But to start, it's the Monitor's Sam Dagher, who reports on incoming commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, who said that his strategy is to preserve the gains made in Iraq. He also warned of the challenges as America prepares, once again, to fight a war with fewer troops after the summer. Hammond wants to "push the envelope" and establish more U.S. combat outposts in Baghdad, cementing the gains already made and keeping insurgents from infiltrating the city again. "Baghdad could flare up again; nothing in Iraq is easy -- each day is a new challenge," he says.
In Mosul, another car bomb exploded near an American patrol, reports Richard A. Oppel Jr. of the Times, a day after an ambush and IED killed five American soldiers there. This time, there were no American casualties, but one Iraqi was killed and 15 others were wounded. There's little detail on Tuesday's attacks, so Oppel recounts the situation in Mosul from the last month. Monday's attack, increasing violence, buildings exploding and pledges by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to begin a "decisive" battle against militants in the north.
Charles Levinson of USA Today reports that U.S. military commanders are claiming al Qaeda in Iraq is "on the run" because it's no longer using as many car bombs and instead is relying on suicide vests (which, I might add, has been a more successful strategy for the group in terms of killing targeted individuals such as Awakening Council militia leaders.) The car bomb in Mosul was only the third such bomb this month, compared to 12 in December and 80+ in January 2007. But there's been a spike in the smaller attacks this month: 16 in January compared to 10 in December. This month has been the most active for "Person-Borne IED"s since March 2007. Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and author of the book "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," isn't so optimistic. "What the vest surrenders in terms of volume of explosives it gains in terms of being able to get proximity to the target," Pape said. "I don't think we can say this tactical shift suggests al Qaeda is on the verge of defeat."
The Times' James Glanz follows up yesterday's story on contractors with one looking at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Because of lax or nonexistent oversight, the Corps charged the federal government millions of dollars for projects that either failed or have fallen behind schedule. The Corps charged more than twice what an Air Force office also involved in Iraqi reconstruction. In all, both the Army and Air Force charged half a billion dollars to oversee the $10.3 billion in Iraqi reconstruction projects, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. Interestingly, the Corps hired American civilians to travel to Iraq while the Air Force program hired Middle Eastern engineers who were already in the region. Shockingly, the Air Force program was cheaper, and the program was quicker, more adaptable and more likely to produce functioning products, the SIGIR office said. So, using local labor and people who know the language and the way things are done in a region is a good idea? Who would have thought?
Glenn R. Simpson of the Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon is imposing new limits on contractors for its program to feed American troops around the world. At the center of the controversy, which led to the new rules, is the corruption investigation into the military's main food supplier for U.S. troops in Iraq, Kuwait-based Public Warehousing Co.
The Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Richard A. Oppel Jr. parse President George W. Bush's State of the Union and report, "Most of his assertions about the war were modest, in contrast to some of his more optimistic past remarks promising victory. He avoided any promise of a timetable for withdrawal and, if anything, appeared to be preparing the country for a long stay in Iraq." You don't say? He also painted a more optimistic portrait of Iraq that most of its citizens wouldn't recognize. "Reconciliation is taking place," he said, but the de-facto oil revenue distribution is a slow, fickle trickle -- like the water supply in Baghdad -- and the new de-Ba'athification law could do more harm than good. Large areas of the country are in the hands of Sunni militias -- oops, Concerned Local Citizens -- who are being paid not to attack U.S. troops. And real reconciliation between Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen is a long way off. Tip of the chapeau to Rubin and Oppel for calling out Bush's inability to distinguish between al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq. Finally, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the Third Infantry Division, estimates it would take about 96 hours for al Qaeda in Iraq to come back if his troops, stationed south of Baghdad, left.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Thom Shanker of the Times report that even with Bush's happy talk at the SotU, there are signs that the White House will not further reduce troop numbers after this summer. Bush got a standing O Monday night when he said 20,000 American troops would soon be coming home. What he didn't say was that they were coming home because their 15-month deployment was over and the Pentagon doesn't have fresh troops to replace them. They were going to come home regardless of the situation on the ground in Iraq and were always a temporary force. That's why it was called a "surge." But back to the story. Stolberg and Shanker say Bush will start preparing Americans for the possibility that "when he leaves office a year from now, the military presence in Iraq will be just as large as it was a year ago, or even slightly larger." Basically, whatever Gen. David H. Petraeus says goes, as far as the president is concerned. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, wants to cut troops to rebuild the health of the Army. Petraeus wants to win the war. Bush seems to have no interest in reconciling that tension.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
The New York Times
A Times editorial excoriates Bush for his signing statement attached to the military budget bill, saying he used the statement to ignore four important provisions of the bill he said impugned on his constitutional powers:
- "A commission to determine how reliant the government is on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, how much waste, fraud and abuse has occurred and what has been done to hold accountable those who are responsible."
- "A new law providing protection against reprisal to those who expose waste, fraud or abuse in wartime contracts."
- The third measure "requires intelligence officials to respond to a request for documents from the Armed Services Committees of Congress within 45 days, either by producing the documents or explaining why they are being withheld."
- Finally, the fourth rejected provision stated that none of the money authorized for military purposes may be used to establish permanent military bases in Iraq.
David Ignatius, regular op-ed columnist, is in Baghdad and reports that two discussions -- the debate over the timetable for troop withdrawal and the U.S.-Iraq negotiations about the status of remaining troops -- is shaping Americas role in Iraq. The problem is that there is an awareness that U.S. strategy is finally working, but it doesn't fit the mood of the either country who want to see the troops out of Iraq yesterday.
Matt Kelley reports that five years after the invasion of Iraq, allied countries have only ponied up 16 percent of what they promised for Iraq's reconstruction. The biggest shortfalls are from countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, who have spent 17.4 percent and 27 percent, respectively, of the $500 million each pledged. The U.S. has spent $29 billion and approved another $16.5 billion. Lawmakers in Washington are incensed, especially over the deadbeats in the Arab world. "They're charging $100 per barrel of oil, making record fortunes, lecturing everyone else, and then they stiff everybody, including their cousins who they contend to be so very concerned about," said Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., who heads the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East.