Northern Composure

Northern Composure

Northern Composure

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 27 2003 6:16 AM

Northern Composure

Everybody leads with word that the U.S. has dropped about 1,000 paratroopers into northern Iraq, one of the largest such operations since WWII. The soldiers, who are comparatively lightly armed and don't have any armor with them, have secured a key airfield that will probably serve as a base to send more units in.

Also yesterday, an errant U.S. missile or bomb seems to have hit a residential neighborhood in Baghdad. At least 14 civilians were killed. The Pentagon said it's checking those reports and suggested that the devastation might have been caused by a malfunctioning Iraqi surface-to-air missile or anti-aircraft fire. But that seems unlikely, judging by a New York Times photo that shows extensive damage. The Washington Post interviews residents and seems to confirm the U.S.'s contention that Saddam has placed missile batteries smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood. The Los Angeles Times, which has a particularly evocative sketch of the scene, says outright that it was caused by American ordnance. At the other end of the spectrum is USA Today, which in early editions went Fox News style, "IRAQ BLAMES RESIDENTIAL BLAST ON COALITION." (That eventually changed to, "BLAST IN BAGHDAD KILLS 14 CIVILIANS.")

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The Post's off-lead says that some senior military officers "are now convinced that the war is likely to last months and will require considerably more combat power than is now on hand." The papersays that some officers think that a pause in the attack on Baghdad, which the NYT hinted at yesterday, "is crucial." The Post flatly states, "The planned blitzkrieg to Baghdad has stalled." The paper does mention that some generals, even some retired ones, think things are going fine.

As everybody notes, the military yesterday ordered an additional 30,000 troops to the region—primarily the 4th Infantry Division. According to the Post, it will take "the better part of a month" for that unit to get into the fight.

The NYT says that house-to-house fighting in Nasiriya has tied up three Marine battalions (it doesn't explain how many soldiers that means). The article mentions, remarkably down low, that 21 Marines were injured there yesterday. The story doesn't give any further detail—nor could TP find anything else about it in the other papers.

Everybody notes that supply convoys keep getting attacked in guerrilla-style raids. And though the Pentagon denies it, the Wall Street Journal and WP say there are indeed supply problems up at the front. "You can only get two meals a day from now on," one Marine sergeant told his soldiers.

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The papers give differing weight to much-hyped-on-CNN reports that some sort of Iraqi convoy headed out of Baghdad toward U.S. forces. The WP goes high in its lead story with the report, saying that the convoy was "believed to be ferrying soldiers from the Medina Division of the Republican Guard" and was largely "wiped out." USAT gives a similar assessment, quoting one Marine commander that U.S. pilots are "counting the burning hulks." The other papers play down the report, with the WSJ saying the move may have been a "feint."

In other news that might not have happened, the Post mentions that Tuesday's much-discussed uprising in Basra seems to have either died down or never took off in the first place. (That doesn't stop the Journal from penning an editorial celebrating it.) Also around Basra, British forces say they destroyed a bunch of Iraqi armor that tried to scoot out of the city—nobody is sure why the Iraqis tried to do that. (It could be that the rebellion is still on and that the Iraqis tried to escape.)

Whatever maneuvering the Iraqis have been doing, and everybody seems to agree they are doing some, they've chosen a great time to do it. While talking head types gush that the latest generation of smart-bombs are all-weather, unstoppable, and accurate, the Post briefly mentions an underreported fact: The satellite-guided weapons that have revolutionized the genre  only work against fixed targets. Taking out things that are on the move still requires laser-guided weapons—and those things don't work well in sandstorms.

The NYT seems to have figured out one reason why more Iraqi soldiers haven't folded: They've been threatened with execution and worse. "I have four children at home, and they threatened to hurt them if I did not fight," said one Iraqi POW. "I had no choice." One wounded POW was found shot in the head by a pistol.

In a move sure to win hearts and minds at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, USAT devotes its big front-page photo to the first humanitarian aid delivered to Iraq. For emphasis, the paper's lead story announces in its subhead, "Aid Reaches Civilians." You might surmise that aid is being delivered. But it's not, at least not in any significant quantity. The port needed for that, Umm Qasr, is still closed. Yesterday's aid package was a Kuwaiti donation to a border town.

The Post goes inside with a  CIA we-told-you-so piece. As one analyst explained, the agency "thought there was a good chance we would be forced to fight our way through everything." The problem, said various CIA folks, is that the administration and Pentagon planners flew right by those concerns.

The NYT briefly mentions that officers think that the two M1A1 Abrams tanks that have been knocked out were hit by Russian-made "Cornet" anti-tank missiles. The Cornet has a longer range than just about any similar weapon in the U.S. inventory. And the U.N. had banned it from being imported into Iraq.

Everybody mentions up high that former senator, scholar, and ambassador Patrick Moynihan died yesterday. He was 76.

With the war going on, some think that the administration has had to scale back its other initiatives. Not so. For instance, as the Post notes, the White House has found time to tweak Air Force One's breakfast menu. It now includes, "stuffed freedom toast topped with strawberries."