Bad Break

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 28 2004 6:53 AM

Bad Break

The Washington Post leads with word that the U.S. has begun creating a civilian-controlled Iraqi Defense Ministry. Since February, 50 hand-picked Iraqis have taken a three-week course at the Pentagon's National Defense University; the ministry's top civil servant will be a Kurdish militia leader. The Los Angeles Times leads with the revelation that pre-war U.S. claims of a portable Iraqi bioweapons program were based on information given by a single defector held in Germany whom the U.S. had never interviewed or even identified. TheNew York Times leads with the near certainty that the United Nations will not meet its goal of treating 3 million people with AIDS by 2005. * (Three hundred thousand currently receive treatment.)

The U.S. has modeled the Iraqi Defense Ministry on the British military, the Post says, which is run mostly by career civil servants and professional soldiers. The Kurdish militia leader, Bruska Shaways, will report to a politically appointed, civilian defense minister. The Pentagon's build-your-own-defense-department course has 25 graduates, some of whom are women and mid-level, non-Baath Party officers from Saddam's disbanded army. The article, which is sourced to anonymous U.S. officials and military officers, portrays the nascent ministry's technocratic design as a way to reduce political meddling and preserve U.S. influence after Iraq gains sovereignty in July. A Sunni Governing Council member predicts that the Iraqi interim government will leave the ministry as-is; a Shiite one, Ahmad Chalabi, warns that independent Iraq will make sure any ministry suits its needs, not those of the U.S.

The LAT's marathon investigation of the Iraqi defector's fraudulent intelligence asserts (about halfway through) that much of Secretary of State Colin Powell's Feb. 5, 2003, presentation to the U.N. Security Council was a distortion of what the U.S. actually knew. Powell said, "We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories," yet of the two defectors he cited, one had already been declared a fabricator by the CIA and the other was known to the U.S. only through a German intelligence file. (The CIA suspects that both were coached by Ahmad Chalabi's organization.) The latter defector, code-named "Curveball" by German intelligence, had been contradicted by a third defector who had worked with him, yet Powell failed to mention this. Former CIA weapons hunter David Kay says that two other defectors cited by Powell as being "in a position to know" had admitted to hearing about the Iraqi program only secondhand. Kay, who says Powell's U.N. speech was "disingenuous," tells the LAT that   

if Powell had said to the Security Council: "It's one source, we never actually talked to him, and we don't know his name," as he's describing this, I think people would have laughed us out of court.

The U.N. AIDS plan, announced three years ago, suffers from anemic funding, the NYT notes: Contributions amount to only $1.6 billion a year, while $8 billion is needed. The Bush administration, despite its 2003 pledge to spend $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS, requested only $200 million for its most recent U.N. AIDS donation. (Congress approved nearly triple this amount.) The administration's own overseas programs have used only patent-protected drugs, which cost twice as much as the generics approved by the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, clinics in nations like India, South Africa, and Nigeria have been slow to start and clumsily managed.

The NYT "Week in Review" tries to piece together what actually happened between government troops and militants in the South Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan. A paramilitary force of 300 surrounded a militant's house on March 18. Other militants fired mortars and rockets at the paramilitaries, killing 15. Four hundred army soldiers then battled 300 to 400 militants. The government lost 20 soldiers, arrested 150 militants, and discovered a series of tunnels through which many more may have fled. This account, in an article datelined from Islamabad, is intermittently sourced to the Pakistani government. An "Afghan official with ties to South Waziristan" tells the Times that No. 2 al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was not involved, contrary to President Pervez Musharraf's early boast. The Times concludes that either Musharraf inflated the battle's significance to impress a visiting Colin Powell, or Pakistan was actually whupped by al-Qaida.

A front-page Post poll (and accompanying article) finds that half of all military spouses predict that the extended overseas deployments since 9/11 will cause major retention problems for U.S. forces. (A quarter think it will be a minor problem; another quarter, no problem.) Other poll results give a more mixed picture of the stress on spouses.

In a NYT op-ed, Bob Dole argues that every presidential election hinges on the public's perception of the economy. He then makes the case for President Bush, noting that all economic numbers, except for job creation, are excellent. John Kerry, Dole says, faces the same daunting task that he himself faced in 1996: convincing voters that a strong economy is actually weak.

On the NYT letters page, three M.D.s rebuke the FDA for its decision to require that labels on some antidepressants warn of possible medication-induced suicides. It is unknown whether such a suicide risk exists, they write, but it is certain that the labels will scare off some depressives who could benefit from the pills.

In a bid to console long-suffering Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox fans, the NYT tries to put the Cubs and Sox' loser-dom in global perspective: Two soccer teams, in the Netherlands and Chile, have played for 102 years without winning a national title; a cricket team in Great Britain hasn't won in 113 years; and five football and hurling teams in Ireland have yet to win in their 116-year history.  A "Vancouver-based sports psychologist" attributes all the losing to (of course) poor franchise self-esteem.    

Correction, March 29, 2004: This article originally misstated the goal of a U.N. AIDS initiative. The United Nations hopes to treat 3 million people with AIDS by 2005, not 6 million. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)

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