Today's Papers

Guerrillas in the Mist

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with roundups that emphasize some of the heaviest bombing Baghdad has yet endured as well as continued fighting in southern Iraq that will probably delay a sustained ground assault on the capital for days or weeks. USA Today and the Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox lead with Bush’s refusal to put a time frame on a U.S. victory and his vow to fight for “as long as it takes.” The Los Angeles Times’ lead provides the best wide-angle context on the lack of progress and heavy fighting bogging down U.S. troops in towns near the Euphrates river—but it runs under a misleading banner headline that is the most optimistic from the Anglo-American point of view: “ALLIES SEIZE ON BREAK IN WEATHER.”

Everyone’s leads and Baghdad dispatches describe the intense overnight bombing there in the lurid language that war correspondents dream about. The WP’s lead reports that “shock waves rolled across the city and clouds of dark smoke towered into the sky.” The LAT’s front-page Baghdad story says anti-aircraft missiles “whizzed to the sky like giant Roman candles chasing allied aircraft flying too high to be seen with the eye.” And in the NYT’s off-lead, John Burns may be gunning for yet another Pulitzer, describing “satanic bursts of flame,” and the subsequent “reverberations that ran like shivers through the concrete frame of the Palestine Hotel about a mile from the blasts across the Tigris river.”

All the leads note high up that continued fighting near Najaf, Samwah, and Nasiriya will delay the assault on Baghdad while front-line units defend their positions and wait for supply lines and reinforcements to catch up. Inside the paper, the NYT’s Michael Wilson (who has repeatedly shown a knack for conveying the fog of war) describes one of these fierce battles in a compelling Nasiriya dispatch; at one point things were so dire for the Americans that a Marine officer waited, matches in hand, to torch secret codes if Iraqis overran the command tent. Not to be outdone, the WP fronts its own embed piece from Nasiriya: “A ‘TURKEY SHOOT,’ BUT WITH MARINES AS THE TARGETS.”

Everyone says U.S. officials expect the situation to improve now that the weather has cleared—a much-needed C-130 transport plane landed yesterday at an airfield near Nasiriya that Marines, in a bold PR move, rechristened “Bush International Airport.”

Still, any siege on Baghdad seems a ways off. As everyone briefly notes, the Pentagon announced it was sending between 80,000 (NYT) to 120,000 (LAT) more troops to Iraq, and it will take several weeks for them to join the fight. Also, the WP off-leads, the NYT fronts, and everyone else mentions in their catch-alls a battlefield briefing in which the commander of Army forces in Iraq said that there would be a “pause” in the advance toward Baghdad. Only the WP gets someone to hazard an estimate: According to a senior commander, “A 35-day strategic bombing campaign … would not be preposterous.”

Nevertheless, a WSJ analysis says the U.S. “appears intent on reaching the city’s outskirts in less than a week,” and, according to everyone, even the Iraqi defense minister thinks that’s entirely plausible. The LAT fronts, Burns’ NYT off-leaddevotes many inches to, and everyone else mentions inside or in their leads the minister’s press briefing yesterday in which he said he expects U.S. forces to encircle Baghdad within five to 10 days. Of course, he also said that “the enemy must come inside Baghdad, and that will be its grave,” but that’s standard-issue Iraqi bombast. According to the NYT, he generally avoided such talk and gave an uncharacteristically detailed—by both Iraqi and U.S. standards— “junction by junction, bridge by bridge” account of U.S. and British setbacks in recent days while standing in front of a map of U.S. forces. The LAT’s headline? “WHERE ALL THE NEWS IS GOOD.”

USAT’s lead highlights and the WP and NYT both front Bush and Blair’s appearance yesterday at Camp David. Though Blair has been billing this trip as a discussion about mending ties between Europe and America, everyone focuses instead on Bush’s statement that the war could indeed last a long time, and Rumsfeld’s testimony before the Senate in which he said more or less the same thing. The WP’s iconoclastic White House reporter Dana Milbank notes that this is most certainly an example of some crawfishing on the administration’s part. Referring to statements on Monday that the war would last weeks, not months, a Bush aide clarified: “Weeks, not months means there will be a liberation of Iraq when the time—as the president said today—when it is over it’ll be over.” Ah, yes. Fat lady and everything.

The WP lead has a pretty good scoopthat it buries well after the jump, at the very, very bottom: Nine U.S. marines killed in a fierce battle near Nasiriya on Sunday may have been killed by friendly fire. An unnamed military source said “preliminary indications” are that an A-10 close air support plane hit the Marines, thinking they were Iraqi soldiers.

The WSJ fronts an interesting historical analysis(subscription required) that compares the U.S. invasion both to Patton’s speedy advance across France and Belgium and to Hitler’s foolhardy advance deep into Russia. The WSJ is not alone in setting up the coming weeks’ inevitable Baghdadingrad articles; the LAT fronts a news analysis piece that says as much in its opening sentence. Better yet, the piece reports that the Pentagon isn’t alone in getting ideas from Hollywood. Apparently over the last few months, Iraqi military leaders have been passing around videos of Black Hawk Down.

Everyone notes inside that embattled Pentagon adviser Richard Perle decided to leave the money and run. Perle resigned as chairman of the Defense Policy Board yesterday and decided to forgo his ethically questionable—but lucrative—contract with Global Crossing. Asked whether he had resigned, he told an NYT reporter, “Let me tell you something. If I had, you’d be the last person in the world I’d want to talk to.” He then “slammed down the phone.”

Counting your chickens … The WP goes deep insidewith news the NYT had yesterday: The U.S. has begun to award the spoils of war well before the war is over—exclusively to U.S. companies. And after what must have been an arduous, behind-closed-doors bidding war, the Pentagon awarded the first contract to … drum roll, please … Halliburton, famous for its innovative accounting and its former president, Dick Cheney.