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July 16, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Marine's view
Beneath the official line that things are improving in the Al Anbar province, doubts on the future of Fallujah and Ramadi are being expressed privately by some Marines.

"We killed close to 20 enemy, detained 14, and a lot of RPGs and machine guns," a Marine told us this week. "They actually fortified and used a building called the Coalition of Iraqi Unity for a fighting position. Not surprised. Things really have not gotten better. Firefights everyday, mortar and RPG attacks everyday. But the Government Center is still functioning, still defended, and the governor is still alive, so we are doing our job. Still hoping to kill Zarqawi someday."

That was a reference to international murderer Abu Musab Zarqawi, who uses Fallujah as a base, but who also moves around Iraq establishing cells of suicide bombers to kill Iraqis.

Early Bird
There has been a small makeover to one of Washington's best-read publications.

The Pentagon Early Bird, an electronic compilation of that day's defense reporting, no longer leads with the top stories. Instead, Larry Di Rita, the Defense Department's chief spokesman, has ordered the staff to first list that day's corrections as listed by the major dailies.

Aides to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld say the not-so-subtle shift is a message to reporters that the Pentagon is increasingly aware of what it considers the bent by the press to write inaccurate stories about the administration.

On Monday, for example, the Early Bird reproduced a correction in the New York Times. The Times conceded that it erred in reporting that the White House had not disclosed previously that some of President Bush's Air National Guard records were destroyed when they were converted to microfiche.

Tough love
An internal memo from the Army's Human Resources Command has some tough advice on how to treat infantry branch officers who don't shape up.

"If you have an officer who has demonstrated the core values we desire, he might be a good candidate at [Fort Benning, the infantry training center], or one of the other training centers forming our future soldiers and leaders, and we will help you get him there if that's what you want him to do," said the memo to Army infantry colonels. "If you have an officer who is sub-standard, I ask that you bring him up to standard or eliminate him, as you see fit."

Bremer's feats
The insurgency is deadly stubborn. The chances for democracy in Iraq are probably 50-50. A tenacious international terrorist, Abu Musab Zarqawi, roams Iraq to organize car bombings that kill allied Iraqis.

Yet, L. Paul Bremer left Iraq with optimism as his fellow traveler. He believes the now-disbanded Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) under his direction has put policies in place that will one day lead Iraq out of the dark shadow of Saddam Hussein.

"What did we get done and what's left to be done?" Mr. Bremer asked as he sat down for a recent interview. "The answer is to look below the surface a bit at some of the changes that we have stared to bring about in Iraqi society, in the political area and the economic area. I say started to bring about because I'm not naive enough to think that changing a millennial-old society is something that happens overnight. But I think we've got some very good trends in the right direction."

Politically, he said, the CPA accomplished four significant reforms: There is now "the widely accepted idea" of representative government; Iraqis accept a balance of power between policy-makers and the courts, and a devolution of power from Baghdad to the provinces; there is acceptance of the rule of law, not rule of man; and there are safeguards to protect minority rights.

On the economy, Mr. Bremer believes the CPA created laws that open up Iraq to free trade, market-based interest rates and balanced budgets. "This was even by the standards of the Soviet empire, a very closed society and a very closed economy," Mr. Bremer told us. "We tore down all the trade barriers," cut taxes and allowed foreign investment.

"I would argue that these changes, these changes to the fundamentals of the political and economic life, are vital," he said.

What will take time, says the former ambassador, is to suck out corruption that Saddam Hussein himself encouraged.

"I do argue that we have set a direction and a momentum in these areas which is very important," he said. As for the future, Mr. Bremer plans to write a book and "get some sleep."

Harlow leaving
CIA spokesman Bill Harlow is leaving the agency after seven years as a key member of CIA Director George J. Tenet's staff. Mr. Tenet left office Sunday. "It's time to move on and do something else," said Mr. Harlow, a veteran spokesman who also did public affairs stints at the White House National Security Council, Navy and Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Mr. Harlow, who many years ago joked to reporters that he should be identified in stories only as "a junior administration official," was a member of the CIA's powerful executive committee, a position that made him more than a spokesman.

Mr. Harlow tells us he plans to take up writing again to produce another novel or maybe a nonfiction book. He is also thinking of writing screenplays. Also, he may do consulting for public relations or crisis management firms.

"I've seen a few crises, and maybe even caused a few," he said.

Deputy Public Affairs Director Mark Mansfield is expected to take over Mr. Harlow's job after the retired Navy captain departs at the end of the month.

Schmidt's appeal
Air National Guard Maj. Harry Schmidt has sent a harshly worded appeal to U.S. Air Force Combat Command, after a three-star general used blunt language to reprimand the F-16 pilot. The appeal comes in the case of Maj. Schmidt mistakenly bombing a training range in Afghanistan in 2002, killing four Canadian soldiers.

Maj. Schmidt's attorney, Charles Gittins, reacted angrily to the reprimand in an appeal filed this week.

It says, in part, "Neither the findings nor the punishment are supported by the evidence the Commander considered; the commander arbitrarily and capriciously imposed punishment for offenses not charged; the commander was biased and prejudiced and did not credit the uncontradicted evidence submitted by Maj. Schmidt; and the commander materially breached the agreement with Major Schmidt by releasing Privacy Act protected service record documents without authorization from Major Schmidt.

"The wild allegations in the reprimand are not rooted in any evidence ever adduced in this two-plus year process and belie a desire to mount a public relations campaign rather than actually attempt to see justice done."

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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