Wednesday, April 09, 2003

I had to take yesterday off, but now I'm back with the rest of last week's coverage by the New York Times of the humanitarian relief effort in Iraq.

Not much to write about. This is indicated, symbolically, by the fact that beginning with the Thursday, April 3, edition of the Times, the map of Iraq it's been running each day on the back page of its Nation at War section no longer shows the port town of Umm Qasr, which is the entry point for aid into the country. As U.S. troops advanced on Baghdad -- by Thursday the closest division was less than 20 miles away -- the map simply moved north with them. (I tried to pull an image the map of the site, but it's done in Flash and I can't figure out how to get it.)

This same map also weirdly, for the first time, "is overlayed on a New York regional map to show the distance of Iraqi cities from Baghdad relative to New York region cities from Manhattan." As I said: weird.

None of the front-page stories in the April 3 NYT reported on the aid effort, with the exception of Jim Dwyer's -- "Exuberant Crowd's Most Urgent Request: Water" -- which ran as one of two stories under the banner hed "A Bridgehead, and a Thirsty Welcome."

Writing from Najaf, about 80 miles south of Baghdad, Dwyer noted: "Neither soldiers nor reporters had water for the town. The infrastructure has been brought down by nearly a week of battles in and around the town. For now, there is no short-term prospect for any relief, although military officials note that the town's landing strip could easily accommodate C-130 cargo planes."

The pull quote from the jump on page B4 pretty much sums up the plight of the people of Najaf: "In a town of little strategic importance, no short-term prospect of relief aid."

That's it. That's the only mention of aid in the entire April 3 edition of the New York Times. Unless you count the lead story in the Nation at War section: "Battle for Baghdad Like War Plan: Kill Enemy, Limit Damage, Provide Aid" (online retitled "Planning the Battle for Baghdad"), by Eric Schmitt with Bernard Weinraub.

I don't think it should count, though, since the only mention of aid in the article is in the first graf: "The objectives of the battle for Baghdad will be a microcosm of the war itself: destroy the forces that support President Saddam Hussein, avoid civilian casualties, limit damage to civilian infrastructure and provide aid."

There is, however, the first article the paper has run that mentions Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who "is designated to take charge in Iraq once President Hussein is overthrown."

April 3's Overview, on page B1 -- "Crushing Iraqi Units, Daring Rescue and the Saddam Hussein Mystery" -- describes the retired Army officer as "a stocky 64-year-old who, unlike some other old soldiers, foregoes titles and introduces himself as Jay. Technically, he heads what is called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which is the nucleus of the new Iraqi government in waiting.

"He is leading several hundred American officials who are already working in Kuwait on the details of administering Iraq after the war ends. While he is no longer in the military, General Garner reports directly to the chief of Central Command, Gen. Tommy R. Franks."

The larger report from which the summary above is derived, "Iraqi Shadow Government Cools Its Heels in Kuwait," by my old friend Jane Perlez, makes for some interesting reading.

Meanwhile, though, I will attempt to avoid mission creep and remain on message. So back to the aid effort.