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Archive: October 2007
Daily Column
US, Iraqi Deaths fall; Contractors losing immunity?; Sayidia's shifting fortunes
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/31/2007 01:51 AM ET
It was yet another Blackwater day for Iraq coverage on Tuesday, with front page play in The New York Times despite news that U.S. and Iraqi deaths in September were the lowest since early 2006. As far as enterprise goes, the Wall Street Journal looks at the sad tale of Sayidia, a Baghdad neighborhood that remains a dangerous hotspot.

But the decline in violence reflects a tactical victory rather than a strategic one, reports Ann Scott Tyson for the Washington Post (page A14). She reports that attacks by insurgents and other fighters against U.S. and Iraqi forces, as well as civilians, has dropped sharply to levels not seen since early 2006, according to the latest report from the Government Accountability Office. Daily attacks have dropped from 5,300 in June to about 3,000 in September, mostly against U.S. forces. Attacks against Iraqi forces and civilians have also dropped, but not as much. While the drop in violence is good news, the Defense Intelligence Agency said the numbers may under represent intra-sect violence, such as battles between Shi'ite militias or attacks on Iraqi security forces in the south. Political progress is still stalled, but the security situation could finally be stabilizing. However, the report criticized the U.S. for "the lack of strategic plans" to guide U.S. and Iraqi efforts to stabilize the country. Efforts to build up Iraqi ministries, for example, are "plagued by unclear goals and objectives." Iraqi ministries have spent only 24 percent of their $10 billion budget for capital projects and reconstruction because they lack capacity to spend the money.

Gordon Lubold has the story for the Christian Science Monitor, with American officials crediting recent weapons finds, disruption of bombmaking cells, and the 2007 "surge" for the drop in violence. Lubold says the strategy is working ... at least for now.

It is too soon to know if the trend will last or whether the reduction of American forces in coming months, as planned, will undermine what remains a fragile security on the ground.

Nor does it signal that victory is imminent. Instead, the security gains present a "window of opportunity" that will stay open only if economic opportunity, government coherence, and stronger Iraqi security forces materialize in Iraq, says a senior defense official.

"If those things don't occur, then you'll begin to see things backslide on the military side," says the official, who asked not to be named in order to speak more freely.

Twenty-three troops died in October, compared to 120 in May. That's the lowest level since March 2006, when 27 troops were killed. It's one of the least deadly months for American forces in the war. Lubold tries to tread a fine line between optimism and caution with this story, and mostly succeeds, by quoting Brookings Institution scholar Michael O'Hanlon, who he describes as "both hawkish and critical of the war." (What does that mean?) Still, there have been more US fatalities in the first 10 months of 2007 than in all of 2006 -- 713 so far, compared to 704 last year.

Jim Michaels of USA Today adroitly sums it up in his leade: "The number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq is headed for the lowest level in more than a year and a half and the fifth consecutive monthly decline." He has 27 troops killed in October, however, not 23 according to the Monitor, closely mirroring the stats from

New Rules for Contractors
John M. Broder and David Johnston have the Times' sole front-page story on Iraq today, and it's a doozy: All State Department security convoys in Iraq will now all be under the Pentagon's control. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates agreed to the new deal over lunch on Tuesday, ending weeks of wrangling over the status of the hired guns. This turf battle was exacerbated by Blackwater's involvement in the now infamous Sept. 16 shootout in Nisour Square that killed 17 Iraqi civilians. The Pentagon will now assert greater control over the companies' training, rules for the use of force, employment standards and movements around Iraq. That will make the troops happy, who generally loathe the contractors and accuse them of "cowboy" tactics. Commanders there insisted on the new measures "so they aren't blindsided by contractors running in and out of their battle space and potentially causing problems," said Geoff Morrell, spokesman for the Pentagon. Details of the new arrangement are being worked out still, but they're on a fast track, Morrell said. Both State and Defense have had their problems controlling their contractors. Blackwater is only the most notorious case. Defense has its own black eyes arising from its 130,000 contractors, some of whom are in charge of interrogating prisoners and transportation of fuel and ammunition. These new rules will apply only to private security contractors, however. The second part of the story deals with Democrats' frustration in Congress over yesterday's revelation of a limited immunity deal for the Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square incident. "It feels like they're protecting Blackwater," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. The Justice Department said the contractors could still be prosecuted despite the immunity deals, which were not authorized by federal prosecutors.

Karen DeYoung reports on the outrage of the Democrats toward the deal for the Post. One of the sources of outrage is that the kind of immunity deals offered are usually reserved for government employees, not private contractors. DeYoung puts the agreement between State and Defense over the new rules for contractors in the second part of her story instead of leading with it as the Times did.

Over there
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, things are heating up for contractors. Alissa J. Rubin of the Times reports that the Iraqi Cabinet sent draft legislation to parliament lifting the Order 17 immunity for foreign private security firms. Under the legislation, foreign security firms would have to have all their weapons registered by the Iraqi Interior Ministry, all their vehicles and aircraft with the appropriate Iraqi agencies and all foreign employees would need visas from the Foreign Ministry. This is going to be a major headache for firms like Blackwater, whose employees usually enter on DoD badges flashed at immigration at Baghdad International. Parliament is likely to make the law tougher and more restrictive. Not addressed in this story is if the one-two punch of the new rules from Defense and the Iraqi restrictions will discourage contractor companies from coming to Iraq in the first place. Sure there's money to be made, but the looming threat of Iraqi prosecution could turn off some of the cowboys. There were some security incidents. Three American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb southeast of Baghdad. In Samarra, militants attacked a building used by Iraqi and American security forces. And a car bomb exploded at a joint Iraqi Army and police checkpoint west of Samarra, killing four policemen and wounding eight.

Amit R. Paley has the story for the Post, and notes that the new law would not be retroactive. The Blackwater guys currently at the center of controversy need not worry about this piece of legislation, at least. Paley also has the news that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was able to fill some of the cabinet seats that have been vacant for part of this year. The Post has more on the security developments. At least 32 people died in attacks across the country, according to the Interior Ministry, but Paley provides no details beyond that. In addition to the three soldiers, a 27-year-old editor of a new weekly newspaper was killed over the weekend.

August Cole has the story of the rescinding of Order 17 for the Wall Street Journal, and does touch on the chilling effect it might have on security companies in Iraq.

The Journal's Philip Shishkin has a wrenching story of Sayidia, a formerly mixed and affluent neighborhood in Baghdad that is one of the holdouts in the steady march of Shi'ites gaining control of the capital. Formerly the only safe haven for Sunnis in western Baghdad, it's seen some of the worst Sunni-Shi'ite violence in the city. Shi'ite militiamen are pressing in two sides while Sunni fighters come into defend the remaining turf. The story of the neighborhood is a microcosm of what's happened in Baghdad.

Shi'ites, marginalized under Saddam Hussein, have been able to seize real estate, businesses and municipal services from Sunnis. A mafia-like network of Shi'ite militias has engineered the takeover of entire neighborhoods. Of the 51 members on Baghdad's City Council, only one is Sunni; the police are almost entirely Shia.
Speaking of the police, Shishkin gets one of the most laughable quotes from an Iraqi spokesman. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, denies the police are working with Shi'ite militias. "The police forces represent the government, and the government doesn't support one side against the other," he says. The whole story is well worth a read for its detail and narrative of a neighborhood that tells the story of the Iraqi civil war.

Fables of Reconstruction
Iraqi rebuilding is falling far short of the goals set for it, reports James Glanz of the Times. More than $100 billion has been devoted to the country's rebuilding (mainly from U.S. taxpayers and Iraqi oil money) but the country is still reeling. Electricity and oil output, while having made modest gains, is still below pre-war levels, almost five years after the invasion. This story is a bit of a roundup of several stories over the past couple of days, including the one from Tyson of the Post (above) and the Mosul Dam debacle from yesterday. But it has some extra details. For instance, about $19 billion has been spent on the Iraqi security forces. But "despite endless American press releases on Iraqi forces taking over responsibility for parts of the country, the (GAO) estimates that just 10 of 140 Iraqi Army, national police and special operations units were in fact operating independently as of September." Why? The dam itself gets some more details. Remember that grout solution the Iraqis came up with to keep the dam from collapsing? Well, the U.S. decided to help them out and contract five giant new grout-mixing plants around the dam. But the contractors -- who aren't named -- instead built cement-mixing plants, which never worked either. Even more puzzling, the contractors' plans showed they had the wrong type of plant in mind before they even started construction. So the result was essentially "shoddily built storage silos and other idle equipment."


Christian Science Monitor
Leslie Sabbagh reports on the Blue Force Tracker system U.S. forces use in Iraq to keep tabs on their forces. (Disclosure: I worked on a story about this for TIME Magazine in 2004.)

USA Today
The Oscar season is upon us, and Iraq films are all the rage. Bruce Kluger takes a look at several of them and muses on the collapse of the time lag between event and movie adaptation. In World War II, because of its length, films were made while fighting was going on, but today, films are more critical. The truly critical -- and critically acclaimed -- films of Vietnam didn't come out until after the conflict was over. Not so with the Iraq war.

Daily Column
BW remains silent, deadly; Up to 29 killed in suicide attack; Military chaplains
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/30/2007 01:53 AM ET
Who in their right mind offers Blackwater guards immunity for initial statements in a case investigating those very same guards? The U.S. State Department, that's who! You can almost see the reporters from the Washington Post and The New York Times shaking their heads with disbelief when you read these two front-page stories. Another standout includes a Post piece on the "most dangerous dam in the world." Guess where it is. Other stories include a new series from the Christian Science Monitor on military chaplains. It's a six part series over as many weeks, so you have been warned.

Guarding Blackwater
David Johnston reports for the Times' front page that State Department investigators offered immunity from prosecution to Blackwater guards involved in last month's deadly shooting incident in Nisour Square that killed at 17 Iraqis. It seems the offer was a colossal blunder: The Bureau of Diplomatic Services had no authority to do so and the Justice Department had no knowledge of the offer. Now, this offer seems to have complicated and put in jeopardy efforts to prosecute the men -- efforts that are already enormously complicated and fall into a gray legal area. There's not much known other than that, but Johnston does his best to tweeze out more from the story, pointing out some of the legal complications involved in trying contractors and the loopholes contractors jump through as they do their jobs overseas.

Karen DeYoung has the story for the Post, also on the front page, and says the investigation may have been "compromised." FBI agents cannot use any information gleaned from questioning the guards now. The immunity offer has led some of the contractors to refuse to talk to the FBI, but DeYoung points out high up that the immunity only applies to the initial statements from the guards. The FBI can make a case based on other, gathered evidence, but that "make things a lot more complicated and difficult," said a Justice Department official. DeYoung tries to get at why the offer was initially given, but stops short of calling it a mistake.

It is unclear when or by whom the grant of immunity was explained to the guards. Under federal case law applying to government workers, only voluntary answers to questions posed by the employing agency can be used against them in a criminal prosecution. If an employee is ordered to answer under threat of disciplinary action, the resulting statements cannot be used.
She also goes deep on the types of immunity offers and details the special situations government employees investigating other government employees find themselves. DeYoung does bury a bit of news: FBI agents will return from Iraq this week to turn the evidence they've gathered over to Justice, which will then decide whether to prosecute. It could be months before there's a decision.

Deadly dam
Amit R. Paley nabs the second front-pager in the Post, and it's worthy of a disaster movie. Iraq's largest dam, up near Mosul, is in danger of imminent collapse that "could unleash a trillion-gallon wave of water," killing thousands and flooding Mosul and Baghdad. Up to 500,000 people could die. Mosul would be gone, submerged under 65 feet of water. Parts of Baghdad, too, with 15 feet of water. Why this isn't the lead story is beyond me. "The Mosul dam is judged to have an unacceptable annual failure possibility," The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said dryly after making new assessments. It was judged the "most dangerous dam in the world" by the corps in 2006. At the same time, reconstruction efforts in the north have been marked by incompetence and corruption, and the $27 million reconstruction project on the dam wasn't even supposed to be a permanent solution. Iraqis and American officials are tangling over the costs and benefits of building a second dam. The Iraqis don't want to build another dam because they say it's too expensive. But the Mosul dam is built on gypsum, which dissolves when it comes in contact with water. (Brilliant!) And so 50,000 tons of grout have been injected into the dam, almost from the moment of its completion in the 1980s, as a way of keeping it from collapsing. The governor of Nineveh, where the dam is located, asked that it be drained of water immediately. The manager, Abdulkhalik Thanoon Ayoub, sounds like an idiot. He acknowledges the problems -- sinkholes, grout, etc. -- but contends the dam is safe and thinks the Americans are worrywarts. It sounds like he takes the criticisms personally, and thinks it's a matter of personal honor.

Ayoub said he agrees that the most catastrophic collapse of the dam could kill 500,000 people, but he said U.S. officials have not convinced him that the structure is at high risk of collapse. "The Americans may very well be right about the danger," Ayoub said. "I think it is safe enough that my office is in the flood plain."
Great idea. Other water ministry officials said they "hope" to avoid a disaster and would focus on a solution. Abdul Latif Rashid, Iraq's minister of water resources, said a brand new concrete wall could be built at the cost of less than $1 billion and "perhaps" construction could star next year.

Over there
The Times' Alissa J. Rubin handles the day's bloody roundup. A suicide bomber in Baqouba blew himself up in the midst of training police officers, killing 29 and wounding 19. Seven policemen, a woman and her baby were in critical condition. It appears it was a coordinated attack. Another bomber attempted to hit the police station at Hibhib, on the northern side of the city, but police shot him before he could detonate. Rubin writes that the coordinated attacks indicate the Sunni Arab extremists are again back in the city after being cleared by this summer's military offensive. Another suicide bomber killed seven people north of Baghdad and Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Dorko was injured in a roadside bomb and evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Dorko is the highest-ranking officer to be wounded in the war. Iraqi commandos rescued 10 of the 11 sheikhs kidnapped over the weekend. One was killed shortly after they were taken. And finally, the American military handed security responsibilities for Karbala province over to the Iraqis, the eighth province to be transferred.

Joshua Partlow of the Post has the story of the Baqoubah bombing, but says 28 were killed, not 29. (The Post and the Times often have differing numbers on these matters.) Partlow has good color on the attack, recreating it from witnesses' accounts. It was the deadliest insurgent attack in a month. (Partlow's figures say 28 dead and 17 wounded.) The U.S. military blamed al Qaeda in Iraq. He also mentions, in greater detail, the release of the captured sheiks, with the U.S. military fingering Arkan Hasnawi, a former commander with the Mahdi Army, as the man responsible. In other developments, a mortar shell fell on a soccer field in Tikrit, killing two boys and wounding seven others.

Sgt. David E. Lambert, a Virginia Army National Guardsman, died Friday from a roadside bomb, reports Jonathan Mummolo of the Post.

The Monitor's Sam Dagher profiles the chief baker of the Vanilla Pastry Shop, an enticing little boutique patisserie around the corner from the Hamra Hotel. (It's a favorite for the journalists there.) The baker, Hussein Faleh, sees the decreasing violence and hopes that better times are coming. "Maybe the improving security situation will allow us one day to have some tables on the sidewalk and serve coffee and drinks with our pastries and cakes," he says. The story's not so much about Faleh as it is about the fruits of the surge and the improving security condition. Dagher writes that despite the suicide bomber in Baqoubah, only 285 Iraqis have been killed in October. In January, it was almost 2,000. But Faleh sounds a bit like an Iraqi Willy Wonka, an engaging character who works in a chocolate dream world. "I love my work. It's perfect for me. It has saved me from our reality," he said as he slices peaches for his custard-filled mini fruit tarts. Getting supplies is difficult, especially for the high-end pastries he makes, but the shop's owner, in Jordan sends them to him via convoy every three months. (No wonder that place is so expensive.) But it's worth it. "Making sweets makes me forget our bitter reality in a way."

Fables of Reconstruction
Matt Kelley of USA Today reports on progress in Iraq, noting that some reconstruction efforts are showing signs of improvement and violence is down. Electricity in Baghdad reached six hours a day in September, a post-war high. However, the report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) says significant challenges remain, including widespread corruption and the lack of political reconciliation. The story is basically the executive summary of the SIGIR report released today.


Christian Science Monitor
Lee Lawrence starts up a series on military chaplains, starting with an inaugural profile of Navy Chaplain Michael Baker. His duties are fascinating, as this is a little-known aspect of military life. The chaplains have to navigate a complex philosophical and theological landscape, all the while staying alive and ministering to their fellow troops. Part counselor, part cleric, Baker had to baptize a Marine in the Euphrates while under heavy security (and pollution; the river is filthy); and tend to the comrades of a Marine who committed suicide -- all the while avoiding proselytizing. Baker is a Methodist, rejecting the fire and brimstone of his childhood. This is a lovely package, complete with video, charts, a history of chaplains and a talk with a scholar of clergy in the military. Well worth a read.

Jerry Lanson, a professor of journalism at Emerson College in Boston, notes that there were coordinated war protests in 11 cities over the weekend and no one knew about them because they didn't get covered by the media much. Why? Most Americans oppose the war. But neither The New York Times nor the Boston Globe gave the marchers in their cities -- numbering in the thousands -- much ink.

Daily Column
Wounded soldiers run to show they still can; Allawi buys some friends in D.C.
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/29/2007 01:51 AM ET
The New York Times wins the coverage game today, with two front-pagers to the Washington Post's none (or anyone else for that matter.) Turkey and Kurds again lead the news, but former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is buying some new friends in Washington.

The Northern Front
Sabrina Tavernise of the Times lands travels to Iraqi Kurdistan to hang with the PKK, revealing that despite intense international pressures to curb the rebel group, they're doing OK. "Our condition is good," said one fighter, putting a heaping spoonful of sugar into his steaming tea. "How about yours?" Gotta love the Kurds. She reports that despite promises from Baghdad, PKK fighters operate openly close to government checkpoints (although they're Kurdistan Regional Government checkpoints, not Iraqi). The Kurdish authorities, even though D.C. has rebuked them, throw up their hands and say there's little they can do. "Closing the camps means war and fighting," said Azad Jindyany, a senior Kurdish official in Sulaimaniya, a regional capital. "We don't have the army to do that. We did it in the past, and we failed." (They have tens of thousands of pesh merga; they could do it if they wanted.) Tavernise does a nice job of noting that even supplies are uninterrupted, "despite the fact that Iraqi Kurdish leaders have some of the most precise and extensive intelligence networks in the country." The Kurds are just ignoring the U.S. demands to crack down on the PKK. Tavernise wins for getting the best quotes of the day, for having the coolest map and for getting into the real political and diplomatic thickets. Iraqi Kurds aren't cracking down on the PKK because it's useful; it's a bargaining chip with Turkey for KRG president Massoud Barzani. She also does a good job of the history of the group. Very much today's must-read.

On the Turkish side of the border, Yigal Schleifer reports for the Christian Science Monitor that Turkey's Kurds, while not in tune with PKK's violent methods, worry that their new, hard-won rights in Turkey are in jeopardy if the PKK persists in attacking. As public support in Turkey builds for a military response, Turkish Kurds worry the military will reimpose the restrictions they suffered under during the 1980s and 1990s. And that could push the population of southeastern Turkey to fall back into the PKK fold and follow a more radical line. (Which is exactly what the PKK wants.)

Over there
Meanwhile, back in Baghdad, the Times' Alissa J. Rubin and James Glanz report that Gen. David H. Petraeus hinted at behind-the-scenes talks efforts were going on to calm down the border region, but he couldn't talk about them. "I am not going to be saying anything about what we may be doing with our longtime NATO ally Turkey, although we clearly are doing things with them," General Petraeus said. "Nor am I saying what we're doing with our longtime Iraqi partners," he added. What a tease! In other comments, he said al Qaeda was largely spent thanks to American-Sunni Arab efforts but still dangerous. (Well, which is it?) Sheikhs allied with the U.S. are certainly still in danger. Ten of them -- three Sunnis and seven Shi'ites -- were kidnapped en route to al Salam in eastern Baqoubah after a meeting with representatives of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It's unclear who grabbed them. Separately, Petraeus backed away from trying to save former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim from the gallows, but said the three-man Iraqi presidency council "has a very important role." (Commutation, perhaps?)

Amit R. Paley of the Post says 11 sheikhs were nabbed, not 10, and a spokesman for the al Salam Support Council, of which they were members, said the Mahdi Army grabbed them. A suicide bomber in Kirkuk killed eight people and wounded 25 at a bus terminal, and armed men kidnapped the managing editor of al-Akhaa, a Turkmen magazine. In Diyala province, a grave containing 15 bodies -- mainly female students -- was found in an area under the control of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Buying friends and influence
Elisabeth Bumiller has the Times' second front-pager, with a look at Robert D. Blackwill, former Iraq director of the National Security Council and backer of Ayad Allawi. It was Blackwill who, in 2004, pushed to get Allawi into the prime minister's office (on an interim basis), and it's Blackwell now pushing Allawi to be the next premier -- after forcing Maliki out, of course. He also represents the KRG, which has paid his firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers $1.4 million since Blackwill joined the Kurdish lobbying team in 2005. In August, IraqSlogger -- which gets a shoutout from Ms. Bumiller -- broke the story of Allawi's contract with Blackwill's firm, and Allawi went public later on television and in magazines. But since then, thanks in part to Allawi's ham-handedness in handling the story, the former PM has gone silent. (Is that what $300,000 buys you in advice?) "The B.G.R. story is not a good story for us," said Hadi Allawi, nephew to the former PM. Bumiller gets into, at the end, the snarl of personal and professional relationships between Allawi, Blackwill, L. Paul Bremer III and even Henry Kissinger. Meanwhile, the campaign to bring back Allawi persists, if only via mass emails.

Home front
Ryan Mink reports on the Marine Corps Marathon for the Post, focusing on the (literally) running wounded. Lt. Ivan Castro lost his sight in Iraq but that didn't stop him from running the course (with two guides who threw him off his pace because they needed bathroom breaks, wusses.) Gunnery Sgt. Bill "Spanky" Gibson eschewed the crank wheelchair that he used last year and instead opted for a prosthetic leg. (Mink doesn't give his time, but does note Gibson will be redeployed next year, although presumably not to a war zone.) The rest of the story is devoted to the various finishing times of various politicians, including D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio. (The wounded vets handily beat the politicians' times.) The U.S. Marine kicked the British Royal Marines' butts in every category. Semper Fi, folks. Congratulations to all who participated.


Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
For Iraq's Police, Sunnis need not apply; AQI kicked out of Baghdad; Culture War
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/28/2007 01:55 AM ET
Sunnis seem to be the center of the big stories today, with The New York Times running a big front-pager on the roadblocks Iraq's government is putting up to stop the hiring of Sunni cops. At the same time, the Washington Post reports that the military is reporting that Al Qaeda in Iraq activities in Baghdad have largely been stopped. But there are also a number of "cultural" stories on the war today, reflecting the number of Iraq-themed movies on their way to the multiplex.

Over there
Michael R. Gordon of the Times reports that while the U.S.'s push to train Sunni tribesmen into local neighborhood watch groups, it's efforts to integrate them into the national police force has faced resistance from the Shi'ite government, which "is still inclined to see the Sunnis as a once and future threat." Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commander for northern Iraq blames sectarianism in the Interior Ministry for the obstacles, which are many. "They want to make sure not too many Sunnis are hired," he said. The issue is crucial because of the impending American drawdown next summer. The U.S. wants the proposed Sunni hirings to provide a bit of manpower for when the Americans pull back. Otherwise, any gains made by the surge would likely be lost. There's nothing shockingly new here, but Gordon's level of detail on the various schemes the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is rich and gives a good picture of the frustrations American soldiers must be feeling.

Meanwhile, over at the Post, Joshua Partlow and Amit R. Paley report that Gen. David H. Petraeus said al Qaeda in Iraq had largely been kicked out of Baghdad but, as per the new talking points, cautioned that the group was still "very lethal, very dangerous, capable at any point in time, if you will, of coming back off the canvas and landing a big punch." With the number of stories coming out saying al Qaeda in Iraq is more or less defeated, more people are starting to ask what the U.S. is doing in Iraq. Well, the new mantra is "Yes, they're down, but we still have to stay because they might come back." Anyway, Petraeus credited operations outside the city targeting car bomb factories for the reason AQI is on the ropes. Not mentioned is the possibility that sanctuaries for the group have been reduced through a combination of American military and Shi'ite sectarian cleansing, which has pushed many Sunnis into small ghettos. In other news of violence, at least 23 people died Saturday. In Diyala province, Iraq soldiers said they killed 40 insurgents. South of Kirkuk, three roadside bombs targeted a convoy of trailers and killed eight people and wounded six others. Two other bombs went off in Kirkuk, killing one police officer and wounding five. An American soldier was killed by small arms fire on Thursday in Salhuddin province. Also, Turkey continued to threaten Iraq, but has yet to make good on that threat.

It's always worrisome when two brothers ship off to war, but when they ship out in the same unit at the same time to the same war, it causes a catch in the heart. Perhaps it's conditioning from too many buddy war movies, but Peter Slavin's front-pager in the Post about Brett and Kurtis Walters seems full of foreboding and foreshadowing. Members of the Indiana National Guard, they're due to ship out soon for Iraq, but they're still just kids. Harkening back to youthful arguments over Superman vs. Batman, Brett, 22, tells his worried 19-year-old wife that "the bad guys can't get him" because they have no kryptonite. It's the reassurance you give to a child and it's a reminder of how young these guys and their families often are. Slavin alternates between the training the Guardsmen go through -- often dying in computer simulations and mockups so they can learn from mistakes -- and the home and personal life of the two young men. A friend who is almost a third brother tries to spend as much time with the two men and their wives as possible. "You never know if it's the last time you'll see them," said Joe Steepleton "I try not to think about it, but I know it could happen. But we have a motto: You live for the day."

Culture war
Richard A. Shweder, an anthropologist and professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago, writes critically on the Times' op-ed page of the use of cultural anthropologist in war zones to allow a more culturally sensitive occupation of Iraq. It's not so much the use of anthropologists by the military that he seems to object to, it's that the academics aren't acting like, well, academics. One, a woman named Tracy, wears a uniform and carries a gun while out with the military in Iraq. The other, Montgomery McFate, a proponent of the idea of embedding anthropologists with units in the field, is basically a militarized Emily Post, Shweder says. The specialists instruct their soldier-students on how not to cross their legs at meetings, how to arrange parties, how to treat elders with respect. Necessary, sure, and it's a good thing to know more about other cultures, but Shweder bemoans the shallow way in which McFate is pushing anthropology on the military and the public.

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, reviews "The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy" by Postie Glenn Kessler. Kessler's book traces Rice's trajectory from being a foreign policy realist to buying into the agenda of President George W. Bush's democracy promotion. It's not a narrative, but rather a series of case studies -- Darfur, Lebanon, North Korea, Iraq -- fill of "diplomatic tick-tock" that he says is at once critical of Rice, but fair.

The Times' A.O. Scott takes a look at the plethora of films dealing with Iraq or Iraq-influenced themes hitting the silver screens this year and next, with a heavy emphasis on Brian de Palma's "Redacted." There are many films coming, but the question is whether audiences will see them. "Redacted" has some very disturbing moments, Scott writes, and will be controversial, but American filmgoers have voted with their wallets for previous entries such as "In the Valley of Elah" and "Rendition" -- and the verdict ain't good. Despite the distaste most Americans have with the current foreign policy, Scott muses that the overwhelming national urge is for Iraq to go away rather than be dealt with through critical movies.


Washington Post
Warren Brown reports that the U.S. military is trying to develop a truck that can drive itself so people won't be endangered as the robot truck makes needed supply runs in a war zone like Iraq. Sounds cool, but where are our flying cars?

New York Times
Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, writes that the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the contractors employed in Iraq, but in ourselves. Or more to the point, with the U.S. government -- which We the People own -- because contractors do nothing more than carry out the wishes of their customers. "Today, America no longer has a draft, its military bureaucracy can be inflexible and the public wishes to be insulated from the direct impact of war. Contractors are a symptom of government weakness, but are not the problem itself." True. As he points out, privateers and other mercenary forces declined in the 19th century and governments became more powerful and better funded. It only now, with little public support for the war and no draft that contractors are used so much. The 1991 Gulf War didn't employ nearly so many, he notes. (It was also largely an air war and no occupation followed.)

Clark Hoyt, the Times' public editor, reprints a letter from Slogger favorite Ed Wong, who clarifies some of the military's "policy" regarding what is and isn't a sectarian death in Iraq.

Daily Column
Turkey sees no progress on PKK; Execution deepens splits; State: Get to Iraq!
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/27/2007 01:52 AM ET
No single story dominates the coverage today, with only a couple of pieces from both The New York Times and the Washington Post on Turkey and Iraq. The Post fronts a couple of Iraq stories, with one a good inside look at a neighborhood in Baghdad.

Turkey and Iraq
The Post's Karen DeYoung reports that Turkey has put the United States squarely in the center of its decision on whether to invade Iraq or not, a place the U.S. most assuredly does not want to be. Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would wait to decide how to deal with PKK rebels until after he meets with President George W. Bush 10 days from now. Part of the problem is that the U.S. has neglected Turkey for the last few years, despite being a logistical hub and NATO ally, thanks in part to infighting between the State and Defense departments. So now the U.S. has to balance satisfying Turkey and the Kurds, a balancing act that a senior administration official said was difficult to pull off. Further complicating matters are discouraging statements from Erdogan and Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Sebnem Arsu and Andrew E. Kramer report on the talks in Ankara for the Times, leading with the surprising offer by Iraq to put American troops into the standoff between Turkey's military and Kurdish rebels. The Iraqi delegation to Ankara suggested putting American soldiers in border forts in the Qandil Mountains, a proposal rejected by the Turks. (It's interesting to wonder what the overstretched Americans thought of that, too.) In all, the talks to resolve the standoff have been disappointing. "I can say that there is not really anything positive or anything that met our expectations," Erdogan said. The Americans seem pretty negative on getting in between the two parties, too. When asked what thee U.S. military plans to do about the PKK in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, the top American commander in northern Iraq, said, "Absolutely nothing."

Henri J. Barkey, chairman of the International Relations Department of Lehigh University and a member of the State Department's policy planning staff from 1998 to 2000, writes for the Post's op-ed page that the U.S. is partially to blame for the standoff on the northern border. "A combination of lack of imagination, incompetence and sheer lack of knowledge at the State Department has caused this impasse." Both the Turks and Kurds have signaled in the past few years that they're ready to cut a deal, but the Bush administration failed to see the signs and help construct "a grand bargain." If it had succeeded, the PKK would have no safe haven now and the Turks would have guaranteed trade and security to Iraqi Kurdistan. Ironically, Barkey argues, this would have been the best insurance against the independent Kurdistan that Turkey fears so much. Now, the best that can be hoped for is to limit the invasion to cross-border raids and pray for bad weather. With winter coming on, Washington has some time to forge a diplomatic solution, if it's even still possible.

Over there
Meanwhile in Baghdad, Joshua Partlow of the Post lands on the front page with an embed story from Sadiyeh, a frontline neighborhood in the sectarian war in Iraq. It's a look at the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, which arrived in southwestern Baghdad 14 months ago, when the neighborhood was lively and full of middle-class Sunnis. Now, it's dead, ruined by Shi'ite militias and Iraqi policemen allied with them. The experience with Sadiyeh has left the soldiers of the 1-18 deeply discouraged. "I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life," said Sgt. Victor Alarcon. The local police are utterly in bed with the militias, despite the unit's original mission to develop the Iraqi security forces. But even as recently as two months ago, the infamous Wolf Brigade was planning to help more than 100 Shi'ite families settle in abandoned houses in the area. "Abandoned" to the Wolf Brigade meant houses that had Sunnis in them. Sophisticated roadside bombs hit the Americans' convoys, militiamen ran the place, Sunni mosques were destroyed. This is the unit's second tour in Iraq. The first was in Tikrit and left the soldiers feeling optimistic. No more. "I'm frustrated. After 14 months, I've got a lot of thoughts in my head. Do they fundamentally get giving up individual rights and power for the greater good?" said Lt. Col. George A. Glaze, the battalion commander. "I'm going to leave here being skeptical of everything."

The Times' Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Alissa J. Rubin report on the unusual fact that three of Saddam Hussein's senior henchmen, who have been convicted for war crimes, are still alive. The Iraqis are usually quick to hang those former regime members who have been convicted -- especially when they're as notorious as Chemical Ali, who was convicted in late June. But after the lynching of Saddam, and some questioning by Iraqi politicians, these guys are still alive and in U.S. custody. Their fate turns on Sultan Hashem Ahmed al-Jabouri al-Tai, the former minister of defense. The two report that his case has become a test for reconciliation and whether Iraq's sects can work together to resolve issues. As the two write: "Beyond the heated arguments about Mr. Hashem's guilt lies the fraught question of whether Iraqis are ready to stop the retributive killing of members of the former government. It seems that some of them are." Hashem was a former defense minister during the horrible "Anfal" campaign, which was aimed at destroying the Kurds in the north. But some Iraqi politicians say he was an honorable man who was just following orders. An official in President Jalal Talabani's office says it's time for the retributive killings to stop. Others say it will set a bad precedent and let criminals escape justice. But Hashem is highly respected by Sunnis and killing him risks undermining a winning strategy of bringing tribesmen over to the government's side to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Americans like him, too, crediting him with reducing Iraqi resistance to the 2003 invasion.

Washington doings
How bad is Iraq? It's so bad that even überambitious diplomats have to be ordered there now, reports Karen DeYoung in the Post's off-lead story. The State Department will send as many as 50 diplomats to Baghdad because of problems in filling openings there, the largest forced assignments since the Vietnam War. On Monday 200-300 employees will be notified of their selection as "prime candidates" for the 50 slots, with some expected to volunteer. But if there's an insufficient interest in putting themselves on the front line, a panel will determine who gets shipped off. Only a "serious, documented" medical condition will get them out of it.

The Post's Ann Scott Tyson reports that Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, the U.S. commander for northern Iraq, criticized the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday for "foot-dragging" in hiring thousands of Sunnis for the Iraqi police force. (He's had command of his AO since September 2006 and he's about to leave, so perhaps he's feeling chattier.) Mixon worked out a plan to hire 6,000 men for the police of Diyala province, and had Maliki sign off on it in April. Now, in October, there has been "no movement," he said. The delay is rooted in sectarianism inside the Iraqi government, he said, especially in the Ministry of Interior. "Certain individuals may be trying to influence exactly who's being hired," he added.


Wall Street Journal
Peggy Noonan uses the strange story of The New Republic and Scott Thomas Beauchamp to complain about the influence of movies and TV on young people, especially young soldier-writers. Her argument is a finely (over)written version of what an old coot on the front porch has to say about "kids these days havin' it too easy." She writes that "There's much to be said for suffering, for being on the outside or the bottom." She thinks it's not always a good thing to grow up surrounded by stability. Good thing Iraqi kids don't have that problem.

Daily Column
Al Qaedaism in Retreat?; Rice Admits Problems with Oversight; Genocide Bill Done
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/26/2007 01:47 AM ET
Friday marks a lighter day for Iraq news, as papers gear up for the Sunday onslaught, but there's still developments on Turkey, the Kurds and the Armenian Genocide resolution, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified on the Hill on Blackwater and Al Qaeda in Iraq is weaker than ever.

Over there
Joshua Partlow and Molly Moore report for the Washington Post that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed Iraq, the U.S. and its European allies for not doing more to curb rebel Kurds in northern Iraq, and that it didn't need anyone's permission to tackle the PKK. "Unfortunately, the terrorist organization has been establishing associations in several European countries, receiving financial support, and our European friends are employing delaying tactics by refusing to hand over the PKK operatives they captured to Turkey," he said in Budapest. Turkey also continued its attacks along the Iraqi border while U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker criticized the Iraqis for not doing more against the rebel group. (After days of dithering early in the crisis, looks like the U.S. has finally decided it needs Turkey more than it needs the Kurds or the Iraqis.) Crocker also called on Iraq to create a "lookout list" for PKK leaders, pursue the guerillas when they leave their mountain fortresses and try to cut off supplies coming in. What's missing from this story? An acknowledgment that "Iraqi" leaders such as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have zero influence in Kurdistan and it's up to men like President Jalal Talabani and Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani to rein in the PKK -- and neither man seems too inclined to do so.

James Glanz and Andrew E. Kramer have the story on the latest Turkey-Kurds-U.S. tangle for The New York Times, leading with Crocker's "lookout list" suggestion. The two Timesmen note that Crocker didn't sign on to Turkish demands that Iraq take military action against the PKK -- as I noted above, "Iraqi" troops aren't going anywhere near Kurdistan; in fact, under the Kurdistan constitution, they can't legally enter Kurdistan. Today's coverage is -- frustratingly -- incremental on this story. Not much new has happened other than the arrival of an Iraqi delegation in Ankara. The Iraqis won't meet Turkey's demands, but Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister and a Kurd himself, said the Iraqis would offer "practical steps and measures to be taken by the Iraqi government to pacify, isolate and disrupt P.K.K. activities." What are those steps? No one is talking, but Glanz and Kramer say they're similar to the ones laid out by Crocker. Still, Turkey is flexing its muscles and taking guff from no one. "They can suggest that a military operation not be conducted," said Erdogan, "but we make the decision whether we need to do it or not." In other news, Crocker defended Blackwater as very capable, but called the Nissour Square incident "a horrific one." He also reiterated U.S. assertions that Iran was helping militias in Iraq, and fretted about the Mahdi Army getting into financial activities in various neighborhoods in Baghdad, what he calls the "Hezbollahzation" of parts of Iraq.

Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor, who knows about Islamic militants from his days in Indonesia, reports that all across the Middle East, Al Qaeda (or more accurately, "Al Qaedaism") is faltering. In Iraq, it's increasingly looking like a spent force, even though that was the scene of its greatest triumph up until about late 2006. Its savagery has turned off many Muslims who might want strict Islamic rule, but not at the cost of suicide bombings. "Al Qaeda has gone, in the minds of many Muslims, from being this kind of chivalrous organization run by Muslim knights seeking to defend the purity of the Muslim world and, instead, they've been revealed for what they are," said Evan Kohlmann, an author and consultant on jihadi movements who closely tracks Al Qaeda and aligned propaganda that is spread on the Internet. "They've done it to themselves." It is only in Pakistan and Afghanistan that Al Qaeda is as strong as ever.

John M. Broder of the Times reports that Rice testified to the U.S. Congress that there was a "hole" in the law that allowed contractors to escape the law for any crimes they may have committed in Iraq. She appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and said the Bush Administration would support new laws to apply to contractors but didn't seem too keen to bring all contractors under the UCMJ. Meanwhile, Blackwater emailed its employees, suppliers, fellow security contractors and political allies, asking them "to flood Congress with messages of support." The email thoughtfully lined out talking points to put in the messages to representatives and senators, such as:
  • Blackwater is saving taxpayers millions of dollars by providing temporary workers to take the place of full-time government or military employees;
  • 30 Blackwater guards have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan but none of the American officials they guard have been killed or seriously wounded;
  • Blackwater's work force is mainly military veterans and "mature law enforcement personnel."
Democrats also pressed Rice on the issue of corruption, a problem she said was wide-ranging. But she said it would be counter-productive to actually confront Iraqi government officials with "unproven accusations of wrongdoing." (Well, how does she know it's a problem, then?)

Karen DeYoung has the story for the Post, reporting that Rice "parried and often ducked" questions on contractors, Iraqi government corruption and problems with the new $600 million embassy compound in Baghdad. Often, she said she had to review matters more closely or that she couldn't speak in an open congressional session. Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., grew exasperated with her when she said she couldn't respond to a specific charge of corruption against Maliki because she is "not personally following every allegation of corruption in Iraq." "You're the secretary of state!" he fumed. Republicans rushed to Rice's defense. "Everything this committee has done in this last year in particular has been to try and put out everything bad that is going on," groused Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.

Matt Kelley covers the hearings for USA Today. In addition to the her greatest hits of the day, which Kelley also covers, he notes that she said the State Department has billed DynCorp for $29 million in improper payments and was trying to get an additional $19 million out of the company.

The Post's Dana Milbank finds rich material in yesterday's hearings for his column, in which he beats up on Republicans for running against the war in election years but staunchly defending it now. Shays is the prime candidate here, but other Republicans "gushed" over Rice and her performance. Shays even hugged Rice when she left.

Washington Doings
In other Hill news, the Times' Carl Hulse reports that the House is abandoning the Armenian Genocide resolution that has caused so much trouble for the U.S. with Turkey. Supporters of the non-binding resolution told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that they would wait until next year, "provided the timing is more favorable."


New York Times
Melody Simmons reports that the father of a slain Marine is suing the tiny -- but extremely obnoxious -- Westboro Baptist Church, which has the oh-so-charming habit of picketing soldiers' funerals with signs that say "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates You." The church believes God is killing soldiers for America's tolerance of homosexuality. Church members, of whom there are about 60, are, ironically, unrepentant. First Amendment scholars worry that if the family of the soldier win, it could have chilling effects on political demonstrations everywhere.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Head of State's security office resigns; Turkey bombing Kurds; Amok Accounting
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/25/2007 01:52 AM ET
The two big stories in Iraq right now are Blackwater (still) and the brewing conflict in northern Iraq. And that holds true again today. But stories of corruption and incompetence in rebuilding are always popular, and today we find that Iraq's new accounting system -- presumably so it could keep track of corruption -- is in tatters.

John M. Broder of The New York Times reports that Richard J. Griffin, the director of the State Department's diplomatic security bureau and in charge of overseeing all the private military contractors in Iraq, abruptly resigned on Wednesday. He was harshly criticized for the Sept. 16 incident in Nissour square, and a special panel looking into found a glaring lack of oversight and accountability of companies like Blackwater. Griffin and State are closed-mouthed about the timing and reason for his resignation, but it looks like Griffin's was the head that had to roll.

Karen DeYoung has the story for the Washington Post's front page and says Griffin was "forced" to resign. Apparently Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte pulled the trigger and told him to clear out his desk.

With allies getting fired and investigators closing in, Blackwater in Iraq has bunkered down, report Paul von Zielbauer and James Glanz on the Times' front page. The heavily guarded compound is said to have the feel of a "minimum-security prison" and the two Times reporters say many in the compound feel that's become one. Nerves are fraying and some of the employees are starting to feel that Sept. 16 was a mistake -- a break in the wall of silence that the company has put up since the incident. "Some guys are thinking that it was not a good shoot, that it was not warranted," said one Blackwater contractor, using military jargon for an episode that results in a wrongful death. "I don't think there was criminal intent involved. I just think it was the application of the use of deadly force gone horribly wrong." This is an important and well-reported story, notable because contractors don't speak to the press. But Glanz and Zielbauer seem to have pierced that wall, speaking with four current and former employees and communicating with tow more via email. the story is a glimpse of how the shootings and subsequent investigations have affected the contractors in Baghdad. They even managed to contact members of the infamous convoy. A growing number of employees feel that criminal charges will be filed against some of the men involved in Nissour Square. There's a real sense of paranoia, too, with some Blackwater guards maintaining that they were fired on that day, and that the weapons were removed from the bodies of "dead terrorists." "How long does it take for a dead terrorist to become a dead civilian?" a Blackwater employee said. "As long as it takes to remove an AK-47 from the body."

Sudarsan Raghavan of the Post reports that State is offering tens of thousands of dollars to victims of the Blackwater shooting and their families, but families of several victims have turned down the money because they're concerned that would limit their future claims against the company. Others thought the amount -- $12,500 -- wasn't enough and they wanted to sue Blackwater in an American court. "This is an insult," said Firoz Fadhil Abbas, whose brother Osama was killed. "The funeral and the wake cost more than what they offered. My brother who got killed was responsible for four families." The embassy said the money was a "condolence payment" and that it didn't limit Iraqis' right to sue or their right to future claims. Raghavan reports that the Iraqi government has taken the first steps in revoking the immunity security contractors enjoy under Order 17, as signed by L. Paul Bremer III when the CPA was in existence.

Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor reports that more than cash, Iraqis want justice in the shootings. Dagher talks to several of the families of victims and finds that that, more than money, is the driving force for them. They want the contractors to face Iraqi courts. Part of Dagher's story is a roundup of much of this week's Blackwater news, including Griffin's resignation and the new rules for contractors. But a good portion is the anguish of Iraqis, something Dagher usually excels at.

Turks and Kurds
Sebnem Arsu and Graham Bowley report for the Times that Turkey bombed the broad mountain passes used by PKK guerillas to travel from Iraq to Turkey. It's unknown whether the planes entered Iraqi airspace, although some unconfirmed reports indicate they did. The American command in Baghdad would not confirm the violation of Iraqi airspace. A Turkish official said some of Ankara's troops might have already crossed the border in hot pursuit of rebels and scampered back; the border isn't really marked.

Joshua Partlow and Ellen Knickmeyer have the story for the Post, but information from up there is sparse, and there is little here that the Times doesn't also have. A PKK spokesman did tell the Post that Turkish planes had entered Iraqi airspace.

USA Today's editorial board gets in on the Turk-Kurd contretemps and calls the situation in Iraq a wildfire with one conflagration -- the al Qaeda and Sunni insurgency -- being brought under control only to see another in the north break out.

Over there
Yochi J. Dreazen reports for the Wall Street Journal that while fighting between Sunnis and Shi'ites seems to have ebbed, fighting within the sects is intensifying, as violent power struggles develop. This will complicate any attempt at partitioning, an idea that is growing in popularity in Congress. Wow, who would have thought that a nice, tidy solution to Iraq, cooked up in Congress, might not reflect the complexities on the ground? Thankfully, Dreazen attempts to pick apart some of these complex relationships. He finds a U.S. commander who recommends watching "The Sopranos" as a way of understanding Iraq, and other commanders say the internecine fighting is a sign that the communities are preparing for a power-sharing agreement in the future. Shi'ites have been especially prone to these bloody fights. Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council's Badr Corps have been battling over oil, smuggling routes and patronage jobs. (Since the Sunnis have no oil and no power to grant jobs, perhaps there's just not that much for them to fight over.) "For a guy like Sadr, the goal is to maneuver and maneuver so that when things begin to shake themselves out, he can say, 'I speak for the Shia,'" said Lt. Col. David Oclander, executive officer of the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

The Post's Ann Scott Tyson has a decent overview of the U.S. military training teams that the Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Michael Mullen says is "the way out, no question," from Iraq and Afghanistan. These teams will provide the training for local military and police forces so that American troops can come home. The challenge -- aside from the fact that the U.S. has spent four years training Iraq's military and it's still not ready to stand up on its own -- is finding the highly qualified officers needed for the teams. They're often seen as career detours for up-and-comers, slowing down promotion-hungry officers. So, Mullen wants the services to change the promotion system to make these teams more attractive to younger commanders. What's missing from this story? Why this plan is any different from the previous training missions in Iraq that haven't worked out so well. Context, please.

No Accounting for mistakes
Where has $38 million gone? Ironically, into a new accounting system for Iraq that doesn't work, reports the Post's Walter Pincus. The computerized system put in place by the United States is so roundly ignored by the Iraqi Ministry of Finance that "nobody noticed" when it didn't work for a month and no one uses it to produce reports, according to the latest report from Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. The United States had hoped to streamline the corrupt bureaucracy, but SIGIR said the system chosen showed a lack of understanding of Iraq's existing financial and business practices. For instance, the Iraqis refuse to stop using their paper spreadsheets. And thus, the new system has had little impact on Iraq's financial system. But it's not just the Ministry of Finance. The latest SIGIR report damns almost every ministry, saying about half of all government employees don't show up on any given day, and those that do work only two or three hours ("for security reasons.")

James Glanz and Andrew E. Kramer have the story for the Times, and add a bit of a roundup. Three IED blew up in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing seven and wounding 25. A fourth bomb blew up in Amiriya, wounding a bystander. In Amil, police found two bound, blindfolded bodies showing signs of torture. In Hilla, three civilians, including one child, were killed in a firefight between police and gunmen. Outside Baqoubah, a neighborhood watch group killed three insurgents. Two additional bodies were found near there.

Dana Hedgpeth reports for the Post that the Army is opening up a magecase on Camp Arifjan in Kuwait and the allegations of corruption there. A team of contracting officers will look at a random sample of about 6,000 contracts totaling $2.6 billion in search of fraud and waste. This is part of the Army's ongoing investigations that have resulted in 83 criminal investigations. Twenty-three military and civilian Army employees have been indicted.

Mo' money
The Times editorial board slams President George W. Bush for his vetoing of a relatively inexpensive child health bill and the a few days later demanding almost $50 billion more for Iraq and Afghanistan than he originally asked for. But it's not just that veto that has the Times in a twist. Bush claims to represent fiscal discipline, but spends money recklessly when it comes to the wars. The paper makes a fair point and cry for real fiscal discipline from Congress and the next president.

The Monitor's David Cook reports that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, is toying with the idea of breaking up the almost $200 billion Bush wants for the wars into smaller chunks, giving Congress more leverage over policy by forcing debate on every supplemental appropriation request.

Daily Column
US Pushes KRG to act; New Rules for Contractors; War Bill to Individuals: $8,000
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/24/2007 01:48 AM ET
Kurds and contractors dominate the news today, with almost everyone getting in at least one story each. Both The New York Times and the Washington Post front stories on the new rules for contractors. USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor look at the costs of the war, which is nearing $8,000 for every man, woman and child in America.

Of Kurds...
Yochi J. Dreazen and Philip Shishkin report for the Wall Street Journal that the close friendship between the U.S. and Iraq's Kurds is being tested by the current crisis with Turkey, with unknowable consequences. The U.S., in the person of David Satterfield, the top Iraq hand in the State Department, is demanding the Kurdistan Regional Government crack down on the PKK, prevent them from crossing into Turkey and cut off the group's access to weapons and explosives. The Kurds don't like being told what to do and reject these criticisms and demands. They say they lack the firepower to take on the PKK. All of this comes as the Kurds are acting increasingly like they control their own destiny, can you believe it? They're cutting their own oil deals, too! They're demanding direct talks with Turkey, bypassing Baghdad. And the Kurds have a weapon of their own, the Journal's duo report. If the U.S. pushes the Kurds too hard, they could decide to screw Baghdad and go back to the mountains, destabilizing the wisp of a government that is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's. How this all plays out is anybody's guess.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Sabrina Tavernise have the story for the Times and note that Satterfield did not call on the KRG to take direct military action, but instead to take "responsibility" for dealing with the guerilla threat. Obviously, this is a way for the U.S. to tell them to tackle the PKK in anyway they can -- including via military action -- but without saying it out loud and looking like it's dictating to the Kurds. Maliki called it a "bad terrorist organization," and that Iraq would shut down its offices in Iraq. How he plans to do this, since the central government doesn't really have any influence in the north is unclear. Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd himself, told his Turkish counterpart that Iraqi officials would act against the PKK to limit their access to weapons. Again, does "Iraqi" mean "Iraqi Kurdish"? Or is that an empty promise? The Turks can surely tell the difference, and with no sign of an easing of tensions, they don't seem to buy Baghdad's assurances. Still, the Turks are promising to exhaust diplomacy before they invade. And they're playing a tough game. They want to end this problem once and for all, said Ali Babacan, Turkish foreign minister, and he warned an Iraqi delegation to Ankara not to even get on the plane if they don't have "tangible suggestions" for resolving this crisis.

Sudarsan Raghavan of the Post writes that even with Maliki making promises, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country "cannot wait forever" for Iraq's weak attempts at bringing the PKK under control, and he reminded Iraq that the Turkish parliament has OKed the use of military power against the rebels. "Right now we are in a waiting stance, but Iraq should know we can use the mandate for a cross-border operation at any time," he said. Raghavan at least notes that it will be difficult for the Iraqi government to do anything, while a senior KRG official said the PKK offices were closed long ago. He also gets reaction on yesterday's offer of a cease-fire by the PKK, first reported by the Times, and mostly ignored by everyone else today. "A cease-fire is done between countries, or two armies, but not with terrorist organizations," said Babacan. "To solve the problem we must first know what the problem is. The case here is one of terrorism." Sounds pretty hard-line. Except Turkey has accepted cease-fires with the PKK in the past. There's also decent color from Turkey, where Istanbul and other cities saw thousands take to the streets to denounce the Kurdish rebel group. There's a massive backlash against Kurds gathering steam in Turkey, with the offices of Kurdish political parties being attacked, and Kurdish newspaper Web sites going dark.

Scott Peterson of the Monitor takes a different tack, today, however. He reports that despite all the bellicosity, Turkey is very wary of walking into a trap set by the PKK. "The PKK wants Turkey to engage in full-scale, extensive warfare -- not just with the PKK in northern Iraq, but with the Iraqi Kurdish (forces) and to draw in the US and other foreign powers," says Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at the Chatham House think tank in London. That, obviously, would be bad. That would goose support for the PKK in southeastern Turkey, which is mostly Kurdish and sympathetic to the PKK's goals, but not supportive of violence. The threat of military action has gotten the attention of Washington, too, which is what the Turks have wanted for some time. Peterson also reports that Erdgoan mused that a joint Turkey-US strike could be carried out, and noted that the Chicago Tribune reported that the U.S. is considering cruise missile attacks on PKK bases. "Now the Turks are at the end of their rope, and our risk calculus is changing," the Tribune quoted a U.S. official. Peterson also does the Monitor's readers a favor and gives a helpful FAQ on the PKK.

Jim Michaels has the story for USA Today, and adds an interesting tidbit: Kurdish television showed video of the eight captured Turkish troops, all apparently uninjured.

... and Contractors
August Cole of the Journal reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wasted no time in handing down new rules for contractors in Iraq following recommendations from a panel reviewing the department's security operations following the Sept. 16 shootout in Nissour Square involving Blackwater. New rules include:

  • Each convoy must include Arabic speakers.
  • State will review the contractors' rules of engagement.
  • Agents from State's diplomatic security corps will accompany each convoy.
  • Any shootings will be investigated and include outside officials from the military.
  • Contractors must take cultural-sensitivity courses.
Will these be enough to mollify Iraqi politicians who are calling for Blackwater to be expelled from the country? It's unclear, but Rice is doing what she can to head that off. IraqSlogger has a copy of the report here.

Karen DeYoung has the story for the Post's front page, and notes that none of the recommendations include one by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates: To place all security contractors under the supervision of the U.S. military. Blackwater's future in Iraq remains up in the air, however. Only when the FBI concludes its investigation of the Sept. 16 incident will its fate be decided. A U.S. official said, "My gut feeling is they have to leave." Blackwater, for its part, is playing the victim, saying the company is a scapegoat for the State Department and House Democrats (And the Iraqi Government and the Department of Defense and everyone else who submitted corroborating reports that Blackwater screwed up.) But DeYoung has some additional changes for security contractors in Iraq, too:

  • "Go teams" of embassy security officials will be formed to go to the scene of a shooting as soon as possible, and will coordinate with the U.S. military and Iraqi government.
  • A permanent working group of Diplomatic Security and Multi-National Force-Iraq officials will develop "commonly agreed operational procedures" and exchange information.
  • The embassy will be more responsive to the families of slain Iraqis.

John M. Broder and David Rhode of the Times also get on the front page, but they're looking at the overall use of contractors by the State Department over the years. And what they find is eye opening. Over the past four years, State has quadrupled its spending on private security and law enforcement contractors, from $1 billion a year to $4 billion. But the department has added few new officials to oversee the contracts. The result has been vast cost overruns, poor performance and violence left unpunished. There are only 17 contract compliance officers overseeing spending. There are 1,200 private security contractors guarding diplomats overseas and 2,500 contractors overall. "They simply didn't have enough eyes and ears watching what was going on," said Peter W. Singer, an expert on security contractors at the Brookings Institution. "Secondly, they seemed to show no interest in using the sanctions they had." But it's not a problem just for state. Post 9/11, the Bush administration has outsourced about $400 billion worth of government work but, as at State, the number of government employees overseeing and managing the contracts has barely grown. Kudos to the Times for going back to 1994 to trace the rise of the contracting system now in place, thanks to Haiti.

Over there
Andrew E. Kramer has the roundup for the Times -- today's only real roundup, by the way -- and leads with the grim news that an American helicopter killed 11 people, including women and children, after it came under fire north of Baghdad on Tuesday. Iraqi witnesses and police said 16 people were killed. This is the second time this week that American actions have resulted in multiple Iraqi deaths. The incident happened after a man fired a machine gun at the helicopter in a rural area around Tikrit. The helicopter responded and wounded the man. A crowd of people gathered around him, according to witnesses, and the chopper opened fire again, killing and wounding some of the locals. When another group tried to carry the wounded and dead away, the Americans shot at four houses, killing and wounding more people. In other news, Sunni tribal sheikhs who have allied with the U.S. staged a military parade in Ramadi, with a band and soldiers in spit-shined boots, all surrounded by American forces. U.S. patrols have not been targeted in Ramadi since May. The Anbar Awakening Council leader, Sheikh Abu Risha, brother of the slain former leader, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, responded to Osama bin Laden's audiotape calling on Iraq's Sunnis to unite against the Americans. "We invite bin Laden to tell us who his people are," Mr. Abu Risha said. "Let them come out, and we will fight them. Here I am. I am willing to lead the fight."

Military spending
The Monitor's Peter Grier crunches the numbers and reports that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are expensive. If the House approves the White House's request for $196 billion for the two wars is approved, total costs for the wars will reach $808 billion by the end of next year, according to figures compiled by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). That's on top of the normal DoD budget request of $481 billion for FY2008. The White House refuses to put the wars in the standard Defense appropriations bill, and instead funds it with supplementals. In all, the combined costs of Iraq and Afghanistan will be more than the Vietnam War by the end of next year, making the two wars the most expensive since World War II. But since the U.S. economy is so much larger now, the percentage of the cost to the GDP is much lower.

USA Today's Ken Dilanian does the Monitor one better and projects the costs out through the next decade. The price tag? $2.4 trillion by 2017, assuming 50,000 troops in Iraq and half that in Afghanistan. That $2.4 trillion means that every man, woman and child in America will, in effect, pay $8,000 each for the wars. As America's newspaper helpfully points out, "In the months before the March 2003 Iraq invasion, the Bush administration estimated the Iraq war would cost no more than $50 billion." It also prints a handy chart comparing the costs of various wars.

Home front
Ann Scott Tyson of the Post reports on the "listening tour" by the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Michael Mullen. He got an earful from young captains who have seen more than their share of combat. Soldiers' wives are missing out on college opportunities because the Pentagon doesn't take family matters into account when planning deployments, one complained. Another wants to start a family, buy a house, said another. Again, the Army told him "family considerations" would have no bearing on his next posting. "I'm done," he told the admiral. These men that Mullen was meeting are among the most experienced combat officers in the military -- and they're necessary for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the strain on their families is causing many not to re-enlist. The Army needs more than 6,000 captains and majors to boost the force by 65,000 by 2010. Most surprising bit of news, which is buried? Mullen said that the next president would institute changes, no matter who gets elected and it would be a difficult transition period. And while the military needs to remain under civilian command, if unable to carry out orders, officers should "vote with their feet and leave." Was that an oblique reference to rumors of war with Iran?


New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman writes that no one is paying attention to Iraq anymore, and that's a dangerous thing. (We are, Mr. Friedman!) Iraqi politicians saw the September testimony of Gen. David H. Petraeus as a way to buy themselves time rather than come together and forge a political compromise. And so they all took a holiday. At no point since the testimony have the four main Iraqi leaders been in the country at the same time, said one U.S. official in Baghdad. And he makes this sharp observation: "No question, there has been more local cross-sectarian dialogue lately, particularly between Shiite and Sunni elders. But that seems to be the limit of Iraqi politics. People there can act as tribes, sects and clans, but not as a unified government -- so there is no one systematically consolidating whatever gains the surge has made."

The Times editorial board reprints a statement from Sahar Issa, one of six women journalists working for McClatchy Newspapers in Baghdad.

Daily Column
Kurdish-Iranian front a hot one; Iraqi journalist missing; Budget battle looms
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/23/2007 01:34 AM ET
Back in 2004, the U.S. faced a two-front war in Iraq. On one side, you had the Sunni insurgents and on the other, Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Well, the end of 2007 is shaping up as another two-front war in Iraq, but this time it's the Turks in the north and Democrats in Congress. Almost everyone fronts the latest moves in the ongoing crisis between Iraq's Kurds and Turkey, while the Democratic leadership assailed President George W. Bush's new request for even more funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The New York Times really shines today with a large number of foreign-datelined stories.

Talking Turkey
The Times' Richard A. Oppel Jr. zigs when others are zagging, goes to the other Kurdish front -- the one with the Iranians -- and lands on the front page. In a mirror image of the conflict just a few miles to the west, in which PKK rebels attack Turkish soldiers and the U.S. gives Turkey its full support, Iranian soldiers are killed by Kurdish rebels from the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK). No offers of solidarity are forthcoming from the U.S., and many Iranians say the U.S. is arming the rebels. Most explosive, one of the 11 members of the group's membership says there has been "normal dialogue" with the United States. Guerilla leaders say the PKK is a terrorist group because it's fighting a U.S. ally, while the PJAK, an offshoot of the PKK, is not because it's fighting Iran. In fact, the two groups are more or less the same, Oppel reports. And Oppel even manages to interview a man who appears to be a captured Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps member. This is a must-read story.

Meanwhile, back at the better-known front, Sabrina Tavernise of the Times scores a scoop with news that the PKK is seeking a cease-fire, but Turkey has reacted skeptically to the communiqué. This weekend's ambush, which killed 12 Turkish soldiers and possibly left eight in PKK hands as captives, has inflamed tensions and made a military onslaught look all but inevitable. Could that be the reason for the PKK's call for a cease-fire, which it posted on the Web site of the political party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani?

And yet, with more Turkish troops and armor rolling toward the border with Iraq, the U.S. is backing Turkey in its fight with the PKK in northern Iraq, reports Robin Wright and Michael Abramowitz for the Washington Post's front page. It backs Turkey so much that it's demanding Iraq reign in the PKK. It's managed to win a reprieve for Iraqi Kurdistan, but emotions are running high in Turkey and many of its people want a military attack on northern Iraq now. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was able to win "a few days" for diplomacy to solve the crisis. But, "If expected developments do not take place in the next few days, we will have to take care of our own situation," said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Journal's Philip Shishkin and Yochi J. Dreazen also have the story, and make the intriguing comment that a "White House official said the president was noncommittal about deploying American military personnel against the PKK." Hmm. Was that a request from Turkey? It's just kind of thrown out there. The biggest scooplet in this story is that U.S. officials are increasingly resigned to at least limited cross-border strikes, and note that Turkey has acted with "great constraint" in the course of this crisis. The two also provide excellent background on the PKK.

Helene Cooper and David S. Cloud have the story for the Times.

Ralph Peters, author and military historian, says in USA Today Turkey's military is ginning up a conflict with the PKK because it wants to reestablish its place in Turkish society. He sees a doomsday scenario for Turkey should it invade Iraq.

A Post editorial praises Turkey's restraint in not storming the gates of Iraq and wiping out its Kurdish enemies.

Rounding out the editorials, the Times' offering today says the "the news out of Iraq just keeps getting worse," and it goes from there. Washington needs to walk both the Kurds and the Turks back from the bring, the board argues.

Over there
Paul von Zielbauer reports for the Times that an Iraqi journalist working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is missing after police found the body of her driver, who had been shot and killed in a city street. Two other Radio Free Iraq Journalists have been killed this year. Also, Iraqi government and American military officials agreed to form a joint committee to investigate the firefight in Sadr City on Sunday that left 49 people. An alliance of Sunni tribes working with the Americans in Anbar province found a mass grave containing 25 bodies in an area that was recently controlled by insurgents. In Hilla, south of Baghdad, an Iraqi contractor was kidnapped. A roadside bomb killed his two brothers. In Baqoubah, the bodies of three men who had been tortured and executed were found. And finally, the Czech Republic announced it would reduce its troop levels to around 20 by the end of 2008, from roughly 100 now.

Budget battle
President George W. Bush is picking another fight with Congress over Iraq, reports Peter Baker of the Washington Post. The president asked Congress for $46 billion more to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and demanded they pass the bill by the end of the year. That's a total of $196 billion asked for this fiscal year. That should go down well in Congress. This new funding request, while necessary, is likely to reignite the now simmering dispute between the White House and Congress over the direction of the Iraq war. The two branches of government, co-equal in power and hatred for one another, dusted off their rhetoric bombs and tossed them with glee. Bush accused Democrats of not supporting the troops if they didn't give him exactly what he wants, today. Democrats accused the White House of fiscal recklessness. In any story like this, you want to know, "Will it pass?" and "what happens if it doesn't?" Well, the jury's still out on the former, given that a senior Democratic leadership aide said not many Republicans are willing to go to the mat for the full amount. But if it doesn't pass... the story doesn't really address that. And that's important because Congress's power of the purse can be a powerful weapon. And it's given short shrift in this story. If approved, however, the total appropriated for the two wars would be more than $800 billion, with $1 trillion to be hit by the time Bush leaves office. That's more than the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. (And they lasted about 15 years together.)

Steven Lee Myers has the story for The New York Times and David Rogers has the story for the Wall Street Journal.

Contractor funny-business
Dana Hedgpeth of the Post reports that an audit of a contract between DynCorp International and the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) because the records were in such disarray. As such, the State Department doesn't know what it received for most of the $1.2 billion it spent on DynCorp under the contract, which was to provide housing, food, security, facilities and training for the Iraqi police program.

Eric Schmitt and David Rhode have the story for the Times, but add to it a State Department review of its own security practices that slams the department for poor coordination, communication, oversight and accountability of armed security companies like Blackwater. The Times runs this as its lead story. The four-member panel recommended "creating a special coordination center to monitor and control the movement of armed convoys through areas under the command of the American military," "urged the department to work with the Pentagon to develop a strict set of rules on how to deal with the families of Iraqi civilians who are killed or wounded by armed contractors" and improve coordination between American contractors and security guards employed by Iraqi ministries for example. The Times' duo also has more detail on the DynCorp audit, which sounds like a total mess.


Christian Science Monitor
Gordon Lubold takes a look at how the U.S. military is increasingly sitting down with Shi'ite militias to talk things out, he reports for the Christian Science Monitor. Unfortunately, the story is a bit of mess, jumbled and not really saying anything other than U.S. military officers are talking to the "bad guys" in Iraq in an effort to foster political reconciliation. But this isn't news. And it isn't news that the U.S. is talking with Shi'ite groups. There's a confusing anecdote about a small flag that Iraqis were stepping on a sign of disrespect. Lt. Col. Beau Balcavage wanted it removed, publicly, as a sign that local council members support American interests. The Iraqis in Musayib balked at that, naturally enough, and removed it in the night away from prying eyes. But another officer, Col. Michael X. Garrett, said it didn't matter how or when it was removed as long as it's gone. Which is it? Very odd story.

New York Times
Peter W. Galbraith, long a fan of the Kurdish experiment in northern Iraq, uses the Times op-ed page to call once again for a partition plan that would benefit the Kurds.

Washington Post
Dana Hedgpeth reports that Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is digging into Blackwater's taxes, and yesterday sent a letter to Erik Prince, owner of Blackwater, to tell him that panel staff members calculated that his company may have failed to pay $31.8 million in Social Security, Medicare, Federal income and unemployment taxes from March 2006 to this past March. Oops! Blackwater denies this.

Wall Street Journal
Bret Stephens uses the current contretemps between Turkey and the PKK to argue that declaring al Qaeda in Iraq defeated is a dangerous move, and points to the PKK as an example of premature declarations of victory. In the late 1990s, the PKK was considered defeated and on the run. Now, a scant few years later, it's back and vexing Turkey again. His prescription? Constant and eternal war. "Against this kind of enemy, there are no final victories, and no true homecomings, and no real alternatives other than to keep on fighting."

Daily Column
PKK ambush kills 17; Raid on Sadr City kills 49... or 13; JC chair's future wars
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/22/2007 01:52 AM ET
Two looming showdowns now dominate Iraq and the coverage: The potential invasion of northern Iraq by Turkey, now exacerbated by a weekend attack that killed 17 Turkish troops, and a possible re-ignition of the fight with the Mahdi Army, possibly prompted by a raid on Sadr City that killed either 49 fighters or 13 innocent civilians. The New York Times and the Washington Post front both stories, while the other papers opt for more stateside Iraq coverage.

Two fronts in Iraq, again
The PKK raised the stakes in the game of chicken between Turkey and the Kurds of northern Iraq yesterday, with a daring cross-border raid that killed 17 Turkish soldiers, reports Amit R. Paley for the Post's front page. Iraq also saw a massive loss of life in Sadr City after a U.S. raid killed 49 people. The U.S. military says they were Iranian-backed fighters from splinter groups from the Mahdi Army, but local residents said only 13 were killed and all were "innocent" civilians. Paley writes that the two spasms of violence show just how combustible Iraq is... and how big a challenge it is for the U.S. military. Back to Turkey, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said that Turkey has no designs on Iraqi territory, but it will go after terrorists over the border. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, urged PKK fighters to leave the country. The Kurdistan Regional President, Massoud Barzani, also condemned the attack, but warned Turkey not to enter Iraq of there would be bloodshed. In Baghdad, in a drearily familiar pattern, U.S. military and Iraqi civilians had sharply differing accounts of the raid on Sadr City. The U.S. said its troops came under fire when they entered Sadr City to arrest the leader of a kidnapping ring. They returned fire and eventually killed 49 fighters. (10 of the dead were killed after a roadside bomb attack on the American troops.) Sadr City people said only civilians died, and 13 were killed with 52 injured. A spokesman for the Moqtada al-Sadr said, "I have seen the dead children. We are a peaceful people. We are just sitting in our homes. We don't want anything to do with the Americans. Just leave us alone." In a classic example of Iraqi "who, me?"-ism, another spokesman for al-Sadr said it no one attacked the Americans because al-Sadr had ordered a freeze on the militia in August. The attack is expected to increase pressure on the cleric to lift the order.

Sabrina Tavernise has an excellent version of the story for the Times, and adds the news that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice intervened to keep Turkey from retaliating immediately. The raid by the PKK was seen as a direct provocation, and came only four days after Turkey approved cross-border incursions to go after the rebels. Tavernise has a talent for understatement. See how many you can spot here:

Such action by Turkey, a NATO ally, would be extremely embarrassing for the United States, which has military control over the territory that the Turks are threatening to invade. Moreover, a Turkish advance into northern Iraq would instantly bring fresh troubles to a country where the United States is preoccupied with the war. And it would complicate stability in the broader region, which is generally antagonistic to American policy. Iran made remarks criticizing American policy on Sunday. Syria did the same four days before.
Iraq's reaction was mixed, she notes, and gets a good -- if somewhat weird -- quote from Talabani. "We are looking for peace, not war, and to solve problems peacefully," he said. But, "we will not hand any Kurdish man to Turkey, even a Kurdish cat." Was that one of Ankara's demands? For its part, Ankara is still demanding America do more to reign in the PKK and its Kurdish allies in Iraq. The lack of military action so far is obviously contingent on this. In a way, Turkey is playing a game of reverse chicken, hoping for the Kurds or the Americans to force it to move aside. Otherwise, the tanks are going in despite the damage such a move would do to its relations with the U.S. and the European Union. But the "arrow has left the bow," as one military spokesman said. "I think we've passed the threshold," said Suat Kinikli, a lawmaker from Mr. Erdogan's party and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. "It looks like for two days or three days there will be a holding off and a waiting period. Unless the U.S. comes up with something magic in the next few days, which is highly unlikely, we'll probably go in."

Meanwhile, back in Baghdad, Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor reports on that raid in Sadr City. He's got the details from the Post story, as stated by the U.S. military -- 49 dead, all Iranian-backed militants -- and also the discrepancy, calling the two versions of events a "classic pattern" in the aftermath of Sadr City operations. He adds, however, that the Associated Press said it has photos and videos of dead and wounded children from the operation. And he notes that the operation came shortly after the U.S. has stepped up its moves against the Sadr movement in other parts of Iraq. The U.S., for its part, says it's targeting "criminals" or rogue elements of Sadr's group who have failed to abide by the cleric's call for a freeze on all activities. The fact that al-Sadr hasn't given the order (yet) to unfreeze his militia lends that some credibility, as the cleric presumably doesn't mind the U.S. doing the dirty work of purging his organization of disloyals for him. And Dagher, in true enterprising fashion, manages to find a Sadr City resident who backed up some of the American's claim that they had been attacked when they entered the slum.

Military Planning
The Post's Ann Scott Tyson reports that Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker have concluded that Shi'ite extremists pose a rising threat to the U.S. in Iraq. Um, wasn't this decided, like, months ago? Didn't Petraeus mention all those Iranian-backed militias as a threat to peace in September? Tyson writes that this is part of the classified strategy for Iraq that goes through summer 2009. The U.S. will shift more toward countering the Shi'ite militias now that Sunni insurgent groups seem to be under control. The plan, interestingly, also admits that the U.S. can't guarantee an outright victory over its enemies in Iraq, but hopes to reach "political accommodation" with them. Gone, too, are specific legal benchmarks such as passage of an oil law. Instead, results are the new buzzword, so if things get accomplished despite the parliament and the Iraqi government instead of because of it, that's OK. There are still frictions, however, especially over the pace of troop withdrawals. The removal of five combat brigades by July 2008 is still on track, but only if conditions warrant it; it's not a timeline. Petraeus wants the option to keep the troops in Iraq if things don't get better; CENTCOM wants to go ahead with the pullout. Despite the strange lead, it's an important story that deserves a thorough read.

Back in Washington, the Times' Thom Shanker sits down with the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who said he plans to urge Congress to maintain the high levels of military spending, because he wants to:

  • develop a military strategy for the Middle East beyond the current two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
  • "Accelerate efforts to 'reconstitute, reset, revitalize' the armed forces, which he said meant replacing combat equipment and tending to the needs of those in uniform, in particular soldiers and marines and their families,"
  • and refocus the military's attention beyond the two wars now to the Pacific and Africa.
Sounds ambitious! And the American public -- and Congress -- may have no appetite for it, after Iraq and 'Stan. So the admiral sees his job as making the case for large military budgets. He sees the current military spending of about 4 percent of the GDP as "an absolute floor" for the future, indicating he sees a very threatening world ahead. It should be noted that this is keeping in line with the current military thinking that we're in an era of "persistent conflict." Conventional threats as well as terrorist ones will mean that even though the U.S. will have to maintain its deficit-ballooning military spending. He sees spending in line with the Cold War, which saw the military eat 5 percent of the GPD from the mid-1970s on until the closing days of the global conflict, when it peaked at just over 6 percent. He did warn against striking Iran, saying "the risks could be very, very high." A transcript of the interview is available.

Jim Michaels of USA Today reports that airstrikes in Iraq are on the rise this year, with 1,140 airstrikes launched in the first nine months of 2007 compared to 229 in all of last year. Airstrikes are up in Afghanistan, too, with 2,764 bombing runs this year, up from 1,770 last year. Helicopter gunship attacks aren't included in those numbers. The increase in American troops in Iraq -- and their more frequent enemy engagement -- has led to the need for more close air support, the Air Force said, and with more insurgents pushed out into the countryside, they're easier to spot and hit. In both wars, air power is being used in lieu of extensive ground forces, admits Air Force Maj. Gen. Allen Peck, commander of the Air Force Doctrine Development and Education Center. The downside, given only brief mention in Michael's story, is that these air strikes are more likely to kill civilians, despite the increased smartness of smart bombs, and that turns the Air Force into a recruitment tool for al Qaeda.


New York Times
Maria Aspan reports on the boon for Car-Freshner Corp., the maker of Silly String®, which is sometimes used by troops in Iraq to detect invisible trip wires on bombs.

Washington Post
Walter Pincus reports that the military sees a continued need for "secure long-haul trucking" in Iraq and has put out a proposal for a one-year contract, with options for two more years. "The Contractor will provide transportation escort protection of goods from terrorist or criminal attacks during travel to/from secure project worksites anywhere in Iraq," according to the proposal. But -- and this is buried in his story -- the rules of engagement for any security guards on these convoys have been significantly tightened.

Each of the individuals must be trained in the "law of armed conflict" and the "rules for the use of force," prior to "performing services under this contract."

The rules for the use of force say that shooting weapons may only be used in self-defense, to defend those being protected "as specified in your contract" and "to prevent life threatening offenses against civilians." Weapons are to be fired by contractors only as "aimed shots," and "with regard for the safety of innocent bystanders." You are to shoot "to remove the threat only where necessary."

These RoE are even more restrictive than those facing the U.S. military, indicating that the DoD has learned from Blackwater's Sept 16 shoot-out debacle in Nisour Square.

Christian Science Monitor
O'Brien Browne, who teaches Middle Eastern history and politics at Schiller International University and intercultural communication at Heidelberg University, argues that the reason for Iraq's problems are those damn colonial straight-edges, wielded by the likes of Gertrude Bell, T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill after World War I. So what's the big deal if Iraq splits up? Furthermore, the three new regions in the country formerly known as Iraq should not even be called Iraq, because it's a made up country anyway, he says. It's full of people who don't want to live together, and the Ottomans had it right. Oddly, he present Ottoman rule as one of benign neglect, letting the ... whatever the people of the region should be called ... run their own affairs as three provinces in the empire. Well, that may have been true, but a large majority of Iraqis today don't want the country to be split up. Arabs across the region see any attempt to do so as Zionist plot to divide and conquer the Arabs, and he ignores the thousands of families who are mixed Arab-Kurdish or Sunni-Shi'ite, as well as the ethnically diverse areas of Baghdad, Kirkuk, Basra and the like. Simplistic answers are often emotionally satisfying, but they usually involve body counts.

Brad Knickerbocker reports on the federal government's scramble to provide care for wounded vets from Afghanistan and Iraq. There's little new here that wasn't reported last week, but it's a useful roundup of the issue.

Wall Street Journal
Glenn R. Simpson continues his dogged reporting on the Food-Fraud Scandal that is part of the massive corruption investigation the Pentagon is investigating. Today, he reports that the Justice Department received allegations of illegal dealings in Kuwait between U.S. food producers and a major Army contractor but declined to support the case. And this is only one of perhaps 13 civil False Claims Act the Justice Department turned down involving contracting fraud in Iraq. A lawyer for Iowa pork trader Beth Hanken and her firm Midwest Ventures Inc., said Just turned the case down because of insufficient evidence.

Daily Column
Syria closes border to Iraqis; State struggles to control BW; Journalists' risks
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/21/2007 01:52 AM ET
There's a dearth of newsy news today, with only The New York Times really getting anything breaking, but that doesn't stop the enterprise writers from firing up their laptops. Both the Washington Post and the Times have big front-pagers today, while the Gray Lady dominates in regional coverage.

The Post's Karen DeYoung reports on the State Departments new efforts to bring contractors like Blackwater to heel, leading with the now-infamous shooting of a bodyguard of Iraq Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi by a drunken Blackwater guard. But the way State managed the company's indiscretions -- payoffs to the aggrieved, like the wealthy parent of a louche teenage trying to make scandal go away -- no longer work. And the narrow question of supervision of Blackwater guards reveals old fissures between State and the Defense Department. Part history lesson, part roundup, the only real news in this piece is a buried nugget that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is likely to drop Blackwater as a contractor in Iraq. The only question is when it happens.

Lisa W. Foderaro pens a heart-breaking fronter for the Times, about young children too young to know their fathers who died in the war. Now, after six years of war, they're old enough to ask what happened. As Foderaro writes, "In a grim marker of the longevity of the war, children who were infants or toddlers when they lost a parent in action are growing up." Kids are asking exactly how their fathers died, and six-year-olds are hearing about car bombs, IEDs and snipers. It's rough on the kids and the surviving parents. At least 2,000 children under the age of 18 have lost a parent in the Iraq war, but it's not clear how many were infants or toddlers when their parent was killed.

Over there
The Times' Thanassis Cambanis reports that the other shoe has dropped for Iraqi refugees in Syria. The last remaining safe haven for Iraqis fleeing the violence, Syria has now instituted new restrictions at its frontier with Iraq that would close its borders to all but a very few and new visa rules that will legally require 1.5 million Iraqis in Syria to return home. These changes have long been rumored -- and feared -- but the change quietly went into effect on Oct. 1. Until now, Syrian officials had acceded to pleas from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. No more. The 2,000 to 4,000 Iraqis who were streaming into Syria every day now have nowhere to go. "The door is now closed to Iraqis in every direction," said Sybella Wilkes, a spokeswoman here for the United Nations refugee agency. Syrian officials said they were responding to a long-standing request by the Iraqi government to close the border by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said the stream of refugees was undermining his attempts to bring order to Iraq. Jordan, the other state allowing Iraqis access, limited admissions a year ago. Unanswered is the question of Why Now? Syria does nothing that's not calculated, and what are they trying to gain now? Could use some more digging on this.

At the same time, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, decried Syria's support for Turkey's plan to launch cross-border attacks in pursuit of PKK rebels in Iraqi Kurdistan, reports Andrew E. Kramer. "Red lines" have been crossed. (Middle Eastern officials love warning of "red lines.") And then Talabani makes a ridiculous statement: "I think these statements are dangerous and contradict the soul of Arabic solidarity." Except... Talabani's a Kurd! And Syria is supporting the Turks against Kurds. There are almost no Arabs involved, except for the Syrians themselves. And Talabani, until he became president, was a Kurdish separatist, working for an independent, ethnic state of Kurdistan. Now, when Turkey plans to invade, he discovers Arab unity? The Kurdish papers will rake Talabani over the coals for that comment. And while Kramer doesn't mention Mam Jalal's confounding contradictions, he does mention that Syria has a restive Kurdish population of its own and is hoping that Turkey's putting the smackdown on the PKK will keep its own Kurds in line. Hence the support. Meanwhile, a roadside bomb killed three people and wounded nine on a highway south of Baghdad on Saturday. An American soldier was killed and another eight were wounded in an ambush in Baghdad. And soldiers in the city of Tarmiya, north of Baghdad, discovered a massive cache of homemade explosives. The find totaled more than 18 tons, one of the largest finds of the war.

Bassem Sebti, a Post special correspondent from 2003-2006, writes of the risks -- and some of the rewards -- of being an Iraqi journalist. His friend, fellow Post reporter Salih Saif Aldin, was killed last week as he covered a dangerous neighborhood in Baghdad. Sebti is more cautious, and today he's studying at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. And while the essay focuses on the risks, there is an undercurrent of pride at being on the frontline of a nation's history, of telling the truth about one's home. For any journalist, that's a mighty payoff -- even with the risks.


New York Times
Frank Rich writes on the Times' op-ed page about the culture of corruption that has, well, corrupted every aspect of the Iraq war. It's a grueling read, summing up a debacle of greed and mismanagement. He quotes an astounding factoid from Vanity Fair: To date, the United States has "spent twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars to rebuild Iraq as it did to rebuild Japan -- an industrialized country three times Iraq's size, two of whose cities had been incinerated by atomic bombs." And the two suicides -- at least -- are just the most tearing aspect of this mess of dollars, greed and opportunity.

G. Pascal Zachary goes gadget porn-y on us, with a look at some of the quick, off-the-shelf technological solutions used by the troops in Iraq today. The Army's procurement system is hidebound and slow, so private companies are innovating up a storm. The way to get new tech out quickly is to essentially let the soldiers beta-test prototypes.

Washington Post
A Post editorial complains about the continued slow pace -- frustratingly slow" -- in getting benefits to disabled veterans.

How do you build on the apparent gains in Iraq? That's the question regular op-edder David Ignatius asks, and he says the military is also asking. The real challenge in Iraq is to seize the moment rather than maintain the status quo.

Jim Hoagland writes grimly of the "new normal," in which civilian populations are the target of mass violence, not armies, and Pentagon leaders now speak of "an era of persistent conflict." War without end, amen. Since 9/11, the U.S. has been at war without a draft longer than any time since the Revolutionary War, and the strain is breaking the military, and so the U.S. must adapt. That means the beginning of an era of military confrontation in the Middle East and central Asia may be nearing its end. A new phase is beginning.

Fowaz A. Gergas, a professor of international affairs at Sarah Lawrence College and the author of "Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy" and "The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global," reviews "Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology Of Martyrdom" by Mohammed M. Hafez. Gergas also reviews "Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja" by Joost R. Hiltermann.

Daily Column
IEDs a threat to U.S.?; How Turkey Can Change the Game in Iraq; Pipeline attack
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/20/2007 01:53 AM ET
There's only one truly must-read story today, and it's from the Wall Street Journal dealing with corruption in Kuwait. None of today's other stories rise to its level, but The New York Times keeps plugging away with Baghdad-datelined news.

The Journal continues to outpace the others in its investigations into corruption in Iraq and the food suppliers. Glenn R. Simpson lands on the front page again, with a look at Lt. Col. Marshall Gutierrez, a classic straight-shooter in the Army's logistical arm, who blew the whistle on food corruption at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, and who was found dead of an apparent suicide last September. The corruption he sought to expose had come back to taint him, ruin his career and destroy his 22-year marriage. It's, obviously, a tragic story, one of early fury at apparent corruption on the part of Public Warehousing, one of the companies at the center of the sprawl of investigations. But then, Gutierrez himself solicited a bribe from the Public Warehousing, because he had allegedly taken a young Kuwaiti girl for a mistress. His housekeeper text messaged his wife in America that he had converted to Islam and married the girl. He was arrested in a sting operation over $3,500. Investigators found a recent Kuwaiti marriage certificate under the religion of Islam, pornography, alcohol and $27,000 when they searched his home on base. He was charged with bribery, mishandling secret information, accepting illegal gifts and illegal possession of weapons, alcohol and pornography, and bigamy. Less than a month later, he'd be dead of an apparent suicide as he awaited court-martial. And he leaves behind many questions. It's a great, if heartbreaking, read.

The Post's Spencer S. Hsu and Mary Beth Sherian write a front-pager looking at the threat of IEDs in the United States -- or rather, the lack of training and money local officials say they need for a threat that really hasn't materialized yet. The story's an odd one, full of overstatement and hand wringing. Many people quoted are worried that not enough resources are being devoted to combating this problem, but not mentioned in the story is that after six years of war, not a single IED has gone off inside the United States. Perhaps this isn't that big of a problem? And yet, Democrats are blasting the Bush administration for moving too slowly on this. Local bomb disposal units are crying out for money and training. It all sounds very alarming, but for a threat that either has already been effectively stopped or hasn't developed in the first place.

Over there
Richard A. Oppel Jr., and Qais Mizher have their hands full with today's story for the Times out of Iraq. Insurgents blew up a pipeline near Kirkuk; a convoy carrying bodyguards of a deputy prime minister came under attack; a police chief was ambushed; and Kurdish Regional President Massoud Barzani vowed to fight back against any Turkish incursion. The pipeline was hit near the village Safra, about 40 miles west of Kirkuk. The convoy belonged to Barham Salih, a Kurd, who was not with the convoy at the time. The attack, which occurred about 60 miles south of Kirkuk, left one member of the convoy dead and another wounded. Thirty miles west of Kirkuk, gunmen ambushed the convoy carrying the police chief for Riyadh, Iraq: Capt. Abdullah Jabouri. Two guards were seriously wounded. In all of the cases, the common thread is Kirkuk, and Oppel and Mizher raise the troubling point that while al Qaeda in Iraq might be on the run in Anbar, Kirkuk could become the next battleground for the group as it tries to exploit the tensions between the various ethnic groups there. (Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Turkomen all lay claim to the city.) With the push by the Kurds to absorb the city, there are fears that Sunni Arabs might collaborate with jihadis as a means of protection. This happened in Baqoubah, the Times duo writes, when Baghdad appointed highly sectarian Shi'ite security officials for the province. And finally, Barzani raised the stakes by vowing to defend Kurdistan against any Turkish attack. "If the Turkish Army attacks Kurdistan, we are ready to defend the Kurdistan Regional Government and protect the democracy that Kurdish people live under," he said in a statement. In other news, two American soldiers died this week. One was from a "noncombat-related illness" and the other was killed in an insurgent attack in Southern Baghdad. Also, Adnan al-Dulaimi called for a stay of execution for former Defense Minister Sultan Hashem Ahmed, who was convicted of war crimes and genocide for his role Saddam Hussein's 1988 attacks on the Kurds.

Talking Turkey
Speaking of Turkey, Nick Timiraos of the Journal asks the question: How could Turkey undermine Iraq? Let him count the ways. He writes what amounts to an FAQ of geopolitics involving Turkey, Kurds, Iraq and the United States, with some Armenian genocide and oil prices thrown in for good measures. All reporters heading to Iraqi Kurdistan should print out this cheat sheet and keep it with them. It's very good.

The Journal's editorial board weighs in on the Turkish question, noting that this week could be seen in the future as a turning point in Turkish-American relations. Not surprisingly, given that its an editorial, Turkey is praised for its restraint in not immediately invading Iraq and Democrats are flayed over the Armenian Genocide resolution that is dying a slow death in the House.

Washington doings
Anne Hull and Dana Priest of the Post follow up on the story of Army Spec. Tony Turner, who returned from Iraq with terrible PTSD and a paltry disability check from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Following an article in the Post last week, the VA has now doubled his disability benefits and assured him that he will receive immediate access to more mental health services. His monthly check will go from $1,352 to $2,781 and his wife and daughter are now eligible for medical insurance and educational benefits. The Post's story was instrumental in helping Turner -- as was an outpouring of public sympathy. Turner, for his part, said he hoped the VA would help all veterans the same way, not just him.


New York Times
Will Bardenwerper, an Army infantry officer from 2003 to 2007 who was stationed for 13 months in Nineveh and Anbar Provinces in Iraq, writes with concern for the Times op-ed page on the disparity between those serving in the military and those still back at home. Great sacrifices are called for from the former group while the latter continues shopping as if nothing is going on. He knocks down some of the re-enlistment numbers some point to as a way of saying the troops enthusiastically back the way. Not so, he says, as the re-upping numbers are more a reflection of the "stop-loss" policy. As he writes, "My platoon's infantrymen expected to be 'stop-lossed' and some felt they might as well cash in on the re-enlistment bonuses if they were going to be forced to stay in the Army anyway." The deployments are rough -- 15 months in theater with 12 at home. And four of those 12 months are for training to return. In World War II, these burdens were commonly shared, making them feel lighter, he writes. Today, soldiers don't see that common sacrifice. He concludes by calling for a national decision on a draft. Either pick it and share the burden, or at least push the issue forward so the public can decide that it doesn't see the threats as do the politicians and they're not willing to sacrifice for them.

Wall Street Journal
Michael A. Ledeen, American Enterprise Institute scholar and author of "The Iranian Time Bomb" -- writes that al Qaeda is defeated in Iraq. Being the Journal and given the fact that it's Ledeen, the op-ed is frustratingly slippery. Not content to call some areas of Iraq stable, they are instead enjoying "relative tranquility." "Many" neighborhoods in Baghdad are now an example of Shi'ites fighting the Mahdi Army. He writes that many thought Basra would erupt in violence after the British pulled out, a municipal victim of Iranian-backed militias. That hasn't happened, he says, because of the strength of the local police force. Earth to Ledeen: Those police forces are made up of Iranian-backed militias who have killed all their enemies. (Remember, this is the guy who thinks Iran may have been behind al Qaeda and 9/11.)

Christian Science Monitor
No weekend edition.

USA Today
No weekend edition.

Daily Column
Iraq in bind over Turks, Kurds; Another civilian shooting by contractors
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/19/2007 01:51 AM ET
Reconstruction, contractors, Turkey and the Kurds dominate the coverage today, as most of the papers highlight those three themes. There's a smattering of extra stories today, though, but no real standouts except for a front-pager on Shi'ites in Najaf in The New York Times.

Fables of Reconstruction
Iraq's American-led reconstruction teams are not doing well, with almost no significant progress on political reconciliation, economic growth and effective police and judicial systems being reported, according to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. (IraqSlogger has the report here.) James Glanz of The New York Times reports the story, but notes there are some bright spots: The Kurdish north is doing OK economically, the Sunni tribes in Anbar have some reconciliation under their belt. And some of Iraq's provinces are showing the ability to create plans, write contracts and carry out construction projects. Hey, that doesn't sound nearly as bad as the lead indicated. More telling, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general, said the metrics for measuring progress weren't in place yet. Glanz notes that the most valuable information coming out of the SIGIR is the encyclopedic reach of its teams, which have fanned out over the entire country. They provide the clearest and most comprehensive picture yet of what's going on over there in terms of reconstruction.

Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post has the story, too, and provides more context on the American-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams that are on the forefront of the rebuilding effort.

Turkish gambit
The Times owns the Turkey-Kurdistan story today, with two stories on the issue. In Irbil, thousands of Kurds marched for what they called a "peaceful dialogue" with Turkey and to protest its parliament approving incursions into northern Iraq, report Sebnem Arsu and Sabrina Tavernise. For all their call for a peaceful dialogue, the marches insisted on resistance to any military move by the Turks. Still, despite the vote yesterday in Ankara authorizing the cross-border raids, neither Turkey, Iraq nor the United States expect any military action any time soon. Bush said at a news conference that it the U.S. would prefer Turkey not invade Iraq. "There's a better way to deal with the issue than having the Turks send massive troops into the country."

Alissa J. Rubin tries to untangle the knot that Iraq finds itself in over the latest Turkey-Kurdistan squabble. In essence, it boils down to this: Iraq wants good relations with Turkey, but it's been unable to crack down on the PKK, the separatist group that's been attacking Turkey for decades, because Iraq's Kurds need to do the cracking. Needless to say, the Kurdish government in Iraq has had a ... complicated relationship with the PKK over the years. The rebels are also holed up in the Qandil Mountains, among the most rugged in the Middle East and which are usually not under any government's control. (IraqSlogger has more here.)

Over there
Rubin pens an eye-opening must-read on some of Iraq's internally displaced people (IDPs) -- Shi'ites who have fled to Najaf, a traditional center for Shi'ite culture. But they've been all but abandoned by the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Najaf local government. Some estimates put the number of IDPs in Najaf at 400,000, a huge population increase for a city that had 700,000 people before the Iraq invasion in 2003. These poor people are victims of sectarian violence in other parts of Iraq. They've been driven from their homes by Sunnis and have congregated here.

The Post's Joshua Partlow reports that local Sunni and Shi'ite leaders in southwestern Baghdad have agreed to a U.S.-brokered truce and a halting of attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, on the condition that the security forces limit their raids and offensive operations. The agreement, Partlow writes, is an example of the U.S.'s efforts to forge some sort of compromise among local leaders, because the central Iraqi government has proven unable to reach these agreements. Those involved in the new agreement include Sunni tribal leaders, members of the Iraqi Islamic Party and local government officials with ties to the Mahdi Army.

Contractor conflicts
The Times' Andrew E. Kramer reports on the latest shooting of Iraqis by security contractors. This time, Erinsys International guards shot at a taxi east of Kirkuk, when it approached the convoy "at a high rate of speed." Three men were wounded, with one Iraq losing an eye. Erinsys was escorting Army Corps of Engineer personnel. The Corps said an investigation would be launched.

Steve Fainaru and Amit R. Paley have the story for the Post, which reports that a woman was among the wounded. The Posties also include more detail on Erinsys, which has been paid $175 million from the U.S. government since 2004. (That's $125 million more than budgeted.) The contract will expire next month, after Erinsys lost the renewal. Lots of detail on the shooting, and good quotes from the victims. The second half of the story is dedicated to the march in Irbil.

And not a moment too soon, Ann Scott Tyson of the Post reports that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that the mission of private security companies in Iraq is "fundamentally at odds" with the broader U.S. goal of stabilizing Iraq. There will be changes, he promised. "Right now those missions are in conflict, because the objective of ... delivering a principal safely to a destination" has led to the mistreatment of Iraqis "to put it mildly," Gates said at a Pentagon news conference. "So those kinds of activities work at cross-purposes to our larger mission in Iraq." Gates plans to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to talk about changes to be made in the way the contractors do their jobs. "Private security contractors will likely have to assume greater risk. They are going to have to pay greater consideration to the larger mission" of gaining the trust of Iraqis, said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell. That may require "changing their MO, the way in which they operate, how they drive, how they handle busy traffic circles" as well as how they use force. Gates also plans to raise the idea of placing all contractors under DoD authority.

Concerns are rising in the Pentagon that the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, might harm future military missions after Iraq because of the vehicle's high cost ($800,000 per MRAP) and their relatively limited use, reports Gordon Lubold for the Christian Science Monitor.
Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway supports the MRAP and said Monday the program "was the right thing to do." But thinking ahead, the Corps' top general is concerned that his service's traditional missions could be hindered by the costly and heavy truck that is virtually impossible to transport easily. General Conway also believes the truck is contributing to the Corps losing its "expeditionary flavor."

"Can I give a satisfactory answer to what we're going to be doing with those things in five or 10 years? Probably not," he told a group Monday at the Center for a New American Security, a new think tank in Washington.

The trucks will save lives, no doubt, but they don't really fit into the current counter-insurgency strategy going on right now, which requires the troops to interact with the locals to win them away from the insurgency. Placing them in a heavily -- and heavy -- armored vehicle makes that mission more difficult. Marines in the field wholeheartedly support them, however. "I am all for shrink-wrapping after war," wrote one Marine officer, "but let's have them on hand for the next war because our enemies have watched and learned the use and value of IEDs -- IEDs aren't going to go away, we'll see them wherever we go in the future." (IraqSlogger has a report here.)


New York Times
Matt Zoller Seitz reviews "Meeting Resistance," a documentary on the Iraqi insurgency that Seitz says should dispel any lingering thoughts that foreigners are the main troublemakers for Americans over there.

David W. Chen reports that half of the New Jersey National Guard's 6,200 soldiers would be sent to Iraq by next summer, the state's largest troop deployment since World War II.

Wall Street Journal
The Journal's editorial board calls the November 2005 incident in Haditha a "tragedy" and not a "massacre."

Washington Post
Elizabeth Williamson looks at Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He recently pledged not to even consider Bush's latest war funding request until next year and he will introduce a war tax proposal on Tuesday. The tax has no chance of passing, of course. Obey is making a point that as a country, if we're not willing to pay for the war then we shouldn't be fighting it.

Shankar Vedantam reports that most PTSD treatments for veterans are not fully tested and it's not know if they're effective or not, according to a report issued by a panel of governmental scientists. The therapies might work, they might not. "Providing treatments that do not have a good basis in evidence can result in people not improving, therefore getting demoralized and therefore not seeking treatment that can actually help them," said Richard McNally, a Harvard University psychologist and PTSD expert.

Charles Krauthammer insinuates that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is blowing up the U.S.'s relationship with Turkey with the Armenian Genocide resolution as a way of undermining the Iraq war. As he puts it, "Is the Armenian resolution her way of unconsciously sabotaging the U.S. war effort, after she had failed to stop it by more direct means? I leave that question to psychiatry." He conveniently leaves out the fact that he, himself, is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist. Hah, hah! Good inside joke there, Chuck.

USA Today
Gregg Zoroya reports that stress cases for veterans is up sharply -- almost 70 percent -- in the 12 months ending June 30, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Daily Column
Iran, China in Major Electric Deals; Food Scam Investigation Deepens
By GREG HOADLEY 10/18/2007 01:51 AM ET
Tensions over the northern border dominate Iraq-related reporting today, as the Turkish parliament passed a landslide resolution authorizing cross-border military actions into Iraqi territory to combat the PKK. The Ankara-Washington-Baghdad-Irbil-(Yerevan?) calculus shows up in several stories, all emphasizing the point that US-Turkish relations are at a decisive moment.

Be sure to check out a set of interesting stories about contractors, on the US side where the Journal is again one step ahead of the pack on the story of investigations into alleged contract fraud to bilk the military out of millions of dollars for food supplies, and on the Iraqi side, where the Times reports that Iranian and Chinese firms have agreed to massive capital projects in Iraq's electricity sector.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," was flown by US forces to the gallows in Baghdad's Kadhimiya district, along with Sultan Hashim Ahmed, Andrew Kramer writes in the Times. The men, both cousins of relatives of Saddam Hussein were convicted and sentenced to death for their role in the 1988 Anfal campaign. It was unclear if a third convict, Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, also sentenced to hang in the Anfal case, was transferred to the prison. Fighting in Samarra between elements of the Islamic Army and the Islamic State of Iraq killed four Islamic Army members, Kramer writes. Eight civilians and two Iraqi Army soldiers were abducted at fake checkpoints near Ba'quba in Diyala Province. Two Kurdish soldiers were killed at a checkpoint in the province. Five civilians died in a market blast in al-Qa'im in Anbar province, and two apparent insurgents were killed in Kirkuk when an explosive device detonated prematurely.

The US 1st Cavalry Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, currently in action in Diyala province, will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of this year, US officials said, and a new brigade will not be sent to the country to replace it, Amit Paley and Josh White write in the Post. This will reduce the number of combat brigades from 20 to 19, part of the plan announced earlier by Gen. David Petraeus, top US commander in Iraq, to reduce the number of combat brigades in the country to 15 by next summer. The 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division will increase its responsibilities in Diyala province after the 3rd Brigade departs. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, US commander for northern Iraq, said that the Stryker brigade would itself be eventually replaced, but did not give specifics, the Post reporters write. Seven police officers were killed in Diwaniya in a roadside blast. Mohammad Abdul Aziz al-Jubury an investigator in Kirkuk's Commission on Integrity was abducted and beheaded by unknown militants, and a US soldier fell to small-arms fire south of Baghdad. Meanwhile, in Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said that Sec. Gates is considering creating a single authority to oversee private security contractors. The spokesman sat it was "premature" to describe Secs. Gates and Rice as being "at odds" over the question.

Turkish resolution

By a vote of 507 to 19, the Turkish Parliament voted to empower PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan to order military action in Iraq for one year, Molly Moore writes for the Post. President Bush told reporters at a White House presser that the US is " making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interest to send troops into Iraq." Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki called Erdogan directly to ask for more time to confront the PKK, the group whose allegedly free operations in the north of Iraq have irked the Turkish government. Reaction against Ankara from the Kurdistan areas of northern Iraq was just as heated as the Turkish rhetoric calling for military action in Iraqi Kurdistan, Moore writes. The PKK has killed at least 31 in Turkey, including 13 military commandos and a busload of civilians, in the last two weeks. While Turkey is sabers and world leaders appeal for calm, Moore's piece points out that Turkish options are in fact limited. Pinpoint operations require specific intelligence that is difficult to acquire, and while Turkey could handily enough establish a buffer zone in northern Iraq with a large-scale military invasion, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters – that is, not just the PKK -- would make holding the territory very painful for the Turks. Moore points out that Syria, which shares a common concern about the Kurdish national movement, was the only state to come out in open support of the Turkish military option. Turkish commentators pointed to a "double standard" in US policy, i.e. that the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan on the pretext of national security but denies this rationale to Turkey. Factoid: "Turkish troops have conducted 24 cross-border attacks in northern Iraq since the conflict with PKK rebels began 23 years ago, according to Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek."

Sebnem Arsu and Sabrina Tavernise have the story for the Times, describing the Turkish resolution as "a blunt request for the United States to acknowledge Turkey’s status as an important ally in a troubled and complex region." Factoid: "70 percent of US air cargo for Iraq travels through Turkey."

Howard LaFranchi of the Monitor places flagging congressional support for an Armenian "genocide" resolution against the backdrop of US strategic concerns in northern Iraq, writing that "the overriding interest appears to be keeping on good terms with Turkey."

Carl Hulse covers the stalled Armenian genocide resolution for the Times, noting that Speaker Pelosi has signaled that she is reconsidering her pledge to bring the measure to a vote as pragmatic US concerns on the Turkey-Iraq axis seem to be taking precedence over the Armenian lobby and the moral arguments over the actions of the Ottomans during the 1910s.

Contracting universe

Iraq has awarded big contracts to Iranian and Chinese firms to build Iraq infrastructure, James Glanz writes in the Times. An Iranian company, Sunir, was awarded a contract to build a $150 mil power plant near Sadr City, according to Karim Wahid, the Iraqi minister of electricity. Iran will also provide electricity from its own grid to southern Iraq, and will build a power plant between Karbala and Najaf. That plant, estimated to cost between $200 and $300 mil to build, would be constructed "essentially free of charge," Glanz writes. US forces are concerned that Iranian commercial involvement could mask military penetration of Iraq. A Chinese firm, named by Wahid as Shanghai Heavy Industry, will build a 1,300 megawatt generator in Wasit province, for $940 million. Glanz notes that this is a massive project considering that all of Iraq's grid-linked generators produce 5,000 megawatts total. Wahid apparently pursued the contracts with some independence from the rest of the Baghdad government, according to Glanz's reporting. One international energy expert said that the Sadr City plant was originally an Iranian proposal, and had been opposed by Wahid's ministry at first. The Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity will investigate the contracts, Glanz notes. A 600-megawatt generator is also planned for Karbala city, and 14 1.75-metawatt diesel-powered generators are due in selected Baghdad neighborhoods within the next two months, Glanz writes.

Glenn Simpson of the Journal advances the story that he broke yesterday of the military's investigation into an alleged scheme involving a chain of several layers of contractors stretching from the US to Kuwait to Iraq. Simpson goes deeper into the case, looking at the role of a Houston-based Lebanese-American businessman, Samir Itani, who has been indicted in federal courts for allegedly inflating food prices with bogus bills. Itani pleaded not guilty and is out on $1 mil bail. Itani was a subcontractor for the two Kuwaiti companies allegedly involved in the case, Sultan Center KSC and Public Warehousing Company. "Federal investigators are exploring whether Public Warehousing passed along to the U.S. government excessively high prices from several of its subcontractors, and then improperly pocketed for itself refunds it received from these suppliers," Simpson writes. So far, Itani is the only person charged in connection with the investigation.

Eric Schmitt and Andrew Martin of the Times don't have the Itani angle, but do a good job of explaining the layers of the case, reporting that the investigation includes the public officials that signed off on the contracts with the Kuwaiti food suppliers, noting that "Public Warehousing's position is that what investigators are looking at as improper payments were actually discounts received for paying its suppliers ahead of schedule, a widely accepted practice in the food industry." In addition to the investigation into a possible kickbacks scam, other big food suppliers such as Tyson claim that they are disadvantaged in the lucrative Iraq contracting scene.

In other coverage:

In an article picking apart European policy on Iran, Robin Wright points out in the Post that "While the United States is considering a package of actions that will effectively punish Iran for its intervention in Iraq as well as for its suspected nuclear program, the Europeans do not want to 'confuse' the two issues," citing "European officials." "We want to keep our eyes on the nuclear file," said one, writes Wright.


"We're finding common ground on Iraq," President Bush told reporters yesterday the White House news conference, referring to the two major US parties. "I recognize there are people Congress that say we shouldn't have been there in the first place. But it sounds to me as if the debate has shifted," the president added, Peter Baker writes in the Post. Bush was careful not to declare "victory" over al-Qa'ida in Iraq, Baker writes, saying only that "we've hurt them bad in Iraq" and adding that "we've hurt them bad elsewhere." Bush warned that al-Qa'ida is still dangerous," not specifying a distinction between al-Qa'ida in Iraq or the al-Qa'ida mother ship in Pakistan/Afghanistan. The president also "brushed off" criticism launched over the weekend by Ret. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez over "flaws" in war planning and "incompetent strategic leadership."


A think tank argued for a go-slow approach to the MRAP question in a newly released study, Tom Vanden Brook writes for USAT. There may be downsides to the anti-IED vehicles, says the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Confining soldiers to heavier armored vehicles could further isolate them from the population, affecting the availability of strategic tips. The gas-guzzlers will also require more vulnerable fuel convoys to support them, the study argues, putting more IED targets on the roads. Marine officers said that the MRAP would not harm counterinsurgency efforts and would protect troops in Iraq and elsewhere.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) will release a report today finding that Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq are hampered by corrupt police, militia attacks, and Iraq's crumbling infrastructure, Matt Kelley writes in USAT.


Journal columnist Daniel Henniger ponders Ret. Gen. Sanchez's remarks over the weekend, noting that the former Iraq commander lashed out at more than just the president and the Pentagon, but also at the press, the Congress, federal bureaucracies and even the US public.

Daily Column
Genocide bill loses support; US food companies investigated for Iraq war deals
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/17/2007 01:49 AM ET
Turkey is the main story today, along with rising oil prices over the fear that Turkey might soon invade northern Iraq. But the House vote on the Armenian Genocide might be slipping, which could ease Ankara's tensions with Washington, at least.

Carl Hulse reports for The New York Times' front page that House leaders of both parties are now worried about the Turks' increasingly serious tone in its warnings, and so the resolution on the Armenian Genocide is losing support in the House. Almost a dozen lawmakers have shifted their position in the last day. "Turkey obviously feels they are getting poked in the eye over something that happened a century ago and maybe this isn't a good time to be doing that," said Representative Allen Boyd, a Florida Democrat who dropped his sponsorship of the resolution on Monday night. Even with the kerfuffle, U.S. military leaders say they see no moves by Turkey that an invasion is imminent, so there is time for diplomacy to work. Quashing the genocide resolution might help in regaining some U.S. leverage over Turkey in its fight with PKK separatists. Unreported elsewhere previously, Hulse says the biggest fear among military leaders is that in the event of an invasion, Turkey would move toward the disputed and oil-rich city of Kirkuk, forcing the U.S. to intervene.

In keeping with everyone trying to dial down the rhetoric, the Times' Alissa J. Rubin reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that even if Ankara approves plans for the Turkish military to enter Iraq, that doesn't mean military action would immediately follow. "I sincerely wish that this motion will never be applied," Mr. Erdogan told his ruling AK Party in a speech, Reuters reported. "Passage of this motion does not mean an immediate incursion will follow, but we will act at the right time and under the right conditions." Iraq has sent Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi to Turkey to seek a diplomatic solution.

Sebnem Arsu has the story of al-Hashimi in Turkey for the Times and there's not much there, as the Vice President just arrived in Ankara. (Plus, diplomats never say anything anyway.) But oddly, while her colleague Hulse reports in his front-page story that U.S. military leaders see no signs that Turkey is gearing up for a military campaign, Arsu reports something slightly different: "Turkish military movement has intensified, with shelling reported from Turkish areas along the border. Gen. Ilker Basbug, the commander of the Turkish Land Forces, and a group of high-ranking military officials arrived for inspections today in Sirnak Province on the border, the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported."

The Washington Post's Molly Moore reports on al-Hashimi's visit, too. She adds a few details: Erdogan will demand Iraq take more responsibility for bringing the PKK to heel, and it must close the group's offices in northern Iraq and Baghdad, turn the group's top leaders over to Turkey and block access to its financial accounts in Iraq. So it sounds like with Erdogan presenting a list of demands, and his comment that Turkey is not going to act immediately, that there's a deal in play. The Iraqis promised him something and he eased off the "Invade Now!" fist waving. Let's see what comes of all of this.

The Christian Science Monitor editorial board, playing the kid of feuding parents, offers some advice on smoothing Turkey's ruffled feathers. One: passing a moral statement on the Armenian Genocide might ring hollow, the paper argues, given the silence on Rwanda as well as Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the lack of action on Darfur and the acquiescence to Israeli expropriation of Palestinian land. So, it's more important for US lawmakers to repair America's moral standing than comment on others century-old failures, the paper writes. Turkey needs to scrap laws that make questioning the "genocide" description a crime, too. And Washington should lean on Iraqi Kurds to control the PKK. "Pressuring Iraqi Kurds to arrest terrorist leaders and close training camps is not too much to ask in return for years of US protection and advocacy." So everyone has something to work on.

If all that doesn't work, and the Turks invade, it's going to be rough for everyone, reports the Wall Street Journal's Philip Shishkin. It would probably destabilize the only stable region in Iraq and pose significant military challenges to the Turks because of the terrain and a potent guerilla foe. The PKK is holed up ion the Qandil Mountains near the Iranian border, and have eschewed big installations in favor of small, well-hidden camps. (Just like all the other guerilla movements around the world.) The goal would be to bog the Turks down in northern Iraq and force a bloody hit-and-run insurgency, like America is enduring south of Kirkuk. But any attack would hurt investment in the north, which is the only success story of the Iraq war.

Oil prices on the rise
Chip Cummins and Russell Gold of the Journal report that oil prices closed at a record high yesterday, at $87.61 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, largely because of fears of a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq. While a new high, that's still short of an inflation-adjusted $101 a barrel set in April 1980. The price jump comes even though military action wouldn't affect Iraq's output much, but it's a tight market and even little jitters can cause huge price swings.

Jad Mouawad of the Times has the story, noting that economists fear that if oil prices continue to rise -- and $100 a barrel in today's dollars isn't that far off -- it will drag down economic growth.

The Post's Steven Mufson notes that with oil briefly touching $88 a barrel yesterday, the uncertainty is affecting the world's stock markets, which dropped for the second straight day. Most analysts k the markets are overreacting to Turkey's threats, given the trickle of oil that comes from Iraq's north. Still, with winter coming on, prices will likely continue to rise.

Spoiled food
Glenn R. Simpson reports for the Journal's front page that prominent American food companies are under scrutiny in a federal probe of possible corruption in the food-supply chain for the U.S. military in Iraq. Perdue Farms Inc., Sara Lee Corp., ConAgra Foods Inc. and other U.S. companies are getting a hard look from investigators for possibly setting excessively high prices when they sold products to Public Warehousing Co., a Kuwaiti firm that is the Army's primary food contractor for Iraq. The investigation deals with "hundreds of millions of dollars," says Justice Department lawyer Brian Mizoguchi.

Over there
Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Mudhafer al-Husaini report for the Times that a suicide truck bomb blew up in Mosul near a police station, killing 16 people and wounding more than 50. Another bombing in central Baghdad killed at least four people and wounded 20 others. Sounds like a violent day in Iraq. Both bombs appeared to be targeting the Iraqi police. In Kut, 56 Iranian prisoners were released and delivered to Iranian diplomats. All had been charged with illegal entry into Iraq and sentenced to one year in prison. So why were they released? Had they done their time?

The Times' Jill P. Capuzzo reports on the schooling troops are now undergoing to prepare for Middle Eastern and Asian deployments. At McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., the students are getting lessons in Eastern philosophy, languages, history and sociology, all in a bid to smooth interactions between troops and civilians. The goal is to build "cross-cultural competency," said Dr. Dan Henk, director of the Culture and Language Center at the Air University in Montgomery, Ala.

Blackwater oversight
Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker report in a Times front-pager that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is pressing "for the nearly 10,000 armed security contractors now working for the United States government in Iraq to fall under a single authority, most likely the American military." The goal is to bring companies like Blackwater under greater control. (Aside: This is the lowest number of private security contractors I've seen yet. Some papers put it at 30,000, some at 20,000, now we're at 10,000. Can we get some real numbers nailed down?) The State Department is resisting the move to put Blackwater under military command, because it relies heavily on the North Carolina company for its protection in Iraq. Sounds like a turf battle to me. Gates also wants to make all contractors subject to the UCMJ. He's not messing around, it seems. The military wants command of these guys because they complicate military operations when they wander around outside the chain of command -- and Blackwater especially is roundly disliked by the military as a bunch of cowboys.

The Journal's Neil King Jr. and August Cole report that if Blackwater is kicked out of Iraq, as the Iraqi government is demanding, there are few alternatives for the State Department to use. Blackwater's contract is up for renewal in May and U.S. officials say it would take at least that long for another private contractor to get up to speed and take over. And any new company would likely have to hire many of the current Blackwater employees, because the contract requires Americans with classified-security clearance at least. Blackwater also boasts a lot of hardware, including air assets that other companies don't have. DynCorp is the most likely company to take over Blackwater's contract should it not be renewed.

Helping Veterans
The White House sent legislation to the Hill yesterday to streamline the bureaucracy and provide more assistance to vets wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families, reports Peter Baker of the Post. The reform package comes in response to numerous revelations of shoddy conditions and "mind-numbing" red tape at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Better late than never, it seems, as the reforms have been promised for months.

Ginger Thompson has the story for the Times.


Washington Post
Stephen Barr, columnist, writes on the help needed for civilian government employees who get sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

David Montgomery reports on the book signing by Gary Trudeau, author of "Doonesbury", and two Iraq war veterans, who helped produce "The Sandbox," a collection of blog entries from serving military men and women who contributed after an appeal from one of Trudeau's comic strip characters called for submissions. While critical of the White House, Trudeau has always had a soft spot for the military, and royalties from the book sales will go toward Fisher House Foundation, the Rockville-based charity that provides lodging for the families of patients receiving medical care at VA facilities. He's also a discreet regular at Walter Reed, visiting troops. And the troops seem to love him back, despite his take on the president.

Wall Street Journal
Financial analysts love data, and some researchers are looking at the little-known Iraqi bond market as a way of prognosticating Iraq, reports Michael Hudson. And the outlook isn't good. Since the "surge" has started, Iraqi government bonds have fallen, driving up yields, a pattern that suggests investors see long-term risks for the country, its stability and its ability to pay off its debts. But Iraqi government bonds are so thinly traded that it's a conclusion that might be difficult to maintain if more data become available.

USA Today
Peter Eisler, Tom Vanden Brook and Blake Morrison go all out on a front-pager about the new training regimen troops are undergoing to combat IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan. A USA Today investigation reveals what everybody already knew: That in the early days of the war, most troops went to Iraq without training in combating IEDs. (We were told it would be a cakewalk, after all.) But more important, troops today are still not getting the best training available. Worth a read.

Daily Column
Turkish military girding for PKK fight; Three More Iraqi journalists killed
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/16/2007 01:55 AM ET
For the first time in a long time, Iraq doesn't make the front page of either the Washington Post or The New York Times, although they both cover the developments between Turkey and Iraq-based Kurdish rebels. The Christian Science Monitor gets one front-pager in on a patriotic Marine in Anbar while the Wall Street Journal notes the U.S. is looking at its options regarding Turkey.

Turkish Rumblings
Alissa J. Rubin reports for the Times that tensions are high on the Turkey-Iraq border as the Parliament in Ankara votes on permission for NATO's second-largest military to cross the border in pursuit of PKK rebels. Baghdad is urging a diplomatic solution -- but what country advocates for another invasion in four years? The Kurds up north are sympathetic to the PKK and "unmoved" by appeals from Baghdad to stand down. If the Turkish parliament OKs the plan, the military will have the authority to cross into Iraq as many times as needed for up to one year. But what's worrisome is that cross-border hot pursuit plans don't stay that way. Officers tend to agitate for something more effective, say, a limited buffer zone or a long-term presence inside the offending country. Next thing you know, blam, you're looking at another occupation of a 10-20 mile deep stretch of Iraq by Turks, who would find themselves facing an insurgency of POKs. (Pissed Off Kurds.)

Sebnem Arsu, reporting for the Times, reports on the draft of the proposal wanted by the Turkish government. She reports that it appears likely to pass on Wednesday. When it might be translated into military action is unclear, however. Winter is coming on, and that's a really bad time to conduct military operations in the mountainous region of the border.

Molly Moore has the story for the Post, reporting that Gen. Ergin Saygun, deputy chief of the Turkish General Staff, said that no military action is imminent. "We will look at the season and go over our needs before launching a military operation," he said. Kudos to the Post for including background on the Turkey-PKK conflict.

The Journal's Yochi J. Dreazen reports from Washington that the Pentagon is drawing up plans to reroute much-needed supplies to troops in Iraq if Turkey reduces military cooperation with the U.S. in the event of passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution in the House. Jordan and Kuwait are the most likely routes for supplies to come in, but neither country is a viable long-term replacement. There are no major U.S. bases in Jordan and the highway linking Amman and Baghdad is still unsafe in parts. The southern supply routes already overstretch Kuwaiti ports and bases. Turkey is key to the war effort because the U.S. brings tons of food, fuel, ammunition, spare parts and vehicles into Iraq every month through Incirlik Air Base. Some 70 percent of the military's air cargo into Iraq passes through Turkey.

Over there
Rubin finished up her Turkey story for the Times (see above) with news from elsewhere in Iraq. An American soldier was killed in southern Baghdad on Sunday and three others wounded from a roadside bomb. The U.S. military also announced the capture of four men, which it says wrapped up the cell that attacked Camp Liberty last week. In southern Iraq, Shi'ite insurgents attacked bases housing Polish, American and Iraqi troops with mortars and other weapons. (Bases, plural? How big was this attack?) Sources varied on casualty figures, with the Iraqis saying five civilians were killed and 27 wounded. The U.S. military says four dead and 12 wounded. Two American soldiers were also wounded. A suicide truck bomber hit in Salahuddin Province, blowing himself up at a checkpoint set up by Iraqi police and Sunni Arab tribesmen. A car bomb in Mansour killed three people and five unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad.

Amit R. Paley reports for the Post that three Iraqi journalists were killed near Kirkuk when their convoy was ambushed, just a day after Post reporter Salih Saif Aldin was killed. Elsewhere across Iraq, violence raged, too, with 55 people dying, including security personnel, civilians and insurgents among the dead. Paley has more detail on the southern incidents. Mahdi Army fighters fired on Polish troops as they returned to a base in Diwaniyah, and then launched mortars at the camp. Also, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim announced he was in good health despite his latest cancer scare. He has been in Iran for the last six months being treated for lung cancer.

Gordon Lubold of the Monitor reports on a Marine in Western Iraq who's either a stalwart or a holdout. Marine Gunner Terry Walker still believes the Iraq war is America's to win. He's helping train Iraqi forces in Anbar province and strongly believes in the "vision" of the war. A man of "chirpy optimism," he believes the war will have a "revolutionary" impact on the region. (He may be right about this, but not in the way he imagines.) While Walker sounds like a nice guy to hang out with, it's unclear why this particular Marine was profiled. His brand of optimism isn't that uncommon in Iraq, and the training story hasn't changed much in years. It's a curious story choice.


New York Times
The Times has a rather disjointed editorial today on the desperation of the U.S. in Iraq. It tries to combine the recent news of major bonuses for young captains -- up to $35,000 -- if only they'll stay and the Marine Corps' lobbying to take over Afghanistan. Perhaps most irksome is the insinuation that the Marines want out of Iraq because it's a losing war, the Afghan war is more popular and the Corps would be better positioned for an increased budget if they had a shiny NATO command to point to. Left unconsidered is the idea that perhaps Marine commanders think they're better suited to fighting the Afghan war than the one in Iraq.

USA Today
Peter Schweizer, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and co-editor of the new book, "Landmark Speeches of the American Conservative Movement," criticizes -- surprise! -- the Democratic candidates for their flip-flops on the war and accuses Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama of allowing personal ambition to undermine American national security. Take that, Defeatocrats! Yawn. It's a tiresome, predictable op-ed from a movement conservative -- as tiresome and predictable as anything from the Naomi Klein.

Washington Post
Bob Dole and Donna E. Shalala offer an op-ed for the Post on the need and urgency to reform the current mess of bureaucracy that veterans' disability evaluation and compensation systems have become. The White House has ignored most of the recommendations presented by the joint committee these two co-chaired, and time is running out, they write. "It is clear that our recommendations are being swept up in a decades-long battle to reform the entire disability system for all service members," they write, when they were charged specifically with dealing only with returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. They allow that, yes, all veterans should be cared for but there is a sense of urgency now from the two wars.

Daily Column
Al Qaeda in Iraq defeated? WH reticent; Turks amplify warnings to Kurds, U.S.
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/15/2007 01:51 AM ET
It was a bad day for the Washington Post: One of their reporters was shot and killed on Sunday. Even so, the paper landed a major story on military successes against al Qaeda in Iraq that are causing splits within ... the White House and the Pentagon?

Thomas E. Ricks and Karen DeYoung of the Post have a major front-page piece today, with some members of the U.S. military in Iraq eager to declare Al Qaeda in Iraq beaten, so degraded has its capabilities become. Others are urging caution, noting that the group is resilient, flexible and other big wins against it -- notably the killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2006 -- offered little beyond temporary gains. But, interestingly, the White House is reluctant to offer the "got 'em on the run" rhetoric so favored by the President. Why? Ricks and DeYoung flick at it high up: "Such a declaration could fuel criticism that the Iraq conflict has become a civil war in which U.S. combat forces should not be involved." The rest of the story is catchall of the various opinions in Baghdad and the Pentagon over the reasons for al Qaeda in Iraq's decline, but that sentence is intriguing. Is the White House, which has in the past shown no reluctance to trumpet lesser victories in the war on terror, keeping mum because if they declare victory in Iraq here -- and they're right -- they'll be forced to go home? Can we get some follow-up on the mindset in the White House on this question?

Over there
But the Post suffered a deep tragedy this weekend. On Sunday afternoon, Salih Saif Aldin, an Iraqi reporter and photographer for the paper was shot and killed in one of Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods. Joshua Partlow and Amit R. Paley write the story for the Post's front page and it no doubt must have been a hard one to write. The 32-year-old journalist was shot once in the forehead, apparently at close range, in Sadiyah, a neighborhood dominated by the Mahdi Army. It was also the neighborhood where Khalid Hassan, a reporter for The New York Times, was killed in July. One man whispered that Iraqi Army members killed Saif Aldin as he was taking pictures of burned houses on the street. (The Army is believed to be infiltrated by the Mahdi Army.) Iraqi police officers blamed Sunni members of the Awakening Council. Saif Aldin is the 118th journalist to die in Iraq while on duty. Nearly 100 of those are Iraqis. Everyone at IraqSlogger would like to express our deepest condolences and sympathies to the Post and Saif Aldin's family. Omar Fekeiki, the Post's former office manager in Iraq told Saif Aldin one time that his fearlessness would one day get him killed. "You know what he answered?" Fekeiki said. "This was his exact quote: 'What's life, really, if we don't leave something good behind us?' It was so stupid and so heroic at the same time."

Sudarsan Raghavan pens his friend's memorial story for the Post, reprinting emails and notes of remembrances from the paper's reporters around the world who had worked with Saif Aldin. He was fearless, curious, an insomniac, proud of his work, a hard worker, always joking, a dogged reporter, tough and a doting father. Without a doubt, he will be missed.

Paul von Zielbauer and Andrew E. Kramer write up the story for the Times, leading their Iraq roundup with Saif Aldin's death. In other news around Iraq, more than 40 Shi'ite tribal and political leaders met with Sunni tribal leaders in Ramadi in a show of support for the Sunni tribesmen's fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq. It was the first time Shi'ite political leaders had traveled to Anbar to meet with Sunni sheikhs. Amar al-Hakim, political heir to Abdu Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, was among the attendees. Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr Organization also came. Elsewhere, three members of the Salahuddin Awakening Council were killed near Kirkuk. In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in a traffic circle downtown, killing eight people and wounding 15.

Talking Turkey
Sebnem Arsu of the Times reports that the chief of the Turkish military warned that military relations with the U.S. could take a nosedive if Congress approved the Armenian Genocide resolution passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week. This is important because Turkey's Incirlik Air Base is a vital lifeline for U.S. troops in Iraq and Turkish trucks carrying food and fuel travel into Iraq daily. Would the Turks refuse use of their air space to American planes? Evidence pointing to yes: Last year, they severely cut back military and business ties with France after the French Parliament passed a similar bill. Evidence pointing to no: The U.S. is not France. It's a lot more important and it's consistently backed Turkey's ascension into the European Union. Counter-evidence pointing to yes: Turkey kind of screwed up the U.S.'s war plans in 2003 by not allowing the 4th Infantry Division to use its territory to invade Iraq from the north. So maybe a story on what might really happen if the resolution passes? Are the Turks blustering? On the Iraqi border, tensions are rising, as Turks shelled some Kurdish villages on the Iraqi side of the frontier.

Molly Moore has the story for the Post.


New York Times
Roger Cohen writes of the mission of Debra Cagan, described as "John Bolton on steroids," to tiny eastern European and Caucuses countries looking for "soldiering scraps" to add to the "Coalition of the Willing" once other members pull out. It's a diplomatic mission to keep the fig leaf of internationalism on the Iraq adventure, even though the accounts for 94 percent of the troops in Iraq. Cohen writes that the U.S. is as isolated as it's ever been, and sending Cagan, who allegedly bullies and threatens allies, to places like Moldova is a sign of desperation.

The Times editorial board weighs in on the "quickening pace of oil deals between Kurdish regional leaders and foreign companies" as a sign that Iraq is spinning out of control and the White House's response is an exercise in fecklessness. The deals "needlessly elevated tensions" in Iraq, but the administration has done little to lean on Hunt Oil of Dallas, one of the signatories with close ties to the Bush clan.

Washington Post
Walter Pincus delves into the dark world of federal contracts again this week, finding one calling for bids for a new biometric credential system to provide ID cards for three Iraqi ministries.

USA Today
Matt Kelley looks at Camp Arifjan, a sprawling military base in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert that's also a center for corruption investigations. It's an overview story that wraps up the status of the various corruption cases exceeding $10 million in favors, bribes and kickbacks among Army officers, contractors and subcontractors.

Wall Street Journal
August Cole reports that Blackwater founder Erik Prince is looking to catapult Blackwater into the truly big leagues of military contractors by expanding into other hot spots around the world and privatizing "all kinds of government security." He plans to deploy remotely piloted blimps, an armored truck that can compete with the Pentagon's vehicles and get involved in "delivering humanitarian aid to responding to natural disasters to handling the behind-the-lines logistics of moving heavy equipment and supplies." To do all this, they first need to extricate themselves from the controversy surrounding the Sept. 16 shooting in Nisour Square in Baghdad, which killed as many as 17 Iraqi civilians.

Christian Science Monitor
No edition today.

Daily Column
Officer Questioning Corps; Wounded vets still not getting the help they need
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/14/2007 01:53 AM ET
It's a day of enterprise stories, as the Washington Post and The New York Times step back from the messy day-to-dayness of Iraq. Only the Post handles fronts any real news of the day, which is more pressure from the U.S. on Turkey not to invade northern Iraq.

Molly Moore and Robin Wright have that story. The U.S. has started an intense diplomatic effort to keep the Turks inside their own borders, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pushing hard for a resolution to go after Kurdish rebels based in Iraq. Fears of an invasion sent oil prices shooting up, closing at $84/barrel, while U.S. military officials said there would be "disastrous consequences" if Turkey invaded. The combination of 13 dead Turkish soldiers last weekend and the passage of a House non-binding resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide has led the region to this point. "This is not only about a resolution," said Egemen Bagis, a member of the Turkish parliament and a foreign policy adviser to Erdogan. "We're fed up with the PKK -- it is a clear and present danger for us. This insult over the genocide claims is the last straw." Public sentiment is turning ever more hostile to the U.S. in Turkey, in part because there's a sentiment that Washington has tied Ankara's hands when it comes to dealing with the PKK. And while the reporting duo never really get into what the diplomatic push is, the story doesn't underplay the seriousness of the situation. An invasion could flip the table and all bets are off. Definitely a must-read.

Elizabeth Bumiller writes a front-pager for the Times on the soul-searching going on at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the intellectual center of the U.S. Army. At a school for officers here, young commanders mix it up over who bore the most fault for the screw-up of Iraq: former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld or the generals who went along with his lack of a plan for the immediate post-invasion period? It's institutionalized second-guessing that is alien to many of the Army culture, but it's a fascinating read to get an idea of how the captains, majors and lt. colonels are feeling and thinking about the war. "You spend your whole career worrying about the safety of soldiers -- let's do the training right so no one gets injured, let's make sure no one gets killed, and then you deploy and you're attending memorial services for 19-year-olds," said Maj. Niave Knell, 37, who worked in Baghdad to set up an Iraqi highway patrol. "And you have to think about what you did."

The Post's Anne Hull comes back to the failure of the White House to stand by the veterans disabled in the Iraq war, with a heartbreaking lead about a veteran's wife begging the electricity company to keep the power on. After revelations about the treatment of outpatient soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, President George W. Bush appointed a panel that came back with bold recommendations to fix the nation's veterans system. Little has been done. For the wives of injured and disabled veterans, the burden of war is now theirs. "As thousands of war-wounded lug their discharge papers and pill bottles home, more than a quarter are returning with PTSD and brain trauma. Compensation for these invisible injuries is more difficult and the social isolation more profound, especially in rural communities where pastures outnumber mental health providers. Troy (Turner)'s one-year war has become his wife's endless one," writes Hull. Their story is one of teeth-gnashing frustration at bureaucracy and a strapped system, and it's a tragedy. Read this story if you care at all about veterans.

Over there
Alissa J. Rubin has a story for the Times about the plight of the Yazidis, that persecuted sect that has been targeted by al Qaeda in Iraq. Like Muslims, they're celebrating a major religious festival this weekend, but their shrine in northern Iraq is nearly empty, thanks to the fear permeating the Yazidis' ranks. Nearly 15 percent of this ancient sect's population of 500,000 has fled Iraq, escaping the violence visited on them by their Arab and Kurdish neighbors who want them to convert to Islam. But it's AQI that has inflicted the greatest threat: In August, a massive suicide bomb attack killed close to 500 people in their territory. Now, because of the ever-present threat, they can't practice their faith.


New York Times
John F. Burns writes an ode to his Iraqi feline friends, the dozens he had in Baghdad, and the ultimate trip out to England -- which some Iraqis at Baghdad International asked if they could take, too. It's an odd piece, but a human one, telling of one of those habits many would call quirky -- caring for kittens in the middle of a war zone -- but are absolutely necessary for maintaining one's soul.

Washington Post
Christian Davenport reports on National Guard members and Reservists who are finding the job market difficult as employers are leery of hiring someone they worry will be shipped off to Iraq. "There is a huge stigma" attached to reservists and service members in general, said Dan Caulfield, executive director of, a California-based nonprofit agency that helps veterans find jobs. One of the mantras passed from soldier to soldier is: "Don't mention you're in the Guard and Reserve," he said. "That is becoming fairly common."

Jim Golby, an Army captain on his second tour of duty in Iraq, writes of the Iraqi Business and Industrial Zone his men are working on outside Tikrit. He write this essay, he said, because he wanted to draw attention to some of the good news in Iraq. His efforts are included in that good news, he says. It doesn't sound like much, frankly. A few dozen jobs and some job training in craftsman skills. And I'm sorry to say it's a typical essay from a young captain who is desperate to feel his men's efforts are making a difference. As he admits, he's focused on his area of operations, and sees Iraqis lining up for scarce jobs as a symbol of hope. Well, what are they supposed to do? People don't curl up in the fetal position when things get bad. They keep going.

The Post runs an editorial lauding the evidence of a drop in violence that can no longer be disputed, the editorial board says. "It's looking more and more as though those in and outside of Congress who last month were assailing Gen. Petraeus's credibility and insisting that there was no letup in Iraq's bloodshed were -- to put it simply -- wrong."

Regular op-edder David Ignatius writes on the growing awareness of the importance of dignity in the State Department and how it can help America's standing around the world. In short, the United States needs to respect local cultures and traditions more, and speak of universal human dignity rather than universal human values or democracy. Doing otherwise comes off as arrogant, he writes.

Sandra McElwaine interviews Amelia Templeton, who saved up money to go to Syria and Jordan to work with Iraqi refugees there after her time at Swarthmore College. She's now working for Lifeline for Iraqi Refugees at Human Rights First, advocating for the 2.2 million refugees and displaced people.

Christian Science Monitor
No Sunday edition.

USA Today
No Sunday edition.

Wall Street Journal
No Sunday edition.

Daily Column
Gen. blames everyone but himself; Evidence against BW grows; Iraq's Eid horror
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/13/2007 01:53 AM ET
Sanchez comes out swinging! The former top commander in Iraq gets front page play in both the Washington Post and The New York Times for his criticism of the Iraq war, which he calls "a nightmare." Also, Blackwater gets major play, again, with two big stories on the company, and Iraqis decry a recent attack that killed 15 civilians.

Did he just say that?
Josh White of the Post has the story of a very bitter Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez (ret) who led U.S. forces in Iraq after the March 2003 invasion. In a speech to military reporters and editors, he lashed out at, well, everybody. And he didn't pull any punches. The Bush administration had a "catastrophically flawed" plan going into Iraq and now the country is "living a nightmare with no end in sight." He dissed Congress, the State Department, the National Security Council, the White House (repeatedly), even the media. Everyone except himself, even though he was in charge of strategy in Iraq when the insurgency broke out and the Abu Ghraib torture case surfaced, as White helpfully points out. It sounds like it was an extraordinary speech from a man bitter that he didn't get the fourth star he coveted and who was made a scapegoat for a lot of policy problems by the White House.

David S. Cloud tackles the front-pager for the Times, and also notes that Sanchez's record "leaves him vulnerable to criticism that he is shifting the blame from himself to the administration that ultimately replaced him and declined to nominate him for a fourth star, forcing his retirement." He is apparently considering writing a book, and said more specific criticisms of named officials would follow later. Oh, I see. He comes out swinging now and plays coy to sell a book. Anyway, Cloud goes to some outside analysts on Sanchez's temper tantrum, including Michael E. O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, and the scholar is as hard on the general. "Noting that calls by members of Congress for troops were rebuffed by the Bush administration in 2003, Mr. O'Hanlon said, 'Sanchez was one of the top military people who condoned that, if not directly, then by his silence.' " Snap.

Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Dana Hedgpeth write a freaking book on Blackwater for the Post's front page. Number of words notwithstanding, it's a major takeout on the inner workings of the company and the two get right into it.

...Just days after testifying on Capitol Hill, (Eric) Prince (founder of Blackwater) seemed like a king surveying his domain.

Below him was a complex he calls Little Baghdad, a collection of drab structures used to prepare security forces for urban warfare in Iraq and elsewhere. In the distance, a half-dozen battered cars raced around a track in a high-speed motorcade, kicking up dust as they practiced tactics with a role-playing assailant in pursuit.

Blackwater has an airstrip and hangar filled with gleaming helicopters, a manufacturing plant for assembling armored cars, a pound filled with bomb-sniffing dogs and a lake with mock ships for training sailors. An armory is stacked to the ceiling with rifles. Throughout the place are outdoor ranges where military, intelligence and law enforcement authorities from around the country practice shooting handguns and assault rifles at automated metal targets made by the firm. An incessant pop, pop, pop fills the air

There's not much news here, but it's the first complete and extensive roundup of the company, from reporters who have lots of access. (The company is famously media-shy, so Prince must be feeling the heat if he let a couple of Posties wander around.) It's a company that started out training law enforcement agencies, but which now is a flashpoint for controversy in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it was all done without government help, Prince says. (No, really.) "This started as a field of dreams: Build it, and they will come," he said. "It was a little success that led to another success to another success."

Of course, it's more complicated than that, as O'Harrow and Hedgpeth report. He's had millions in federal contracts, many of them awarded without any competition, and he's benefited from his connections with the Republican party, thanks to his family's traditional ties to the conservative movement. As complete as it is, what's frustrating about this story is that there are a total of three sources in it. Prince himself; Gary Bauer, the religiously conservative head of the Family Research Council and a staunch ally of Prince; and retired Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes, who decided to criticize them by calling them "remarkably professional." The rest of the criticism of Blackwater comes from public records and news reports. In short, while it's a good thing that we have a better idea of how awesome its facilities are, we still don't have a good idea of why the guys in Iraq are considered such jerks by Iraqis and the U.S. military. Yes, they're aggressive, but is that company policy or are they just cowboys by nature? Does this culture come from Prince's direction or is it endemic to the industry? It's a big story without too much to say that's new.

The Times' James Glanz, along with Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Michael Kamber, build on yesterday's story in the Post on the Sept. 16 shootings, this time finding three Kurdish witnesses who saw the whole event from start to finish. Along with new forensic gathered by American soldiers from the scene, these three corroborate the numerous reports that have come out saying that Blackwater pulled a "death blossom" and started firing in every direction at innocent civilians without real provocation. This is now the third or fourth report that all agree with one another and disagree with Blackwater's increasingly dubious statements on the issue.

Over there
Joshua Partlow of the Post reports on the public outcry in Iraq over the latest airstrike by U.S. forces. This time, it killed 15 Iraqi civilians -- nine children and six women -- one of the highest civilian tolls in months. It comes on the heels of the Blackwater shooting incident in Nisour Square and the shooting of two women by United Resources earlier this week, so Iraqis are understandably on edge about civilians being gunned down. In this latest attack, which happened near Samarra, the U.S. military says it was fired upon, so they called in air support. Nineteen insurgents were also killed in the attack. A member of the Samarra city council nailed the frustrations: "This could have been done through the infantry," said Ibrahim al-Khamas, the city council member. "But the American Army prefers the easiest solution, which is the air bombardment." A town elder said the area where the strike took place was a neighborhood of fishermen, but he did acknowledge that "this area is one of al Qaeda's favorites." In other violence, a car bomb exploded in a popular market in Baghdad, killing five people and wounding 10. Near Kirkuk, a bomb hidden in toys exploded on a playground, killing two people and wounding 12.

The Times' Paul von Zielbauer has the story, quoting military sources as saying the civilians deaths were "absolutely regrettable," but blaming enemy fighters for using them as shields. The airstrike, the military says, killed 19 senior-level insurgents with ties to al Qaeda in Iraq. And by the way, kudos to the Times for regularly explaining al Qaeda in Iraq now. It's boilerplate, but it's necessary: "Al Qaeda in (Iraq) is a homegrown Sunni extremist group that American intelligence says is foreign led." Other newspapers -- I'm looking at you, USA Today -- should follow suit. (Also, the Times regularly refers to AQI as "al Qaeda in Mesopotamia," but this column's style is to use the "Iraq" variation. Arabic is hard.) Zielbauer has more detail on the toy cart bombing, which he reports killed a child and wounded 23 other. A security guard, whose child was playing at the park, was killed when he tried to subdue the bomber as he entered.

Molly Moore, reporting for the Post, says Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is prepared for a split with the United States over the issue of Kurdish attacks from Iraq and Turkey's possible military response to it. He also accused the U.S. of hypocrisy on the matter. "Did they seek permission from anyone when they came from a distance of 10,000 kilometers and hit Iraq?" Erdogan asked. "We do not need anyone else's advice." He also criticized Congressional Democrats for a House committee's vote on a non-binding resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide in 1915-17, which the Turks say didn't happen the way most scholars say it did. "Democrats are harming the future of the United States and are encouraging anti-American sentiments," Erdogan said, apparently channeling Karl Rove, ca. 2004. The PKK, the Kurdish rebel group that's in Ankara's cross-hairs, issued a statement saying it would carry out attacks inside Turkey in response to any invasion of northern Iraq. The real story here is not the military invasion of Kurdistan; that's just the symptom. The real story is that relations between Turkey and the United States have reached such a low that the two biggest members of NATO are barely speaking to another. Why has Turkey decided its strategic relationship with America, going back to the 1960s in the Cold War, is no longer serving its interests? Who are its new partners? (Iran? Russia?) How low has American diplomatic and military influence sunk that this situation has been allowed to grow? Washington has known about Ankara's frustrations with the Kurds for years. The big, big story is geopolitical and the withering of the Pax Americana. Everything else is just illustration.


Wall Street Journal
The Journal sure does have a sense of humor. Disgraced Times reporter Judith Miller, whose inaccurate and credulous reporting in the run-up to the Iraq war was a big factor in bringing the U.S. media in line with White House wishes, reviews a book by Bob Drogin on "Curveball," the fraudulent Iraqi source who helped con the U.S. into war with bogus reports of mobile WMD labs. Drogin's "Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War" gets a mixed review for having taut, suspenseful writing, but for being too simplistic.

Washington Post
Mark Berman reports on the funeral of 12 soldiers killed Jan. 20 when their Blackhawk chopper took fire and went down near Baghdad. All but two killed were in the National Guard, making it the largest number of guardsmen killed in a combat mission since the Korean War.

Daily Column
Military Slams BW claims; Al Qaeda still 'closest wolf'; Intra-Shi'ite bickering
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/12/2007 01:52 AM ET
Turkey has taken a dominant place in Iraq coverage with its fury over the Armenian Genocide resolution and how that might affect the Iraq war. But Blackwater's antics are never far from the field, landing on the Washington Post's front page again today, while The New York Times has a scoop on intra-Shi'ite rifts in Baghdad.

Talking Turkey
Iraq's northern border is getting tense. Andrew E. Kramer and Graham Bowley report for the Times that Turkish warplanes and helicopters are attacking Kurdish rebel positions just north of the Iraqi border, while the Turkish parliament plans next week to vote on a plan that would authorize incursions into Iraq.

Meanwhile, it Ankara and Istanbul, Turks reacted angrily to a House committee vote condemning the 1915-17 mass killings of Armenians as genocide, threatening the U.S. military's position in Iraq, reports Sebnem Arsu for the Times. Ankara has warned Washington that if the non-binding resolution comes to the floor of the House and passes, it could withdraw its support for the Iraq war, impacting the U.S.'s position in Iraq. Incirlik Air Base in Turkey is an important staging area for the U.S., and many supplies for troops come through Turkey.

Molly Moore and Robin Wright combine the Times' two-story approach into a single story for the Post. They give more details on the Turkish plans for Northern Iraq, as well as throw in some comments from Kurds living up there. "If the Turkish troops decided to enter into Iraq's Kurdistan territories, their decision would be wrong and they would sustain heavy casualties and material losses," Nozad Hadi, the Kurdish governor in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil told AP Television News.

Scott Peterson for the Christian Science Monitor has the story, too, and gets at the delicate balancing act the U.S. is attempting to pull off.

The US has "been caught between their tactical alliance with the Kurds in Iraq, and their strategic alliance -- at least what it used to be -- with Turkey," says Bulent Aliriza, a Turkey analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"The reality is that the US relies to an incredible extent on the Iraqi Kurds ... and any meaningful action by the Turks would annoy the Iraqi Kurds and change the balance in Iraq against the US in this war," says Mr. Aliriza. "The worst thing that could happen, from the point of view of the (White House) is for the Turks to intervene, creating an even bigger mess in Iraq."

Turkish media have started talking about 15,000 troops crossing into Iraq and even creating a buffer zone 10 to 20 miles deep into Iraq. Good job to Peterson for pointing out just how much the U.S. relies on the Turks: 70 percent of the U.S. military's air cargo destined for Iraq goes through Incirlik, and 30 percent of the fuel used. Turkey also is a key source of good intelligence in the Middle East.

The Times' David S. Cloud also picks up on the affects of Turkish pique on the war effort and what the Pentagon is doing to plan for it. Losing Incirlik would "force the United States to send more supplies for Iraq through other countries and could cause short-term backups in fuel shipments and deliveries of critical equipment," he writes. The U.S. military would have to rely on Jordan, Kuwait and the port in the south of Iraq, Umm Qasr. It could take months to get those logistical hubs up to speed if Turkey cuts off access.

Over there
The Post's Sudarson Raghavan and Josh White handle today's Blackwater story, and it's a front-page doozy. The first U.S. soldiers on the scene of the Sept. 16 shooting in Nisour Square say Blackwater guards were firing on cars that were attempting to flee the scene, and they found no evidence that Iraqis had fired weapons at the private security contractors. Lt. Col. Mike Tarsa, whose soldiers reached Nisour Square 20 to 25 minutes after the gunfire subsided, concluded that there was "no enemy activity involved" and described the shootings as a "criminal event." He also said there was no evidence that the Blackwater guys were provoked or confronted. Buried in the story, however, are some previously undisclosed details.

  • Two cars had their back windows shot out, but not their front, indicating they were shot while leaving.
  • U.S. soldiers found no casings from AK-47 or BKC machine guns, which are used by Iraqi policemen and soldiers. They did find lots of casings from American-made weapons, such as M4 5.56mm casings, M240B machine gun 7.62mm casings, M203 40mm grenade launcher casings and stun-grenade packing.
  • According to aerial photos, a white sedan, which allegedly started the shooting spree because the guards felt it was a threat, had not even entered the traffic square when it was fired upon.
This is another important addition to this tragic incident, but Blackwater continues to stick to its story that it was fired on and reacted appropriately. Needless to say, it's not looking good for the company.

Sabrina Tavernise of the Times also lands on the front page, with her piece on the growing discontent among some Shi'ites with the Mahdi Army, a potentially very important development. She reports that many Shi'ites who once looked to the militia as their only protection against Sunni militants now see Moqtada al-Sadr's group as "a band of street thugs without ideology." The cause of the turn is, ironically, in part because of the success of the militia. It has successfully driven many Sunnis out of Shi'ite neighborhoods, reducing the threat from insurgents, but now the militia is seeking new sources of income so it has turned on the Shi'ites that supported it. "We thought they were soldiers defending the Shiites," said Sayeed Sabah, a Shiite who runs a charity in the western neighborhood of Huriya. "But now we see they are youngster-killers, no more than that. People want to get rid of them." Shi'ite sheikhs, the militia's traditional base, are starting to contact American military officers, just as Sunni sheikhs did against foreign jihadis last year. The militia has changed since 2004, when it enjoyed broad popular support from Shi'ites. Today, thanks in part to the success of American efforts to arrest senior commanders, it's made up of younger men, with little in the way of piousness. "They are kids with guns, who have cars and money," said the neighbor of a woman killed by three young militiamen who wanted her home to rent out. "Being kids, they are tempted by all of this." This is a complicated story and Tavernise does a nice job laying out the myriad layers.

Even so, reports Leslie Sabbagh for the Monitor, Gen. David H. Petraeus said keeping pressure on al Qaeda in Iraq was the most pressing issue for the military. The jihadi group remains "the wolf closest to the sled," he said, and the U.S. military needs to keep its teeth in them. He also mentioned Iran's involvement as malicious and said, "EFPs only come from Iran and are only used by militias." Actually, some months ago, a factory for producing EFPs was found in Diwaniya. No doubt Iran is up to hijinks in Iraq, but it's imperative not to treat everything an official says as accurate and newsworthy, simply because an official says it. As Petraeus said in the same interview, "There is no question that Iran is providing advanced rocket propelled grenades (RPGs); some shoulder-fired, Stinger-like air defense missiles; and 240mm rockets in addition to mortars and small arms. They are implicated in the assassination of governors in southern provinces." Evidence please?

Joshua Partlow and Column Lynch handle the Iraq roundup for the Post, double-leading with a report from the U.N. outlining an "ever-deepening humanitarian crisis" in Iraq and a U.S. airstrike that killed 15 civilians and 19 suspected insurgents. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq looked at data from a three-month period ending June 30 and found that civilians were suffering "devastating consequences" from the violence. The report doesn't back up assessments from the U.S. military and the White House made last month. The treatment of detainees is of particular concern for the U.N. As of June, 44,325 people were in U.S. or Iraqi custody, an increase of nearly 4,000 people since April. Many of them were held for months with no review of their cases and limited access to lawyers and family. The jails are overcrowded and dirty, especially those run by the Interior Ministry. Torture is common. The Interior Ministry "totally rejects this report," a spokesman said. Also, honor killings are up in the Kurdish region in the north, with a grim tally of the methods of executions: 23 women killed by "blunt objects," 195 by burning and 37 by gunfire. The violence continued around the country Thursday, with a car bomb exploding in front of a popular cafe, killing at least eight people and wounding more than 25. Rockets or mortar shells hit Camp Liberty near the Baghdad airport, killing two military personnel and wounding 40 other people. A U.S. soldier was killed Wednesday in combat in eastern Baghdad.

Military planning
Jim Michaels of USA Today reports that the Pentagon is OK with the British troop drawdown from 5,000 troop to 2,500 troops by next spring. The drawdown is driven by political considerations, analysts and critics say, because otherwise, the British troops could be useful in other parts of Iraq. Instead, they're going home.

Thom Shanker has the story of U.S. approval of Britain's moves for the Times, reporting on Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' visit to London.

The Post's Ann Scott Tyson follows up on the Times' scoop yesterday on the proposal to let the Marines handle Afghanistan and the Army take on Iraq. Needless to say, the plan is generating some heated debate in Washington, with some saying the Marines would be perfect for Afghanistan while others saying, no, they wouldn't be. Gates said he hasn't seen any concrete proposals and said that at this point, the plan doesn't have "any stature." Ouch. But some Marine commanders -- wouldn't go on the record, unfortunately -- are enthusiastic about taking on Afghanistan, saying the integrated combat units are ideally suited for that conflict. Army officers are less than thrilled, saying the Marines wouldn't be close to water and their seven-month tours of duty aren't suited for intensive counter-insurgency. (So why have they been in Anbar province for the past few years? The only water it has are a couple of big lakes.) The debate, Tyson notes, is stirring up old inter-service rivalry. "The cynical talk is this gives the Marines another four-star billet running the NATO show over there," said a retired Army general. "The other cynical point is that this is a much more popular war" than the war in Iraq.


Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Two slain women laid to rest; Cash for officers who stay; BW quits trade group
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/11/2007 01:57 AM ET
In a major scoop, The New York Times reports on the plans of the Marines in Iraq. In short, they want out. While the Washington Post looks at the rumblings between Iraq and Turkey as well as attempts by the army to get its officers to stay put. There's not a single theme to today's coverage, reflecting a relatively quiet spell in Iraq, but the Times' Marine story's a big one.

The Times' Thom Shanker lands the lead story with big news: the Marine Corps is pushing to leave the Iraq War in the Army's hands while they go off to Afghanistan. The idea was raised at a session of the Joint Chiefs last week, and it's getting some favorable response from both Army and Marine commanders. As Shanker notes, "the idea represents the first tangible new thinking to emerge since the White House last month endorsed a plan to begin gradual troop withdrawals from Iraq." But it also means American forces will be in Iraq "for years to come." Iraq has 25,000 Marines. Afghanistan has no major Marine units. But there are 26,000 U.S. troops there. There is some support within the Army for the plan, because it would not be fighting two wars now and it could simplify troop rotations. The Marines could bring an integrated Marine task force with combat aircraft, infantry and armored vehicles to a war with considerably more public support. The losers? The Air Force, which could be squeezed out of Afghanistan when the Marines bring their own planes.

Over there
Joshua Partlow of the Post reports on the rising tensions between Iraq and Turkey over the latter's cross-border shelling of PKK positions in northern Iraq. Baghdad is also worried because of moves by Ankara to draft approval for a military invasion of the Kurdish north. In a rather contradictory set of statements, Labeed M. Abbawi, an undersecretary in Iraq's Foreign Ministry, said Iraq was "doing everything to contain the PKK," "we cannot really stop some of these elements from going from the Iraqi mountains into Turkey" and "what we need is to tackle this problem through diplomatic channels and through consultation and dialogue." Dialogue would be great, but if you acknowledge you can't do anything -- while at the same time admitting you're doing everything you can -- you can understand why the Turks might want to take matters into their own hands. Violence broke out elsewhere, too, with a suicide car bomb at a Kurdish checkpoint, killing four people and wounding 21. A second attack in Tikrit killed an Iraqi policeman and another person, wounding 22. In Baghdad, the two Armenian Christian women were mourned in a funeral service.

The Times' Andrew E. Kramer leads his roundup with the women's funeral, noting that the family of one of the women, Marany Awanees, extends to Europe and the United States. Reporters were able to track down a brother in Northern Ireland and get comments, in a nice, humanizing touch. Unity Resources issued a statement explaining their version of events, while adding that they "deeply regret the loss of these lives."

The Post's Ann Scott Tyson gets front-page play with her story on the cash bonuses the Army is offering its key young officers to stay in the service. Captains and majors in areas such as military intelligence, infantry and aviation are being offered up to $35,000 in a bid to keep them around in the face of repeated and lengthy war-zone tours of duty. In the past three weeks, more than 6,000 Army captains have accepted the bonuses, of $25,000, $30,000 or $35,000 depending on the shortages in their field. The Army is also trying to increase the number of all-important captains by promoting lieutenants faster.

David S. Cloud of the Times reports on Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' speech yesterday on the need of the Army to improve its ability to fight counter-insurgency wars, a type of conflict he sees as the mainstay of battle for the foreseeable future. Future conflicts, he said, "will be fundamentally political in nature and require the application of all elements of national power." The vital capability of the military will be standing up and "mentoring" indigenous armies and police, a key element of counter-insurgency warfare. He was speaking in response to some in the Army urging it to re-equip and focus on conventional warfare, a mistake the Army made after Vietnam.

Alissa J. Rubin and Paul von Zielbauer of the Times dive into the legal thickets in which private security companies such as Blackwater inhabit in Iraq. As they note, if an Army private shoots a civilian, there's a clear body of law and a set of procedures to handle it. But when Blackwater does it, all that exists is a patchwork of untested laws, loopholes and political obstacles to holding anyone to account. Even if the State Department and the FBI determine there was a crime committed on Sept. 16 in Nisour Square, it is very difficult to bring the case to court. Out of approximately 100,000 contractors working in Iraq, there hasn't been a prosecution for a single violent incident in three years, says Scott Horton, a specialist in the law of armed conflict who teaches at Columbia University. The story rounds up the various legal points that have been made in the past month since the shooting -- that State Department contractors do not fall under the UCMJ as DoD contractors do, for example -- but breaks little news. Still, a good roundup of the issues for those wanting a quick run-down.

The Wall Street Journal's August Cole reports that Blackwater USA has quit the International Peace Operations Association, a trade group for private security firms. The company gave a rather bland statement as to why they pulled out of the group.


Christian Science Monitor
Mark Rice-Oxley reports that Britain, after much public pressure, is finally resettling some of its Iraqi interpreters in the wake of the British pullout from Basra and the violence they face. This is a very small part of the larger Iraqi refugee crisis and, like the United States, Britain is being stingy with asylum offers to the Iraqis. Only 580 applications have been accepted in the first half of this year.

Washington Post
Kevin Sullivan reports that the wonderfully named Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, the head of Britain's military, said the Brits had "succeeded in the south of Iraq" but that the public didn't realize that because top government and military officials had created "false expectations" of what could be accomplished. Hmm... Top military officials... Could that include Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup? No. He said he wasn't the salesman on the war, a clear reference to former Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush. Stirrup said British leaders created the impression that troops were going to leave Iraq "with a burgeoning economy, with prosperity spreading throughout the country, with everyone living quietly and tending their gardens and enjoying the cool of the evening after a good day's work." Instead, all the British troops were going to do is establish security and hand Basra over to the Iraqis. Well, one out of two ain't bad, I guess.

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

U.S. Military
Olympia, Wa. Newspaper Salutes Fallen Members of Ft. Lewis-Based Army Brigade
10/10/2007 2:52 PM ET

Here's what the newspaper's executive editor, Vickie Kilgore, writes in the paper today about this striking page one salute:
Today's front page is a dramatic departure for The Olympian.

A Stryker brigade based at Fort Lewis, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, has returned home from a 15-month deployment in Iraq. The 48 brigade members pictured on the front page are not among them. The Olympian chose to dedicate today's front page as a small but dramatic way to honor their service. It is not intended as an editorial statement on the war. Rather, it is the biggest of local stories. Nonetheless, we recognize that, whether you support or oppose our country's military presence in Iraq, this front page display will generate strong feelings.

But today, as brigade members remember their dead comrades in a special ceremony at Fort Lewis, we felt it was important to show our readers the faces of those who did not return. We also plan to share with you the jubilation of the official welcome home ceremonies for the brigade later this week. And we will spotlight some of the many acts of bravery of those who served. This weekend we will report on what's next for many of these individuals as they rebuild their stateside lives.

We assembled this front page with careful deliberation. Our intent is to be respectful but knowing, without doubt, that this lineup of faces conveys the effect of the war in a way words cannot.

We hope that you will look at the page, read the profiles of these men and reflect on their sacrifice.

I welcome your feedback.

Vickie Kilgore is executive editor of The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-4223 or

Daily Column
Talking Turkey in Northern Iraq; Pelosi to Activists: Talk to the Republicans!
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/10/2007 01:54 AM ET
It's another light day for Iraq news, and we may be entering one of those periods where editors want to give readers a break from the war. But there's still news going on, and both The New York Times and the Washington Post give front page play to the shooting yesterday of two women by a security company in Baghdad while Turkey took a step toward military action in northern Iraq.

Andrew E. Kramer and James Glanz have the story for the Times. In another tragic incident, guards fro a private security company -- this time an Australian firm, killed two Iraqi women in their car in Karada. And it reveals a complicated tangle of contracts. As in the Sept. 16 incident, when Blackwater opened fire in Nisour Square killing between 11 and 17 people, RTI International, a subcontractor of the United States Agency for International Development, was under the protection of Unity Resources Group, an Australian-run company that has its headquarters in Dubai and is registered in Singapore. (Blackwater was also guarding RTI employees on Sept. 16.) The Unity Guards opened fire on the sedan, killing the two women and wounding two passengers in the back seat. This shooting once again highlights the charge that guards under State Department contractors might be too trigger happy than ones working with the DoD. This time, however, the White House quickly distanced itself from the company. "A.I.D. does not direct the security arrangements of its contractors," an official said. "These groups are contractually responsible for the safety and security of their employees. That responsibility falls entirely on the contractor." So the U.S. government is letting subcontractors determine the rules of engagement for their guards in Iraq? As Jon Stewart of the Daily Show last week said, that "can present some oversight issues, killing-wise." Kramer and Glanz make the inevitable comparisons between the Blackwater incident and this one. As do Iraqis: "They are killing the people just like what happened in Nisour Square," said Ali Jafar, a traffic policeman posted near the Karada shooting. "They are butchering the Iraqis."

For the Post, it's Joshua Partlow and Sudarsan Raghavan at bat, getting the lead story on A1. They have much of the same information, including the tangle of contracts and the oversight loopholes that result. Iraqi government response was surprisingly restrained (for now.)

"They used excessive force against civilians. Two ladies have been killed," said Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. "They are facing a high level of threat, but this does not entitle them not to be subjected to justice, law and accountability."

Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said Unity Resources was registered with the ministry and reported the shooting afterward. "They have admitted what they have done," said Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the chief Interior Ministry spokesman. "They have apologized and said they will do whatever the Interior Ministry asks them to do."

The victims were all Armenian Christians, one of the small minorities in Iraq. The Post has more detail on Unity Resources Group than the Times piece does, as well as better color from the scene. They also wrap up the rest of their Iraq-datelined coverage with news that 45 people were killed in violence across the country. Two car bombs exploded in Baiji, killing at least seven people, including five Iraqi police officers. One went off outside the home of Baiji police chief Col. Saad al-Nifoos, while the second targeted Samir Ibrahim, the leader of the local Awakening Council. Both men survived.

Sebnem Arsu and Sabrina Tavernise report for the Times the very troubling rumblings from Ankara, Turkey. After Kurdish rebels killed more than two dozen Turkish soldiers in the last few days, the government and the powerful military seem ready to move forward with a military invasion of northern Iraq. Preparations are underway for parliamentary approval of such a move. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's office released a statement that ordered government offices and institutions "to take all economic and political measures, including cross-border operations when necessary, in order to end the existence of the terror organization in a neighboring country." The U.S. is, naturally, completely freaked out by even the possibility of a Turkish invasion, and so it naturally responds with understatement. "In our view, it is not going to lead to a long-term, durable solution to have significant incursions from Turkey into Iraq," said Sean McCormack, State Department spokesman. You don't say! Further complicating matters is a bill before Congress on the Armenian Genocide of 1915. (The story doesn't actually say what the bill says, but we can assume it's not approving of the killings.) If that bill passes, Turkey is threatening to withdraw all support for the Iraq war, which would make things a mite more difficult for the U.S., since Incirlik Air Force Base is crucial to the conflict. Turkey broke off military relations with France last year after it voted to make denial of the Armenian Genocide a crime.


Christian Science Monitor
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made the rounds to the newspapers yesterday, touting the Democrats' accomplishments in the House, reports David Cook. Unfortunately, not ending the war is a big albatross around the Dems' neck, as far as its anti-war base is concerned. And Pelosi bit back:

For more than four months, antiwar protesters have been "sitting outside my home, going into my garden in San Francisco and angering my neighbors, hanging their clothes from the trees, building all kinds of things, (putting) couches, sofas, chairs, permanent living facilities on my front sidewalk," she says. More recently protesters have taken up positions outside her Washington home.
She said members of Congress "have to make responsible decisions in the Congress that are not driven by the dissatisfaction of anybody who wants the war to end tomorrow." She praised them for their passion, and said they were "mostly" right, but argued that "bring 'em home now!" isn't a responsible strategy. She then said protesters should go after GOP lawmakers representing districts that oppose the war, which is a pretty good idea, considering that, with such a slim majority, there's not much the Democrats can do without getting some of the GOP on board.

Washington Post
Dana Milbank attended the same Pelosi lunch, and tallies up that she smiled no fewer than 31 times and laughed at least 23 times. She also didn't touch her chicken. She didn't smile while talking about the anti-war protesters trampling her lawn. She also evidenced an ominous condescension toward the protesters: "If they were poor and they were sleeping on my sidewalk, they would be arrested for loitering, but because they have 'Impeach Bush' across their chest, it's the First Amendment."

Harold Myerson, regular op-ed columnist for the Post, says the majority of people in the United States want the war over and done with. (True.) But the politicians -- especially the Democratic candidates for president -- don't differ that much from President George W. Bush on Iraq. (Arguable.) This is sending the signal that elections no longer matter in the United States. Democrats need a super-majority vote in the Senate to change policy. But that needs super-majority support, he writes, from the American people. So they need to swamp the GOP next year and sweep a massive Democratic majority and a president into office.

They won't be, however, if Democratic voters have despaired of the efficacy of elections. For millions of Democrats, the contested verdict of 2000 and the overturned verdict of 2006 -- war is repudiated, war is escalated -- were bad enough. The killer for Democratic prospects would be if millions of Democrats believed that a President Clinton, or Obama, or Edwards, would keep a significant number of troops in Iraq, too.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
British troop levels halved by spring; Realpolitik hits Sunni-Shi'ite divide
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/09/2007 01:37 AM ET
Everyone seems to have taken Columbus Day off, as it's a paltry selection of Iraq news today. The biggest news is that Britain is planning to reduce its forces in southern Iraq to 2,500 troops by next spring, reports Kevin Sullivan for the Washington Post. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the reduction was possible because of the improved security condition in the south, yet he still declined to set a timetable for a complete withdrawal of British troops. Britain's role by next year will be almost exclusively as "trainers," he said. In another welcome announcement, he said Iraqis who workers as interpreters for British forces would eligible for financial and other help to relocate to Britain or other countries where they felt safe. About 450 Iraqis are immediately eligible.

Jane Perlez has the story for The New York Times, but gets all political on us, taking note of the transatlantic implications. As she writes:

Since President Bush has made clear that American troops will remain heavily committed in Iraq at least through his administration's end in January 2009, it appears that the tight alliance on Iraq forged between Mr. Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, and Washington is fraying. Indeed, a hallmark of Mr. Brown's three months as prime minister has been the relative distance he has established with the American president.
She also notes that the pullout coincides neatly with a British general election now expected to be held in 2009, seeing as the Iraq deployment has been unpopular in Britain from day one. And while Brown said the security conditions warranted a decrease in troops, critics said lawlessness would increase, as would Iranian influence in the south. The British had been "driven out by Islamic radicals with nothing more than rocket-propelled grenades and mortars," said Toby Dodge, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Gen. David H. Petraeus is apparently on board with this plan, according to the British Foreign Office.

If there's a troop reduction going on, don't tell the Republic of Georgia, reports Andrew E. Kramer of the Times, who wins the award for reporting the most overlooked story in Iraq today. As he writes, at a time when other nations are pulling out of Iraq at an increasing rate, George has more than doubled its troop levels, from 850 to 2,000. And they're doing a lot more than guarding the Green Zone. They're now patrolling an area on the Iranian border near Kut, in a bid to stop Iranian weapons smuggling into Iraq. They're now the second largest contingent of American allies in Iraq, behind (soon to be closely) Britain. It seems the way to NATO membership lies through Iraq. For that's part of what the Georgian deployment is about: gaining membership in the Atlantic organization as a security guarantee against Russia, a cause that while unacknowledged by both governments, remains on the mind of most Georgian soldiers. "The bear was sleeping," said Sgt. Koba Oshkhereli, at Forward Operating Base Delta. "Now the bear is awake and stomping his feet." Kramer makes the observation that Georgia is hardly the first former Soviet or Eastern bloc country to arrive at this conclusion: "Of the 25 nations contributing troops to Iraq, 18 are in one or the other of those categories, including Poland, Ukraine and small nations like Estonia, according to a tally by the Brookings Institution in Washington," he writes. "A majority are either new members of NATO or aspirants to membership."

Finally, Howard LaFranchi of the Christian Science Monitor reports on the shift away from democracy promotion by the White House in the Middle East and toward bolstering the traditional alliances with authoritarian Sunni regimes, all in a bid to contain Iran. While a nice roundup of the analyst remarks, this is a story that has been reported extensively over the past year. There's little new here.


USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

The human toll
Kudos to LA Times for Reporting Human Side of Contractor Accountaibility Story
10/08/2007 11:48 AM ET
An Iraqi woman walks past a burnt car at Nisoor Square, at the site where Blackwater guards opened fire, killing a number of civilians.
Ali Yussef/AFP/Getty
An Iraqi woman walks past a burnt car at Nisoor Square, at the site where Blackwater guards opened fire, killing a number of civilians.

While most of the media busies itself plying official sources for new information on the ongoing Blackwater controversy, the LA Times distinguishes itself with important enterprise journalism, making the effort to track down Iraqi victims, and documenting additional incidents of civilian deaths.

Tina Susman and Raheem Salman track down the wife of Raheem Khalif Hulaichi, the Iraqi man fatally shot by an allegedly drunk Blackwater contractor while on guard duty last Christmas Eve at Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi's compound inside the Green Zone

Even though Blackwater and the State Department agreed that the family should receive $15,000 compensation, Hulaichi's wife, Umm Sajjad, said they had not received money because the vice president's office felt the sum was too low.

Azad Jaff, a security official in the vice president's office who has been leading negotiations on the family's behalf, said that Blackwater had sent $20,000, but the VP's office felt that was insufficient and was demanding $100,000.

The 30-year-old mother of two told the LA Times, "The money of the whole world is not able to compensate for my husband, but what I want is enough to guarantee my children's future . . . and to buy a house."

"I don't want them to feel that they lost their father," she said of her sons, 6 and 10. "My responsibilities now are to act as both a mother and a father."

Umm Sajjad did not know that the contractor who had shot her husband had been flown out of the country, but thought that would be put to trial in Baghdad.

Victims of an August 13 shooting incident in Hilla echo sentiments regarding the meaninglessness of money in the LA Times' second important contractor story of the day.

The son of an Iraqi shot by a security convoy recalls his response when a US military officer offered a condolence payment for his loss: "I said, do you think $100 million can return my father? Do you think that can help?"

A man who survived the shooting but who had to pay $3500 to repair the damage of bullets that had peppered his car said he wasn't concerned about his own compensation, "The most important thing is that justice be done, because an innocent man lost his life," he said.

But Tina Sussman's investigation into the August 13 incident, and interviews with the brother of an Iraqi policeman killed in June 2006, illustrate the despair innocent Iraqis face when seeking justice for their innocent relatives killed by private contractors.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince touted his company's perfect record on Capitol Hill last week--saying his contractors had not lost a single client in Iraq--but he couldn't say how many innocent Iraqis had lost their lives at the hands of his employees.

Kudos to Tina Sussman, Raheem Salman, and LA Times staff for taking the trouble to research and report more of the human side to this important story.

Daily Column
Iraqis: BW committed 'murder'; Iranian Amb. in al Quds?; Anchors fret over Iraq
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/08/2007 01:53 AM ET
It's Monday, so that means more Blackwater coverage, but thankfully -- for those wishing a bit of a diversion -- the Wall Street Journal has a must-read front-pager on a plan to sell M-16s to Iraq, which is triggering new concerns. The Washington Post, too, has an important front-page story on what may be the unachievable goal of political reconciliation in Iraq.

The M-16 is a precision weapon with more firepower and better accuracy, especially compared to the plain old AK-47 favored by Iraqis and Third World armies around the globe. But Yochi J. Dreazen and Greg Jaffe pen a great story for the Journal that gets at the differences in culture between America and Iraq by way of the weapon. And they look at the challenges inherent in equipping the Iraqi Army with it. They are many. The M-16 is more delicate, requires more upkeep and maintenance and it's more complex with a host of little springs and pins that must be cleaned. It requires a number of spare parts to be kept on hand. All these challenges will strain the Iraqi supply system -- already primitive at best -- once the full 41,000 weapons are distributed to the Iraqi jundi. American officials are worried that the weapons will fall in to the hands of insurgents, but given how complex the rifles are, this seems a minor concern; the rifles will stop working after a short time. And since the ammo is different from the AK-47, what will the bad guys shoot? And while there's a handy chart on the differences between the two weapons, and the Iraqis are quoted as being initially enthusiastic and then skeptical, one thing that's missing is your average grunt's perspective. How does someone trained in caring for the rifle like using it in the dust and grit of Iraq. How does it hold up in the real world? Is this $27 million buy by Iraq worth it?

Back to Blackwater
James Glanz and Alissa J. Rubin report from Baghdad for The New York Times that the coming Iraqi police report on the Sept. 16 shoot out in Nisour Square will say pretty much what everyone expects it will: That Blackwater opened fire unprovoked and sprayed bullets in every direction. The company committed "deliberate murder," the spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said. But it's not clear what the Iraqi government can do, so it's waiting for American reports to be released.

Sudarsan Raghavan has the story for the Washington Post, noting that the Iraqi government report meshes with findings from the Interior Ministry and U.S. military reports. Blackwater continues to insist it was ambushed. Raghavan also reports on a joint Iraq-U.S. commission met for the first time to devise a blueprint for improving oversight and operations for private security contractors.

The Times' James Risen has a profile on Blackwater founder Erik Prince. A former Navy Seal, fabulously wealthy and a member of a deeply religious and Republican family, he sounds a bit like a movie villain (or hero, depending on your point of view.) Even his name is something out of a comic book. There's not much new here, but it's a convenient wrapping up of stuff that's been reported in various outlets before. Risen goes to the usual critics and supporters, including Jeremy Scahill, the somewhat hysterical Blackwater critic and author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," and Gary Bauer, the president of American Values. Even IraqSlogger's own Robert Young Pelton, author of "Licensed to Kill," a book on contractors in Iraq, gets a quote in. "I think that he thinks he is like Bruce Wayne in Batman," Pelton said.

Zachary A. Goldfarb reports for the Post that Blackwater's troubles may affect DynCorp and Triple Canopy, but how it does depends on the investigation of Blackwater. Maybe Blackwater will win fewer contracts, but maybe the industry's reputation could suffer dragging the other two down too.

Robert Novak pens a odious op-ed in the Post accusing Democrats of being led by the nose on Blackwater by Daniel J. Callahan (consistently referred to as a "trial lawyer"). He represents the families of the four Blackwater employees killed in April 2004 in Fallujah. Novak suggest that there wouldn't be any hearings in Congress over the company's actions on Sept. 16 had it not been for Callahan's constant quest for a $20 million payment to the families from Erik Prince's company.

The Times editorial board murmurs approvingly over recent bills passed in the House and introduced in the Senate that would hold private security contractors in Iraq more accountable to U.S. law. The ultimate goal, the paper urges, should be to end the use of "American mercenaries," as the Times labels them.

Over there
Joshua Partlow has an important front-pager for the Post, saying that on the issue of political reconciliation, some Iraqi leaders have essentially thrown in the towel. Shi'ites in government don't trust Sunnis, Kurds have their own agenda and no one can get anything done. So now instead of "reconciliation" as the goal, the new aims are to streamline government, get some competent technocrats in position and improve basic services. "There has been no significant progress for months," said Tariq al-Hashimi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents and the most influential Sunni politician in the country. "There is a shortage of goodwill from those parties who are now in the driver's seat of the country." For Sunnis, reconciliation means involving them in government decisions, for the Shi'ites to release their death lock on decision-making and crack down on militants regardless of sect. Shi'ites believe reconciliation means allowing Sunni "supremacists" back into power and punish those who, during Saddam Hussein's era, killed and repressed Shi'ites and Kurds. "You cannot have reconciliation without justice, and justice has not been accomplished yet in Iraq. They have tried and executed not more than 10 people, Saddam and his people, and that is not enough," a senior Shiite government official said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "The same people who were killing Iraqis at the time of Saddam in the name of the state and in the name of national security are doing it now with the insurgents." Sounds like the various definitions of "reconciliation" are, well, irreconcilable.

At the bottom of Sudarsan Raghavan's story about Blackwater (above), he reports on other Iraqi developments. One of them is the accusation by Gen. David H. Petraeus that Iran's Ambassador to Iraq is a member of al Quds Force, Iran's foreign operations arm of the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps. Also, the U.S. military said it had apprehended three members of "Iranian-backed" militia believed to have kidnapped five British contractors on May 29. Nine people were killed in several car bombings.

Paul von Zielbauer has a separate story on Petraeus' accusations for the Times.

Yochi J. Dreazen has another bang-up story for today's Journal, this time a profile of Col. Saleem Qader, the "tough as nails" top Iraqi intelligence officer in Mosul. Americans credit him with helping pacify this city, which was the scene of so much violence in 2006. Qader's top boss, Gen. Babakir al Zibari, chief of staff for the entire Iraqi military, considers him a traitor. You see, both Qader and Zibari are Kurds, Qader was in Saddam's army for 27 years, and stuck loyally to it even during the brutal anti-Kurdish "Anfal Campaign." "I have one ideology: If I work with you, I stay with you forever," Qader said. "I can't work for two sides." But Zibari has opposed Saddam his entire life. Zibari has ordered Qader's immediate commanders to fire him, but so far they have refused because he is so effective. American commanders want him to stick around for the same reason. Great read, and Qader sounds like a great character.


Washington Post
For his column today, Howard Kurtz, in a surprising bit of chutzpah, excerpts his own book, "Reality Show," about the coverage of the Iraq war by the major networks. Anchors such as Charlie Gibson are anguished over the war, he writes, and when it came to evaluating the worth of a war, he had a low threshold: Was the war worth one life? But for all these guys' anguish, it took until 2006 -- when the public had turned against the war -- for them to take a more skeptical view of the conflict. Don't paint these guys as tragic figures, Howard. They followed the administration's line up to the war and during it, until it was clear they didn't need to.

Christian Science Monitor
No edition today.

USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

Daily Column
Living a lie to stay alive; Embassy over budget, over schedule; Shi'ite politics
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/07/2007 01:44 AM ET
Lots of good enterprise coverage today, although no single story dominates the coverage. The New York Times Magazine has the breakout story, however, with a long piece on the agonies of Kanan Makiya, author of "Republic of Fear" and arguably one of the moral architects of the Iraq war. The Times continues with gripping front-pagers on Iraqis working for Americans. The Washington Post gets in its licks, too, with in-depth reports on the embassy in Baghdad.

Dexter Filkins for Times Magazine writes the massive profile of Makiya. Without the Iraqi exile's moving idealism that liberating Iraq would change the world -- and that it was the right thing to do from a humanitarian standpoint -- the war in Iraq might not have happened. He was very influential on President George W. Bush, being the originator of the now infamous "sweets and flowers" idea. Makiya envisioned Iraq, post-Saddam as a South Africa or an East Germany where widespread reprisals against the oppression power structures were avoided. He wanted a South African-style truth commission, or the Ba'ath Party headquarters turned into a museum where people could go see how they were spied on, as the Stasi HQ in Berlin is now. His idealism would be more touching if it hadn't been paid for with so many lives. How is one supposed to react to statements like this?:

"I think there's a less than 5 percent chance that what I'd like to see happen actually happens," Makiya told The Boston Globe in the autumn of 2002. "But it seems to me an obligation, even if it's a 5 percent chance, to try to make it happen. You could call it a triumph of hope over experience. But what else is politics if not that?"
Well, with hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis later, even Makiya is having doubts now. He's writing another book, fiction, as a way of making sense of what has happened to Iraq, but Filkins says he's lost his voice.
Where did it go wrong? Makiya asks himself. Or, more precisely, where did he go wrong? It's the second question that Makiya is finding the most troubling, for it concerns a lifetime of believing, as he puts it, that hope can triumph over experience. "I want to look into myself, look at myself, delve into the assumptions I had before the war," he told me.
He now sees the disbanding of the Army as a mistake, and he places most of the blame for Iraq's descent into Dantean chaos at the feet of many of his Iraqi Shi'ite exile friends. These Shi'ite exiles did little to calm the nervous Sunnis, he argues, and eventually turned a "one-way insurgency into a two-way civil war." The entire piece is well worth a read, given Filkin's extensive experience in Iraq and his access to Makiya.

Over there
Sabrina Tavernise, reporting from Baghdad for the Times, pens an A1 story on the life of lies Iraqis working for the U.S. government in Iraq must lead in order to stay alive. She managed to find a hotel full of Iraqis leading squalid, double lives as interpreters, laborers or otherwise working on American bases. The ruses they go through to conceal their jobs are astounding.

Glenn Kessler of the Post takes his turn on the front page with a story on the cost overruns and schedule slippage of the American Embassy in Baghdad. The massive compound is $144 million over budget and months behind schedule because of poor planning, shoddy workmanship, internal disputes and last-minute changes sought by the State Department. Hm. Metaphor alert! Sounds a lot like the U.S. plan for Iraq in general.

The Times' Hugh Naylor, reporting from Damascus, writes that Syria is strengthening its ties with Sunni Arab insurgent groups and former Iraqi Ba'athists and encouraging them to organize in Syria, according to diplomats and Syrian political analysts. Somewhat paradoxically, Syria hopes to use these groups to gain influence in Iraq when American power wanes there. Huh? The Ba'ath Party is coming back? Seems more likely the real power is going to rest with Tehran and its Shi'ite allies in Baghdad, not unreconstructed Ba'athists. Naylor obliquely gets at this complication by noting that Iran is Syria's ally in the region, and it forced the cancellation of a July conference between various insurgent groups. (Syria denies any role in supporting these groups, but analysts note that it's a police state so it's unlikely they could openly organize without at least the tacit approval of the Assad regime.) It's possible that with Iran pulling many of the strings on the Shi'ite side, Syria is to draw on its Sunni Arab and Ba'athist connections, allowing Damascus and Tehran to govern Iraq at their leisure once the United States pulls out.

Andrew E. Kramer reports for the Times that Moqtada al-Sadr and Abdul Aziz Hakim announced a peace agreement to end the feud between their rival militias. This is a boost to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government because he needs both groups to support him as he struggles to stay in power. The peace agreement is meant to cut down on the violence in the south and in Basra. In other news, police found the beheaded body of a member of the Babel Awakening Council from Iskandariya south of Baghdad.

Possibly chilling the kumbaya moment between al-Sadr and Hakim, Joshua Partlow and Sudarsan Raghavan report for the Post that the Mahdi Army started the violent attacks in Karbala in Late August, according to documents, police and lawmakers involved in the investigation. According to Karbala police officers, Mahdi Army militiamen started the fighting by firing RPGs into a crowd of pilgrims. Mahdi Army spokesmen deny the allegations. The reporters mention offhandedly the peace deal between al-Sadr and Hakim, but their piece indicates that the upcoming report that blames al-Sadr's men for the violence could enflame matters. What's praise-worthy about this story is that Partlow and Raghavan actually managed to do investigative reporting -- reliance on documents and on-the-record interviews -- in Iraq, of all places. Having Mithal al-Alousi in charge of the commission investigating the violence doesn't hurt -- he's a committed democrat and believes in transparency -- but kudos to these guys and their Iraqi stringers.

Washington doings
Peter Baker goes deep into the souls of ex-White House staffers for the Post in a front-pager that reveals that those who have left feel guilty and pained by the president and policies they served. Iraq looms above all else as the greatest disappointment, with the war destroying friendships, reputations and wearing people down. This is a classic Washington Post story, giving life and sympathy to White House staffers over actions that most people would roundly condemn. Favored a war that turned out badly and now you feel guilty? Tough, man. Some people are tragic figures, but not everyone leaving the White House because of war fatigue was a good guy deserving of sympathy. Too many people who made too many bad choices that lead to many dead and wounded soldiers are going off to a quiet and peaceful retirement.


New York Times
Tony Judt writes for the Times' op-ed page that the so-called "liberal hawks" are back, claiming that yeah, Iraq is a military disaster, but the U.S. has the moral high ground. This column will come as a surprise to those who didn't know the liberal hawks, such as Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman and Peter Beinart, had gone anywhere.

Clark Hoyt, the Times' public editor, goes deep into the thickets of the reporting surrounding the numbers of Iraqi casualties. In short, no one has an "official line" because everyone keeps count differently. But his verdict is that civilian deaths have gone down -- by how much is unclear -- and the cause of the decline is also unclear. However, as Hoyt points out, civilian deaths are still higher than at any time from 2004 to the first six months of 2006.

Leslie Wayne takes apart the Osprey, the Marine's new VTOL airplane, due to be delivered to Iraq soon. Controversial and expensive -- it cost more than $20 billion to develop and 30 people died in test flights of the beast -- Wayne is skeptical of its utility in Iraq. After tests in New Mexico's desert, the plane performed poorly. And Iraq, if the Marines haven't noticed, has a lot of desert. No word on why this ill-suited plane is being to ferry Marines around -- only that it looks like a really bad idea.

Washington Post
Shailagh Murray writes this week's installment of the "Congress's War Over the War" series, focusing on the liberal member of the quartet, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. She co-sponsored last week's bill to bring Blackwater USA and other private security firms under greater U.S. control.

Michael E. Ruane reports that Arlington National Cemetery is holding more funerals than ever, with 6,785 in the FY2007, the most ever. The reason is that the WWII generation is passing away in large numbers now -- about 1,000 die each day -- and an influx of Iraq dead has led to the push for a $35 million expansion that would push the neat rows of tombstones past its borders for the first time since the 1960s. More than 400 members of the armed forces from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are buried in Arlington.

Daily Column
State imposes new monitoring of BW; Diyala attack kills dozens; Religious flight
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/06/2007 01:55 AM ET
What? You thought you might avoid news about Blackwater? Guess again! It's front-page news in the Washington Post and The New York Times again, with the State Department finally exercising more control over the company. But a deadly attack in Diyala competes for attention.

Bringing Blackwater to heel
John M. Broder, writing for the Times, pens a fronter noting that the first concrete response to the U.S. government to the Sept. 16 shoot-em-up in Nisour Square will be to install video cameras in the company's armored vehicles and put department monitors on all Blackwater convoys in Iraq. Wow, bet those guys will be popular with the Blackwater guys. It's well known that former Special Forces guys like being baby-sat. Additionally, all radio traffic between Blackwater, the military and the civilian agencies the company works with will be saved. (You mean it wasn't already?) State Department spokesman Sean McCormack emphasized that this wasn't a reflection of a loss of faith in the company, but it appears to be an attempt to get out in front of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who said this week he wants to increase oversight of the 7,300 guards on DoD contracts.

Neil King Jr. and August Cole have the story for the Wall Street Journal, and expand on the monitors. They'll be from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which normally protects diplomats overseas. (There are too few to cover Iraq and Afghanistan, so Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp were hired for the jobs.) Critics say little will change because Blackwater will still have command authority.

The Post's Karen DeYoung and Ann Scott Tyson have the story, but add in news about a new Pentagon report that reveals "a troubling lack of coordination between private security contractors and the U.S. military." The Pentagon report, which followed the Sept. 16 incident, found that U.S. military commanders often complained that contractors working for non-Pentagon agencies (we're looking at you, State) often roar through checkpoints, travel through areas of military operations without prior notification and set up their own checkpoints and roadblocks. (Hmm, sounds like a militia.) "There is a feeling that they are untouchable, a perception that they can do whatever they want with impunity," said a Pentagon source, who was not authorized to speak to reporters and demanded anonymity. The goal of the Pentagon report, which is due to be finalized this weekend, is to answer the question: "Why do we have two sets of contractors?" Of the three stories, this one is the most complete and far-reaching. Kudos, guys.

Over there
Alissa J. Rubin, reporting for the Times, has the account(s) of the attack on a town in Khalis, a Shi'ite district north of Baghdad in Diyala, during which American troops and aircraft killed at least 25 people. The U.S. military says it killed criminals involved in a gunrunning operation. Town residents say they were civilians fighting al Qaeda in Iraq. The raid was part of a search, the military says, for a man associated with the Iranian al-Quds force. An official at the hospital in Baqoubah, the provincial capital, said it had received eight children who were wounded in the raid, four of whom died. The Americans say that as they approached the town, however, they came under heavy fire, so they called in air strikes. The whole thing is hinkey. The town in question, Gizani al-Imam, is a Shi'ite town and is known as a stronghold for Shi'ite militias. But AQI has repeatedly attacked the area and residents have formed a guard force to protect themselves. As Rubin notes, some people in the fighting may have been militias attacking the Americans; some may have been the village guards; and some may have simply run out of their homes thinking their was an attack by AQI. Elsewhere, three American soldiers were killed in separate attacks on Friday: two in Baghdad and the third near Baiji in Salahuddin Province, all by roadside bombs. Four bodies were found in Baghdad on Friday.

The Post's Joshua Partlow reports on the attacks, but give short shrift to the differing accounts, using sourcing mainly from the U.S. military. But he adds into his roundup an interview with Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie, who accused Iran of supplying more sophisticated weapons to Iraqi militias, but did not provide any evidence for his claims. The weapons include SAMs, 240mm missiles that can hit targets 25 to 30 miles away and advanced RPGs, capable of penetrating U.S. armor. He also said there would be no attack on Iran by the United States, despite rumors that an attack was being prepared for January or February. Partlow also flicks at the limited success the Anbar model of co-opting local "concerned citizens" to fight AQI and provide security in a mixed province like Diyala. While Shi'ite and Sunni tribes are joining these auxiliary forces, they're not doing so in the large numbers seen in Anbar -- especially the Sunnis, some of whom have quit out of frustration that the Shi'ite government won't hire them as police. U.S. commanders are sympathetic. Out of 3,000 Sunni fighters who have been vetted, the Ministry of Interior has hired none. So the U.S. is putting them on temporary 90-day contracts that earn them less than $300 a month. This sounds like an interesting theme to explore, and Partlow has lots of teasingly good details on the success or failure of the program. How about a separate story on this issue?

Paul von Zielbauer, writing for the Times, reports on the collapse of the case against the final Marine involved in the Haditha incident, in which 24 Iraqis -- including a number of unarmed men, women and children -- were killed by a squad of Marines. Lack of evidence and concern over morale of the troops in Iraq led the investigating officer to recommend dropping charges against two enlisted men involved and reducing the charges to negligent homicide from murder for the ranking Marine. It's the apparent closing of the book on what Zielbauer said could have been the war's "defining atrocity." The main complicating factor was the delay in investigating it. After the initial killings, commanders saw no need to investigate until TIME Magazine started poking around on this and prompted the inquiry. (Full disclosure: I worked for TIME in Baghdad during the reporting for the initial story, but didn't work on the story itself.) By the time charges were announced against the three Marines, 13 months had passed, and evidence had vanished and witnesses' memories had faded.

Fleeing for their faith
James Palmer, filing for the Post, reports on the outlook for the Christians of Iraq. What is it? Bleak. Islamic militants are increasingly targeting the minority religion, especially in Baghdad, forcing them to either pay a bribe of protection money, convert to Islam or flee for their lives. In some mixed Christian-Muslim neighborhoods where militants have taken control, new Islamic rules are forcing Christian women to wear Islamic dress and forbidding a lifestyle the Christians took for granted under Saddam Hussein: the freedom to drink alcohol, celebrate Christmas and move easily among their Muslim neighbors. There are no official estimates, but there are between 300,000 and 600,000 Christians left in Iraq, from a population of 1 million in 1987, a tragic end to a people's story that goes back 2,000 years. (Iraqi Christians are some of the original Christian communities.) "If the U.S. and Europe open their doors, the Christians in Iraq will be finished," said William Warda, founder of Hamorabi, a Christian-led national human rights group in Iraq. "They will all leave." This is an old story but an important one that will probably need to be told repeatedly.

Nathaniel Deutsch, writing for the Times' op-ed page, uses the space to urge the preservation of the Mandeans, "one of the oldest, smallest and least understood of the many minorities in Iraq." The Mandeans are the only surviving Gnostics from antiquity, predating even Christianity, and are cousins to the people who produced the Nag Hammadi writings like the Gospel of Thomas, an apocryphal book of the Bible. Mandeans live mainly in the southern marshes of Iraq and have their own language, literature and 2,000 years of culture. A pacifist religion that forbids the carrying of weapons even in self-defense, they have been easy targets for kidnappings, murder and extortion. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, there were perhaps 60,000 Mandeans, Deutsch writes, but many have fled to Jordan, Syria and parts farther away. Today there are fewer than 5,000. There is no larger Mandean religious community in the world, making these refugees subject to assimilation -- and thus securing the extinction of the faith in the coming years. When they flee to northern Iraq, they're considered Arabic-speaking interlopers. If they reveal their faith, they're treated as infidels. In Syria and Jordan, many fear to practice their faith openly and some have begun to convert in order to get aid from Christian and Muslim charities. Their only hope is to be allowed to settle in the United States in large enough numbers that they can practice their faith. Otherwise, in a generation, they will be gone.


New York Times
A Times editorial criticizes the inefficient bureaucracy of the welter of bureaucracy involved in caring for veterans. It still takes almost six months for the average claim for disability to benefits to be processed. Congress has a number of commissions investigating the problem, with one proposal urging wholesale changes in the benefit system -- which hasn't been changed since 1945. The White House is doing little, the Times opines.

Wall Street Journal
Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, wanders onto the Journal's op-ed page to defend Kurdistan's signing of oil deals despite protests from the central government in Baghdad. The arguments are pretty much what you'd expect: the deals are perfectly consistent with the Iraqi constitution, which grants a great deal of autonomy to the provinces of Iraq; the Baghdad killjoys at the Iraqi Oil Ministry are locked in a Saddam-era mindset; and, golly, they're just trying to lead by example. "If we had intended to 'go it alone,' " Barzani writes, "why would we ever consider passing a law which requires us to give 83% of the revenues to the rest of Iraq?" Gee, that's a poser. Perhaps because it's unlikely there will be an Iraqi government to give the revenue to when the money comes in? The rest of the op-ed reads like an aggrieved spouse laying the groundwork for a divorce, and it has an "It's not you, it's me" whiff about it. They've done everything -- everything! -- to make it work but in the end, the two want different things.

Former Cheney Advisor Believes US Action Could Spark Domino of Dowanfall
10/05/2007 12:44 PM ET
Four years as Vice President Dick Cheney's Middle East adviser earned David Wurmser accusations of involvement in a vast neo-con conspiracy, which plots war with Iran and peddles lies to engineer what he still refers to as "the American liberation of Iraq".

Wurmser left the Administration in August "to spend more time with his family," but has just launched his own firm, Delphi Global Analysis, a risk analysis outfit advising clients that include hedge funds and investment banks.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph in his new office, only a few hundred yards away from the White House, Wurmser used his first interview after leaving government service to advocate the overthrow of the Iranian and Syrian regimes. Here's a selection of key quotes.


"We need to do everything possible to destabilise the Syrian regime and exploit every single moment they strategically overstep.... That would include the willingness to escalate as far as we need to go to topple the regime if necessary." He said that an end to Baathist rule in Damascus could trigger a domino effect that would then bring down the Teheran regime.


Limited strikes against Iranian nuclear targets would be useless, Mr Wurmser said. "Only if what we do is placed in the framework of a fundamental assault on the survival of the regime will it have a pick-up among ordinary Iranians.... If we start shooting, we must be prepared to fire the last shot. Don't shoot a bear if you're not going to kill it."


Although he conceded many mistakes had been made by the US in Iraq, Mr Wurmser said there were now reasons for optimism. "While Iraq became more violent, it also became in some ways the international bug-zapper of terrorists.... It was the light that attracted all the terrorists of the world. And that became the battleground, and this is a decisive battle. I think the battle is turning in our favour now, and this is a defeat that it will take the al-Qaeda world a long time to recover from."


In the meantime, the US still had the power to deal with Iran militarily. "If we decided from no preparation to doing something in Iran, while it would cause a lot of heartburn among many people in the Pentagon, we could do it.... I would never underestimate the raw capability of the United States in any off-the-shelf situation. If that's what we decided to do, things can be done."

Daily Column
Corruption in Iraq 'rampant'; Attacks kill allies of US; B'water bill passed
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/05/2007 01:50 AM ET
- "It was obviously excessive"
- No completed prosecutions from Iraq for BW
- Maliki blocks corruption probes

Yes, once again Blackwater and other contractors dominate the news on Iraq, despite the deaths of high-level Shi'ite and Sunni allies and evidence of massive corruption.

Sub-contracting the war
The Washington Post's Sudarsan Raghavan, Joshua Partlow and Karen DeYoung have a valuable front-pager and a major scoop, reporting that the U.S. military in Iraq has found that on Sept. 16 in Nisour Square, Blackwater guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force against Iraqis, just like the Iraqi Interior Ministry said. "It was obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong," said a U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident remains the subject of several investigations. "The civilians that were fired upon, they didn't have any weapons to fire back at them. And none of the IP or any of the local security forces fired back at them." He added that the Blackwater guards appeared to have fired grenade launchers in addition to their machine guns. There's this interesting tidbit:

U.S. soldiers have reviewed statements from eyewitnesses and video footage recorded at Nisoor Square, the official said. Members of a U.S. unit working with Iraqi police were present in the area at the time of the shootings. U.S. soldiers also helped ferry victims to hospitals.

Blackwater, whose primary task in Iraq is to protect U.S. diplomats, has been unwilling to share information about the incident with the U.S. military, the official said, adding that military officials went to Blackwater's compound in the Green Zone but were denied access to company managers.

The reporters note that Blackwater is disliked among military guys in Iraq because of their alleged reckless behavior. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack hinted that the Blackwater guards could face criminal prosecution.

Jonathan Weisman reports for the Post that the House passed a bill yesterday to place all U>S. contractors working in Iraq and other combat zones under the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. In a 389-30 vote, representatives expanded the scope of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act over strong objections from the White House. "The bill requires that contractor offenses that would be punishable by at least a one-year prison sentence if perpetrated in the United States be pursued under U.S. law," writes Weisman. U.S. and military law already covers DoD contractors, but State Department concentrators, such as Blackwater, are not. The White House said the bill would impose too many burdens on the military and FBI and was too vague in determining "proximity" to combat zones, but stopped short of threatening a veto. Despite this, the Orwellian-named International Peace Operations Association, a trade association for security contractors that includes Blackwater, supports the bill.

David M. Herszenhorn has the story for The New York Times and notes that even if the bill becomes law, it will have no retroactive authority so Sept. 16 would not be covered. Herszenhorn goes pretty deep into the fact that despite existing laws that put contractors in danger of prosecution -- either under the UCMJ or their home jurisdiction -- for crimes committed while in Iraq, only two cases have originated in Iraq: one for possessing child porn and another for attempted rape. Neither has been convicted yet. Analysts familiar with the issue say as many as 20 potential criminal cases have been referred to the justice department but nothing has been done on them. "When we have got a contractor city, say, of 180,000 people, and there hasn't been a completed prosecution of anybody coming out of Iraq, not one," said Scott Horton, a human rights lawyer who has been heavily involved in efforts to develop legislation that would hold contractors accountable, "what sort of city in America would be like that, where no one is prosecuted for anything for three years? It's unthinkable."

Matt Kelley has the story for USA Today.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, somewhat predictably, wonders what's all the fuss about over Blackwater, saying the "only serious issue at the center of the Blackwater story" is the contractors' legal status. The fact that none of the principles under Blackwater's protection has died is seen as proof that the company is doing a good job, as if the guards work in a vacuum and that's the only criteria to judge them by in a complicated place like Iraq.

Allison Stanger, a professor of political science at Middlebury College, and Omnivore, a graphic design firm, team on the Times op-ed page and produce a graphic on the general privatization of America's foreign policy. In 2005, federally financed contractors were working in every United Nations-recognized country except Bhutan, Nauru and San Marino. These contracts create jobs for local populations, and NGOs like Save the Children, CARE and Catholic Relief Services rely on U.S. dollars.

Over there
Alissa J. Rubin writes for the Times that three Iraqi allies were killed in three separate attacks across Iraq yesterday in a day of violence. A roadside bomb killed the deputy tribal leader of the Awakening council in Salahuddin Province north of Baghdad. In Babil province, a roadside bomb exploded under a convoy carrying the head of the Iskandariya council, Abbas Hamza al-Khafaji. He and four of his guards were all killed. And in the northern part of the province, gunmen killed a police brigadier, Ihsan Abdul-Kareem al-Taie. In other violence, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Tal Afar, killing at least three people and wounding 57. At a checkpoint south of Kirkuk, police arrested a couple because the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group for Al Qaeda in Iraq, signed their marriage certificate. Back in Salahuddin province, Iraqi Army and police -- about 1,200 guys -- tried to dislodge militants from AQI from an area west of Samarra, but were initially outgunned. (1,200 guys outgunned! Crikey.) The Iraqis eventually got the better of the militants, however, and killed nine and arrested 38. Two Iraqi cops were killed in the fight, however. Rubin reports that AQI seems to be "increasingly entrenched in northern Iraq," but fails to really expand on that provocative statement. American troops detained 22 people and a member of Parliament from the main Sunni Arab bloc on Wednesday at the funeral of a local AQI leader. In Baghdad, soldiers from the Sixth Army Division detained a man suspected of being an AQI financier; a car bomb in a Christian neighborhood killed three people; in the Zafraniya district, a roadside bomb killed four people; and another roadside bomb killed one person on Baghdad's west side. Eight bodies were found in Baghdad on Thursday.

The Times' Paul von Zielbauer reports that a military investigator has recommended dropping all murder charges against the remaining Marine accused in the November 2005 Haditha incident, in which 17 apparently unarmed Iraqis were killed by his squad. If the case were to go to court-martial, recommended Lt. Col. Paul J. Ware, a Marine lawyer, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich should be charged only with negligent homicide for the deaths of seven women and children. Ware has presided over hearings for all three enlisted Marines charged in the incident, and previously recommended dropping all charges against the other two leathernecks as well, citing a lack of evidence. He said the killings should be viewed in the context of combat against a ruthless enemy that hides behind civilians and furthermore, murder charges against Marines "could harm the morale of troops still in Iraq," Zielbauer writes. The reporter adds: "Prosecuting the Haditha case has posed special challenges because the killings were not comprehensively investigated when they first occurred. Months later, when details came to light, there were no bodies to examine and no Iraqi witnesses to testify."

Jim Michaels reports that the U.S. has captured at least six Al Qaeda (in Iraq) media centers in Iraq and arrested 20 suspected propagandists for the organization. Michaels quotes military sources as saying they've cut down on the amount of AQI propaganda coming out of Iraq, but Rita Katz of the SITE Institute, which monitors terrorist web sites, said the five- to six-week dip seen in the production has ended. Distribution of AQI material is back on track. And if we can take a moment to chide Michaels, let's do so. Even if the military constantly refers to "al Qaeda," it's not the same organization that did the 9/11 attacks, and to repeat that line of, well, propaganda creates a misleading impression for USA Today's readers. It may be politically expedient for the White House and the Pentagon to create the impression that there's no difference between al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq, but Michaels has been covering the war long enough to know better. (Let's also note the irony of this cropping up in a story about jihadist propaganda.) The Times and the Post have made the distinction after some public critiques from their own ombudsmen and this column, among others, and it's high time USA Today stopped parroting the line, too.

Robin Wright reports for the Post that the No. 2 commander of American forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, wants to hang on to those five Iranians captured in January. "Militarily, we should hold on to them," he said. Well, no. It's hard to imagine holding five guys would have a military benefit. But politically, the U.S. should hang on to them, perhaps, as both the Pentagon and the State Department are growing increasingly angry at Iran for what they say are harmful activities in Iraq and, well, sometimes taking hostages works. But Odierno probably doesn't want to put that forward as its outside his brief.

Washington doings
Glenn Kessler of the Post reports on the testimony of the former top Iraqi corruption investigator yesterday before a House oversight panel. Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the former commissioner of the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity who is seeking asylum in the United States, said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has thwarted corruption investigations at the top levels of his investigation, including probes of Maliki's family, and nearly four dozen anti-corruption employees or their family members have been murdered. He uncovered "rampant" corruption that had cost Iraq as much as $18 billion. Out of 3,000 cases forwarded to the courts, only 241 had been adjudicated. The tales of the brutality meted out to the investigators are chilling. The father of Radhi's security chief was found dead on a meat hook, and another staff member was gunned down along with his seven-month pregnant wife. But Radhi brought the goods: documents showing how Maliki's office blocked investigations. He was also backed up by reports from the Government Accountability Office and testimony from the special inspector general for Iraqi Reconstruction. State Department officials stonewalled, however, angering committee members. State has started to retroactively classify documents that have appeared on the Internet and a deputy assistant secretary of state told the chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., that questions about whether the Iraqi government has the will or ability to root out corruption was "best answered in a classified setting." The rest of the piece is a frustrating read -- not any fault of Kessler, who does a bang-up job -- but because of the sheer partisanship on display. State Department guys won't answer negative questions about corruption in Iraq, even though it's causing the Iraqi state to fail and directly impacting the lives of American troops over there. And Republicans defend these guys. Not only that, they attempted to destroy the credibility of Radhi. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., accused the former investigator of working for Saddam Hussein from 1979 to 1992 as a public prosecutor. Radhi replied that yes, he worked for the regime, but then he was jailed and they broke the bones in his head because "under Saddam Hussein, I refused to do what he was asking." This story should have gotten better play than A16.


Washington Post
E.J. Dionne Jr., regular op-ed columnist, is intrigued by the war surtax idea floated by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He says it's "a magnificent way to test the seriousness of those who claim that the Iraq war is an essential part of the 'global war on terror,' " and he's right. But the Democratic Leadership is never going to let the idea come to the floor because they don't want Republicans to label them as tax and spend Democrats. It's hard not to admire Obey's sentiments: "Some people are being asked to pay with their lives or their faces or their hands or their arms or their legs," he said. "If you're going to ask for that, it doesn't seem too much to ask an average taxpayer to pay 30 bucks for the cost of the war so we don't have to shove it off on our kids. ... I'm tired of seeing that only military families are asked to sacrifice in this war." True dat, but Obey is tilting at windmills on this.

USA Today
Zaid Sabah writes a wonderful little vignette on the lives of Iraqi newspaper salesmen. From the heady days immediately after the invasion during which maybe 250 newspapers swarmed to today, which sees about 50 because of competition, these guys get the papers out to Iraqis, who are voracious readers of the news. An old saying goes: "The Egyptians write, the Lebanese publish and the Iraqis read." Never truer.

Daily Column
Federal agents, not BW, to protect FBI; Bombs wound Polish ambassador, kill two
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/04/2007 01:54 AM ET
Blackwater, yet again, leads the coverage today with the Washington Post nipping at The New York Times's heels with its tick-tock coverage of the shooting in Nisour Square on Sept. 16. Otherwise, most of the rest of the news is Baghdad-centric, with a noted lessening in the volume of politicking and op-eds today.

More Blackwater!
Sudarsan Raghavan writes the Post's front-pager today, writing almost 2,500 words on the lives of five Iraqis who were killed on Sept. 16 when Blackwater security guards opened fire in Nisour Square in Baghdad. Raghavan's story goes deep in the mini-profiles of these five who died that day -- Iraqis who were typical of those looking to rebuild a nation. And while the events of the day are in dispute, as is the number of those killed and wounded (14 dead and 18 injured, according to hospital records, and higher than some previous tallies) eyewitnesses all agree that it was a bloody tragedy. It doesn't get into the nitty-gritty of the details of that day as deeply as yesterday's Times piece did, however.

Speaking of the Times, Christine Hauser writes that John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., both running for the Democratic nomination, have called for new rules to govern contractors in Iraq. Edwards called for the ending of outsourcing military and security missions to contractors, and offered a plan to extend American law enforcement jurisdiction over contractors overseas. Obama suggested creating a special FBI unit to enforce federal law overseas.

Karen DeYoung, writing for the Post, reports that federal agents, not Blackwater, would be guarding the FBI agents investigating the Sept. 16 incident. That sounds like a good idea, given that Blackwater is the one under investigation. The White House is also opposed to a House bill that would extend current federal law covering Defense Department contractors overseas to contractors working for the State Department. Why? The Office of Management and Budget said "the bill was too vague and would have unspecified 'intolerable consequences for crucial and necessary national security activities and operations.' " The agency said new measures like that would add to the DoD's burdens in the midst of a military operation.

John M. Broder of the Times tracks down Andrew J. Moonen, the former Blackwater employee accused of killing one of the bodyguards of Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi last Christmas Eve. He's living in Seattle renovating his house and declining to talk much about the incident that has become a notorious moment in Blackwater's history. Moonen was fired within hours of the incident for being drunk and in possession of a firearm (not for shooting an Iraqi, mind you) and hustled out of the country. He had to pay his own airfare home and forfeit a $3,000 Christmas bonus. The Iraqi family of the slain guard got $20,000.

Over there
The Times' Paul von Zielbauer reports on the coordinated bombing attack that injured the Polish ambassador to Iraq, Gen. Edward Pietrzyk, and killed two people: an Iraqi civilian and a member of the ambassador's security detail. The bombing used multiple, linked bombs and was set about 100 yards from the Polish Embassy compound and about 130 yards from an Iraqi Army checkpoint, raising questions as to how the sophisticated explosives got planted. Separately, the Times picks up on the Post's news yesterday that the largest Shi'ite political bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, is opposed to America's reaching out to Sunni tribesmen in Anbar and elsewhere. The reason for the pushback is that the U.S. is taking its relative success story from Anbar to Baghdad and other provinces, and this is worrying the Shi'ite bloc. Zielbauer reports that Shi'ites fear support for the Sunnis would upset the power balance that has come to favor the Shi'ites in Baghdad.

Iraq has gotten fed up with the slow pace of American delivery of weapons for its police forces that it has turned to China, ordering $100 million in light arms, report Robin Wright and Ann Scott Tyson for the Post. This is alarming for many reasons. The Iraqi security forces already can't account for 190,000 weapons given to them by American forces, and many of those guns are now probably in the hands of Sunni and Shi'ite militants, military analysts fear. Iraq is one of the largest buyers of U.S. weapons, with deals signed for $1.6 billion and another $1.8 billion for possible future purchases. Even so, only one in five Iraqi policeman is armed, said Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Sounds like there's a market not being tapped there! Perhaps the U.S. pique over the China deal is less about security and more about missing a business opportunity? The news of the China deal comes on top of a statement from Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander for day-to-day operations, who said he expects the U.S. to have 25,000 to 50,000 troops in Iraqi for at least three to five more years. Detailed planning is underway to scale back the primary mission of fighting and counterinsurgency to advising and training, the general said. Both Odierno and Talabani said their governments would finalize a bi-lateral security pact in 2008.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. reports for the Times that the Kurdistan Regional Government has reached four more oil deals, further straining ties with Baghdad. The deals were signed with Heritage Oil Corp., a publicly traded Canadian concern, and Perenco S.A., a privately held French company. The two other deals, with "experienced international companies," will be announced soon. The total amount initially invested will be about $500 million, the KRG said. All this, naturally, upset the Oil Ministry in Baghdad, which wants a more centralized control over the country's oil. "Any contracts signed before the approval of the oil law will be ignored or considered illegal," said Ministry spokesman, Assim Jihad. A western oil executive involved in negotiations said the Kurds were trying to "create a fait accompli" by signing so many deals so that passing a national oil law is would require recognizing the Kurds' deals and provisions.


Wall Street Journal
When Congressional Democrats propose a tax -- and a tax on a war cheered by the Journal's op-ed page, no less -- well, that's like throwing red meat to a starving bear. And sure enough, the Journal's editorial board gleefully leaped on the idea of a war surtax floated this week by Dems in the House. There's a bit of a thrill reading this editorial, because taxes are the bête noire of the Journal's editorial board and, well, there just hasn't been much for them to rail against in this category lately. But really, there's not much point to this piece. The idea of a war surtax, floated by Rep. David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is never going to go anywhere, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already outlined her opposition to it. It's like watching an old Cold Warrior or John Bircher go off about the looming dangers of Communism in "Red China" or fluoride in the drinking water or something. Guys, you won already.

Robert D. Kaplan, a correspondent for the Atlantic and a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, and the author of "Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground," writes for the Journal's op-ed page on the understated -- and underreported -- heroism of your average American military guy. And he gets at a strange phenomenon. The civilian world now loves and even pities the American military, but that's not what the men and women who make up the military want; they want respect for a job well done. As one battalion commander complained to him: "Has anyone noticed that we now have a volunteer Army? I'm a warrior. It's my job to fight." It's a rich piece, and well worth a read.

Melik Kaylan, culture writer for the Journal, writes that packs of cards are being distributed to American troops in Iraqi with pictures of Iraqi cultural treasures on them, in a bid to get the troops to protect these treasures of human history.

The five of clubs, for example, depicts a U.S. soldier in desert fatigues walking over dusty mounds in Isin, Iraq. The caption reads, "A looted archeological site means that details of our common past are lost forever." The six of hearts shows a Babylonian bas-relief with the caption, "The world's oldest complete legal document is found on a stone carved with an image of Hammurabi ... King of Babylon, ca. 1760 B.C."

USA Today
Gregg Zoroya reports that the House of Representatives has introduced a bill to create a $5 million Pentagon-based research center for eye injuries, which are now among the most common wounds to U.S. troops in Iraq. At least 1,126 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered eye wounds requiring surgery and half have temporary blindness in one or both eyes. Eye injuries make up 10.7 percent to 13 percent of all serious wounds requiring medical evacuation, say current and former Army ophthalmologists, the highest percentage of such injuries since WWI. "Doctors say insurgent roadside bomb, grenade and mortar attacks send hundreds of pieces of flying metal that cause many of the eye wounds," writes Zoroya.

Washington Post
David Ignatius, regular op-ed columnist, writes that while Iraq may collapse into three statelets, this is not something the U.S. should encourage and last week's plan from Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., is moving in the wrong direction. Ignatius notes that the passage of the non-binding resolution calling for the establishing of three ethnosectarian zones has had one beneficial effect: It has united Iraqis in opposition to it.

Daily Column
Blackwater on hotseat; The case for soft partition; House passes pullout bill
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/03/2007 01:55 AM ET
- "Oh man, we shot some of our own guys"
- Mark I Human Eyeball invaluable to war effort
- War surtax threatened in House

It's a very heavy news day today, quite the slog, really, with Blackwater dominating the news cycle. There are at least three front page story on yesterday's testimony by Eric Prince, the company's reclusive -- yet politically connected -- founder and CEO. The Washington Post finishes up Rick Atkinson's eye-opening series on IEDs today, there's buzz of a further British pullout on the rise and the House of Representatives passed a bill tying war funding to a pullout plan. It's a busy day. Let's get started.

Atkinson wraps up his groundbreaking IED series in the Post by reporting the U.S. strategy today: "Put them back on the wire." This means using a huge spreadsheet and massive jammer deployment to disrupt the use of radio-controlled IEDs, which have wreaked havoc on U.S. forces. By knocking out the RC bombers, insurgents would be forced to use more rudimentary triggers using a command wire. These are simpler to detect and force the triggerman to be closer to the bomb, where U.S. forces can go after him. This has largely been a success: Since spring 2006, RC bombs have shrunk to 10 percent of all IEDs in Iraq, down from 70 percent in some areas of Iraq. Simple command wire bombs have increased to 40 percent of the total. And yet, the threat from IEDs hasn't diminished. In the first seven months of this year, there were 20,781 attacks -- one every 15 minutes. The homemade bombs have killed 440 U.S. troops this year. Atkinson's final piece documents the problems with so many jammers -- friendly radio traffic is also disrupted -- an unregulated electronic devices in Iraq such as the unregulated cell phones, walkie-talkies, satellite phones and long-distance cordless phones. "People have said it's the most challenging electromagnetic place in the world," a Navy captain said. But the insurgents are adapting. More "victim-operated" bombs are blowing up -- pressure plates and passive infrared sensors are the triggers. And larger bombs are being developed. Fertilizer-based bombs are being brewed in backyards in Iraq and deployed. On July 17, 1,500 pounds of the homemade explosive blew up in a culvert north of Baghdad, heaving a 26-ton armored vehicle 60 feet into the air and killing two Navy crewmen. Multiple suicide truck bombings, molded explosives and chlorine bombs are all variations on the death that comes from the bombs. Again, a must-read and an important piece of journalism.

Blackwater brouhaha
The other big story of the day is, again, Blackwater. August Cole and Neil King Jr. of the Wall Street Journal pen a front-pager on the probe into Blackwater's performance on Sept. 16, which is in turn fueling a push to change the way security contractors do business in Iraq. Iraq is looking at stripping contractors of their legal immunity while the U.S. Congress is preparing legislation that soon could make all American battlefield contractors subject to U.S. criminal law. Contractors, naturally, cry foul, with Eric Prince, the company's CEO, telling the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform yesterday that Blackwater holds its people internally accountable by firing or fining them. "If there is any sort of discipline problem, whether it's bad attitude, a dirty weapon, riding someone's bike that's not his, we fire them," he said. (Riding someone else's bike?)

The Times' James Glanz and Alissa J. Rubin have a front-pager recreating the Sept. 16 attack that left 17 Iraqis dead and 24 wounded. The reporting pair interviewed 12 Iraqi witnesses, several Iraqi investigators and an American officials familiar with an American investigation to recreate the events in Nisour Square. And Glanz and Rubin say, diplomatically, that "they are difficult to square with the explanation offered initially by Blackwater officials that their guards were responding proportionately to an attack on the streets around the square." Three new details include that Blackwater shot first, killing a driver whose weight on the accelerator caused it to continue toward the Blackwater convoy in the square. That led to the guards opening fire in an intense barrage in several directions. Minutes later, a Blackwater convoy -- possibly the same one -- moved north and opened fire on another line of traffic, a previously unreported shooting. The detail is devastating and for anyone concerned about the events of that day, it's a must-read.

The New York Times's John M. Broder covers Prince's congressional testimony, as does Karen DeYoung of the Post and Jim Michaels of USA Today. By all accounts, Prince's testimony -- he said his employees "acted appropriately at all times" -- will change few minds among the Democrats that Blackwater and other security firms need more regulation.

Peter Grier covers the testimony for the Christian Science Monitor and goes over some of the more than 195 incidents involving Prince's company.

Dana Milbank, the Post's snark reporter, reports on the tone of the hearings, noting that Prince "doesn't seem to answer to anybody." He refused to disclose the company's profits because it's a private company, even though it's received $1 billion in federal contracts.

What about the 2004 crash of a Blackwater plane in Afghanistan, when federal investigators said the pilots acted unprofessionally? "Accidents happen," Prince explained.

The lack of prosecution for a drunken Blackwater worker who shot and killed a security guard to an Iraqi vice president? "We can't flog him," Prince said.

The high wages for Blackwater security guards? "They're not showing up at the job naked," Prince reasoned.

Milbank also manages to work in that GOP Congressman "proved content to shill for a major donor"; Prince's father is active in the religious-conservative movement and his sister is a major GOP fundraiser. Milbank does a nice job of reporting the glowing statements from Republicans followed by the amount they've received from the defense contracting industry. (He does the same with Democrats, too, but they've received a lot less.)

The Times' Maureen Dowd opens her op-ed on yesterday's testimony by quoting Nietzsche, comparing Blackwater to the abyss gazing back at us. The company is a stain on America's image around the world, she writes.

A Times editorial calls for the jobs handled by Blackwater and other contractors to be brought back into government hands ASAP, while Blackwater and other contractors need to be placed under military law. It also lambastes Blackwater specifically and its ties to the White House and the Republican Party as unseemly, given its no-bid contracts.

Finally, Steve Fainaru of the Post writes a front-pager looking a security contractors in general, reporting that private guards -- all companies -- engage in more shootings than reported. Two former Blackwater employees told Fainaru that the company averaged "four or five" shootings a week, several times the 1.4 incidents a week reported by the company. This is routine in Iraq, the former guard said. "The thing is, even the good companies, how many bad incidents occurred where guys involved didn't say anything, because they didn't want to be questioned, or have any downtime today to have to go over what happened yesterday?" he said. "I'm sure there were some companies that just didn't report anything." Another must-read for today, full of details and even on-the-record quotes from former guards who say their companies shot up innocent Iraqis for no good reason.

Over there
Meanwhile, there's still a war on. The largest Shi'ite bloc in Iraq's parliament called on the end to the U.S. policy of recruiting Sunni tribesmen into the Iraqi police, reports Joshua Partlow of the Post, a direct rebuke to one of the signature successes of U.S. policy in Iraq. Also, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Baghdad and announced that Britain would withdraw 1,000 troops -- nearly 20 percent of its remaining total -- by year's end. The remaining British troops would take on an "overwatch" role instead of a combat role.

Paul von Zielbauer leads the Times' roundup with the news of the British troop withdrawal. He adds that Iraqi health officials have started distributing chlorine pills to Baghdadis in an effort to stem the cholera outbreak that occurred in northern Iraq. Also, a car bomb detonated in the town of Khalis, killing six Iraqis, including two policemen, and wounding 10. One American soldier was killed and 10 wounded in combat in Baghdad on Sunday.

Jeffrey Stinson has the story on the British drawdown for USA Today.

The Times' Thom Shanker reports that The No. 2 American commander in Iraq said Iraqi security forces would not be able to take control of Baghdad until the end of next year. Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said that Iraqi forces still could not provide their own logistics and lacked qualified commanders and that sectarianism is still present in the military's ranks. He hopes by the end of next year American forces can be in a "tactical overwatch" mode in the capital.

House funding
The Democrats were in disarray yesterday, reports David M. Herszenhorn for the Times, as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee threatened to black President George W. Bush's $200 million war-funding request. He also said the government should levy a war tax. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, however, opposes the war tax and Senate Democrats continued to hammer out a funding bill.

The Journal's David Rogers reports on the House hijinks, noting that Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc., the Appropriations chairman, can stall the president's funding request if he doesn't report it out of committee. "I have absolutely no intention of reporting out...any such request that simply serves to continue the status quo," he said. At least moderates scored a win: "By 377-46, members approved requiring the Pentagon to report regularly to Congress on the status of planning for the redeployment of troops from Iraq." There's no requirement the plan actually be implemented, however.

Jonathan Weisman has the story for the Post, leading with the bill requiring a plan within two months for the redeployment out of Iraq. The Post characterizes this as the Democratic Party staring down its anti-war base.

Soft partition
Edward P. Joseph, a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, pen an op-ed for USA Today making the case for a "soft partition" of Iraq, an idea that is highly unpopular among large swaths of the Iraqi population. They express support for Sen. Joe Biden's non-binding resolution calling for such a plan that passed in the Senate last week, 75-23.

But wait! Biden and Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, say it isn't a partition -- soft or otherwise -- the resolution is designed to encourage, but decentralized power-sharing. They write this in a Post op-ed. Instead, they refer to it as "federalism," and say the bill has been mischaracterized. (Sunnis Arabs have always feared this "federalism," as they see it as a way of dividing the country. In other words, the senator says "federalism," the Iraqis hear "partition.")


USA Today
Tom Vanden Brook takes a break from reporting on armored vehicles and reports instead on a surveillance technology caught in a military turf battle. At stake was a working tech called Angel Fire, used by the Marines and Air Force. It competed with an Army surveillance system called Constant Hawk that is more difficult to use, but covers a larger area. It's unclear why this story merits A1 play and almost 2,000 words because the events all take place about a year ago and the Joint IED Defeat Organization, the Pentagon's efforts to beat back IEDs, has agreed to fund both systems. By the end of the story, it's revealed that both systems are in use for two different missions. Everything's A-OK. Um, where's the news here?

Gregg Zoroya reports that a new order would require Marine commanders to intervene in cases where combat-hardened Marines with clean records get into trouble. The order, which has not been signed yet, would require screenings for traumatic brain injury in such cases. At least a third of the 1,019 Marines who have received less-than-honorable discharges showed evidence of mental health problems brought on by combat stress. Vets with less-than-honorable discharges are often ineligible for medical benefits from the Veterans Authority. Sounds like an order that's way overdue.

New York Times
Carl Hulse reports on the efforts of Congressional Democrats to condemn Rush Limbaugh for his "phony soldiers" remark. I guess both parties are competing over who can expend the most energy over pointless sideshows. ads or Rush Limbaugh? Yawn.

Washington Post
Ann Scott Tyson reports that the Army met its goal of 80,000 recruits for fiscal 2007, but fell short of a larger internal goal to get several thousand more troops to expand the overall force. And next year will be tougher because the Army pushed more enlistees into its ranks more quickly than normal, leaving less than 7,000 in the pipeline for next year. Next year will be "a challenge," said Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, head of the Army's Accession Command.

Wall Street Journal
Claudia Rosett, a journalist in residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes for the Journal's op-ed page that it's a pity Texas oil-tycoon Oscar S. Wyatt Jr.'s trial ended so soon as it was providing a window into how the corruption in the oil for food program worked.

Bob Davis reports that Hunt Oil Co. CEO Ray Hunt denies that his connections to the Bush White House and the Republican Party helped him cut a deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Bartle Bull, the foreign editor of Prospect magazine, editor of Middle East Monitor and the holder of a great Dickensian name, seems to have suffered Stockholm Syndrome from his time spent with the Mahdi Army, painting them as allies of the U.S. in Iraq. The Shi'ites are winning the war in Iraq, he says, and this is a very good thing. Screw the Sunnis, he seems to be saying.

Daily Column
Attacks down in Iraq; guilty plea in oil-for-food; Blackwater at boiling point
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/02/2007 01:54 AM ET
The Washington Post leads Iraq coverage today, with the continuation of its must-read IED series. But three other stories get lots of ink with the other papers, too: The new revelations over Blackwater, the decrease in violence in Iraq and the guilty plea in the latest oil-for-food trial.

Left of Boom
Rick Atkinson keeps the news coming with the third part of his front-page, must-read series on IEDs for the Post. Covering the period from spring 2005 to summer 2006, today's installment focuses on the deadly effects of the deeply buried bombs -- a specialty of Sunni insurgents -- and EFPs, the explosively formed penetrators. In a case of dreary deja vú, America's efforts to defeat these monster IEDs were still troubled, with deadly results. One massive buried IED took out an entire squad of reservists from Ohio near Haditha in August 2005, destroying a 26-ton armored personnel carrier and killing 14 Marines. This despite billions of dollars spent on defeating IEDs, or at least protecting the men and vehicles from the blasts. Some of the technologies experimented with were abandoned: honeybees and "man-portable" jammers, for example. The EFPs were the deadliest, however. One test EFP "killed" 400 EOD technicians in a month on a Florida training range. These things used a combination of passive infrared sensors -- which can't be jammed -- and radio-controlled arming triggers, which allows triggermen to arm them when they see a patrol coming. This is where Iran comes into the picture, as Washington increasingly saw Tehran's hand behind these new bombs.

Atkinson's sidebar looks at the sci-fi counter-measures being used against IEDs, including directed energy weapons that can cause IEDs to detonate prematurely -- and less dangerously. One device, the Joint IED Neutralizer, looked promising in 2005, but after further testing, it proved less effective than originally thought. The same week than a couple of JINs were flown to Afghanistan for field testing, jihadis posted on a Web site an article called, "How to Disable U.S. 'Joint IED Neutralizer.' " After six weeks of testing, it was a colossal failure.

Boiling point
John M. Broder tackles The New York Times's fronter on Congress' new report on Blackwater, and the issue of the company's behavior in Iraq may be reaching a boiling point. It's a sordid tale of payoffs and bribes in attempts to cover up killings of Iraqi civilians -- often with the help of the State Department. "There is no evidence in the documents that the committee has reviewed that the State Department sought to restrain Blackwater's actions, raised concerns about the number of shooting episodes involving Blackwater or the company's high rate of shooting first, or detained Blackwater contractors for investigation," the report states. The report was prompted by the deadly Sept. 16 shootout involving the company, and now the FBI is sending a team to compile evidence for a possible criminal prosecution.

Eric Schmitt, also writing for the Times, gets into one of the most notorious incidents involving a Blackwater employee: the killing of an Iraqi bodyguard to Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi on Christmas Eve 2006. The guard involved was allegedly so drunk that guards from Triple Canopy had to take away the guy's weapon. Within 36 hours, the man was flown out of the country and fired for possessing a firearm while drunk. Blackwater offered to pay the family of the man $250,000 to keep it quiet, but the acting ambassador at the time, probably Margaret Scobey, ratcheted the payout down to $15,000 in order to discourage Iraqis from trying to "get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family's future," she allegedly said.

Karen DeYoung has the front-pager for the Post, leading with the news that Blackwater has been involved in at least 195 incidents since early 2005, firing first in more than 80 percent of them, and occasionally filing false reports to cover up several of them. At least 16 Iraqis have been killed by Blackwater. In one case in Hilla, in southern Iraq, a personal security detail shot a guy on the side of the road as they drove by. They failed to report the shooting and tried to cover it up with a $5,000 compensatory payment. To punish its employees, Blackwater has fired 122 employees, out of about currently 1,000 in Iraq.

August Cole and Evan Perez have the story for the Wall Street Journal, and add a scooplet: In the bodyguard shooting, Blackwater officials were initially cheered that reports pinned the blame on a "drunken U.S. soldier." The email managed to get a copy of an internal email from Blackwater, where an official noted: "Thought you might want to see this. At least the ID of the shooter will take the heat off us." The two also tally up the cost for Blackwater's services: $445,000 a year per employee in Iraq. An Army sergeant costs between $51,100 and $69,350 a year in pay and benefits.

Matt Kelley and Jim Michaels have the story for USA Today.

The Post has an editorial calling for more oversight of private security companies, but doesn't call for ending their use in Iraq.

Over there
The Times' Paul von Zielbauer reports that according to an Iraqi government official and an independent monitoring group, violence in Iraq is down sharply in September compared to August. This is also reflected in the apparent decline in U.S. troop deaths, 63 killed last month compared to 84 in August. This is the lowest monthly total in a year. The numbers varied on civilian deaths, but all point to a decline. And the Times notes that the drop in civilian deaths comes at a time when Al Qaeda in Iraq had promised more mayhem, to coincide with the start of Ramadan. Even so, a car bomb exploded near a university in Mosul, killing six people. And 11 bodies were found in Baghdad. An assassination attempt against the chief of police in Basra failed.

Joshua Partlow has the story for the Post, but writes:

Numbers alone cannot describe the level of danger and the pervading sense of insecurity that still exist in much of Iraq. Some U.S. soldiers in Iraq have argued that sectarian cleansing in some Baghdad neighborhoods has progressed to the point that there are fewer opportunities for killing rivals. Many Iraqis still refuse to travel from their homes or immediate neighborhoods for fear of crossing into territory under the control of rival militias or insurgents. Thousands of residents each month are still driven from their homes and from the country, afraid for their lives.
Killjoy. In addition to the university bombing in Mosul, Partlow reports that gunmen kidnapped the head if the Ibn Sina educational hospital. The U.S. military reported three soldiers dead, two in combat and another in a "noncombat incident." A fourth soldier was wounded in the same incident.

The Christian Science Monitor's Gordon Lubold writes that the U.S. strategy of exporting the Anbar model to Shi'ite areas is starting to bear fruit. Violence is down around an Army base in northern Babil province. South of Baghdad, about 14,000 Shi'ite and Sunni "concerned citizens" are manning checkpoints and patrolling roads for $500,000 a month. ($10 a day to each "CC.")

Guilty plea in Oil-for-Food trial
Throwing in the oil-soaked towel, Oscar S. Wyatt Jr., the Texas oilman accused of cheating the United Nations oil-for-food program by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's government, agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud before the prosecutors had even finished presenting their case, reports Alan Feuer for the Times. He got four out of the five charges dropped with his plea deal, and now will likely be sentenced to 18 to 24 months in prison instead of the 70 years he might have faced. "I didn't want to waste any more time at 83 years old fooling with this operation," he said to reporters in the courtroom. "The quicker I got it over with, the better."

Colum Lynch has the story for the Post, and notes that Wyatt is the sixth person to plead guilty in a federal investigation that has recovered more than $16.5 million in illegal monies, which are due to be returned to Iraq.

The Journal's Paul Davies has the story, too.


USA Today
Tom Vanden Brook continues his dogged coverage of the MRAP (Mine-resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles, reporting that the Pentagon has developed a plan to protect the new armored trucks from EFPs. The solution involves adding more armor. Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan is in charge of adding the armor, and he sounds like he won't listen to any solution other than his own, despite concerns from some military contractors. "I've got great trucks," Brogan said. "And I can put additional armor on those great trucks. ... You've either got the solution or you don't." Here's hoping he does.

Washington Post
Jon Cohen and Dan Balz report that a recent poll shows that most American oppose fully funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting the White House's $190 billion funding request on the wrong side of public opinion. But when has that stopped the president before? President George W. Bush is at 33 percent approval rating, a career low in the Washington Post-ABC poll, while Congress is at 29 percent -- mainly because Democrats haven't managed to figure out how to clip Bush's war wings. "Overall, 55 percent of Americans want congressional Democrats to do more to challenge the president's Iraq policies, while a third think the Democrats have gone too far. The level of agitation for more action in opposition to the war has not dissipated since August 2005, when Democrats were the minority party in Congress."

E.J. Dionne Jr., regular op-ed columnist, places a great deal of importance on the passage of Delaware Sen. Joe Biden's non-binding resolution calling for a "soft-partition" of Iraq. Why? Because 26 Republicans voted for it, a move Dionne sees as a break with Bush's Iraq policy. Dionne is wrong here, probably, as voting for a non-binding resolution is a way for Republicans to look like they're breaking with the president and demanding change without actually doing anything about it. This weekend's Post coverage by Shailagh Murray noted this, reporting that Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., voted for it because it would not force Bush "to alter his military strategy one iota."

Anne Applebaum opines that America's traditional allies have lost faith in her global leadership not because she went into Iraq, but because she screwed it up so badly. "Why don't they like us?" She asks. It's the incompetence and the stupidity, stupid.

Dana Milbank reports on outgoing the farewell ceremony for the Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Bottom line: He's still not happy about being forced out by Bush et al.

Daily Column
"A lot of people died"; U.S. tries to soothe Iraqis on plan; Backing Blackwater
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 10/01/2007 01:50 AM ET
Monday turned out to be quite the light day in Iraq coverage, but the second part of the Washington Post's series on IEDs makes its appearance. However, that's the only Iraq focused story in the Post today, so The New York Times picks up the slack with a good little menu of Baghdad-datelined stories.

"Don't do it half-assed"
Rick Atkinson continues his front-page series on IEDs today in the Post, looking at the period of time starting in 2004, when Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of CENTCOM, who said he wanted a "51 percent" solution to the IED problem. In other words, give him something that have soldiers a better than even chance of finding and stopping the bombs. A massive $3 million surveillance effort called IED Blitz was put into effect, with orders not to go halfway on it. Its pictures were so detailed it could distinguish between apples and pomegranates on fruit stands. But it couldn't see bombs or bombers. There were technical limitations, sandstorms and high winds. Insurgents would monitor drone takeoffs. "Numerous images showed Iraqis in pickup trucks staring into the sky and making obscene gestures at the drones, which were as noisy as lawn mowers." The effort slowly unraveled as resources were needed elsewhere -- the project looked only a small segment of Route Tampa, the supply line running from Kuwait to Baghdad. Not a single IED was discovered by the three-month effort. However, the eyes in the sky guys found that if they couldn't find bombs, they could find bombers. The surveillance drones and other techniques worked well for finding trucks that were near a bombing and then tracking them where they went, a tactic called backtracking. Atkinson writes of the efforts to go after the system and networks of bomb makers and their suppliers, rather than concentrate on preventing the bombs themselves. (The latter position is called being "right of boom" and the former "left of boom". No real explanation why.) The winter of 2004-05 saw bombs become more lethal and the bombers more ingenious. Triggers grew more sophisticated and varied, as this graphic shows. Placement of bombs grew gruesome, as bodies were booby-trapped. Most of the bomb-making knowledge started with three Ba'athist organizations that had gone underground after the 2003 invasion: the Special Republican Guard, the Special Security Organization and the so-called M-21 directorate of the mukhabarat intelligence service. But by 2004-05, there were at least 169 networks with the expertise. Again, Atkinson's work is an absolute must-read.

Over there
Alissa J. Rubin reports for the Times that the U.S. embassy scrambled to do damage control and soothe Iraqi outrage over the U.S. Senate's passage of the so-called Biden plan, which would countenance a soft partition of Iraq. Six Iraqi political parties together slammed the vote while the embassy reiterated its long-standing policy of "a united democratic, federal Iraq that can govern, defend and sustain itself." Partitioning has long been a concern of Arab Iraqis, who eye the Kurdish enclave in the north warily, and who often in the past voiced concern that division was the original goal of the invasion. The only parties who seem to actually support the Biden plan are the two Kurdish parties (of course) and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which favors a Shi'ite enclave in the south. Meanwhile, 14 people have now died from the cholera epidemic that started in northern Iraq but which has now as far south as Basra. Kirkuk is the hardest hit, however, with 2,096 cases. Also, three Sunni imams were killed in Mosul on Saturday, and American and Iraqi forces clashed with insurgents over the past two days, claiming to have killed at least 60 gunmen.

The Times' James Glanz reports that provincial governments -- that of Babil, in particular -- are finding they're better at spending reconstruction money than the central government is. It's a sign that political power is continuing its drain from Baghdad and out into the hinterlands, which pleases some politicians, such as the Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurd, although Glanz reports that some fear increasing the power of the provinces will exacerbate the centrifugal forces threatening to tear Iraq apart. There is also concern that pouring so much money -- Babil will get $70 million on top of its $112 million budget -- will lead to corruption.

Jim Michaels reports for USA Today that American fatalities in September could be the lowest levels since July 2006. Last month, if current figures hold, 62 American troops died -- 41 in combat and 21 from non-hostile causes. U.S. commanders credit the surge strategy for taking the initiative from al Qaeda (in Iraq, Jim) and increasing security in Baghdad. "With a decreasing number of attacks, you get less casualties," said Brig. Gen. John Campbell, an assistant commander for the U.S. division in Baghdad. Moqtada al-Sadr's cease-fire has also contributed to the falling violence, Campbell said.

Homefront news
USA Today's Larry Copeland reports on what amounts to a rehabilitative summer camp for wounded Iraq vets. At a 1,000-acre camp in eastern Alabama, these severely wounded Iraq and Afghanistan vets spend weekends rediscovering their love of "rigorous outdoor activities" to boost their self-confidence and their physical abilities. The Lakeshore Foundation, a Birmingham, Ala.-based non-profit, brought the vets and their families out to help show that they can rebuild their lives, self-esteem and live more independently. America's newspaper reports that there are more than 50,000 wounded vets from Iraq and Afghanistan.


Wall Street Journal
Ben Ryan, a former Navy Seal officer who spent time in Iraq as a Triple Canopy guard, rushes to the defense of Blackwater and private security firms in general. Since it's the Journal's op-ed page, it's a typically self-defensive, anti-media piece. They're just victims of vicious journalists, you see? He spends a lot of time saying contractors are not above the law and are subject to numerous regulations, but he doesn't point to any contractors that have been punished for shooting up Iraqi civilians. He then goes on to call journalists the trigger-happy ones, but no one ever died from a critical story.

New York Times
Almost a response, the Times editorial page comes out against private contractors, and ups the number of private security guards to 50,000 now, the largest number to date. (IraqSlogger has seen the papers range from 20,000 to 30,000 before.) The Times argues that the private security firms' functions should be brought back to the military (using what troops?) and the rest of them should be heavily regulated, noting that not a single contractor has been prosecuted for crimes against Iraqis. (Take that, Ryan!)

Christian Science Monitor
No Iraq coverage today.


Wounded Warrior Project