Front Page: Iraq, March 26, 2003

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The following is a compilation of today's newspaper reports about the Iraq crisis from around the country and around the world. It is just a sampling of different perspectives, designed to offer additional context into the conflict. Compiled by's Andrew Cohen.

From around the country:

Neil Swidey of the Boston Globe offered this piece on post-war Iraq: "With academics, analysts, and Iraqi exiles crowding the airwaves and the op-ed pages lately, it would seem that the United States does not suffer from a shortage of specialists on Iraq. But a host of scholars and analysts say there is a surprising absence of specific, on-the-ground knowledge of how the Iraqi government and society actually function today. While that may not affect wartime strategy, it could make any postwar occupation much more of a challenge. 'We don't have a single academic expert in America who understands how Iraqi politics work in 2003, not a clue,' said Augustus Richard Norton, a Boston University professor who specializes in the Middle East. Even the CIA's former top political analyst on Iraq acknowledges there's a problem. 'There's nobody in this country who really knows the internal dynamics, the fabric of how Iraq works,' said Judith Yaphe, a senior fellow with the National Defense University. It's certainly not for a lack of trying. With Iraq in the crosshairs of the U.S. military for more than a decade and with U.N. inspectors crisscrossing the country, Iraq has been the subject of intense scrutiny for years. While valuable insight has been gained in certain areas, such as how the military is organized and what the instruments of terror are, there are few people, even inside Saddam Hussein's security-obsessed Iraq, who understand how the system really operates. And apparently none of them are talking."

Melanie Markley of the Houston Chronicle filed this report: "For the Daniel Rodriguez family, it was all a picture-perfect case of déjà vu. On Nov. 26, 1990, a front-page photograph in the Houston Chronicle showed Rodriguez, an Army reservist, getting a tearful farewell hug from his 8-year-old daughter, Paula, as he left to fight a war in Iraq. Twelve years and four months later, Rodriguez on Tuesday was again saying goodbye to the same daughter, now 21, and the rest of his family as he prepared to leave, one more time, to fight a war in Iraq. 'In the beginning, I was a little selfish, wondering, "Why are they taking you? Why? Why? Why?"' Paula said. 'But then I finally realized, he knows what he is doing, and he'll come back. It's his job.' The last time in Iraq, Rodriguez was with the 340th Chemical Company, sent to deal with the decontamination of feared chemical weapons. This time, at 52, the sergeant first class is with the 453rd Cargo Transportation Company. As Rodriguez boarded a bus for Fort Hood on the first leg of his journey to the Mideast, his family — including Paula, his wife, Tina, and his two older daughters, Valerie, 27, and Jessica Rodriguez Postel, 24 — gave him an emotional farewell. Even Rodriguez's only grandchild was there. Postel's son, David Jr., had gotten out of school just so he could say goodbye. At 7, he is one year younger than Paula was when Rodriguez went overseas in 1990. 'I asked him if he knew why his grandfather was leaving,' Jessica said, 'and he said, "Because Grandpa is protecting our country."'"

Carla Anderson of the Philadelphia Daily News offered this: "When it comes to understanding the social and political landscape that surrounds Baghdad, Philadelphia can offer President Bush an underrated source of information: Cab drivers. I get more out of a good conversation in a Philadelphia taxi than I get out of hours of watching CNN. Many drivers are Muslim, as well as recent immigrants. They often have a deep and personal understanding of war. But their biggest bonus is they're free of diplomatic double-speak. They're what Bush would call 'straight shooters.' And straight shooting is what I got when I took my questions about the war in Iraq on a recent tour of the city. 'I agree completely with George Bush,' said a cab driver from Moscow, who, like all the others, felt uncomfortable giving his name. '[Saddam Hussein's] a dictator. He's been there what, 25, 30 years? You gotta just get rid of him.' A driver from Mali explained: 'In Africa, you get a dictator, he stays 25, 35, years, you've got to take a gun to get him out. America's a great country because you don't need guns. He don't listen, people don't like him, it's no problem. In four years, he goes.' Drivers recently from the Middle East offered deeper and chilling insight on what lies beneath the battle in Baghdad. These drivers — Palestinians, Jordanians and Iranians — say they share Bush's hatred of Saddam. But they have too little trust in Bush to put aside a deep conviction that U.S. soldiers do not belong on Iraqi soil, which they believe is sacred."

John Ensslin of the Rocky Mountain News reported on the death of a Colorado marine: "In the pocket next to his heart, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Slocum kept a picture of his girlfriend, Kristi Urbanic, and her daughter, Zoe. 'I miss you and Zoe so much, I can't wait to come home and see you again, love you with all my heart & soul,' Slocum wrote in a letter from Kuwait that Urbanic received in Colorado on Monday. But by then the 22-year-old Thornton native who loved comic books, sang in the choir and gave 'awesome hugs' had been shot dead in Iraq. Slocum was one of nine Marines killed on Sunday near An Nasiriyah by Iraqi soldiers who had feigned surrender. He was the first Coloradan killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. 'It angers me,' his stepfather, Stan Cooper, said Monday, standing on the family's front porch. 'I know we wouldn't do that to them.' His family supports the mission that drew Slocum to Iraq and is proud of his role as a Marine. 'He was the bravest and the best of the Slocum clan. That's how I feel,' said his aunt, Connie L. DuRall of Denver, as she broke down into sobs. 'He was definitely doing what he wanted to do.' The Colorado House of Representatives held a moment of silence Tuesday morning in Slocum's memory. His family has been told his body will arrive today at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Funeral services are pending."

Scott Barancik of the St. Petersburg Times provided this business-related perspective on war coverage: "As U.S. forces prepared for their initial salvo against Baghdad last Wednesday, employees at Freedom Ford in Clearwater chowed down on barbecued burgers and hot dogs provided by the company. The mechanics and salespeople also got a pep talk, and it wasn't solely about keeping the U.S. troops in their thoughts. General manager Todd Grubb urged his staff to stay focused on 'our own home front. Laxing in our job and becoming glued to our televisions,' he said, 'will not help our situation on a daily basis, or our own personal economics.' Business owners in the Tampa Bay area and beyond are trying to find the right balance between nurturing employees worried about the war in Iraq and prodding them into concentrating on their daily tasks. Company officials say they can't afford to let their workers be distracted by what may end up being a lengthy war, especially given the sluggish economy and staffs that have been sliced razor-thin. But with more than 200,000 U.S. troops overseas, many workers have a colleague or a relative who's been called into service. 'We are trying to be understanding,' said Raymond James Financial spokesman Larry Silver. The St. Petersburg brokerage firm has lost six employees to reserve duty and has several other workers with family members serving abroad. At the same time, Silver said, the company is discouraging employees from excessively surfing the Internet for war updates."

From around the world:

The United Arab Emirates' Gulf News offered this perspective: "As Baghdad accused Amman yesterday of halting Iraqi oil supplies, and Jordan attributed the halt to the war, oil truck drivers from Jordan, as well as Iraq, figured among the first victims of the war. Immediately after the U.S.-led forces attacked Iraq, they lost their jobs and incomes. 'There are 13,000 trucks out of job,' Mahmoud Zubei, Head of the Truck Drivers Syndicate in Jordan, told Gulf News. 'This means 13,000 families lost their income, if not more, as each truck has a driver and an owner.' According to Zubei, the halt began when the missiles started striking Iraq, and drivers were afraid of traveling the dangerous roads. Minister of State for Political Affairs and Minister of Information Mohammed Udwan said at a press conference yesterday that oil supplies were halted because of the war. At the same time, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan criticized Jordan for halting the imports of Iraqi oil and said it was not Iraq's decision. Earlier in the day, Udwan said in statements published yesterday that 'brotherly Arab states' have promised to supply Jordan with oil following the disruption in supplies."

The Jerusalem Post reports: "Strike fighters from the USS Theodore Roosevelt bombed a terrorist training camp in northern Iraq overnight. One F/A-18 pilot described the target as an 'al Qaeda terrorist camp,' presumably a reference to Ansar al-Islam's camp, which Secretary of State Colin Powell described as al Qaeda-linked in a presentation before the U.N. The aircraft were on a "close air support" mission, flying in a box over the area, when they were given coordinates mid-flight to strike. The pilots dropped GPS-guided bombs on the target, but heavy cloud cover prevented them from assessing the damage. The planes sensed surface-to-air missiles being fired from the ground by Iraqi forces but none managed to strike the aircraft, which returned safely to the ship. Coalition aircraft, since the start of the war last Thursday, have carried out several air strikes in northern Iraq, targeting primarily Ansar al-Islam."

Through the Canadian Press, the Ottawa Citizen provided this update on Canada's position on the war: "Prime Minister Jean Chretien, reacting to hurt American feelings over Canada's failure to back the war on Iraq, gave qualified support Tuesday to the U.S.-led effort. But that did little to ease opposition criticism, with Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper accusing Chretien of 'embarrassing" Canada with his failure to act. 'I don't want Saddam Hussein to win,' Chretien said after his weekly cabinet meeting. 'We always said that Saddam Hussein was doing a lot of things that we were not in agreement with. We oppose this intervention but now that it is on, we hope that it will be short with a minimum of victims.' Before the war began last week, Chretien consistently opposed the concept of forcing regime change in Iraq, saying U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 only addressed disarmament."

The United Kingdom's Independent offered this view from inside Iraq: "All night, you could hear the carpet-bombing by the B-52s. It was a long, low rumble, sometimes for minutes. The targets, presumably the Republican Guards, must have been 30 miles away but each time that ominous, dark sound began, the air pressure changed in the room where I'm staying near the Tigris River. I've put some flowers in a vase near the window and the water in it was gently shaking all night as the vibrations came out of the ground and air. God spare anyone under that, I thought. 'When we have our soldiers at the front,' Tariq Aziz, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, had told us hours earlier, 'you don't expect us to line them up for you to shoot at, do you?' We had laughed merrily but I didn't laugh now. Surely Saddam Hussein's praetorian guard could not be sitting this out in the desert, tanks abreast, soldiers out in the open? So what were the B-52s aiming at? From time to time, I poked my head out of the window. Far away to the southwest, there would come a pale, dangerous red glow, sometimes for a second, sometimes for five seconds, a glow that would grow to perhaps a square mile then suddenly evaporate, its penumbra moving back into darkness. The forward U.S. Marines were, so the BBC told the world in the early hours yesterday, only 60 miles from Baghdad. I could believe it."

Compiled by Andrew Cohen