I've only recently started paying very close attention, but it seems as though there is really no other reporter in Iraq that can compare to the Times' John F. Burns. Take these snippets from Monday morning's story, which give an analytical and contextual perspective on events that no other journalists have provided thus far:
* Seven American soldiers were killed in Sadr City, one of the worst single losses for the American forces in any firefight since Baghdad was captured a year ago.
* Residents in the three centers said the Iraqis had abandoned their posts almost as soon as the militiamen appeared with their weapons, leaving the militiamen in unchallenged control — and punching a huge hole in American hopes that American-trained Iraqis can be relied on increasingly to take over from American troops in providing security in Iraq's major cities.
* Together, the events in Falluja and the other cities on Sunday appeared likely to shake the American hold on Iraq more than anything since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's government last April 9.
* Privately, senior American officers have said for months that American prospects here would plummet if the insurgency spread into the Shiite population, leaving American and allied troops with no safe havens anywhere except possibly in the Kurdish areas of the north.
* Using the insistently understated language that the American command has used at every juncture of the war, he described the Najaf fighting as "a fairly significant event," but added, "At this point, it's pretty settled down."
* Ayatollah Sistani sent a message from his headquarters in Najaf in which he appeared eager not to distance himself from a cause that had attracted popular support ... [an aide] considered the militiamen's cause to be "legitimate" and condemned the "acts waged by the coalition forces."
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