Today's Papers

Days of Dread 

Everybody leads with the U.S. Chinook helicopter that was shot down in Iraq early yesterday, killing 16 soldiers and injuring 20, many severely. It was the deadliest single attack on American forces since the U.S. invaded. Two American civilian contractors and a GI were also killed in other attacks.

The papers all say villagers near where the helicopter went down—a few miles from Fallujah—celebrated the shoot-down. The NYT notes, “Nobody regretting the American loss of life could be found.”

The Chinook was the first craft to have been downed by a missile since President Bush declared major combat operations over May 1. But it certainly wasn’t the first attempt. The Washington Post says that “more than two dozen missiles” have been fired at U.S. aircraft since June. The New York Times says there have been “two or three” attempted downings per week. So far as TP knows, that (large) number has never been reported before. As the NYT’s Raymond Bonner mentioned yesterday, the military has refused to publicly state the number of known missile firings.

The WP notes that in response to the chopper attack, the White House issued a statement that didn’t specifically mention the attack but did invoke the “war on terror and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”

Most of the papers offer the requisite post-attack “news analysis,” pondering what the shoot-down means. As the NYT asks on Page One: “AS CASUALTIES IN IRAQ MOUNT, WILL RESOLVE FALTER?” Why not save time, be honest, and answer, “Who knows!”

(A window into the potential value of these faux deep-thought day-after judgments: Right after Odai and Qusai were killed, the LAT proclaimed, “SONS’ DEATHS A TURNING POINT IN CAMPAIGN.”)

Today’s Los Angeles Times, in a more interesting and measured take, notices that the White House has dropped much of the happy talk and is sounding “distinctly less triumphal.”

The NYT’s lead mentions well past the fold that for the second time in three days, “soldiers and residents battled” in Abu Ghraib, a suburb west of Baghdad. According to residents,one GI and four Iraqis were killed and “dozens” of Iraqis were wounded. If this is really accurate—that there was a battle between Americans and a town’s residents, rather than just an attack by shadowy forces—doesn’t this deserve more attention? The Times also notes that “residents charged that tanks had deliberately run over cars and set fire to several stores. American soldiers in armored vehicles barred reporters from viewing the scene.”

A piece inside the Post on the casualty count notes that the number of wounded has also been increasing in pace, with 2,155 soldiers wounded since the war began in March.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, said that in the months ahead the U.S. will face “more obstacles, more setbacks and more tragedies in the future.” But he also described the attacks as “strategically and operationally insignificant.” (The NYT’s news analysis only notes that later part.) 

The Post, alone among the papers,goes Page One with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s contention that the U.S. doesn’t need any more troops in Iraq. The article also nails Rumsfeld for saying that the U.S. has trained “over 100,000” Iraqi security personnel. The Post says that’s 15,000 higher than the number provided by U.S. officials in Baghdad and 40 percent higher than the White House’s estimates last month. The LAT, while credulously repeating the 100,000 figure—mentions that Rumsfeld didn’t toss the number off his cuff, he had it on a chart.

The Wall Street Journal notes another less flashy event that happened over the weekend. After guerrillas distributed flyers warning of a “day of resistance,” Baghdad was a “ghost town” over the weekend. The WSJ says that some coalition officials acknowledged that the shut-down “shows the guerrillas are beginning to accomplish their primary goal: persuading ordinary Iraqis that the Americans don’t have real control over Iraq.”

In a sprawling off-lead, the Post recounts some of former Saddam lackey Tariq Azziz’s assertions to his U.S. interrogators, namely that Saddam apparently thought he could have avoided a ground invasion (duh) and that Saddam may have been bluffing when he never clarified that he didn’t have banned weapons (double duh). According to former Iraqi generals interviewed by the Post,Baghdad fell so quickly because of Saddam’s “military incompetence, isolation, and reliance on family.”

A front-page piece in the LAT cites former intel people saying that Undersecretary of State John Bolton, known as one of the administration’s biggest hawks, has frequently exaggerated intel. “Very often, the points he makes have some truth to them,” said the recently retired head of the State Department’s intel office. “But he simply goes beyond where the facts tell intelligent people they should go.” Bolton responded, “Of course I sometimes go beyond previous statements, but in every case I do, it’s been previously cleared.”

NYT reporter Elisabeth Bumiller tries to get to the bottom of what she dubs “Bannergate.” To review: President Bush asserted last week that the big “Mission Accomplished” banner that was behind him during his May 1 speech was “of course put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished.” Soon after that, press secretary, Scott McClellan clarified that while the White House actually made the banner it “was suggested by those on the ship.” Bumiller says she talked with a spokesman on the Lincoln who said some officers attended a meeting in which White House officials asked the officers if they needed any help. The spokesman—who said that Navy ships do occasionally put up such banners—recounted, “Somebody in that meeting said, `You know, it would sure look good if we could have a banner that said ‘Mission Accomplished.’ ” And who was that person, Bumiller asked. The spokesman replied, “No one really remembers.”