Today's Papers

Command Performance

Everybody leads with the Army announcing that soldiers about to leave the service will be forced to stay on if their unit is slated for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. The so-called stop-loss orders have been used recently on a unit-by-unit basis, but this new policy applies to all soldiers and doesn’t have a time limit.

The papers say that about 20 percent of soldiers in units to be deployed will be forced to stay on, though it’s not clear what the total numbers will be since the Pentagon didn’t release an estimate and the unit rotation schedule isn’t settled.

Everybody sees the announcement as the latest sign that the military is desperate for people power. “The Army is just running out of creative ideas for coping with the level of commitment that Iraq requires,” said one analyst. “It’s clear there was a fundamental miscalculation about how protracted and how intense the ground commitment in Iraq would be.” The Los Angeles Timesreminds that the military has also started to effectively cannibalize some of its top training units, taking them off training duty and shipping them to fight in Iraq. And the New York Timesnotices the military is also beginning to force some soldiers who recently left the service to come back, about 600 of them so far.

The White House—and top Pentagon generals—have insisted that the Army doesn’t need to get bigger, though a top general did tell reporters yesterday that the Army is “stretched.”

An op-ed in yesterday’s NYT, by a former officer who served in Afghanistan, called the stop-loss policy “a gross breach of contract” and said it “shows how politics has taken priority over readiness.”

The NYT, continuing with its now aggressive reporting on Ahmad Chalabi, says the FBI is polygraphing some “civilian employees” at the Pentagon in an attempt to find out who told Chalabi that the U.S. had broken Iran’s codes, a nugget Chalabi apparently passed on to Tehran.FBI officials said they’re also going to interview senior Pentagon officials. Chalabi has denied the charges. And a few unnamed government officials in the Washington Postdo the same, arguing that Iran, for unclear reasons, probably planted the information to take down Chalabi.

Time magazine says that the White House decided at a meeting back in April to cut Chalabi loose. Newsweek says some “government officials” believe Chalabi also gave Iran details of the United States’ Iraq invasion plans. The magazine adds that some suspect Chalabi also kept files of potentially damaging information on U.S. officials.

Nobody fronts the continued violence in Iraq: Two closely timed bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing five people and wounding about 40. Five Iraqis were killed and about 35 wounded in fighting around Kufa, where the Post says last week’s cease-fire between the U.S. and Muqtada Sadr has “broken down completely.” It’s not clear who’s at fault there. Three foreign contractors appear to have been kidnapped, a Turk, an Egyptian and a Pole, as were four Iraqis working with some of the contractors. An early edition of the NYT summed it up, “BOMBS, BULLETS AND KIDNAPPINGS: JUST A QUIET DAY IN IRAQ.” (The paper later cut out the edge, “AROUND IRAQ, FIGHTING AND BOMBS CREATE GRISLY SCENES.”)

A piece inside USA Todaysays that new Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has spent a few hundred thousand dollars on lobbyists and P.R. folk in D.C. “It was money well spent,” said one conservative think-tanker. “Allawi has always assumed, in many ways correctly, that he didn’t need a constituency in Iraq as long as he had one in Washington.”

Buried in an article about U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s potshots at the U.S.—he called proconsul Paul Bremer a “dictator” (“I’m sure he doesn’t mind my saying it”)—the NYT mentions what could be an important development: The Shiite party SCIRI, which has close ties to Iraq’s top cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a statement criticizing the selection of the new government.

The Post fronts an internal Army report on sexual assaults, concluding that attacks appears to be increasing and the Army has done a bad job of addressing the problem. One quibble: The paper announces, “SEXUAL ASSAULTS IN ARMY ON RISE.” But as piece itself explains, what the report documented was a rise in the number of reported cases, leaving open the possibility that it could just be that a higher percentage of assaults are now being reported, which would be a good thing. After all, the military at least says it’s made a big effort in the past few years to encourage reporting of assaults.

Everybody goes inside with five aid workers killed in Afghanistan, three Europeans and two Afghans. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility.

The papers report inside that Bush chatted with a lawyer recently about representing him if the president gets called to testify in the investigation into last year’s outing of a CIA agent. Bush isn’t a target, but the papers suggest he went for the chat now because he might soon be called as a witness.

The Post’s “Reliable Source” notices that Bush caved to Congress and acceded to a bill that reverses the Pentagon’s policy of awarding only one medal—the “Global War on Terrorism” badge—for service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers will now get separate medals for separate wars. Bush signed the bill on Friday without cameras, a move that didn’t impress one Democratic representative, who said, “In Texas we would call it chicken[poop].”