On Sunday, the American death toll in Iraq hit 4,000 and Lizette Alvarez and Andrew W. Lehren of The New York Times use that grim milestone to give a glimpse into the human side of that number. They excerpt blogs and emails by U.S. troops in the field who have died since Jan. 1, 2007. It's a powerful tribute to some these young guys who have sacrificed everything.
Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor runs a straight leade on the death toll, noting that while the number is bad, the rate of American fatalities has been slowing in recent months. A number of analysts say the 4,000 killed mark will not have the same effect on the American public as previous marks.
Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal reports that residents in two Shi'ite-controlled neighborhoods in Baghdad say armed militias have taken over rooms in several schools and stocked them with rockets. It's a worrying sign that the groups could be gearing up for more attacks. These reports come after U.S. officials blamed Iran-backed Shi'ite groups for this weekend's deadly barrage of rockets against the Green Zone. Complicating things are the attacks between Moqtada al-Sadr's forces and Iraqi security forces allied with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council in Kut, Diwaniyah and Karbala. In a coordinated show of force, Mahdi Army members were seen walking around armed in Sadr City, Shurta and other Shi'ite areas of Baghdad on Monday. Shops were ordered closed in some areas under the militia's control, and it said it would start a "civil disobedience" movement in Baghdad to protest what it says is an unfair crackdown on Sadrists. Sadr himself is taking a break from Iraq, studying in Qom, Iran, to become a full ayatollah. This raises the question of who's giving the Mahdi Army its orders? It's a worrisome development.
Sholnn Freeman of the Washington Post has more on Sadr's followers and their disobedience campaign. "We want security and we want to release detainees," said Qais al-Karbalaie, a spokesman for Sadr's office in Baghdad's Kadhimiyah district. "Our major reasons for this civil strike is the release of detainees and to stop random arrests." All this comes after Americans said the rockets that fell on the Green Zone were Iranian made and fired by an Iranian-backed and -trained "special group." Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went to Basra to assess the new security arrangements. These new measures include closing off land access to the city Tuesday through Thursday and imposing a night-time curfew. Schools, institutes and universities had their classes canceled Tuesday to Thursday and banned all movement of vehicles to Basra from other provinces.
Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today reports that a shortage of spy drones has allowed Iraqi insurgents to plant IEDs with "relative impunity." He also has a sidebar on how drones fit into the fight in Iraq.
Karen DeYoung and Michael Arbamowitz have a fronter for the Post on President George W. Bush's statement yesterday that while the death toll is higher than expected, the outcome of the Iraq war "will merit the sacrifice." Bush was also presented with a war plan that will halt troop withdrawals after the surge forces have run their course at the end of July. Gen. David H. Petraeus is recommending a pause in the drawdown for an evaluation of whether Iraqi forces and remaining U.S. forces can keep the (relative) peace. "We have every desire to continue with the withdrawal of forces," one military official said. "The issue will be once we remove over 25 percent of combat power plus other associated units ... we let the dust settle ... and look to see where we're at," he said. The evaluation period would probably be at least six weeks, he added. The number of troops in Iraq at the end of the surge will likely be a bit larger than the 130,000 that were there before.
Steven Lee Meyers and Thom Shanker of the Times have the story on the troop levels plans presented to Bush, stating, "It now appears likely that any decision on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president." This ensures Iraq will remain a central element of the presidential campaign.
Warren Richey of the Monitor tackles the complicated -- and important -- issues surrounding the case of two American citizens detained in Iraq by U.S. forces. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear this case today, and it will determine the jurisdiction of U.S. courts over Americans captured in foreign battlefields. The Bush administration is arguing that the men aren't subject to American courts because they're not actually held by the U.S. military but by an internationally-sanctioned force (even though the U.S. makes up the vast bulk of that force.) The two men, Mohammad Munaf and Ahmed Omar, say they deserve a day in U.S. courts because they're being held by the parts of the U.S. government. Habeas corpus is the key issue in this case. Watch this one.
Numerous outside groups have entered the case to argue that if the Bush administration position prevails, it would weaken the long-standing right of citizens to challenge their imprisonment before a federal judge. The Associated Press, the Committee to Protect Journalists and other news organizations submitted a "friend of the court" brief saying reporters are among those who could be held without hearings.
The Post's Steve Fainaru reports that U.S. authorities have identified the remains of two American contractors, John R. Young, 44, of Lee's Summit, Mo., and Ronald J. Withrow, 40, of Roaring Springs, Texas. Young was abducted on Nov. 16, 2006 while Withrow was taken Jan. 5,2007. Severed fingers found last month was taken by some as a grisly "proof of life," but that is not the case now.
The Journal's Yochi J. Dreazen reports that a new study out shows that returning military veterans have a harder time finding work and make less than do civilians in the same age group. Physical and mental wounds impair their ability to reenter the labor market.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Paul Farhi writes that Hollywood has learned that the only thing more sobering than the Iraq war is the box office numbers for movies about the war. Iraq war films have failed spectacularly, despite big budgets, stars and ad campaigns. So the question is, are audiences turned off by the war or the way it's portrayed in the movies.
John Anderson reports on "Boys Don't Cry" director Kim Peirce's new film, "Stop-Loss." The marketing campaign is downplaying the Iraq aspect of the film.
Vice President Dick "So?" Cheney got another interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News and manages to dig a deeper hole. This time, he compared Bush's decision to invade Iraq with President Ford's decision to pardon Richard Nixon. It was very controversial at the time and probably cost him the election in 1976, but 30 years later it's seen as the right decision, he says. I'm not sure mentioning Bush, Iraq, and Nixon all in the same sentence does anyone much good.
Regular op-ed columnist Eugene Robinson argues that round-number milestones in Iraq are stupid and artificial and then goes on to use the 4,000 number to ask what the sacrifice is for.
Richard Cohen writes on "Standard Operating Procedure," a new book and documentary by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris, that looks at the banal cruelty of the American-run Abu Ghraib prison.
Adam Silverman gets to report the most-read story of the day: an article about dogs rescued in Iraq and sent back to the States to be adopted by the soldiers who bonded with them.