The allied advance on Baghdad again dominates the papers. The Los Angeles Times has American troops at last reaching “the heart” of the city, while both the New York Times and the Washington Post hang back a bit, both referring to the “squeezing” of the capital. (The papers’ Web sites this morning all have the U.S. in Baghdad for the first time.) Saddam Hussein, or someone closely resembling him, also gets a sizable share of the front pages after appearing on Iraqi television, thereby proving, perhaps, that he is still alive.
American troops “rolled” into Baghdad from the south and east with relative ease, according to the LAT. “We are almost totally in control of the country and will be in complete control soon. And a better day is ahead for the Iraqi people,” Colin Powell told reporters. At least 2,500 members of the Republican Guard surrendered on Friday, while others simply fled. The LAT reports that the Baghdad (formerly Saddam) International Airport now appears to be under U.S. control, the rantings of the Iraqi information minister notwithstanding. (On Thursday, he said Americans were nowhere near Baghdad and yesterday vowed that the airport invaders would never emerge alive.) The airport will be used as a forward base once surrounding areas are secured.
The NYT lead marvels at the absence of Iraqi troops, who were supposed to have formed a “ring of steel” around Baghdad. The roads to the capital were full of “smoking debris,” and there were indications that most Iraqi soldiers had hastily decamped: “stripped-off uniforms lying next to foxholes, abandoned tanks and artillery strewn through farm fields and palm groves.” As American forces sped toward the capital, Iraqi civilians fled in the opposite direction, many of them waving white flags on sticks, according to the Times.
All the papers are careful to mention the possibility that the worst of the fighting—perhaps including the use of chemical weapons—may lie ahead, in Baghdad proper. “Americans are about to enter a complex phase of the war that is the very antithesis of the lightning campaign they have waged so far,” writes Michael Gordon in the NYT. A grisly example of unorthodox warfare occurred Friday when a pregnant Iraqi woman killed three U.S. soldiers by luring them to her car, which then detonated. The woman and the driver (also female) left behind a message, later shown on Al Jazeera, pledging their allegiance to the Iraqi cause. It was the second suicide bombing of the war.
Everyone notes the death of Post columnist and Atlantic Monthly editor-at-large Michael Kelly, the first American journalist killed while covering the war. He died Thursday night with an American soldier when their Humvee ran off the road, the Post reports.
It’s not clear how many Iraqis in Baghdad got to see it, the NYT reports, but Saddam Hussein (or one of his doubles) appeared on Iraqi television on Friday. He was shown cavorting with the troops and he made reference to the downing of a U.S. helicopter on March 24th, demonstrating that he had not been killed on March 20th, as was previously thought. Was it really him? “In the bigger scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter,” Ari Fleischer says in the LAT lead, “because whether it is him or whether it isn’t him, the regime’s days are numbered and are coming to an end.”
But the LAT fronts a surprisingly pessimistic piece about the lack of U.S. intelligence within Baghdad, suggesting that it does matter. “Nobody can tell us where anybody is,” says an anonymous Pentagon official. “Nobody can tell us what buildings they’re in so that we can bomb them. I’d call that weak.” There’s no sign of Saddam or his sons, or of banned weapons for that matter.
A new LAT poll shows healthy if not universal support for Bush and the war. His approval rating is up to 68 percent, while “ two-thirds of liberals and 70 percent of Democrats” now support the decision to fight. What’s more, about half favor picking off some more Middle Eastern countries (Syria and Iran) if they help Iraq or develop nuclear weapons (respectively). Two-thirds, however, are opposed to the Bush tax cut, even the scaled back, Senate-approved version.
Finally, the NYT fronts the growing divide on college campuses between peace-loving professors, many of them veterans of the Vietnam era, and their hawkish, right-leaning students. The piece focuses largely on Amherst, where 40 professors appeared in a dining hall holding antiwar signs. Students objected vociferously and some shoving ensued. “In Madison, teach-ins were as common as bratwurst,” opines an Amherst prof. “There was a certain nobility in being gassed. Now you don’t get gassed. You walk into a dining hall and hand out an informational pamphlet.” And get shoved by a 19-year-old, which is, presumably, in no way ennobling.