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The Weather Is Cooler — For How Long?

Dawn in Baghdad fails to break 100. Iraq Army death squads? Saddam on death row?

By 9.9.05

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BAGHDAD -- The temperature in Baghdad has been below 100 at 7 a.m. every day for six straight days! The strange thing is that, crazy as it sounds, it does feel cooler here even as the early morning temperature hovers around 97 or 98 degrees.

Life on the streets is once again cooler too. Even though people continue to get killed, the numbers have fallen off noticeably. The number of car-bomb explosions has dropped very sharply in the past 30 days or so. The factors responsible for this good news are something of a mystery. The passage of a Constitution gets some of the credit. If that is true, then the details of how it came about are so arcane as to be incomprehensible.

Something else that gets credit is the Iraqi Army. There truly are signs that this army is starting to have some impact on events here. The terrorists can't simply walk up to a checkpoint, kill everyone in sight, and not take a very strong risk that they might all be killed in return.

What continues to be whispered, and what I have reported here once or twice, is the claim that the Iraqi Army is killing hundreds of the terrorists whom they do arrest. No trials. No niceties. Just a quick shot in the head. I can neither confirm nor refute this persistent report. But, I hear it so often that I do tend to believe something along those lines is happening. The victims of the Army killings (if they are happening) are the former Saddam loyalists who form the core of the terrorist groups.

It's noteworthy that absolutely no one is bothered by this evidence of an army that is perhaps running amok. In many other countries (even in parts of ours) there would be mass hand wringing and hyperventilation. The New York Times editorial board would have a collective case of acid indigestion. Not here. These people have tasted what it is like to live at the hands of a butcher and an assassin. They can't wait for Saddam's trial and execution to be over so they can quickly get on with the more important things in life.

What is also remarkable about all the talk of Iraqi Army atrocities is that not a soul in the media has reported a word about it. This is the scandal of what passes in Iraq for news gathering and reporting. Since this place is so dangerous, the media quite literally stay hunkered down in the trenches. As a result, nobody in the world has any idea of what is going on. If they want to claim they are "reporting" that is all well and good. No reporter wants to go out and get killed. But, what they do is report from the safety of their trenches how badly things are going, when they have not the foggiest idea of how anything is going.

This is an incredibly difficult war on which to report completely and accurately. That is a given. But the press has been derelict in not acknowledging that its reporting is subject to an astonishing amount of inaccuracy and incompleteness. One thing we seem to know nothing about, for example, is what is going on in Baghdad itself. Why don't we? The city is right here at the feet of all the visiting reporters who rotate in and out every month. The reason we don't know is that the reporters don't care. Any reporter assigned to Baghdad simply wants to get in and get out, without being killed.

The vast majority of the reports coming out of Iraq are written by the Associated Press. How many of you have noticed that as a matter of company policy the AP never reports the number of U.S. servicemen killed in Iraq without always using the qualifier "at least"? It is always "at least 1,850 U.S. soldiers have been killed since 2003." I challenge any reader to find an exception to that statement. A few days ago company policy made an AP staff writer look like an illiterate fool by forcing him to use the "at least" qualifier twice within the span of five words. The purpose of the qualifier is obvious, of course. What the AP is saying is: "The liar Rumsfeld is willing to acknowledge at least 1,850 deaths, but we elites who are privy to the truth know the number is much higher than that."

And speaking of deaths, one morning last week Iraq paved the way for Saddam's hanging by executing three garden variety terrorists. Each had been responsible for killing fewer than five people; penny ante stuff compared to the hundreds of thousands that Saddam killed. The speculation now is that the Saddam trial starting October 19 will be divided into about five or six segments, each dealing with a long catalogue of barbarisms. The first segment will be devoted to Saddam's execution of 150 people after a failed attempt on his life about 1982. In the entire scheme of Saddam's butchery, this one was a reasonably minor event. The trial will be quick and have lots of easily provable allegations. As soon as this segment is over there will be a verdict. It is widely assumed that Saddam will be found guilty and his execution ordered. After a day and a half set aside for appeal, he will be promptly executed, and life will start to return to normal. Obviously, the rest of the trial dealing with the other segments will become "moot."

About ten days ago, I wrote here about Ben and Lawrence, two guys in the Project Contracting Office who, by sheer force of talent and determination, had turned around what had been a sleepy "banana republic" operation. At the end of that dispatch I expressed the wish that these two guys' bosses not wake up one day and decide to move them back to the States. Sadly, that day has come far sooner than I thought for one of them. Wednesday morning I learned that Ben is on his way out, barely five months after his arrival. So many of our problems here are self-inflicted!

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