All the papers lead with what was essentially the Pentagon’s declaration of victory: A top general said it appears that “major combat operations are over.” The military sent home two aircraft carriers yesterday. The New York Times’ lead plays up the White House’s barrage of tough words, including the threat of sanctions toward Syria, who the administration continued to accuse of harboring Iraqi officials and of making chemical weapons.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called Syria “a rogue nation” and said its president, Bashar Assad, is an “untested leader” who now has a chance to “make the right decisions.” The administration also suggested that Syria “think seriously” about continuing to give sanctuary to anti-Israel militant and terror groups.
A few papers gingerly suggest that the administration has less than an airtight case against Syria—at least in terms of Iraqi officials crossing the border. The Washington Post says, well past the jump, that the intelligence of such harboring is “inconclusive.” As one unnamed senior official put it, “We have scraps of information.”
Syria has denied harboring former Iraqi officials. It has also denied having chemical weapons, though experts say they do. (Again, TP asks: Would Syria be breaking any international laws by having such weapons?)
The papers all have administration officials saying on background that they’re not actually considering an attack, just sending a little signal. “We’re trying to scare them for the moment,” one “senior administration official,” told the Post.
The Post adds a nice bit of context, explaining that part of the reason for the warnings may be that the U.S. “is looking for leverage to ensure Syrian cooperation” in the coming peace initiative for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The administration’s warnings to Syria get a sympathetic reaction from the NYT’s editorial page, which says that the White House “is right to be alarmed and angry,” though it adds that launching a war against the country would “make no sense.”
Everybody notes that Marines began joint patrols in Baghdad with a few Iraqi police officers yesterday and arrested a bunch of looters, adding a bit more calm to the city. The police aren’t allowed to carry weapons and, according to the WP, have a shortage of patrol cars due to looting and senior officials absconding with them.
The Wall Street Journal suggests that not all Iraqis are thrilled with the reintroduction of the police. “If they return to the streets, people will kill them,” said one man. A crowd gathered around some of the cops and yelled: “Thieves!”
The Post picks up on a protest held in front the Palestine Hotel yesterday, journalists’ HQ. They mostly complained about the lack of security and services in the capital, but some also chanted, “Islamic state! Islamic state! Not American, not American!”
The NYT, low down in its lead, flags new friction between Washington and commanders in Iraq: Some field officers “complained that the military was shifting from combat to peacekeeping too quickly, under pressure from Washington.”
Everybody fronts a piece on Iraq’s incoming chief, retired Gen. Jay Garner, who must have given some sort of press conference yesterday since the papers all have similar quotes. Garner is heading to Nasiriyah today to oversee a meeting of Iraqi exiles (boycotted by the main Shiite opposition group, as the Los Angeles Times notes). And he’s hoping to set up shop in Baghdad by the end of week. The papers all notice that Garner and his staff suggested that they’re frustrated that the Pentagon, worried about security, hasn’t let them get started yet.
The WP’s Keith Richburg says inside the paper that despite the hype, Iraqi doctors say the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch wasn’t a Rambo operation. According to them, no Iraqi soldiers or militiamen were at the hospital when Lynch was picked up. (They had already fled.) The filmed rescue, said one doctor, “was just a big, dramatic show.”
Richburg, who is essentially the Dana Milbank of reporters in Iraq, has another piece inside the Post today that knocks down some misconceptions about what happened inside Basra: Contrary to many reports, residents say the fedayeen didn’t use civilians as human shields. Also, the British are now unsure whether “Chemical Ali,” Saddam’s cousin and the leader of forces in the south, is dead. And no, apparently there was never an uprising.
Back to Garner … The soon-to-be top dog in Iraq served in Vietnam and says he’s learned valuable lessons from the failures of that conflict. “We should have taken the war north instead of waiting in the south. Just like here,” said Garner, who then added, “If President Bush had been president, we would have won.”