James Risen reports for the Times's front page that despite warnings dating from October 2004, at least a dozen American military personnel have been electrocute in Iraq because of faulty wiring installed by contractors. All this raises new questions about the oversight of contractors in Iraq. Former electricians for KBR -- in charge of building many of the bases -- blame poorly paid and trained Iraqi workers for the shoddy workmanship. They also produced emails reporting the dangerous installations to their superiors. KBR spokespeople declined to address those allegations, saying only that KBR is dedicated to the highest standards.
The Times's Alissa J. Rubin reports on the "ugly daily fight for ground" in Sadr City, this time noting that a hospital was damaged and children wounded. American missiles hit close to Sadr General Hospital, aimed at a small building next to the structure. The Americans say the target was a command center for Shi'ite militants; residents say it was a place of prayer. (Why can't it be both?) In the other case, where the children were wounded, it's unclear who fired the munitions. American commanders say it's "preposterous" that they attacked the children, but it's contested ground. Shi'ite militias nearby have sometimes misfired, Rubin writes. It could have been a shell that went awry from either side. Also on Saturday, the Turkish military announced it had killed 150 PKK fighters in the fighters in the north. The PKK denies this, saying only that six fighters had been killed. An American soldier was killed Friday by an IED.
Oh, this is great. Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reports that U.S. commanders are seeking private contractors to train the Iraqi military. The contract bid says the men a contractor recruits -- who would include former members of the U.S. Special Forces and ex-Iraqi army officers -- will be trained in the U.S. with the military transition teams (MiTTs) and shipped as a single team to Iraq. Up until now, the MiTTs have been teams of 10-12 specially trained U.S. soldiers led by a field-grade officer and who were embedded with Iraqi units in from the division level down to battalion level. This proposal is going to get a serious looking at by Congress, given the scrutiny private contractors have been under lately.
Five years gone
The Times outsources its remaining coverage today to the op-ed page, letting Iraq War luminaries sound off on the occasion of the five year anniversary of "Mission Accomplished" Day. Forces should be reduced from 15 combat brigades to no more than five, and they should be largely advisory. Aid should be phased out within the next three years, too.
Anthony Cordesman, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, goes first, arguing that an orderly exit over the next few years is needed.
Frederick Kagan, surge architect and White House cheerleader, props up a straw man and says Iraq should not be forced to pay for American military forces, which no one is seriously proposing anyway.
Richard Perle, a fellow traveler of Kagan's at the American Enterprise Institute, says we need to back off and let the Iraqis run Iraq. This was a position Perle advocated from the start, but he wanted his friend Ahmad Chalabi installed as new Iraqi leader.
What's with all the AEI people? Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, argues we need "an imposing presence in Iraq for a long time to come" to convince the various factions we mean business and they need to sit down at the table pronto. Sigh. Why do these people get soapboxes?
Nathaniel Fick, a Marine infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan and a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, usually writes interesting stuff. He does it again by arguing that the Sons of Iraq should be integrated into the Army right away, and that negotiations for a U.S. exit from Iraq should be conditional on that integration.
L. Paul Bremer III, former viceroy of Iraq, actually makes some sense here (for a change.) He argues that Baghdad must upgrade its spending capacity and take on more of the burden of reconstruction. When he's not trying to avoid blame for his massive screw-ups, Bremer can sound quite reasonable.
Kenneth M. Pollack, director of research at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, doesn't offer any advice, but instead worries that the south is a pressure cooker ready to blow -- and the U.S. won't have enough troops to contain it.
Ann-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, calls for more immigration for Iraqis and more support for the millions of refugees.
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