Today's Papers

Humble Pie

Everybody leads with word of yesterday’s suicide bombing attack which killed four U.S. soldiers in central Iraq. According to reports, a noncommissioned Iraqi military officer, dressed in civilian clothes, stopped his taxi at a highway checkpoint manned by soldiers from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and waved for help, indicating his car had broken down. When soldiers approached, the taxi exploded, killing the driver and the servicemen. No other injuries were reported. 

Shortly thereafter, three other taxis attempted to speed through nearby Army checkpoints, according to a piece filed by a New York Times reporter embedded in the division. The cars were subsequently fired on and destroyed by troops in the area—though military officials aren’t sure if they, too, held explosives or were a part of a larger, coordinated strike.

The papers note it was the first time Iraqis have used such a tactic in the current conflict. (A car bomb in Northern Iraq that killed an Australian journalist last weekend was linked to Ansar al-Islam, a militant Islamic group.) But a Los Angeles Times piece notes that U.S. soldiers have intercepted several vehicles laden with explosives in recent days. Iraqi officials, who honored the bomber as a “national hero,” warned that such attacks would become routine. “Any method that stops or kills the enemy will be used,” Taha Yassin Ramadan, Iraq’s vice president, said yesterday. The NYT, alone among the papers, concludes that this means Iraq has dropped all pretenses of using chemical or biological weapons, noting that any claim to the contrary “was effectively abandoned.”

In related news, at least 20 people were injured in a suicide bombing attack at a cafe in Netanya, Israel, according to early morning wire reports.

Not surprisingly, there’s much hand-wringing in the papers this morning over how the war has not been the cakewalk that many predicted. A NYT piece, for instance, notes the quiet grumbling of Central Intelligence Agency officers, who contend they warned administration officials months ago that Saddam’s regime would not easily collapse. But the biggest development lands on the front page of the Washington Post, which goes below the fold with this scoop: “Top Army officers in Iraq say they now believe that they effectively need to restart the war.”

According to the WP, ground commanders want to restock food and other supplies and build combat power before heading on to Baghdad, where they are expected to face the biggest battle of the war. Of course, that clashes with the goals of President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and others who, despite the setbacks of the last 10 days, are still aiming for a short and decisive war. American’s real enemy, notes an LAT analysis, is time.

Wire reports yesterday indicated that a slight pause in fighting might not be unheard of, but Central Command yesterday stomped the notion out fairly quickly with news that fighting will continue on the front while supply lines catch up. Meanwhile, the WP off-leads word that President Bush pressed military officials to keep moving toward Baghdad, even in spite of the unexpected Iraqi resistance.

Meanwhile, the WP—on Page 29—checks in with current and former U.S. military officers, who say Rumsfeld and Co. blew it by providing an inadequate number of ground troops for Iraq. The invasion force is “too small, strung out, underprotected, undersupplied” and won’t see reinforcements for weeks.

What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday, President Bush was depicted by aides as a hands-off wartime CEO, leaving most, if not all, of the major battlefield and military strategy decisions to his appointees. Unlike most people, Bush allegedly hadn’t watched footage of the bombs falling on Baghdad (the president doesn’t watch much TV, spokesman Ari Fleischer explained), nor was he losing sleep over the war.

Today, a NYT piece says exactly the opposite: Bush, aides say, has emerged as an “engrossed commander in chief,” who, in this particular spin cycle, is far more interested in the tic toc of the war than his father was during the first Gulf War. Furthermore, according to the piece, Bush has indeed been watching cable TV news channels for war updates. Why the discrepancy? Aides tell the NYT they had been a little too eager not to “personalize” the war as Bush v. Saddam, the man who attempted to assassinate his father. So misleading reporters gives the White House more credibility? The NYT unfortunately doesn’t press this but does reveal that Bush hasn’t yet second-guessed his decision to go to war—and he probably won’t, friends say. “The only time I’ve seen him second-guessing himself was when he said that we shouldn’t have traded Sammy Sosa,” Roland Betts, a friend and former owner of the Texas Rangers, tells the paper.

Finally, everyone stuffs word that the Italian physician who diagnosed the mysterious pneumonialike illness currently ravaging Asia died yesterday. Carlo Urbani, an expert on communicable diseases with the World Health Organization, became infected with the mystery bug while investigating the disease earlier this month. So far, 55 people have died while more than 1,500 are infected. Sixty-two suspected cases have been diagnosed in the United States.