Today's Papers

Confirmation Bomb

A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Tel Aviv pub called Mike’s Place this morning; the bomb killed at least two other people. The attack came only hours after Mahmoud Abbas was confirmed by the Palestinian legislature as prime minister—supplanting Yasser Arafat in some, but not all, leadership and security roles. With Abbas’ appointment, the White House says it will release its much-leaked “road map” for peace in the next few days. The New York Times and USA Today lead with the U.S. announcement that it’s pulling nearly all of its troops out of Saudi Arabia.

Just before the attack, which no group has yet claimed responsibility for, Abbas denounced terrorism and said peace was “our strategic, irrevocable choice.” And in what’s seen as an historic statement, Abbas also acknowledged Jewish suffering “throughout history.” Hamas and Islamic Jihad have both said, so far, they don’t support Abbas or his call to end attacks. Abbas, as everybody notes, has long criticized the current Palestinian intifada and doesn’t have a popular base of support.

The NYT points out that Abbas didn’t say whether his rejection of terrorism includes attacks on settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, attacks that most Palestinians support.

The papers also mention that Israel launched a “targeted killing” yesterday, firing a helicopter-borne missile at a car carrying a militant leader in the West Bank, killing him and a passenger.

Some 10,000 American soldiers and airmen were based in Saudi Arabia during the recent war, but the U.S. presence has obviously been a source of tension, and the U.S. now has other options, namely Qatar and Iraq. As the NYT notes, the Saudi’s ruling family has previously promised that such a withdrawal will set the stage for democratic reforms in the country.

Everybody goes high with yesterday’s still cloudy incident in Fallujah, near Baghdad, in which U.S. troops fired on a group of protesters, killing as many as 13 and injuring about 75. Most Iraqis said the soldiers opened fire first, while GIs insisted they were only returning fire. According to the WP’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran, three residents said there were a few armed protesters who were firing into the air (and shouting pro-Saddam slogans). The NYT says there were bullet holes on the second story of the school where GIs were stationed. The LAT’s Michael Slackman disputes that, saying he only saw broken windows, which plenty of Iraqi schools have.

(According to early morning reports, there has been another incident in Fallujah. At least one Iraqi was killed after soldiers, who said they had been shot at, opened fire.)

Whatever the details, Monday’s incident has obviously helped turn residents against the U.S. “When the Americans came here, we didn’t object, but now we want them out,” said one local psychologist. The Post points that the Army didn’t arrive in Fallujah until last Friday. The resulting power vacuum, along with the presence of local Baathists, meant some residents had been “rehanging pictures of Saddam.”

The Wall Street Journal points out that the protesters in Fallujah were Sunni, not Shiite. According to the paper, many Sunnis, the privileged minority within Saddam’s Iraq, are increasingly unhappy about the U.S. presence. The piece also notices how one group of U.S. soldiers gave an impromptu lesson regarding the First Amendment. The GIs arrived at a Sunni mosque that had been hit by a U.S. missile and had anti-U.S. banners protesting the damage. The soldiers promptly tore them down. “We’re taking down any sign that’s against U.S. forces,” said the unit’s commanding officer. “We are here not against the people, we are here for the people.”

The NYT adds that at least nine Iraqis were killed in Mosul, hit by what most say was celebratory gunfire on Saddam’s b-day. Some doctors alleged that American soldiers shot people after GIs mistook the celebratory gunfire for attacks. U.S. officials disputed that.

Everybody notices the Army’s decision to send another 3,000 or so troops into Baghdad, mostly military police.

The NYT says inside that the Pentagon appears to be winning the argument with the State Department about how quickly to, as the paper says, “put an Iraqi face on power” in the country. Foggy Bottom wants to go slowly, while the Pentagon wants to do it quickly and give more power to the Iraqis. That’s why, explains the Times, the White House has stopped referring to an “interim authority” and has begun to talking about a “transitional government.” Given how important the dispute is to the makeup of a postwar Iraq, it hasn’t received the media attention it deserves. One exception to that is a piece in this week’sNewRepublic. (Subscription required.)

The WP fronts word that the U.S. said it might not sign on to the world’s first tobacco-control treaty unless the agreement includes a clause allowing governments to opt out of any provision they find objectionable. The White House says it needs the clause to protect against any potentially unconstitutional provisions. But diplomats and tobacco-control advocates say the administration is trying to water the deal down, or kill it. One hundred seventy-one nations have hammered out the treaty. One other country, the Dominican Republic, still has issues with it.

Everybody mentions that the WHO has finally removed its SARS-related advisory against travel to Toronto.

The WP’s Howard Kurtz looks at some similarities between a piece in the NYT about Juanita Anguiano, a Texas woman whose son was the last American MIA in Iraq (until his body was found this week), and an earlier piece in the San Antonio Express-News. Among the resemblances: The Express-News’ Macarena Hernandez wrote, “Sleep these days only comes with a pill. … [Anguiano] said she has moments when she can picture her son in some Iraqi village, like the ones she has seen on TV, surrounded by a herd of animals and the Iraqis he has befriended.” One week later the Times’ Jayson Blair wrote, “At moments, Ms. Anguiano says, she can picture her son in an Iraqi village, like the ones she has seen on television, surrounded by animals and the Iraqi people he has befriended. … She said that while she still might have hope, sleep these days came only in the form of a pill.” The Times says it’s looking into it. But unnamed NYT staffers offered an explanation to Kurtz: “Blair was tired.”