The leads round up yesterday’s developments in Iraq. The Washington Post anticipates the move on Tikrit, Saddam’s home town, and also emphasizes that Saddam’s top science adviser, the seven of diamonds in the deck of most-wanted Iraqi-leader playing cards, surrendered to U.S. forces. The adviser was the regime’s point man for dealing with U.N weapons inspectors, so the Americans are hopeful he may have information helpful in the hunt for WMD. Things haven’t gotten off to a good start though: He flatly denied that Iraq has chemical or biological weapons. He added he doesn’t know where or how Saddam is. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times (online at least) leads focus on Marines’ efforts to restart normal life in Baghdad. Marines are establishing Iraqi-U.S. patrols to restore order and putting out calls to anyone who worked in any service in the city to come help out.
Marines began interviewing Iraqi applicants for jobs as police, doctors, electricians, engineers, and sanitation workers, the papers report, and a crowd of several hundred potential workers gathered. The problem is that most people with this sort of expertise are associated with the old regime. A former assistant to the head of police in Baghdad offered to help reactivate police patrols and the crowd was dismayed by his arrival. In preparation for Iraqis to resume their jobs, American engineers are beginning the task of restoring electricity and water.
The looting in Baghdad is subsiding, the NYT says, and the papers take stock of its consequences, with everyone noting what the looters did to Iraq’s national museum. Tearful museum curators sought out journalists to tell them of the more than 100,000 artifacts from the region’s thousands of years of history stolen or destroyed by looters.
Some 300 armored vehicles’ worth of combat forces, backed up by the 21,000 pound MOAB bombs, are getting ready to move toward Tikrit for a possible last-stand battle with Saddam’s forces, the NYT reports. The Americans expect at least 4,000 Iraqi paramilitary troops and Baath party militiamen there, the paper adds. Air attacks (no MOABs yet) and special forces operations are underway in the city. The LAT says that, according to Marine officials, an initial probe toward the city encountered stiff resistance.
According to a morning report on the NYT’s Web site, 3,000 Marines have arrived in Tikrit and have had little trouble with opposition.
The papers’ Web sites are reporting this morning that seven American POWs were rescued when Marines found them while marching north of Baghdad. They were healthy though two had gunshot wounds.
In the capital, Marines encountered sporadic shooting as they tried to restore normalcy. American forces found suicide-bomber vests filled with ball bearings at an elementary school the Iraqi military had appropriated, the papers report. Marines fearful of suicide attacks killed a civilian when the car she was riding in refused to stop at a checkpoint yesterday. One Marine standing guard at a Baghdad hospital was shot to death by a Syrian posing as a gardener.
In Western Iraq, American troops stopped a bus that appeared to be heading for Syria. It contained 59 men, possibly non-Iraqi Arab fighters, with over $600,000 in cash and letters promising rewards for killing American soldiers.
The NYT reports from Kirkuk that American paratroopers found what they called “suspicious” warheads and rocket components that may be prohibited by the U.N. or be intended to carry chemical or biological weapons. Also, Kurdish fighters began to withdraw from the city on the orders of American and Kurdish officials. Their retreat should appease Turkey.
The papers report that Congress passed a $79 billion bill to fund the war in Iraq, which is more money than President Bush asked for but gives him less leeway in spending it than he had hoped for. In key areas such as military needs, domestic security, and foreign aid, the money can be spent only via Congressional mandate, not as the administration pleases.
A WP piece on the future of U.S. foreign policy says administration officials believe that the other axis-of-evil powers are now scared of American military might. Indeed North Korea is no longer demanding a bilateral meeting with the U.S. on its nuclear program, a concession prompted by what the North Koreans saw happen to Iraq, U.S. officials suggest to the WP. (A senior official cited by the NYT attributes Pyongyang’s change of heart to pressure from China.) The U.S. has insisted on a multilateral dialogue that the North Koreans now would find acceptable. The NYT reports (but does not link the development to the war in Iraq) that a powerful former president of Iran has called for a referendum to see what Iranian society thinks should be done about U.S.-Iranian relations. The former president hinted that after two decades of animosity between the countries, the Iranian leadership is ready to be flexible in dealing with the United States.