There is little Iraq-related hard news in the Memorial Day editions of today's papers, and three of our regulars take Monday off this week.
The Times and Post run full editions, but focus on features over hard news, including some thought-provoking reading for Memorial Day.
The Times has the most provocative Iraq-datelined reading today, including a frank look at US soldiers in the field who tangle each day with the issues of disillusionment and duty. The paper also prints a lengthy Memorial Day column by a media writer arguing that the Pentagon does its fighters no favors by insulating the public from images of US soldiers killed in the theater.
Apart from its daily Iraq roundup, the Post stays Stateside with its Memorial Day stories, with a front-pager on families coping with loss, along with two staff editorials, which commemorate the deaths of US soldiers, and argue for better veterans' mental health care, respectively.
US forces rescued 41 captives held by al-Qa'ida in Iraq in Diyala province, John Ward Anderson writes in the Post. Some had been held for as long as four months. Some bore sines of torture or broken bones, military officials said. Details on the operations were sketchy. US forces also conducted a raid in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood, capturing an individual suspected of belonging to a “terrorist network” with “ties to Iran,” according to US officials. Two GIs were killed in two separate attacks on Saturday. Salah al-Obeidi, an associate of Muqtada al-Sadr, official turned a recent American admonition around, saying that it was the US who needed "to be positive, and to make an honest decision of withdrawing from this country so there will be a chance to rebuild it again." Sadr’s recent reappearance after months in hiding prompted President Bush to say that he hoped the cleric would “play a positive role” in Iraq.
British forces in Basra killed three gunmen after bomb and RPG attack, Damien Cave writes in the Times, after two days of intense fighting between British forces and the Mahdi Army after UK forces killed the local leader of the militia. Two policemen died in a shooting attack in Samarra, an din Baghdad’s Fadhil district, four were killed in clashes between Iraqi police and unknown fighters. Twelve bodies were recovered in Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood, “riddled with bullets,” Cave writes. A US embassy official confirmed the story, first published in the Washington Post yesterday, that a Blackwater-escorted convoy of SUVs carrying State Department employees came under attack in Baghdad. “Private contractors from Blackwater USA returned fire, and attack helicopters also intervened, firing heavy weapons into a crowded urban area,” Cave writes. US officials ordered a DNA test on a body recovered Sunday, but warned that the body did not initially fit the description of the two soldiers still missing who disappeared after an attack near Mahmudiya on May 12.
Michael Kamber of the Times looks at the battle between disillusionment and duty in Iraq, noting that the revolving doors between militias who fight US troops, and Iraqi security forces who receive American support, has a demoralizing effect on soldiers in the field. Basing his account on time with Delta Company, First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division, he writes, “With few reliable surveys of soldiers’ attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in the company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers in this 83-man unit over a one-week period, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop.” One soldier said that nearly every soldier in his platoon had reversed their opinion about the war, from strong support to a feeling that the US presence is futile. Redeployments and extended tours also fuel the reported feelings of dissatisfaction. On the other hand, the platoon commanding officer says, “My guys are all professionals. I tell them to do something, they do it,” and Kamber writes, “his dictum is proved on patrol, where his soldiers walk the streets for hours in the stifling heat, providing cover for one another with crisp efficiency.”
In the Times, Michael Ross and Souad Mekhennet discuss ways that intelligence analysts believe that the Iraq war is “spilling over” to other countries, focusing especially what some claim is a recent outflow of militants from Iraq into other states of the region, and on the single case of a Libyan who attempted to enter Iraq to fight the Americans but was turned back in Syria by a contact who directed him to Jordan, saying militant operations in Iraq did not need the extra manpower. In Jordan, the man, with the help of Iraqi expatriates, was prepared to detonate himself in an attack at Amman’s Queen Alia Airport, before the plot was broken up.