Five days after withdrawing from Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey pounded PKK territory there with air and artillery, reports Joshua Partlow for the Post. It seems the reports of the offensive's conclusion were greatly exaggerated. Staff Gen. Omar Sharif of the Iraqi border forces said there were no casualties from the attack on the Zap region. Also Wednesday, the U.S. (probably grudgingly) released two former high-ranking Shi'ites officials from custody after the trial against them collapsed. (Prosecutors called it "lack of evidence," American legal advisors would call it witness intimidation.) Hakim al-Zamili, who was deputy Health Minister, and Brig. Gen. Hamid Hamza Alwan Abbas al-Shamari, head of the agency's security force, were accused of helping murder Sunni doctors, using ambulances to run guns for Shi'ite militiamen and torturing and kidnapping Sunni hospital patients. Both men are connected to Moqtada al-Sadr's political movement, and indeed, Zamili was given a hero's welcome in Sadr City after his release.
Solomon Moore of The New York Times reports that Iraq is in negotiations with American and European oil companies to develop five new fields in northern and southern Iraq. Baghdad wants to reach agreements that will help it meet its goal of increasing crude oil production by 500,000 barrels a day over its current 2.3 million bpd. An Oil Ministry spokesman said Iraq hopes to produce six million bpd of crude by 2015, second only to Saudi Arabia. Moore doesn't have the details on which oil companies are involved, but notes that previous meetings have been held with Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Total SA. Talks should be completed by the end of March, the spokesman said. Elsewhere, violence hit Salahuddin province as American and Iraqi officials met the governors from northern areas to discuss reconstruction plans. At least two people were killed and 10 wounded in clashes between insurgents and townspeople in Balad. A roadside bomb hit an American convoy, killing a Sudanese interpreter and wounding two American soldiers. Another roadside bomb killed an Iraqi and wounded three others. In Tikrit, Iraqi police killed a suspected insurgent. Samarra saw a suicide bomber detonate his van near a checkpoint, wounding six people. Kirkuk was especially violent, with shootings and bombings killing three people and wounding four. Insurgents killed two Iraq cops in Mosul. In Baghdad, gunmen killed one man and Iraqi police found four bodies.
Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor takes long, despairing look at the fate of Iraq's Christians, the oldest community of Christians in the Middle East. Driven to a last haven in northern Iraq, the Christians are besieged by Sunni jihadis on one side and Kurdish ultranationalists on the other. Kidnappings and killings of their people are common, and even priests are carrying weapons now. "The only solution left for our people is to bear arms. We either live or die. We must be strong," says Father Ayman Danna, a Syriac Catholic priest at the Church of Saint George in Bartella. The stories these northern people tell are heart wrenching, with threats to convert to Islam, pay a ransom or give up one of their daughters for marriage. In response, the Chaldean and Syriac Christians are forming their own militias for protection, often called the Church Guards. Kurdish nationalists are pushing hard for the Christian territories to be incorporated into their lands, a proposal that has divided the areas Christians. Some see it as a means of survival while others say they should push for their own autonomous region.
The Post's Karen DeYoung reports that the White House has yet another argument for why the long-term security arrangement with Iraq doesn't need no meddlin' senators looking at it: they already approved it in 2002! The authorization to use force against Saddam Hussein, the Bushies argue, allows military action "to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States," which permits "indefinite combat operations in Iraq," according to the State Department's Bureau of Legislative Affairs. (It really does seem like that place is staffed by folks who just never outgrew those college bull sessions where you try out any argument you can.) Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, D-N.Y., argues that the conditions in 2002 no longer exist, so why the need for what he said was an "open-ended, never-ending authority for the administration to be at war in Iraq forever with no limitations." "Is it the Iraqi government that's a threat?" he asked. He has a point. The State Department argued that "Congress expressly authorized the use of force to 'defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.' " The White House is desperately trying to avoid going to the Senate with the agreement because it will likely go down in defeat. But if it contains a defense commitment, it's a treaty and Bush is constitutionally obligated to get it ratified.
Patrik Jonsson of the Monitor reports on the flash new gear available to U.S. troop -- as long as they buy it themselves. Oakley sunglasses, Gore-Tex, Thinsulate boots and thermal socks are all on the menu for the new troops heading to war, mainly because the Army procurement system is still so slow. And the Pentagon has quietly given the OK. "The idea now is, 'If it helps Joe do the mission, let him have it -- as long as it's not hot pink,' " says Army veteran Logan Coffey, founder of Tactical Tailor, a custom-maker of packs and pouches in Lakewood, Wash. Even top gun guys like CIA operatives, domestic SWAT teams and Border Patrol agents are rounding out their kit at stores like Commando Military Supply at Fort Benning, Ga. Some people balk at the idea that troops should buy their own gear. "The Army is planning a $20 billion future combat system, and they can't provide boots that don't wear out," says Roger Charles, editor of DefenseWatch. "There's no priority for taking care of relatively mundane items." Still, the services are getting better, and troops are spending less money on gear. One study found that two years ago, Marines spent $400 on extra gear. Today, they spend only $100 on average.
USA Today's Tom Vanden Brook reports that the Air Force has requests to boost the budget for its deadliest drones by more than 60 percent.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Thomas E. Ricks reports that a glowing article in Esquire profiling CENTCOM commander Adm. William "Fox" Fallon is roiling the command and the White House. Why? Because the piece, written by Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former Naval War College professor, writes that Fallon is the only guy keeping Bush from attacking Iran before the end of his term. While Fallon clearly helped Barnett on the article, he's now calling it "poison pen stuff" and "really disrespectful and ugly." It's a glowing profile, actually, praising the admiral as a "man of strategic brilliance." It's bad news for Fallon because the White House has the article and sources there say it's being discussed. This president doesn't suffer rivals well...
Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.