The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today all lead with word that Marines advancing on Tikrit found the seven missing American POWs. The New York Times leads with the Marines’ move on Tikrit itself. According to early-morning reports, they are now in the center of town after having met with sporadic resistance.
(Note, due to computer problems, Today’s Papers couldn’t access today’s Wall Street Journal.)
Some Iraqis (depending on accounts, either soldiers, civilians, or the POWs’ guards themselves), led the Marines to the now-former prisoners. Two of the POWs had gunshot wounds, but they all appear to be in fairly good shape—some had undergone surgery while in captivity. The Post, which along with the Miami Herald nabbed an interview with the former POWs, says that they were “kicked and beaten” when first captured but reported little abuse after that. Guards also had no interest in getting caught with them and passed them around as the war went on. “We were the bastard children of Iraq. Nobody wanted to hold us,” said Ronald Young, whose Apache helicopter was shot down March 24.
There appear to have been no major firefights in Baghdad yesterday, but the Post says 16 GIs were injured when a grenade was thrown at their unit.
The papers all say that things are starting to mellow out in the capital. Looting seemed to diminish yesterday, a few vendors have begun to reappear, and some volunteers cleared bodies from the streets, where they had been putrefying for days.
While some—OK, most—reporters take interviews with one or two Iraqis then extrapolate out (giving the impression that Iraq’s society consists of one person multiplied millions of times over), the NYT’s John Burns takes the time to notice some class differences. Many people who live in Baghdad’s slums, such as (Shiite-dominated) Saddam City, view the dictator’s toppling as an “absolute good.” But among the middle-class and elite, there’s huge anger about the looting, “almost as much” as from the civilian casualties.
The Post’s Anthony Shadid describes how local clergy have been providing much-need security in some neighborhoods of Baghdad. In one case, a cleric, sporting two guns strapped to his hips, confiscated booty and reopened a health clinic. But Gen. Franks might not be thrilled with all their plans. “We want a clergyman to be president of the state,” one said. “We wish from God for an Islamic government.”
The NYT also sees signs of potential warlord-ization in Baghdad. Saddam City is full of “heavily armed Shiite militias” and “American military units have stayed away from the area, effectively ceding control.”
The NYT says that Umm Qasr, which is right along the border with Kuwait and was one of the first towns to be taken over by British and American forces, has yet to get clean water or food. “It has been 25 days and it is all promises,” said one resident. On the plus side, that resident made his comment while at a town hall meeting, the first that’s been held there in a long, long time.
The NYT stuffs words that Kurds in northern Iraq, many of whom had been expelled from their homes by the former Iraqi government, are now doing the same to Arabs in the region. The Times suggests that at least a few thousand Arabs have faced ethnic cleansing so far. The mid-level Kurdish official who is overseeing the expulsions said he’s just “carrying out orders” that have been approved by his superiors and by “the coalition.” A top Kurdish official denied all that.
Everybody notes that Saddam’s half-brother was caught yesterday (along with handy Saddam Hussein DNA), apparently as he was trying to cross into Syria.
In a bit that only the LAT fronts, Bush yesterday warned Syria that “we demand cooperation,” namely not allowing Saddam & Co. in.Bush also said that Syria has chemical weapons and added, “We’re serious about stopping weapons of mass destruction.” (Question that the papers skip: Syria isn’t a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, so is the country breaking any international law by having the stuff? Bonus info: Other non-signatories include Libya, North Korea, and Egypt.)
A piece inside the Post raises the issue of U.S. troop strength again and suggests that part of the reason there’s been so much looting and mayhem is that there aren’t enough GIs in Iraq. The piece explains that most of the troops expected for “stabilization” duties are still heading in. (In other words, the war went too quickly for the forces at hand.) The piece doesn’t have any quotes supporting its contention, but it does have an interesting one from Pentagon player Richard Perle, who’s OK with a bit of bloodletting: “If you know Rashid worked at the place where your brother was tortured and killed, people can be forgiven for chasing down and killing Rashid.”
The NYT’s William Safire sees North Korea’s recent hints that it’s willing to do multilateral talks as a sign that Pyongyang got the message from the U.S.’s pending victory in Iraq. That message, of course, being, “Ya wanna a piece of this?” Safire might want to read his paper’s news pages today—especially the article that suggests another explanation: North Korea’s main economic partner, China, finally turned the screws on the Dear Leader and, subtly, suggested it might cut off oil deliveries.
In a bit that gets a brief mention in the papers, four known militants, apparently on their way to some sort of attack, were killed in Afghanistan yesterday when their car exploded. But no need to worry about the rising instability in the country. According to a story inside today’s Post, “U.S. ROLE SHIFTS AS AFGHANISTAN FOUNDERS: Nation-Building Is Now Embraced.” Sounds good, and familiar. According to a Page One piece from the Post last November, “PENTAGON PLANS A REDIRECTION IN AFGHANISTAN: Troops to Be Shifted Into Rebuilding Country.”