Return Fire

Return Fire

Return Fire

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 22 2003 3:47 AM

Return Fire

The New York Times and Washington Post lead with a look at the various guerrillas plaguing American troops in Iraq. The group the WP examines is organized enough to have named themselves—"the Return" —and is composed of foreigners, Baath Party members, and former Saddam security agents. The NYT reports that many of the foreign fighters in Iraq are recruited by Saddam loyalists from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other Arab states. The presence of foreigners, who played an important role during the war proper, is noteworthy now after the war because it appears they are being recruited and funded for a new effort against the Americans, military officials told the NYT. The Los Angeles Times lead reports that the Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah, which was behind the Bali nightclub bombing last October, has expanded its activities to Thailand and Cambodia and is now active in seven countries, including Australia and several in Southeast Asia.

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The LAT learned more about the scope of Jemaah Islamiah's activities from the testimony of its leaders on trial in Indonesia for nightclub bombings. One leader affirmed that the group is linked to Osama Bin Laden. The organization is hundreds strong, well-trained in bomb-making, and has been responsible for dozens of attacks which have killed over 250 people, the LAT says.

The WP reports that according to Paul Bremer, the civilian administer of Iraq, fighters from the Return are working in groups of five to 10, but they don't seem to be operating under any sort of formal command and control structure. Rather, they are more ad hoc, formed by Iraqis who have weapons, money, and transportation, and friends in the secret police, intelligence community, or Baath party. The WP says that the fact that some of the Return's sponsors are wealthy Sunni families who are no friends of Saddam suggests to some American officials that these funders are looking toward a Saddam-free Iraq in which they are in charge.

The NYT fronts, and the others put inside, President Bush's assertion in his radio address that the fighters attacking American soldiers are remnants of Saddam's government, not other Iraqis who are disgruntled with American occupation.

The WP front reports that an intelligence document indicates that Bush overstated the threat that Iraq passing weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaida posed to the U.S. The WP learned from congressional and intelligence sources that the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which is currently under scrutiny on the Hill and was part of the intelligence Bush used to declare terrorists armed by Iraq an imminent threat, stated that Saddam would only give terrorists WMD and send them off to the U.S. as a last resort. The report said this would be "an extreme step" for the Iraqi leader, one he might take only if he thought he could not stop the U.S. from invading his country.

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A piece inside the WP says that U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix downgraded his assessment of Iraq's weapons capability before the U.S. attacked, based on the fact that no evidence of WMD has been turned up. He now suspects that Iraq had only "debris" left over from its former weapons program, not evidence that it was currently developing WMD.

The papers relay word, the LAT on its front, that Israeli troops killed a senior Hamas leader in Hebron on the West Bank. Israel claims he was shot while they were trying to arrest him, but Palestinian witnesses said that instead of trying to arrest the man, Israeli troops opened fire when they saw him. The leader has been linked to several suicide bombings, such as the June 11 attack on a Jerusalem bus. Cease-fire negotiations have stalled, the NYT notes, over the plan for Israeli troops to pull back from the Gaza Strip and for Palestinian security forces to move in there to stop attacks on Israelis.

The papers run wire dispatches noting that a pipeline exploded in Nigeria, killing 105 people. The pipeline had been vandalized, and many of the victims were in the process of stealing gasoline when the explosion occurred.

A front-page piece in the WP describes one of the latest problems with airport security: the federal government planning to cut airport security workforces. Washington Dulles, for example, was already losing one passenger-screener a day, according to its security director, and has therefore been able to screen only 57 percent of checked bags. Cuts will only exacerbate the situation.

A former Seattle Times journalist uses the current atmosphere of self-examination at the NYT, and the WP's "Outlook" section, as an opportunity to describe, in a non-accusatory fashion, how he never received proper credit when an NYT columnist borrowed from a piece of his 27 years ago. He sold a freelance article on a million-dollar government project to breed featherless chickens in order to save plucking costs to the WP in 1976. A few weeks later, the article "Redesigning Chickens" appeared in the NYT magazine, complete with a portion of his piece, including his favorite quote.