Today's Papers

Mr. Franks Goes to Baghdad

The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and New York Times all lead—and the Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide news box—with President Bush’s statement yesterday urging the United Nations to end economic sanctions against Iraq. USA Today reefers that story and leads instead with a war wrap-up that highlights continuing tensions in Mosul, where at least three more Iraqi civilians were killed Wednesday. (USAT hammers the civilian toll home today, also fronting a photo of a wounded Iraqi man crying out in pain and a piece on Baghdad’s overflowing and inadequate hospitals.)

The WP notes that Bush used just one line in a long speech yesterday to broach the topic of ending sanctions. But the papers jump on the opportunity to speculate about the future of the administration’s prickly relationship with the Security Council, which would have to pass any resolutions rolling back the economic restrictions. Veto-holders France and Russia, among others, worry that ending the U.N.-administered sanctions will allow the United States to rebuild Iraq without consulting the international community. (They’re also loath to cede control of lucrative reconstruction contracts, the papers note.)

The NYT, WSJ, and LAT all highlight a potential sticking point: The Security Council may decide not to end sanctions until a team finds that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction. If so, they’ll want U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix to lead that team, but the Bush administration doesn’t want Blix involved. (In fact, the WSJ notes in its war news round-up that the United States will send an independent team of 1,000 scientists and other experts into Iraq to look for banned weapons.)

The NYT and LAT both front war news round-ups that go high with word of Gen. Tommy Franks’ jaunt to Baghdad, where he met with the leaders of his units in Iraq, declared that “the decisive combat portion of the campaign is finished,” and parceled out responsibility for securing the country: The Army will handle Baghdad and the north, the Marines will work in the south, and the Brits will tackle Basra. (Franks also had occasion to use a humidor, as the LAT notes in a goofy headline: “It’s Hussein’s Palace, but that’s Gen. Franks Smoking the Cigar.”)

All the papers note a raid on the house of Rihab Taha, a top Iraqi microbiologist known as Dr. Germ. U.S. forces found three men and boxes of documents, but no sign of Ms. Taha, who headed a lab that weaponized anthrax in the ‘90s, according to USAT.

The NYT fronts and the WSJ reefers word that the United States has bombed camps of the Mujahedeen Khalq—an Iranian guerrilla group that operates in Iraq and has long worked to overthrow the regime in Tehran—and that the group has surrendered. The NYT wonders if the attacks could be “a thank-you gesture by the United States for Iran’s policy of noninterference in the war in Iraq.” The WSJ says yes: Snagging confirmation from “U.S. officials” that the Times didn’t talk to, the Journal reports that the attacks fulfilled a “private U.S. assurance conveyed to Iranian officials before the start of hostilities that the group would be targeted by British and American forces if Iran stayed out of the fight.” Not everyone’s happy about this: The NYT notes that 150 members of Congress from both parties had asked Bush to take the group off America’s terrorist list in November, because they saw it as “an effective source of pressure against Iran’s government.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell told an AP reporter yesterday that he will visit Syria to “have very candid and straightforward discussions” with President Bashar Assad, probably on an upcoming tour of the region to promote a renewed Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Most papers tuck the story in their war round-ups, but the Post reefers it and notes that State Department officials “appeared surprised” by the announcement and said no dates were set. The NYT notes well into its lead that administration rhetoric on Syria has cooled; Ronald Brownstein writes in the LAT that even the neoconservative hawks who saw deposing Saddam as a step toward reshaping the whole Middle East think Bush’s next moves in the region should be political, not military. Syria, meanwhile, has proposed that the U.N. declare the Middle East a WMD-free zone. The WSJ says the move is “pointedly aimed” at Israel and its nuclear weapons.

Outside Baghdad, Marines discovered “an alleged terrorist training camp,” USAT and the WSJ briefly note. The USAT quotes a Cpl. John Hoellwarth who said it was operated by Iraq and the Palestine Liberation Front and that bomb-making was taught there.

The Post’s off-lead reports a World Heath Organization announcement that scientists have finally identified the virus that causes SARS. The paper claims that this discovery will make the syndrome easier to combat and will eliminate the need to rely on quarantines to contain the disease. The NYT’s piece on SARS appears below the fold and takes a sociological bent, noting that in the United States fear of the disease is more prevalent than the disease itself. But the country’s Asian-American communities are particularly wary about eating out, traveling, and other activities that might put them at risk.

Everyone makes note of Michael Jordan’s last game in the NBA. When Jordan was sitting on the sideline in the fourth quarter, even notoriously hostile Philly fans were chanting “We want Mike!” Jordan’s Wizards lost, but the all-time great did get off the bench, and he sank his last shot.

And finally, back to Franks, who proposed a new name for the U.N.’s oil-for-food program when confronted with the splendor of Saddam’s abode: “It was an oil-for-palace program.”