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Daily Column
US Papers Fri: Twin B'dad Bombs kill up to 53
Timed blasts strike civilians, rescuers; Crocker leaving after Petraeus in Jan.
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 03/07/2008 01:42 AM ET
It was a horrible day yesterday in Baghdad, and the coverage reflects that, with both The New York Times and the Washington Post angling for color and impact in their coverage of the twin bombings that killed at least 39 people. USA Today examines soldiers and the risk of PTSD, while the Post handles the Washington news.

Over there
Joshua Partlow and Zaid Sabah have the bombing story for the Post, with a lower death count, 39, than the Times has. The blasts hit in quick succession, 10 minutes apart, on al-Attar Street in Karrada in the early evening, evidently timed to cause the highest number of casualties. There's confusion over exactly what happened: Some Iraqi officials said they were IEDs, others said they were car bombs. The U.S. military says one of them may have been a suicide attack. Suspicion immediately fell on al Qaeda in Iraq.

The Times' Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Mohammed Obaidi report a higher death count -- 54 killed and 123 wounded -- than the Post, and note these were the worst bombings since February when twin bombings killed almost 100 people in two pet markets. It shows that while security has improved, Baghdad is still a damn dangerous place. Witnesses on the scene described the second explosion as one that was designed to hit rescue workers and the inevitable crowd that gathered. It worked. In other violence, insurgents struck in Mosul, killing one guard and wounding another at Badoosh Prison. Four guards, who were kidnapped Wednesday, were found dead on Thursday. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to proceed with the execution of Ali Hassan al-Majid, aka "Chemical" Ali. Why? It looks like he's playing a grim game to get two other former military commanders, including the respected former Defense Minister Sultan Hashem Ahmed al-Jabouri al-Tai, to gallows as well. Sunnis especially admire al-Tai, and Americans and other Iraqi officials worry that executing him will angers Sunnis already wary of the Shi'ite-dominated government. Shi'ites in power say sparing him would set a dangerous precedent. Maliki feels that the power of the presidency council -- which has not approved al-Tai's execution -- to ratify executions doesn't extend to former members of Saddam Hussein's regime, despite there being no provision for selective power of ratification in the Iraqi constitution. A government spokesman said Maliki saw no room for compromise on this issue.

Home front
Gregg Zoroya of USA Today reports that five years of war has taken its toll on soldiers. A new Army study finds that about three in 10 G.I.s on their third tour of combat duty report emotional illnesses. Between 15 percent and 20 percent of all soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan show signs of depression and PTSD, the study says, which looked at 2,300 soldiers last fall. For soldiers who have been on three or four combat deployments, the number jumps to 30 percent. The good news? Soldiers are more willing to seek mental health care now, but for those stationed in remote parts of Iraq or Afghanistan, it's difficult to access it.

Washington doings
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is set to leave Iraq as early as January, shortly after Gen. David H. Petraeus rotates out, reports Robin Wright of the Post. He's retiring from the Foreign Service, and wants to leave before the new administration comes in. Nice timing, Ryan. Experts worry that losing both top military and civilian officials is not a good thing. "A lot of people would concur that it's the best team we've had there," said Daniel P. Serwer, a former diplomat who oversaw the Iraq Study Group project. "Why switch people out when you're having relative success? But then, there's not a good time." Getting more reaction on what his departure might mean would have been a good addition to the story.

The Post's Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung report that the next National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, scheduled to be completed next month, may be kept secret. It seems intelligence officials learned their lesson from the last NIE on Iran -- you know, the one that said they didn't have a nuclear weapons program? -- which caused an uproar when it was made public. The Iraq NIE is expected to say there have been modest security improvements, but an increasingly precarious political situation. Maybe officials are still smarting from the 2002 NIE summary that said Saddam Hussein had WMD. (The actual NIE purportedly was more nuanced and cautious on the assessment, but the declassified summary was sexed up.) "Overall, professional life is less complicated if nothing becomes public, and one doesn't have to organize classified assessments always having in the back of one's mind, 'If this is ever leaked, how would it read' " in the news media, a former intelligence analyst said. Or maybe such news would play right into Democrats' arguments against the war, and cynical observers -- ok, me -- think that's got to play into the decision to make it public or not.


New York Times
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