Joshua Partlow and Ann Scott Tyson report for the Washington Post on the attack in Mosul. The soldiers' convoy was ambushed and an IED exploded. The attack raised the death toll of American military personnel in January to 36, greater than the 23 who died in December. A military spokeswoman said greater casualties are unavoidable as offensive operations increase. "That's what we're doing, we're pushing al-Qaeda and they're fighting us," said Maj. Peggy Kageleiry. Mosul is increasing in importance as a base of operation for jihadists, mainly because they're fleeing other areas where the U.S. has stepped up operations. Mosul is seeing about eight attacks a day, compared with much less violence in the rest of the country. Arab and Kurdish tensions are also on the rise there, and insurgents seem intent on exploiting those divisions. About 5,000 American troops and 40,000 Iraqi security forces are in Nineveh province, while Mosul itself has 18,200 Iraqi soldiers and cops.
Richard A. Oppel Jr. has the story for The New York Times, calling the ambush "the second devastating attack on United States forces this month." The Times provides a more detailed breakdown in stats for the violence -- 60 percent of American fatalities this year have been in the three Sunni Arab provinces north of Baghdad -- but adopts a similarly dry tone as the Post. (Neither reporter was in Mosul to provide first-hand scenes.) Oppel does get some more detail in. The gunmen who attacked the convoy were holed up in the Yarimjah Mosque in the southern end of the city, said Maj. Gary Dangerfield, a military spokesman. The attack occurred when American troops swept into Sumar, a neighborhood of Mosul, on Monday afternoon, conducting raids and engaging militants. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, a fire believed to be arson set the offices of the Iraq Central Bank ablaze early Monday, torching several floors and destroying documents that American officials said included contracts and records of financial transactions with overseas companies doing business with Iraq. Well, that's convenient. Iraqi authorities said the fire could be destabilizing to the Iraqi economy, but Americans were less worried. Authorities detained 18 people, including some bank employees. A blackened safe with its back torn out was found, suggesting a robbery was the motive for the fire.
State of the Union
Back in Washington, Bush said the state of the union is strong (more or less). Michael Abramowitz and Dan Eggen report on the speech for the Post, noting that Bush claimed vindication in his "surge" strategy and touted the security gains it has made. "Some may deny the surge is working," Bush said, "but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated." He emphasized that an accelerated drawdown after the summer was not in the offering, warning that doing so could jeopardize Iraq. He also announced new initiatives to help the families of veterans and active service members. One proposal was to give hiring preference in the federal government to military spouses, and allow the transfer of unused GI education benefits to spouses and children. Abramowitz and Eggen note that Bush's claims about Iraq are not without critics -- cough, cough, Democrats -- and add that even senior military commanders are concerned that the tactical progress has not been matched by gains in the political/strategic arena.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the Times has Bush's speech, giving the additional detail that Bush spent most of his time talking about Iraq. She notes that he "seemed to be preparing the country for a far longer-term stay in Iraq" when he warned against any more quick withdrawals, post-surge. Kudos to Stolberg who included Democrats' response, which was, as you might expect, not wholly complimentary.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
New York Times
James Glanz turns to the subject of Iraq rebuilding and reports that American construction giant Parsons' failures in Iraq were more widespread than previously reported. Previous reports had "dozens" of shoddily constructed health care clinics and border forts, and disastrous sewage and plumbing problems at the Baghdad Police Academy. But a new report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction examined nearly 200 Parsons projects in 11 major "job orders" paid for by a huge construction contract. There were three other non-construction orders. Total cost to the U.S. taxpayer: $365 million. But the new report found 8 of the 11 major projects were terminated by the U.S. before completion because of weak contract oversight, unrealistic schedules, a failure to report problems in a timely fashion and poor supervision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Parsons' response was weak, along the lines of, "Well, we tried." A spokeswoman blamed security and bad Iraqi subcontractors for the shortfalls.
Tom Shales reviews "Baghdad Hospital: Inside the Red Zone," the new HBO documentary shot by Dr. Omer Salih Mahdi, a doctor in Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad who made the film under extremely dangerous circumstances. It shows, in graphic intimacy, that it's not only the bodies of the Iraqis brought in who are wounded, but also the soul of the Iraqi people.
USA Today, Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.