So, here's a few top stories from today:
A mass hostage taking was reported yesterday in the town of Madain. The situation is apparently very fluid and confusing, particularly when the only available information is coming out of the Green Zone in Baghdad. The Associated Press stenographer in Baghdad stated that "Sunni militants were holding dozens of Shiite Muslims hostage and threatening to kill them..."; Al Jazeera says "a senior Shia official in Baghdad said up to 150 hostages were being held, including women and children..."; AFP is reporting "Sunni militants had seized up to 80 hostages and threatened to kill them unless all Shiites left". And apparently, a rescue operation has now been undertaken - which is apparently equally as confusing - is it Iraq police or U.S. forces that are conducting the mission? Pick your news source; take your chances.
In other news (again, pick your news source), 3 U.S. soldiers were killed overnight in a drive by mortaring of Camp Ramadi, with up to a dozen more being injured. An Iraqi "commando force" officer and a police director were assassinated in separate incidents, and two of the police director's family members were also killed in the hit.
What else has been happening? Oh, there was a riot in the prison at Camp Bucca after a detainee was apparently murdered. Several detainees escaped in the subsequent confusion; most were apparently recaptured. Seven Iraqis, including three policemen, were killed in an explosion at a restaurant in the town of Baquba, north of Baghdad...
Yep. Just another weekend in paradise. Oh, and those elections that took place back in January? There still isn't a functional government in Iraq, nearly three months after the elections.
Let's tie all of this up with a quick observation. A common thread running through nearly every report coming out of Iraq these days is that Iraqi "forces" (whatever they are) are responding to events. For example, in the sketchy reports on the three U.S. soldiers being killed in Ramadi:
...Seven servicemen were also wounded in the attack, three of them seriously, the military said in a statement. The attackers were believed to have fled into a nearby mosque. But when Iraqi security forces searched it, they found no insurgents.
Again, this is not an exception - nearly all of the news articles linked in this post have the same flavor when describing military responses to the event. What this is telling me is two things: U.S. casualties are down because soldiers are venturing less and less beyond the operational wall of fortified compounds, and relying on Iraqi first responders to chase the bad guys after a firefight. Second, the focus of press releases from the Green Zone are subtly changing to support the U.S. exit strategy - a major reduction of U.S. forces if U.S. casualties decrease and Iraqi security forces take over.
This slog is a loooooong way from over. For an Iraqi insider's view, check out Riverbend's most recent posting, if you haven't already.