From around the country:
Jonathan Bor of the Baltimore Sun focused upon the work of mechanics aboard an aircraft carrier on duty near Iraq: "Here are a few of the concerns weighing upon mechanics who service the Harrier jets flying bombing and surveillance missions high above Iraq: Engines can't fail. Radar must work. Fuel tanks can't come loose. Planes can't get blown into the sea when landing vertically onto the deck. Ejection seats must eject, but not accidentally. Plastic canopies must give way if pilots eject and come crashing through. Parachutes must open, and fliers can't fall into the jet stream. Although it is the pilots whose lives depend on sound aircraft, it is the mechanics who toil from 12 to 14 hours a day to ensure their safety. None of this amphibious ship's 24 Harrier jets has experienced severe problems in the three-week-old war, and every pilot has come back safely, but mechanics will surely receive much of the blame if anything goes wrong. Yet they are a serene group, seeing poetry in what they do. 'We are the first and last eyes on the plane when it leaves and comes back,' said Marine Sgt. Ricardo Alanis, 24, an engine and fuel-tank mechanic from Lynwood, Calif. 'I know my job is important,' said Marine Sgt. Chris Levinski, 21, a seat mechanic from Emmett, Idaho. 'We're the last thing between a pilot living and dying.'"
Chuck Crumbo of the Columbia (S.C.) State filed this: "Some S.C.-based troops deployed in support of the U.S. war against Iraq will return home today even though fighting continues in Baghdad. But military spokesmen said there's no way to predict when others will follow. For some, the homecomings could be months off. Long after the shooting ends, many of the soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines deployed to the Persian Gulf region will be staying behind in support roles, including peacekeeping and rebuilding. 'You'll need to leave a security force in place, and you're always going to need that support trail,' said Lt. Col. Pete Brooks of the S.C. National Guard. The first group back to South Carolina will be pilots and six F-16CJ Fighting Falcons of the 55th Fighter Squadron, based at Sumter's Shaw Air Force Base. The squadron, which is expected to arrive after 11 a.m. today, spent almost four months at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. The squadron was due back in March after a 90-day stint of patrolling the no-fly zone over northern Iraq, but stayed longer on orders from the Pentagon. The United States had hoped to use Incirlik to launch attack missions against Iraq, but failed to win approval from the Turkish government."
Tim Woodward of the Boise Statesman looked at one Idaho family: "Sgt. Aaron Soule had expected to celebrate his 24th birthday in Idaho on Tuesday. Instead, he's in Kuwait, helping fight the war and continuing a long family tradition of military service. Soule completed five years with the U.S. Marine Corps in January. He was four days from being separated and was taking a Marine Corps class on the transition to civilian life when the Stop Loss program was activated, indefinitely postponing all separations. Two weeks later, he was in Kuwait. 'He was looking forward to getting out and going to college,' said his mother, Tracy Fitzpatrick of Eagle. 'He wants a degree in engineering and a regular 8 to 5 job. But he didn't complain. He just said, "This is the way it is, and I'm gone."' Military service is a tradition in Fitzpatrick's family. Her father is former Idaho Adj. Gen. George Bennett. Among her treasures is a photograph of her son in his Marine Corps dress uniform, superimposed over one of her father in uniform when he was a young officer."
Dan McFeeley of the Indianapolis Star reported on Indiana's first war death: "Behind the tears trickling from his bloodshot eyes, there was a glimmer of hope — a smile, even — on the face of Gary Fribley as he walked away from his son's casket. It was a bitterly cold day to bury Indiana's first casualty in the war with Iraq. The family was emotionally spent after a seven-hour visitation and funeral for Marine Lance Cpl. David Fribley, killed in action March 23. And yet, late Tuesday afternoon, Gary Fribley found a reason to smile. For the second straight day, patriotism was shining through the actions of hundreds of Hoosiers who lined the streets and sidewalks to bid farewell to an American hero. For Fribley, saddened by recent war protests, this is just what the troops need. 'Hopefully, America is speaking out, and hopefully the guys can see it,' he said. 'The ones over there fighting and the ones who have come home, like David. We can pull this country together.' Picking up where Hobart's street-side adoration for Greg Sanders left off, the residents of Warsaw, Atwood and Etna Green did the same for David Fribley. 'In this situation, the whole nation is involved,' said military Chaplain Bill Payne, who conducted the graveside service. 'This is a moment of crisis, a moment of grief expressed through the service itself.'"
Wayne Wooley of the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger filed this from inside Iraq: "There are lots of Marines from New Jersey here and they've all got a story. Like the one about the Sparta lawyer, the Secaucus cop and the Jersey City fireman in a Humvee. Or the guy who grew up in Glen Ridge who keeps track of 2,000 Marines strung from Kuwait to Baghdad. And the two 20-somethings who like to hang out at a bar in Hoboken. Let's start with the guys in the Hummer. With Staff Sgt. Leonard Distaso, 35, a Jersey City firefighter who lives in Jackson, at the wheel, they were hurtling across the desert when they drove over a land mine. After the blast, which punctured three tires and riddled the undercarriage of the Humvee, Distaso hit the gas and kept going. 'We were sure we were under attack for a few seconds there,' Distaso said. With him were Maj. Daniel Colfax, 41, a lawyer from Sparta, and Gunnery Sgt. Clark Rhiel, 37, a Secaucus police officer, all members of the Headquarters and Service Company of the 6th Motor Transport Battalion of Red Bank. None of the three was hurt. They were shielded by sandbags on the floor of the vehicle, which was 'hardened' for additional protection. They drove another 60 miles, part of the way with their weapons pointed out the windows. 'When we decided there was no one to shoot at, I went back to sleep,' said Rhiel. Colfax, the company commander, said the blast got his attention. 'Not a typical ride to the office,' said Colfax, who is known among the Marines for his dry sense of humor."
And from around the world:
The Islamic Republic News Agency reports this from Iran: "Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi said here Wednesday that the invading forces in Iraq are seeking to broaden their domination to other countries in the region. Speaking to IRNA, he said the countries in the region should be well prepared to counter the situation and probable U.S. measures. Paying due attention to people's needs, promoting cooperation and benefiting from public support are considered as the best means to deal with the plots hatched by the U.S., he said. In response to a question about whether the U.S., which led the invading forces in Iraq, will attain its objectives in the country, he said the Iraqi people who suffered from Saddam are determined to decide the future of their own government. The Iraqi nation will under no circumstances put up with the cruelty of the invading forces."
Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported on a pre-war U.S.-Israeli deal: "The United States and Israel agreed just eight days before the outbreak of the Iraq war that if Israel were hit by an Iraqi missile with an unconventional warhead and wanted to retaliate, Washington could veto any action that it believed would present a 'clear and present danger' to coalition troops, diplomatic sources said. The agreement resolved a misunderstanding that had developed between the two countries, and a last-minute effort was needed to address potential Israeli involvement in the war. In the months leading up to the war, the United States made it clear through every possible channel that it was opposed to any Israeli involvement. In exchange, the Americans promised to operate in western Iraq in order to foil any possible missile launches against Israel. A coordination mechanism between the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] and Pentagon was established, American Patriot batteries were posted around Israel's population centers, and the Bush administration granted Israel a special $1 billion grant to cover expenses resulting from preparations made prior to the war."
Lebanon's Daily Star focused upon Iraqis in Lebanon: "Iraqis outside Iraq haven't been spared the tension and stress of the war, with many finding it difficult and at times impossible to get news of their families in Iraq. Only a couple of days after the U.S.-led war started on Iraq on March 20, telephone lines inside Iraq, more specifically in Baghdad, were cut, making internal and external communication mission impossible. Since telephones were the only means for communication in Iraq in the absence of cellular phones or Internet, the only way to get news about people there was through personal contact. Some Iraqis living in Lebanon with families in Baghdad were desperately trying to find a way to get in touch with their families or get news from them via a third party, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Foreign Ministry or even media organizations covering the war. But these organizations have not succeeded in assisting people in this regard, as the dramatic military developments in Iraq are preventing them from getting accurate information about civilians there. Alissar Azzawi, 25, an Iraqi whose mother is Lebanese, was desperately trying to get some news about her parents, sister, brother and five-month old niece, who were all in Baghdad. 'I was able to contact my mother and sister twice during the first two days of the war and they told me that they were okay,' Azzawi said. 'But that was it, I didn't talk to them since that time.'"
Robert Fisk of London's Independent newspaper filed this from inside Baghdad: "Day 20 of America's war for the 'liberation' of Iraq was another day of fire, pain and death. It started with an attack by two A-10 jets that danced in the air like acrobats, tipping on one wing, sliding down the sky to turn on another, and spraying burning phosphorus to mislead heat-seeking missiles before turning their cannons on a government ministry and plastering it with depleted uranium shells. The day ended in blood-streaked hospital corridors and with three foreign correspondents dead and five wounded. The A-10s passed my bedroom window, so close I could see the cockpit Perspex, with their trail of stars dripping from their wingtips, a magical, dangerous performance fit for any air show, however infernal its intent. But when they turned their DU shells — intended for use against heavy armour — against the already wrecked Iraqi Ministry for Planning, the effect was awesome. The A-10's cannon-fire sounds like heavy wooden furniture being moved in an empty room, a kind of final groan, before the rounds hit their target. When they did, the red-painted ministry — a gaunt and sinister building beside the Jumhuriya Bridge over the Tigris that I have always suspected to be an intelligence headquarters — lit up with a thousand red and orange pin-points of light."
Saudi Arabia's Arab News focused upon Coalition munitions: "Six days after the 'liberation' of Najaf, Iraqis of all ages continue to pack the corridors of Saddam Hussein General Hospital. They are mostly victims of unexploded munitions that are strewn throughout various residential neighborhoods — along streets, in family homes, in school playgrounds, in the fields belonging to farms...U.S. forces have been using cluster bombs against Iraqi soldiers. But the majority of the victims are civilians, mostly children curious about the small shiny objects which are the same size as a child's hand. Cluster bombs, as explained by an administrator at the hospital, have been dropped by the hundred. They are supposed to explode on impact. However, many do not, and lie on the street exposed to the elements. A young Iraqi in Najaf told Arab News yesterday: 'They are everywhere, and they are going off periodically. We don't even have to touch them — they just go off by themselves, especially as the temperature rises throughout the day.' In a residential neighborhood where nine civilians were killed by heavy U.S. shelling last week, a sudden explosion sent this correspondent and civilians running for cover. Arab News' Iraqi minder said: 'That's what I keep warning you about. You shouldn't be walking around these streets as if you were in Hyde Park.'"
Compiled by Andrew Cohen