Today's Papers

Baghdad Bagged?

All the papers lead with the U.S.’s continued advance into Baghdad. A few thousand GIs are now in the center of the city with thousands more moving in. Everyone suggests that Saddam’s regime is crumbling. Baath Party members are taking off their uniforms, and streets that just a few days ago were filled with fighters are “suddenly empty,” says the Los Angeles Times. The Washington Post says U.S. troops are the “predominant military presence” in much of the city. But the biggest evidence showed up after the papers went to bed: CNN, in the wee hours, is showing crowds in some parts of Baghdad cheering the demise of the regime—and looting. “There is only one God,” they chanted. “And the enemy of God is Saddam Hussein.”

The New York Times’ John Burns says the only armed Iraqis he saw were “clumps of exhausted, distracted-looking militiamen, slumped in battered armchairs, rifles set aside, drawing heavily on cigarettes.”

“Who are you looking for? The soldiers? The party men? They are all gone,” one shopkeeper told the LAT. “It [is] America now.”

Just about the only one who doesn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel is … an American officer in Iraq. After seeing some Iraqis fight to the death, Maj. Frank McClary pondered the prospect of guerrilla-style action and told the NYT, “tactically-wise, it’s going to be going on for a long time. Personally, I think it’s going to be going on until we leave this country.”

Everybody has further details on yesterday’s killing of two journalists in the Palestine Hotel and one reporter who was killed at Al Jazeera’s office, all hit by U.S. tank fire. Small-arms fire also pocked Abu Dhabi TV’s office. U.S. regional commanders said that the tanks were responding to sniper fire coming from both the hotel and Al Jazeera’s office. As everybody notes, journalists say they didn’t see or hear any gunmen at the hotel. The Post says that Pentagon officials “privately” said that the tank may have mistaken photographers’ cameras for sniper scopes or weapons. The NYT’s Burns also mentions that gunmen were in fact in buildings adjacent to the hotel.

Casualties continue to pour into Baghdad’s hospitals. Officials at one hospital told reporters thatabout 200 to 300 wounded arrived there yesterday. The NYT mentions that some civilians there were so upset about the coalition bombings that a few of them took swings at the visiting journalists.

A front-page piece in the Post suggests that the number of civilian casualties is partially a result of the U.S.’s decision to move aggressively into Baghdad. But as the article itself points out, the military has to walk a fine line here, because in some ways the more aggressively it moves in, the quicker the war might be over, and fewer people will die. Still, the piece suggests that British forces are more sensitive than American units to avoiding civilian casualties. “Americans tend to see the fight as a medieval clash of the titans, with the population on the sidelines,” said one U.S. general. “The British view it as a fight between two sides for the support of the people.”

The Pentagon announced another U.S. plane went down Sunday, this one a F-15E; no word yet on the status of the two crew.

No real news on whether Monday’s “decapitation” airstrike hit Saddam. The lefty London Guardian says that British intel thinks that Saddam left the place before it was bombed. The righty Washington Times cites some sources saying that the CIA is “in a state of euphoria” because it’s sure Saddam was in the joint. The Post mentions that residents say at least 13 civilians were killed in the strike.

An article inside the Post notices that with the coalition faced with continuing guerrilla action and the fight for Baghdad, it has yet to deliver on its promise of humanitarian aid.

The LAT reminds that U.S. forces still don’t control significant portions of the country and may face a tough fight 100 miles north of the capital in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit. The paper says that U.S. commanders are “expected to wait” for reinforcements from the much-awaited 4th Infantry before heading into Tikrit.

A Post piece says that militants in Afghanistan have “begun their long-expected spring offensive” against Kabul and U.S. forces. And where does this important news story run? The editorial page. (According to early-morning reports, a U.S. plane responding to an attack on friendly forces in Afghanistan mistakenly bombed a house and killed 11 family members.) And another audio tape purportedly from Osama Bin Laden was released yesterday. It mentioned the war in Iraq as another reason to go after Americans.

So far this morning Mohammed the Entertainer (aka Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, Iraq’s information minister) has yet to show up for work. But that’s OK. There’s a capable replacement. “Iraq will not be defeated,” said the Iraqi ambassador to the Arab League,Mohsen Khalil, according to the Post. “Iraq has now already achieved victory—apart from some technicalities.”