For the first time in nearly a week, the papers have slightly different leads: The New York Times, citing “senior officers,” says that in a big change of strategy, U.S. and British forces have decided to concentrate on containing guerrillas in southern Iraq before invading Baghdad: “U.S. SHIFTING FOCUS OF LAND CAMPAIGN TO FIGHT IN SOUTH.” But the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and USA Today all suggest that an attack on Baghdad is near and could happen soon after the huge sandstorms that have hit Iraq subside. “Our orders are to get to Baghdad as expeditiously as possible, and that’s what we’re doing,” one Marine commander told the LAT. According to early morning reports, the Pentagon has announced that two more American soldiers have died in combat during the past two days. Also, also another soldier died from last weekend’s grenade attack in Kuwait by a fellow U.S. soldier.
Unlike the NYT, the Post doesn’t say anything about delaying any move on Baghdad, but it does mention inside that some frontline units—including portions of the spearhead 3rd Infantry—have been sent to the rear to guard supply lines. The piece also briefly mentions reports of fuel shortages up at the front.
The papers all go high with one of the biggest battles of the war, which happened east of the Euphrates when Iraqi units attacked a 3rd Division convoy only to be decimated themselves: According to the Pentagon, a few hundred Iraqi soldiers were killed. The papers say there were no American casualties. (Given the early morning reports, that may no longer be accurate.) A USAT reporter embedded with the convoy has a fascinating account of the fight, saying that it was a 24-hour running gun battle, and explaining that two American M1A1 Abrams tanks were knocked out. That’s a big deal: No Abrams has ever been destroyed in combat before. Story suggestion: How did the Iraqis do it?
Everybody highlights what appears to be some sort of rebellion in Basra, exactly the kind of thing the Pentagon had been expecting. According to British soldiers on the outskirts of town, Iraqi soldiers inside the city turned their mortars on civilians. British troops in turn fired on the mortar positions. A Shiite opposition group based in Iran confirmed that there is some sort of uprising. (An Al Jazeera correspondent in Basra said he saw no signs of a revolt.) Whatever is going on, the British have said that they’re about to head in.
Iraqi troops in Basra launched a surprise attack on British forces and got pummeled; about 50 Iraqi tanks were knocked out. Two British soldiers were killed yesterday when a British tank mistakenly fired on them.
Everybody notes that Marines in Nasiriya captured a hospital that Iraqi irregulars had been using as a base—in violation of the Geneva Conventions. GIs also found lots of chemical-weapons suits there.
In a small bit of data about the state of the rear, the Post mentions that there was a gun battle yesterday in Safwan—that’s a town right on the border with Kuwait. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said he doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. The attacks in the south are by “ones and twos,” he explained. “You’re going to live with it. … We live with [it] in some major cities in the United States.”
Rumsfeld also said reinforcements are arriving on an “hourly” basis, but the WP points out that it will be three weeks before the equipment from the Army’s planned reinforcement division, the 4th Infantry, gets unloaded in Kuwait.
As a few others have done, USAT pens an awe-struck profile of the Republican Guard’s Medina Division. The paper warns that the division, which GIs near Baghdad are about to hit, “is considered by military experts to be on par with U.S. troops.” Really? It’s equipped with 30-year-old T-72 tanks that the U.S’s Abrams can frequently kill before the American tanks are even spotted.
According to the LAT’s Paul Watson, who did some fabulous reporting during the war in Kosovo, Iraqi forces in the north are operating unimpeded and are strengthening their positions. U.S. action there has so far been desultory—just a few air raids and a couple of hundred special ops soldiers—perhaps, Watson says, because the U.S. is afraid that employing the Kurds en masse will tick off Turkey.
The leader of the Shiite opposition group that confirmed the Basra uprising also warned that, as the Post paraphrases it, “Iraqis will fight if subjected to American domination after the war.” According to yesterday’s NYT, “The United States is preparing to establish immediate sole control of postwar Iraq.” (A piece inside the WP says that there’s still some haggling going on about that. Tony Blair and the State Department want the U.N. to have a big role.)
The Post and NYT front word that the Republican-controlled Senate, in a not-yet-final move, voted to cut President Bush’s proposed tax cut in half, to a svelte $350 billion. Editorial pages from the Post and NYT say that even that half-cut is a bad idea.
During the first Gulf War, the Patriot missile was celebrated, mistakenly, for having supposedly knocked down scads of Scuds. Now, folks have been celebrating the new version of the Patriot, the PAC-3, which appears to be doing a bang-up job. Except that according to a piece inside the Post, the new Patriot has at least twice locked onto and tried to fire at friendly planes. In one case it was successful: That’s how a British Tornado was recently shot down.