Mourning in Mosul

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 22 2004 4:10 AM

Mourning in Mosul

Everybody leads with the attack on a base in Mosul that killed about 25 people, including as many as 19 GIs. (There's confusion about the exact numbers.) About 60 soldiers and contractors were wounded in the explosion, which hit a cafeteria during mealtime. It was the deadliest single attack since the war began.

It's not clear what caused the explosion. The Wall Street Journal cites military officials saying it was a rocket. But a militant Web site claimed responsibility and asserted it was a suicide operation. The base has thousands of people on it, including foreign contractors and Iraqi security forces. And even if it was a rocket or mortar, the attack could have been aided by insiders. As USA Todaynotices, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq said a few weeks ago that insurgents "probably know about when meal times are and [when] there is a concentration of people. The rest of the day, folks are scattered."

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It also could have been a "lucky" hit. The Washington Postsays, "Mortar rounds fall frequently on the post—sometimes a half-dozen a day." The Richmond Times-Dispatch's Jeremy Redmon, who was there during the explosion, writes that the mess hall itself has been targeted "more than 30 times this year."

The Los Angeles Times and WP run Redmon's dispatch. "A fireball enveloped the top of the tent, and shrapnel sprayed into the men," he wrote. The NYT quotes from it but declines to run the second-hand copy.

As USAT mentions, the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald had a reporter on the scene a couple of minutes after the blast.

Elsewhere in Iraq, two French journalists were released after being held hostage for four months. And British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a surprise visit to Baghdad.

The LAT alone has word that a major contractor has decided to pull out of Iraq because of the security situation and the sky-rocketing costs of dealing with it. Contrack International, Inc. is abandoning a $325 million contract to rebuild Iraq's transportation system.

The Journal's Iraq catchall flags some Pentagon officials saying the White House is wrong: The U.S. needs fewer troops in Iraq. The fewer number of troops, the less the resentment from Iraqis. "What you get with a smaller force is an ink-blot approach," one "senior defense official" said. "You work on one small, manageable area at a time and spread out from there."

The ACLU has unleashed another batch of detainee abuse/torture docs, and the papers have different tacks. The Post goes Page One with it, saying in its lead that the docs, which were culled from military investigation files, suggest the mistreatment was "more widespread, varied and grave in the past three years than the Defense Department has long maintained." It happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gitmo, of course, and included "shocking detainees with electric guns [and] shackling them without food."*

The LAT and New York Timesstuff the ACLU docs, with both suggesting the memos indicate the military has been slack in investigating alleged abuse and torture. In one case, a doc states, some evidence was "not collected" even though "probable cause existed for a murder charge." As the LAT says, and others have suggested before, part of the problem is that investigators seemed to have been overwhelmed by the number of abuse cases.

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