Murder in the north The Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher returns to Iraq after a break to the grim news of al-Jubouri's death. He was killed by a suicide bomber while touring the site of that bomb factory that exploded Wednesday in an attack that killed two other Iraqi policemen and wounded a U.S. and Iraqi soldier. It should be obvious now that the tactics of al Qaeda in Iraq, who is suspected in the attacks, have shifted from mass bombings to targeted assassinations -- and they seem to be even better at penetrating defenses. Dagher gives good detail on the Wednesday bombing of the building in this piece and excellent context on the situation in the north, but he's a little short on details of the attack that killed al-Jubouri.
Solomon Moore has the story for the Times, and has some good details from the scene of al-Jubouri's murder. Rescuers were still digging corpses out of the rubble from Wednesday's blast when al-Jubouri showed up. An Angry crowd quickly gathered and began throwing stones at the chief. He and his bodyguards began to withdraw and in the confusion, the bomber got close to his truck and detonated. Moore says six civilians were wounded, including an Iraqi journalist. The police chief in Tal Afar said the attack was well organized. "After the insurgents booby-trapped the building the day before, the Iraqi Army knew that someone important would come into the area," he said. Is he suggesting someone in the Iraqi Army tipped them off? There are conflicting reports that the bomber wore a police uniform. Elsewhere, a top aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was wounded when an IED exploded near his convoy in Karbala. Sheikh Abdul Medhi al-Karbilai is the chief cleric at the Imam Hussein, one of the most important shrines for Shi'ites. Another bomb exploded near a police convoy in Baghdad, killing two officers and wounding three other people. Police in Baqoubah discovered a body.
Rounding out the roundups, Amit R. Paley of the Post reports on the killing of al-Jubouri. He also has the highest death toll from Wednesday's building blast: 38, making it the deadliest attack since mid-December. He notes that with the combined attacks, Mosul has once again become an important hub for al Qaeda in Iraq. Both American and Iraqi officials say that Nineveh is where all the al Qaeda in Iraq fighters are fleeing to, and that's the only province where attacks are rising. Paley also has an intriguing bit of information. Residents in Mosul accuse the Iraqi Army of setting of Wednesday's building blast because they improperly destroyed a weapons cache that was in the building. That's the reason for the angry mobs that met al-Jubouri.
USA Today's Rick Hampson reports on the agony of a small town in Maine that has lost two of its own to Iraq, as many as it lost in all of World War II. In just five months, Lee, Main, pop. 850, lost two young men who lived a mile apart. They both died from roadside bombs and both had had their tours extended. "It feels like we're being picked on, and we don't know why," says Gail Rae, the Red Cross volunteer. Joel House used to mow her lawn. "It was a punch in the stomach," says Kendra Ritchie, the guidance counselor. She played the piano at both funerals. According to USA Today's investigation, Lee is the smallest town to suffer more than one death from the Iraq war. It's the smallest of four communities with populations under 1,000 to have lost two people. A score of cities with more than 100,000 people have lost no one, indicating small town American is withstanding the worst of the war. It's a story about demographics, heartache and social patterns. Well worth a read.
Thom Shanker and Steven Lee Meyers have a front page scoop of sorts for the Times, reporting details of what the U.S. is asking for as the U.N. mandate allowing its military presence runs out at the end of 2008. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. is asking the Iraqis for an arrangement that doesn't look that different from what it has now: wide authority to conduct combat operations and legal protection for civilian contractors. These demands, unsurprisingly, will be met with fierce opposition in Iraq's parliament, not to mention Democrats at home. The military-to-military agreement also includes demands that U.S. troops be immune from Iraqi prosecution -- a fairly standard arrangement around the world -- and that they maintain the authority to detain Iraqi prisoners. It's the contractor immunity that's the contentious part. No other country grants protection to American contractors working with the U.S. military. Also look for the Americans to push for the authority to conduct unilateral military actions instead of asking for Iraqi permission. Democrats say these negotiations will lock the U.S. into a long-term military obligation to Iraq, but the White House says, don't worry: there's no long-term agreement here. Why, it's not even asking for permanent bases, nor offering a security guarantee. An agreement like that would be a treaty, requiring Senate approval (pesky Constitution!) and the White House can't get the 2/3rds majority needed for that. Shanker and Meyers point out the differing circumstances surrounding these talks:
While the United States currently has military agreements with more than 80 countries around the world, including Japan, Germany, South Korea and a number of Iraq's neighbors, none of those countries are at war. And none has a population outraged over civilian deaths at the hands of armed American security contractors who are not answerable to Iraqi law.
The Post's Walter Pincus writes that lower officials with the Pentagon testified before Congress that the Bush Administration is not prepared to manage the squajillion contractors it has in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Actually, it's about 196,000. That's more than the number of combat troops.) Contractors "have become part of our total force, a concept that DoD must manage on an integrated basis with our military forces," said Jack Bell, deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness. "Frankly," he continued, "we were not adequately prepared to address" what he termed "this unprecedented scale of our dependence on contractors." Stuart W. Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, and William M. Solis, director of defense capabilities and management for the Government Accountability Office said there weren't enough trained service personnel available to handle the outsourcing to contractors.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Wall Street Journal
No original Iraq coverage today.