days. This doesn't jive with what other correspondents are reporting. Most of the fighters have fled, according to the Post and the Times. Vanden Brook mainly continues to fail to distinguish between al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq, echoing the U.S. military's locutions.
Turning to regional politics, Farnaz Fassihi of the Wall Street Journal talks to analysts as President George W. Bush tours the Middle East on whether the president's lofty first-term goals have made any difference in the region. It's agreed that no other president has made such an impact. It's a shame it's been almost entirely negative, though. "The Middle East, as his term ends, is very different than when he took office, and not for the better. Most of the United States' goals have gone nowhere," says Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Iraq continues to cast a dark shadow on the administration and to dominate regional politics. Arabs mistrust the American president and liberals and democrats feel his push in Iraq for democracy has spoiled the movement for the entire region. "Democracy in the Middle East is now part of history. People don't even remember it anymore. Nobody believes Bush anymore," says Sateh Nour Eddine, managing editor and columnist for As-Safir newspaper in Lebanon.
Conflicting Casualties Count
A new survey by the World Health Organization on the subject of Iraqi civilian casualties of the war gets a lot of ink. David Brown and Joshua Partlow of the Post report that 151,000 Iraqis died violently in the three years following the U.S. invasion. Roughly 9 out of 10 of those deaths were the results of U.S. military operations, insurgent attacks and sectarian warfare. WHO also found a 60 percent increase in non-violent deaths, such as those from childhood infections and kidney failure. Interestingly, the WHO death toll is one-third the size of the toll in a report published in the journal Lancet in 2006. That report raised a great deal of controversy, given its release right before the 2006 elections, and has lately been criticized in the National Journal. Both the WHO and Lancet surveys used the same methodology, however. The WHO study is getting much better reviews from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, for example, and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. The U.S. Department of Defense used the discrepancy between the Lancet and the WHO study to cast doubt on all the studies' accuracy.
Lawrence K. Altman and Richard A. Oppel Jr. of the Times have the story, but take the angle that WHO's numbers are twice the numbers of the oft-cited Iraq Body Count web site. (Um, who cares? It relies on media reports for its numbers, so it most assuredly undercounts.) The Times does make the point that the study ended four months after the 2006 bombing of the shrine in Samarra, so it missed the worst of the sectarian bloodletting in 2006 and 2007. Even its number of 151,000 -- which actually could be as low as 104,000 or as high as 223,000 -- is most assuredly too low.
The Christian Science Monitor's Tom A. Peter writes on the struggles facing Iraqi refugees in the United States, and how some of them are looking to go back. One woman, Nada, feels she can make more money in Iraq, where she doesn't face a language problem and a tight job market offering only menial jobs. Many refugees were professionals in Iraq and now are in Lansing, Mich., a cold state with a high unemployment.
The Post weighs in with its second front-pager of the day, a big look at the new U.S. expectations for Iraq. Thomas E. Ricks and Karen DeYoung report that the latest strategy is to "let the Iraqis figure some things out themselves." What that means isn't exactly made clear, except that it's an admission that the benchmarks set in early 2007 have not been -- and will not be -- met. At heart, it's both an overdue and arrogant "new" strategy, given some of the stated goals of the war -- liberation, democracy, freedom. The quotes from American officials such as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker drip with what can only be called neo-colonialism.
The Iraqis "are at the point where they are able to fashion their own approaches and desired outcomes," Crocker said in an interview, "and we, I think, in part recognizing that and in part reflecting on where we have been over the last almost five years, are increasingly prepared to say it's got to be done in Iraqi terms."Still, what works, works, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the reliance on Sunni tribesmen to fight al Qaeda in Iraq. But those are local solutions that are working. Nationally, no Iraqi solution is really working. Nor is an American one.
The Times has a front-page scoop of its own by James Risen, who writes on an incident in 2005 in which Blackwater guards dropped CS gas on an American checkpoint crowded with cars, Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops. The gas, the use of which is tightly regulated by U.S. forces, chokes and blinds, and is often used in riot control. Blackwater was doing none of that, however, it was guarding a convoy, was stuck in traffic and just wanted to clear a path, according to U.S. troops on the ground there. A Blackwater spokeswoman said the gas was released by mistake. Everyone involved says they reported it to various superiors, but the Times could find no evidence in the DoD, State Department or Blackwater that any investigation was conducted, reinforcing a long-time issue with the security company: In Iraq, it operates according to its own rules. CS is tightly controlled by the U.S. military, as its use in combat is seen as a violation of chemical weapons treaties. A contemporaneous blog post from a soldier serving at the checkpoint is illuminating in that it details the frustrations of the men with Blackwater's tactics. "Why someone would think a substance that makes your eyes water, nose burn and face hurt would make a driver do anything other than stop is beyond me."
Josh White of the Post reports that Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, the only officer charged with a crime in the Abu Ghraib scandal, was cleared of all criminal liability after the one conviction against him was thrown out and his sentence eliminated. Jordan was convicted last year on one count of disobeying an order when the jury found he had spoken to other about the investigation when ordered not to. Earlier, he was exonerated of any connection with the actual abuse at the prison. He will receive an administration reprimand for disobeying orders, but will have no criminal record and can continue to serve as an active-duty officer until his retirement.
Robin Wright, writing for the Post, writes that three exiled Iraqis in Syria and Iran, as well as a top Iranian general, have been slapped with sanctions for allegedly fomenting violence in Iraq. A television station in Syria was also sanctioned. The Treasury Department will freeze any assets such as property or bank accounts under U.S. jurisdiction or any transactions with U.S. citizens or entities. The individuals are Brig. Gen. Ahmed Foruzandeh, leader of Iran's Quds Force operations in Iraq; Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani and Ismail Hafez al-Lami, both alleged to be leaders of Shiite extremist groups based in Iran; and Mish'an al-Jaburi, a former member of Iraq's parliament who fled to Syria after allegedly embezzling government funds to support Iraqi insurgents. He owns al-Zawra, a television station critical of the U.S. presence in Iraq.
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