Richard A. Oppel Jr. of the Times provides a chilling and gruesome opening to a story on twin suicide bombers that killed 33 Iraqi army recruits in Baqoubah. Reporting from the bedside of a wounded recruit, an orderly wanders around carrying a human head. "Who knows whose head this is?" the orderly asked. Jesus. Sixty-nine people were killed in the twin blasts, which were designed to intimidate the Iraqi Army as it prepares to move against militants in Diyala Province. The relatives of the victims blamed not only Sunni militants, but also the military for advertising the recruitment drive and not providing security. "The military killed my son!" lamented one mother. "Why don't security forces protect us? How do they let all these young men outside become easy targets for the suicide bombers?" An Iraqi official admitted the recruitment was badly planned. The coming Iraqi offensive in Diyala will be hard. In previous encounters in Baghdad, Basra and Amara, the Shi'ite militiamen melted away after uneasy truces. In Mosul, the U.S. military is experienced in fighting the insurgents. But in Diyala, the Iraqi Army will be facing hardened al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni militant groups who have survived three American-led operations since last year. Also, a house bomb killed an American soldier in Diyala.
The Post's Ernesto Londoño and Dan Eggen also have the story of the attack, giving a slightly lower death toll and double-barrel leading with news that bombings in Mosul killed five more people and wounded 11. The second half of the story is taken up with President George W. Bush's opposition to timetables and his remarks that Iraq and the U.S. are discussing whether to set "aspirational goals" for moving American troops into support roles. Quite aside from the condescension implicit in the phrase "aspirational goals" -- that's like those posters that urge you to feel good about yourself -- he didn't talk much about troops actually, you know, leaving. Meanwhile in Baghdad, several Kurdish lawmakers stormed out of parliament in protest over the new election law. They're upset over -- what else? -- Kirkuk and the allocation of seats among ethnic groups in Tamim province. The proposed bill would split seats there evenly between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen groups. There are worries the bill won't be finished in time to prepare for elections, which are supposed to be held in November. Another point of contention? A proposal to scrap the 25 percent quota system for women candidates.
Campbell Robertson of the Times has a separate story on parliamentary shenanigans, noting the entire Kurdish bloc walked out over the Tamim proposal. That's roughly a fifth of the 275 lawmakers and delayed voting on the bill. Campbell gives a lot more context, reporting that Kurds are already fuming over Baghdad's failure to hold a referendum on the status of Kirkuk, which was supposed to have been held at the end of last year. In all, this is a deep-thicket story, but one that's important. Well worth a close read.
The Times's Nicholas Kulish reports that Germany convicted three members of Ansar al-Islam who were planning to kill interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on a visit to Germany in 2004.
Amy Chozick and Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal have the story on Sen. Barack Obama's riposte against Republican attacks on his position regarding the Iraq war. In a major address (covered on page A5 of the Journal), Obama said a "single-minded" focus on Iraq has neglected the war against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. "Our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe," he said. He called for focusing on Afghanistan in the fight against extremists. Sen. John McCain didn't waste any time, adopting a me-too approach on Afghanistan. But the two differed on whether Iraq fits into that equation. Obama wants to lessen the U.S. commitment in Iraq to free up troops for Afghanistan, while McCain wants to "win" in Iraq in order to focus on Afghanistan. (His plan for winning sure sounds a lot like kicking the Afghanistan can down the road for a bit longer.) Obama wants to send two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan and $1 billion annually in nonmilitary aid. McCain saw his two brigades and raised him, pledging to send three combat brigades, and screw the aid. (McCain didn't say where the U.S. would get those three brigades from. Cloning vats, perhaps.)
"What's missing in our debate about Iraq, what has been missing since before the war began, is a discussion of the strategic consequences of Iraq and its dominance of our foreign policy," Mr. Obama said in a 38-minute speech at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here. "This war distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize. This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century. By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe."Obama plans an overseas trip that will include the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan starting the end of this week.
David Jackson and Kathy Kiely of USA Today also have the story. Kudos to them for actually asking McCain where the new Afghan brigades would come from. "We need to work that out," the senator replied. And it would involve "greater participation from our NATO allies." Yeah, 'cause they've been so eager so far to step up.
Steven Lee Meyers of the Times has a full story on Bush and those "aspirational goals," noting that Bush reiterated his opposition to timetables. And he indulges in some minor tweaking to history. "The Iraqis have, you know, have invited us to be there," Mr. Bush said at a White House news conference. "But they share a goal with us, which is to get our combat troops out as conditions permit. Matter of fact, that's what we're doing." The Iraqis have done a lot of things to Americans, but "inviting" them in isn't one of them. This all came in a 52-minuted press conference that only touched on foreign policy and Iraq. There's not a lot new here other than some new and weird rhetoric from Bush.
The Time's Ian Austen reports that Canada expelled Robin Long, a U.S. deserter from the Iraq war, to the United States where he will face charges. He's the first American sent back.
In a Post story, Ann Scott Tyson reports on the Army officers nominated for promotion to the rank of one-star general. The list had heavy input from Gen. David H. Petraeus and includes several officers steeped in counterinsurgency doctrine.
Army officers on the list, many of whom have served repeatedly in Iraq or Afghanistan, include Col. Sean B. MacFarland, Col. H.R. McMaster, Col. Stephen J. Townsend and Col. Jeffrey J. Snow. The list also includes several commanders of Special Operations forces with multiple combat tours, such as Col. Kenneth E. Tovo, Col. Edward M. Reeder, Col. Paul J. LaCamera and Col. Austin S. Miller.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Wall Street Journal
Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan and Jack Keane, all big supporters (and architects) of the surge, take a victory lap on the Journal's op-ed page. They write that with the strategy's success, America has a chance to remake the region. Wasn't this the kind of hubris that got the U.S. into trouble in the first place? There are a few, niggling points of interpretation. There have been no sectarian murders recorded not because they didn't happen, but because authorities probably stopped recording them. And Shi'ite militias have not been "broken apart," but have most likely gone to ground. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt serious blows, but the troika buys into al Qaeda's propaganda that Iraq is really, really important to the organization now. (Ignoring reports of al Qaeda's resurgence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and stories of foreign fighters flowing from Iraq and to the tribal areas where they can plot further attacks.) But look, these are the Kagans we're talking about. They got lucky with their surge strategy, but their overall record on being right when it comes to Iraq and al Qaeda is terrible.
Christian Science Monitor
No Iraq coverage.