The New York Timesleads with word that guards working for Blackwater fired their weapons at least twice as often per convoy mission while protecting State Department officials than other security contractors doing similar work in Iraq. USA Todayleads with new military figures that say a total of 19,429 militants have been killed in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad in 2003. The Washington Postleads with the defense secretary asking lawmakers for an extra $42.3 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which means the request would total $189 billion. This extra money would make the price tag of both conflicts surpass the $800 billion mark. Lawmakers also heard from the Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, who said the “current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply.” He also warned the Army might have difficulty providing the necessary forces “for other potential contingencies.”
The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with, and most other papers front, the latest from Myanmar, where security forces increased their crackdown on anti-government protests and fired at demonstrators. Dozens of monks were reportedly beaten and arrested, and up to eight people were killed, although the government only confirmed one. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the jury in the Phil Spector murder trial declaring that they couldn’t reach a verdict, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial. The final vote was 10-2 in favor of conviction, and prosecutors plan to refile the charges against Spector.
The State Department keeps track of every time a contractor shoots a weapon while on the job, and although officials agreed to discuss the broad outlines of the reports, they would not provide the paper with any of the actual numbers. But there was no question of the trend. “The incident rate for Blackwater is higher; there is a distinction,” a senior American government official said. This higher rate didn’t seem to hurt Blackwater’s chances of being awarded more contracts and responsibility in Iraq. In fact, just a few weeks ago the company was awarded another large contract. The NYT goes on to note that questions have been raised about Blackwater’s ties to politicians as the owner’s family contributes heavily to Republicans. As is common with contractors, Blackwater also has several staff members who used to hold prominent government jobs.
The military has often been reluctant to discuss actual numbers of insurgents killed by coalition forces, but now decided to release figures after a request from USAT. Of course, there’s no way to verify the data or confirm that it’s even complete. But the numbers do suggest the size of the insurgency might be larger than military officials had previously recognized in public, particularly considering that there are 25,000 detainees in U.S. military custody in Iraq. Last year, the commander of forces in the region said he suspected the Sunni insurgency consisted of between 10,000 and 20,000 fighters, and Shiite militias numbered in the “low thousands.”
The LAT wrote about the extra spending request on Saturday, and, as previewed, Gates said a chunk of the extra money was needed to acquire new technology, including mine-resistant vehicles. Gates also said he’s concerned about oversight of security contractors in Iraq, and announced he sent a fact-finding team to Baghdad to look into the issue. The LAT gets word the team discovered some military commanders weren’t clear about what kind of legal authority they had over the contractors. Gates’ top deputy sent a directive to senior officials ordering them to “review rules governing contractors’ use of arms and to begin legal proceedings against any that have violated military law,” says the LAT.
In other Capitol Hill news, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding resolution that calls for Iraq to be split into three semiautonomous regions. Although it doesn’t force any changes, it’s seen as a criticism of the administration’s emphasis on a strong central government. It’s also a sign of how an idea that was quickly dismissed when Sen. Joseph Biden first proposed it almost two years ago is gaining traction in Washington.
Despite the crackdown, the protests in Myanmar continued. The LAT and NYT note that early this morning, security forces raided two Buddhist monasteries and arrested as many as 200 monks. The United Nations Security Council called on Myanmar’s government to “exercise restraint” but was blocked by China from issuing a formal condemnation. Everyone notes China, Myanmar’s largest trading partner, has been pushing the military junta to negotiate with the protesters. China is afraid its relationship with the junta might further tarnish its international reputation. Although China has been supportive of the government, the NYT says it’s preparing for the possibility that the protests will lead to a change in leadership and has maintained a relationship with pro-democracy leaders.
All the papers front the end of the General Motors strike and note the key is that a union-administered fund will be set up to pay for retirees’ health-care benefits. Many economists think “the contract may be a template” for corporate America. The WSJ notes this is part of a continuing trend where more employers are choosing to not provide their workers with health insurance and other benefits.
The LAT notes the hung jury in the Spector trial marked another frustrating moment for a “district attorney’s office still haunted by the murder acquittals of O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake.” But according to legal experts, the result of the trial had more to do with “the power of wealth” than celebrity. (“The guy was guilty, and at least for now, he walks. It stinks,” writes Slate’s Timothy Noah, who followed the trial meticulously.) Noting this celebrity trial “was kind of a ratings flop,” the WP wonders, “Will anyone tune in to the rerun?”